Monday, November 28, 2016
In fact, I'm sure everyone in this conversation is well aware that non-white racial and ethnic groups are over-represented in any definition of the working class, such as among workers without college degrees or those making less than any specified level of income. So why doesn't this obvious reality lead all Democrats to embrace a return to the party's working-class roots?
That is the topic for another day, and clearly there is a lot of self-interest on the part of professional class pundits and establishment Democrats of all races and ethnicities, but the Trump election tells us that we can no longer sweep this class divide within the Left-liberal coalition under the rug. As Matt Karp's brilliant article this morning in Jacobin details quite nicely, Clinton gained dramatically on Obama's performance in all the best off upper middle class professional and wealthy enclaves of the country while falling in working-class areas, among both whites and non-whites.
For non-whites this more often meant staying home, while the disillusioned white working-class divided between those who stayed home and those who switched to Trump. To be sure some fall-off in black voting, in particular, can be attributed to a rebound effect from the unusually high turnout for Obama. But the striking divergence between professional-class black areas, which pushed to even higher levels for Clinton, and the working-class black areas, which fell off noticeably, indicates that this rebound cannot be the whole story.
There is a class politics going on that cuts across all races and ethnicities. I remember back during the primary, as a Sanders supporter, how much comment there was on his relatively worse performance in less affluent black and Latino enclaves (though he did better with all younger voters, as well as with those who were living in more integrated areas rather than in segregated enclaves, particularly among Latinos). Overall, in retrospect, it seems that the turnout was depressed in these areas overall due to massive alienation and detachment from the political process, and Sanders's message never really had enough time build momentum there, and many people misread this somehow as black and Latino enthusiasm for Clinton, which the general election proves it obviously was not.
However, what was equally striking at the time, but much less commented on, was Clinton's enormous relative success in affluent and upper professional class enclaves, such as southwestern Connecticut, Westchester County, Manhattan, the nicest Boston suburbs, Silicon Valley, and elsewhere. These areas not only maintained their enthusiasm for her, but expanded upon Obama's performance quite substantially, as Karp's article details clearly. Clinton's coalition was a considerably more affluent, college educated, and comfortable group of people, compared to any Democratic voter base in my lifetime, and almost surely throughout the entire history of the Democratic party outside of the Old South.
Where can we go for here? Can the Democratic Party reclaim its working-class base, fully realizing that this is an inherently diverse and multi-cultural group of people? The good news is that the same kinds of universalist policies that can avoid the divisiveness of pitting group against each other and instead raise up all working-class people together--and, not incidentally, disproportionately this will help blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and other non-white groups, given the demographics. (Notably, however, it will not particularly help the most affluent and privileged members of these groups, many of whom are obviously speaking with quite a different voice as part of the Democratic establishment rather than in solidarity with the much larger base of their groups who are in the working class--though of course for every detestable Cory Booker, Jamelle Bouie, or Joy Reid there is a Keith Ellison, Ben Jealous, or Nina Turner, so just like among whites, there are some nationally visible figures who care deeply about class and universalist politics!)
What would a concrete politics of defending the diverse working class with universalistic politics look like? One sign of hope is the recent push by Bernie Sanders to call Donald Trump's bluff on his pledge during the campaign to pressure Carrier to keep its manufacturing jobs in Indiana rather than move them to Mexico, and to protect American workers rather than just doing the bidding of large corporations. If you've seen the viral video of workers being told of the outsourcing and impending layoffs, you will know that both non-white and white workers are there hearing the same horrible message, and reacting with outrage.
But rather than letting Trump off the hook, or allowing him to broker some shady backroom deal, Sanders has introduced legislation to make this a matter of policy through an Outsourcing Prevention Act, which would make this a general policy rather than just a political prop. This is exactly the kind of politics we need--letting the working-class of America know that we are firmly on their side, and simultaneously holding Trump's feet to the fire on an issue he is unlikely to be able to deliver on, while keeping his GOP establishment partners satisfied.
A funny thing about Trump's election: so far the only concrete policy change has been the end of the lamentably awful, anti-worker (and anti-environment) Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump himself mentioned it as the first item in his recent transition video on his priorities upon taking office. But now he has committed himself to maintaining a pro-worker trade policy (less so on the pro-environment, admittedly) and a robust defense of working-class politics in the Democratic Party will make it difficult for him to simultaneously keep his pledges and satisfy the GOP. He is backed into a corner now, and we need to cheer on people like Bernie Sanders who are making clear that we once again want to be the party that defends the (increasingly diverse) working class of America.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
As he points out, the greatest problem was that he failed to seize the moment and realize the full potential, especially early in his presidency. But another thing that strikes me is how much Rosenberg's list demonstrates the potential of a universalist economic program for the common good, rather than the demands construed as being from narrow identity groups. Yet many of the things Rosenberg cites would have improved the conditions not only for the white working class but also for the non-white working class.
