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Will Democrats Heed Trump

Will Democrats Heed Trump Election Wake-Up Call?—Gene Rothman

Part I: Narratives of the Right and the Liberals

The election of Donald Trump should be a wake-up call for Democrats who are convening the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in Houston during the last week of February.

While they slept, they lost governorships, control of many state houses, a majority in both houses of Congress, and the presidency.

Meanwhile, a dilemma confronts them, as noted by Christine Pelosi, a DNC member from California. “What Democrats in Washington have been doing as they begin to grapple with Trump …hasn’t matched the level of outrage people in the party are feeling outside of the nation’s capital.” In order to determine if the DNC response will resonate effectively, it may be helpful to examine the respective narratives of the Right and Liberals.

The Narrative of the Right: The Right, from its own point of view, is the party of the wealthy elites, law and order, family values, and religious orthodoxy. President Trump’s brand of pseudo-populism has reconfigured traditional conservatism by stressing other themes, two of which stand out. He stated that the economy and political system have been rigged because “the system is controlled by big donors, big businesses and big bureaucrats who all want to keep wages down while enriching themselves.” He also emphasized that politicians make promises that they ignore, or even reverse, when they get into office. A case in point is how Liberal President Obama campaigned criticizing Big Money and Big Banks but, when assuming office, he then packed his government at all levels with Goldman-Sachs officials.

The Narrative of the Liberals: Liberals, traditionally, have been regarded as the party of the common man. At one time, this meant that organized labor was a key constituency.

Building on his earlier work , "What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America", Thomas Frank’s latest book, Listen Llberal: or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?,

Listen, Liberal- Or, Wh#1BD4BF0 argues that the fundamental problem for the Democrats is that they abandoned ordinary working Americans by seeking corporate funding in the same way that the Republicans do. Many of the concepts cited here are drawn from his work.

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Democrats, to their credit, have two positive elements in their narrative:

  • They fight for the rights of minorities and
  • They also champion education and evidence-based science.

By ignoring the deep economic pain of many working Americans, Democrats left the door open for Trump—who did hear their pain and used this as a club against the Liberals (albeit in his demagogic fashion).

The difficulty, however, is their overemphasis on identity politics to the virtual exclusion of class issues. By ignoring the deep economic pain of many working Americans, they left the door open for Trump—who did hear their pain and used this as a club against the Liberals (albeit in his demagogic fashion).

How Liberals Disregard the Pain of Ordinary Americans

A fundamental problem for the Liberals is their Republican-like reliance on Big Money rather than a Bernie Sanders model that refused such funding and relied on widespread public donations. Hillary Clinton won a key battle for GOP-like economic conservatism by enshrining her model centering on the acceptance of corporate donations which became the universal norm. Every presidential candidate now accepts corporate money, including Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” (which, additionally, accepts ‘dark money’ in which donors need not reveal their identity). Even Green Party candidate Jill Stein, supposedly an anti-corporate rebel, accepts corporate donations.

The other challenge for Liberals is they do emphatically represent a new class of professionals, mainly from bi-coastal areas and university-based cities. For this professional class, the hallmark is a meritocracy by which their higher incomes and status are competitively earned. It goes without saying that everyone wants experts—many who make life-and-death decisions- to have the knowledge and expertise needed for the task at hand. Some professions, in fact, have a legal monopoly to practice, given the expectation that their professional ethics require them to serve the public interest over their own personal or private ones. Few would begrudge them the higher income and status that is awarded to them. But for those without this education or the means of accessing it meaningfully, the central and ubiquitous Liberal proposal that they also somehow ‘get an education’ can appear to be a cruel joke.

It should also be noted that Liberals too often explicitly oppose unions. For example, President Obama’s Liberal ally, Rahm Emmanuel, attacked the teacher’s union in Chicago. Similarly, Liberals support charter schools (which have few, if any, unions). This makes sense, however, from a Liberal perspective, since unions favor a living wage for everyone, without conforming to the dictates of an earned meritocracy. For some Liberals, unions, and for that matter, many safety net social programs undermine and dilute the need for a robust work ethic which is based on competitive meritocracy. This approach also enable ’pragmatic centrists’ in the mold of the Clintons to find common ground with the Right in their quest for a consensus. One notable example of this was the proposal for a ‘grand bargain’ in which Liberals were willing to accept cuts in so-called ‘entitlement’ programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) in exchange for higher taxes on some upper-income groups.

If the DNC is to reconcile the rift between its base and the party regulars, two key demographic groups must be won over. The first is the white working class, which must be recaptured from the Right. The second is the milennials, who are driving the grassroots protests, but who are also mistrustful of many establishment organizations.

Milennilals, accordingly, are not as like to engage in the political system, or even to vote. It is my view that Liberal reliance on corporate funding, as well as overtures to the Right, impede efforts to attract the two demographic groups just noted. A closer look at the white working class and the milennials will be the focus of Part 2 of this essay.

Gene Rothman

Gene Rothman, D.S.W., L.C.S.W., is a retired social worker who worked with homeless veterans on Skid Row. He is now active with interfaith groups and with the the California National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Social Action/Social Justice Council, among other activist organizations.