One week on, the election is still difficult to make sense of. Here are a few random thoughts as to what went wrong.
Positive Thoughts are critical to any Democratic victory. It’s well known that the stock market, job growth, and even the federal budget improve under Democratic administrations. But never fall into the trap that correlation implies causality. Good times make people want to vote for Democrats because when we are flush we feel more generous. We must always be the party of hope first and foremost – as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama showed us. That is how we win.
Clinton’s campaign lost because it was relentlessly negative. Period. There was very little to vote positively, affirmatively for. The attempt to make the election a referendum on Trump was incredibly stupid and flew in the face of every poll on the subject. This was a referendum on Clinton, and her inability to ram home a clear, positive vision for the future was the problem.
There is a simple truth to American politics – Democrats must be hopeful, Republicans can rely on fear if they need to. When Republicans capture the message of hope, such as Reagan’s “Morning in America” of 1984, they produce a landslide. I still strongly believe that spring is coming and there are many signs that this is true all around us. Given that the population didn’t believe it, true or not, we were destined to lose.
White Identity is a much stronger force than most liberals are willing to acknowledge. Nevermind that it’s based on a fantasy and there really is no such thing as a truly “white identity”. There is a tacit realization among whites that White Privilege is a real thing which must be defended. In practical terms, however, it’s more of a club you join when you are born and you must never, ever talk about it.
The first rule of White Club is: you do not talk about White Club.
We cannot even bring up the subject of whiteness without a serious backlash. Barack Obama, the black guy, didn’t talk about it because life experience taught him not to. All around him, however, racism bubbled and we fell into the boiling pot of a conversation on race which white liberals were completely unprepared for.
The political agenda of White Identity is based almost entirely on a fantasy of a past “golden age” that simply never existed, at least not in any form we could recognize today. The 1950s, for example, was a time when bedrock values included respect for power and personal responsibility. Disrespect and whining about what “others” do cannot ever bring it back by definition. That’s why it can’t be talked about – every fantasy sounds really stupid if you try to articulate it.
Nearly every aspect of the White Identity platform is based on a core lie – Mexicans took our jobs, gays ruined marriage, and so on. It’s easy to dismiss as a bunch of bullshit. But the politics based entirely on feelings rather than facts as a hallmark of White Identity is very real and very powerful all the same. We cannot discount how powerful the backlash is as we break that first rule of the White Club.
The Feminine Beatdown continues. Among my female friends, there were two roughly equal reactions to this election. The more active ones politically wanted to cry, but often wound up screaming through their tears. The less involved usually had a resigned shrug and said, “What did you expect?” They never thought a woman could possibly be elected, and to the extent they bought into the idea they feel a sense of foolishness more than anything.
I can take losing an election. I can take being wrong. This reaction, however, saddens me to the very core. Barataria has the position that politics and economics are really nothing more than highly constrained and defined forms of sociology – that in the end it’s really all about people and their values. If a core value of everyone, male and female, is that women must know their place we have kicked half the population to the curb. And no amount of rah-ran speechifying will change that.
I’m not saying that women need to march in the streets and be radicalized to take action. Everyone has work to do and families to raise and things which simply make us happy, regardless of gender. What I’m saying is that the sense of self, especially for women, has necessarily become detached from society because it has to be in order to put up an appropriate defensive perimeter. If women cannot possibly be the glue which holds this or any other society together we are doomed.
Liberalism has lost its core purpose. You can look at the how Clinton lost and come to two distinct conclusions – either we didn’t turn out our people in the flurry of negativity or our core constituency, the working class, turned us down and went for Trump. Both are true.
We are losing first and foremost to apathy, yes, but we are also losing to the fantasies of recreating a bygone era crafted from bullshit. Either one should scare us. Democrats simply must be about creating opportunities for everyone first and foremost. The core of everyone’s sense of self worth starts with a productive job that contributes to the world and provides a decent living. We don’t do that, at least not relentlessly and with any real conviction.
There is little doubt that the world is changing rapidly and we must embrace that change in order to harness it and make it work for us. The new world forming around us will be formed in the image our values no matter what. It will necessarily bring us closer together and challenge us to accept people and practices we find quite offensive with some kind of respect.
Telling people that they just need to “get over it” and let those who know run things isn’t going to fly. Neither is a round of blaming, even if it focuses on “The 1%”. If we don’t truly stand for democracy, ugly as free speech and openness can be at times, we stand for nothing.
Anyone who has spent time as a community organizer knows there are two things necessary to bring a diverse group together – leadership and well defined shared work. There is a lot to be done if we focus on the future, and focusing on the past (blame) or the present (power) isn’t going to get a thing done. If we can’t show the nation how diversity is strength no one is going to believe it. Apathy will continue to win, narrowly beating out angry demands to turn back the clock and our faint ghost of neo-liberalism running a distant third.
What went wrong? A lot of things. Add your thoughts to this meandering list and let’s talk it over.