It's interesting to think about how our politics might be different today if he had taken on Wall Street more vigorously, pushed for a larger economic stimulus, truly invested in a robust Green New Deal, helped struggling homeowners more than bankers, and strengthened unions. If he had tried these things--and even if the GOP had blocked him on some of it--would Trump have found it so easy to peal away white working-class voters and to turn black and Latino working-class voters into non-voters? As Rosenberg points out, it is important to think about this because it bears directly on the debate over the direction we should go now by reinforcing--with very specific policy examples--where we went wrong during the past eight years in our failure of ambition on the Democratic side. So, with Rosenberg, I give thanks for Obama--especially on the Iran deal, thawing relations with Cuba, leading us out of economic disaster, and supporting cultural shifts toward gay and lesbian equality, among other things--but we should not shy away from a sober assessment of where Obama went wrong.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
I really do believe we have to reckon with this divide, and acknowledge the role of urban liberals in unwittingly (and often condescendingly) perpetuating it, if we are going to have a successful left coalition to overturn the power of corporations and the wealthy in America, in order to have a socially just and environmentally inhabitable world in the future:
- Ezekiel Kweku: "Skin in the Game: How to Beat White Nationalism at the Polls"
- Alec MacGillis: "Revenge of the Forgotten Class"
- Roland Merullo: "What Liberal Academic Don't Get"
- Sarah Jones: "J.D. Vance, The False Prophet of Blue America"
- Dan O'Sullivan: "Vengeance Is Mine"
- Christian Parenti: "Listening to Trump"
The inclusion of two articles from Jacobin on my list is no coincidence. This is my new favorite magazine. In fact, I have started subscribing to the print edition. Lots of great stuff in there. It's even better than the Nation now, which has become too watered down and centrist/establishment with Eric Alterman and Joan Walsh frequently writing for them (although I love it when the run something by John Nichols or Naomi Klein!)
I would also like to follow up with some links I've been reading related to ambivalent_maybe's last post below, which I already commented on, especially the flare-up over the "end of identity liberalism" thesis of Mark Lilla.
There was an interesting discussion featuring Lilla on the WBUR public radio program, "On Point"--overall I have become strongly anti-NPR lately due to their relentless pursuit of clueless, bubble-land urban identity liberalism coupled with an actively pro-corporate, anti-working class economic bias on most of their news programs, but "On Point" does a far better job than most of them!--which is well worth listening to, in that it features Lilla himself along with two detractors (Vann Newkirk and Michelle Goldberg) who are far more civil and reasonable than those who simply denounce him as a white supremacist for daring suggest that identity liberalism may be a strategic cul-de-sac for the Left (or liberalism, as I believe he would prefer to categorize himself).
Lilla himself was not terribly impressive on the program, even though I agree with him more than the others. The conversation did motivate me to look up Goldberg's Slate piece disagreeing with Lilla, in which she admits the validity of some of his points, but argues that, ultimately, "democratic politics have to be identity politics." I think she is wrong overall, in her insistence on maintaining an emphasis on identity liberalism, but at least she is collegial, and I also fully agree with her sentiment that we have to stand in solidarity with any identity groups threatened by right-wing white nationalist identity politics, whenever push comes to shove.
Interestingly, her Slate article also induced me to look up some of the people she was arguing against, besides Lilla, and I think they are well worth reading, ranging from the more mainstream, such as Rob Hoffman in Politico, to the more fringe libertarian viewpoint of Reason magazine, all of whom make cogent points I agree with about the strong backlash aspect of stirring up identity politics on the right.
Friday, November 25, 2016
The jumping-off point for this debate, at least in the several essays I've read, is Mark Lilla's op-ed in the NY Times, "The End of Identity Liberalism". I have read and re-read Lilla's essay, and fail to find in it even one specific recommendation for how the policy positions of the Democratic party should change. Instead, his focus is on the rhetoric of various political figures emphasized either what united us (Bill Clinton and Reagan) or what made each group special (Hilary Clinton). Most of the essay is not even about politics, in the sense of parties, policies, and elections, but instead focuses on how teachers and administrators in elementary schools, high schools, and colleges encourage students to "focus on themselves" and celebrate the differences among them and their diverse group of classmates.
This proposal, then, has nothing really to do with what should be the meat of politics. Instead it is, as Echidne of the Snakes calls it, merely a "rebranding" of the Democratic party. In other words, a tinkering with stump speeches, not really a new direction in policy.
On the other hand, Echidne of the Snakes and other critics of Lilla's essay seem to believe that giving up the rhetorical strategies of identity politics would be potentially disastrous for the Democratic party. Hilary Clinton won significantly more votes than Trump did, and the urban and multicultural base of the party could well be less motivated to vote, or vote Dem, if the party did not continue to speak to the issues most important to them.
But much of what is being argued about here--and much of what the right likes to make fun of in stories about those crazy liberals on elite college campuses--has very little to do with the Democratic party. The party is conflated with a hazy notion of ultra-sensitive lefty social customs and administrative policies of schools and colleges.
What first attracted me to the Democratic party, and what attracts me to it still, is that it was trying to help most those who needed the most. It was standing up for the rights of the most vulnerable--whether they were vulnerable because they were poor, or because they were persecuted by the majority because of their gender, religion, sexuality, or what-have-you. What was most important was not who they were, but that they needed help to live their lives with the dignity, opportunities, and respect that is due to anyone, regardless of how they were differentiated, or differentiated themselves, from the rest of society.
Keeping this in mind as the core of the identity of the Democratic party, I think it is easy to see that it can encompass both support for minority rights and broad-based economic policies. There is no necessary choice between identity politics and class. What we're sticking up for is not one or the other; we are sticking up for the underdog everywhere, regardless of why they are disadvantaged.
There are two larger problems that I think the existence of this argument helps highlight. First is that the Democratic party may have let rhetorical support for identity groups swamp its more fundamental message of helping those who need help because it was consciously neglecting policies that undercut the power of corporations and the well-off. While advocating policies that disproportionally benefited those who had the most, the party may have emphasized the rhetoric of identity to keep its base loyal. I don't know enough about the history of Democratic politics to say for sure that this happened, but it does kind of make sense. A renewed Democratic party does not need to abandon identity politics, but it does need to reclaim its soul as the defender those most in need.
Second, a still larger problem that this argument reflects is the incredibly diffuse nature of "politics" in American life. We're constantly asked to demonstrate our politics in our language, what we buy, what we post to Facebook or Tweet. We've begun to imbue our political position on the red-blue spectrum with a sense of identity--a language, a lifestyle, a tribe. This is, I think, corrosive to our politics in two ways: It encourages an us-versus-them attitude toward our political opponents that is corrosive to progressive ideals, and especially so in a country already dominated by only two political parties; It also substitutes authentic political participation--voting and winning elections--for a multitude of faux political stands and arguments that really have little to do with actual governmental policies politicians might enact.
We need to get back to a very basic Democratic politics, centered on helping the downtrodden through governmental action. To achieve our goals, we don't need to rely on some Rube Goldberg process of cultural change or demographic shifts. We need to get our supporters to the poles and win some damn elections!
This doesn't mean that schools and colleges--or even Democratic candidates--can't continue, if they so choose, to celebrate our differences and use the rhetoric of identity politics. But it does mean that we can't view that as exhausting our political duties. We need to focus our efforts not on rhetoric, but on actual laws and policies that we want to see enacted, and actually getting the votes to put them in place.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Everybody Tells Me EverythingI find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.
Monday, November 21, 2016
A post from still small voice, from up in North Idaho
Here, in North Idaho, an active, progressive faction of our community worked hard for many years to rid this corner of the world from white supremacists like the Aryan Nations, Ku Klux Klan, and Christian Identity adherents as well as the Militia of Montana, the Posse Comitatus and Holocaust deniers. Members of these various groups used to gather every April at the Aryan Nations compound to celebrate Hitler’s birthday, and to talk about their shared dream of an Aryan homeland.
North Idaho, eastern Washington and Western Montana were seen to be a perfect place to break ground for this movement, due to the lack of diversity. The Aryan Nations compound was razed to the ground and turned into a “Peace Park” in 2000-- after they lost a lawsuit filed against them by the local human rights organization with the help of Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty law Center.
I thought the concept of a white homeland was bulldozed over as well. Tonight however, I was driving home listening to NPR and heard an interview with Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who coined the term “Alt-Right.” Trump’s newly appointed chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, used to run the website Breitbart, which he called “the platform for the Alt-Right.”
Spencer exulted that with the election of Donald Trump the Alt-Right had entered the mainstream, where it will continue to grow. The end goal of this movement, Spencer stated, would be the formation of a “white ethno state” described as a safe place for Europeans. When Kelly McEvers of NPR asked him if he thought only white people should be citizens of the US he said that wouldn’t be something that could be changed right away but that …”European people were the indispensable central people that defined this nation socially and politically and culturally and demographically obviously. I care about us more. That's all I'm saying. But I respect identitarians of other races.” He went on to suggest that immigration be limited mostly to Europeans--“who are going to fit in-- who are more like us.”
Chilling. But I’m wondering if this time around there will be a broader section of the community who will find this idea not only ludicrous but repulsive.
The day after the election our local human rights group received 4 calls from people wanting to become members. That’s never happened before-- not even in a week, not even in most months. They want to be able to help protect those among us who might feel the most fearful and threatened at this time.
On Tuesday I received a call from a friend I had worked with closely on the human rights task force who since has devoted himself to environmental activism. He attended the Paris summit and started a 350 Sandpoint group inspired by the work of Bill McKibben. On Monday he’d been on a conference call with Bill, as well as other social justice activists in the fields of immigration, racial and ethnic as well as LGBTQ issues. They concluded that the best thing to do at this time was to begin to work together and support each other--So he called a meeting that night of people he knew were active in our community.
There were about 20 of us-- several people had just returned from Standing Rock, helping to support the protest there-- and others represented other organizations in the community. I don’t know what will come of it, but the energy is definitely there to reach out beyond the boundaries within which we all have been working and embrace a broader mission.
One thing that was mentioned was starting a “Safety Pin Campaign.” I had to look that up-- but found that after the Brexit vote, people in the UK started wearing safety pins to show solidarity with immigrants and refugees and others likely to become victims of harassment. If a person wants to be known to others as “safe” or someone to whom they could turn if they feared for their safety, that person wears a big, visible safety pin. Sometimes we need a symbol to rally around-- and this seems to inspire those who would be allies to members of the various groups who have been marginalized by Trump during his campaign and now are fearful of their future.
I will bring it up in a meeting I’m attending tomorrow of another group that has come together to prevent teen suicide, and counter bullying and harassment in the high schools. Perhaps it might take hold in the high schools as well as in our community at large -- and increase awareness of the fact that we have the power to stand up for others.
In some ways it seems like we are moving backwards-- but perhaps we are only going back over the same ground we had only begun to plow, to break up clods, and better prepare the soil so that the seeds we sow will have a chance to grow. And it appears as though many more people are gathering to share in the work, driven by the urgency that comes from a sense of imminent disaster.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Also in response to this post, I sent some further links (besides those reactions already posted a few days ago) that lay out some of the prospects and perils of the next few years in our politics. As I told him in my e-mail, there is a way of connecting all these commentaries together into a coherent narrative about the grave dangers of moving forward without trying to rebuild a populist progressive coalition that includes white working-class voters.
One simplified way of putting this message is Marshall Auerback's slogan: It’s Class, Stupid, Not Race. Similarly, Owen Jones, in the Guardian, has declared, in the wake of the recent election results: "The left needs a new populism fast. It’s clear what happens if we fail" In practice, this means setting up a politics in which we can peel away some of Trump's voter base, especially the white working class voters who most dramatically shifted away from the Democrats this year. Les Leopold of the Labor Institute offers an example of what this would mean in a concrete case--Carrier in Indiana--that Trump himself talked about prominently during the campaign. This also means reckoning with the social realities on the ground, as Gary Younge has narrated in a compelling, tragic portrayal of Muncie, Indiana (aka "Middletown")
A broader vision of how we can think about this election is provided by Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs, who has provided great contrarian commentary throughout this election cycle: What This Means, How This Happened, What To Do Now.
Nevertheless, although one of Robinson's most devastatingly compelling contrarian take-downs targets has been Vox.com, I believe we will also need some of their "explainer journalism" as part of the coalition, including their summary of the scholarly literature, pointing out that simply accusing people of racism is highly likely to be counterproductive. And although I share Robinson's discomfort with Vox's elitist, centrist liberalism--and I am much more of a populist, anti-establishment insurgent, to use the terminology of Chris Hayes's incredibly prescient book from a few years ago, Twilight of the Elites--I was moved by Ezra Klein's video (and Matthew Yglesias's plaintive textual introduction to it) on how we will need to hope with all of our hope that our American institutions can provide an effective counterweight to the unprecedented systemic corruption which will rock the very foundations of the American republic under a Trump presidency.
As much as I often find myself disagreeing with centrist liberal elite commentators like Klein and Yglesias, we are going to need their help--and, as they point out, GOP members who believe in the American system over party--even as we push very hard for a populist progressive economic coalition under which opposition to Trump can be organized.
The most urgent shift, in my view, is to emphasize less the outrageous tweets, statements, and insults, and emphasize more about the coming economic betrayals and political corruption of the Trump administration. I realize that there are many groups which are hurting from the wave of hate and bigotry which has campaign has unleashed, and we will certainly have to take action to protect the most vulnerable. But in terms of our larger political messaging, it is clear from the election campaign that outrage at Trump's bad language and contemptible attitudes will not bring about a robust coalition to oppose him.
We must focus on matters of broad-based interests: basic kitchen table economics, shared public aversion to corporate and Wall Street power, and popular revulsion at political corruption. (And now that Hillary Clinton is gone from the scene, they can no longer fall back on the easy rebuttal that focuses on the Clintons' corruption to distract from the Trumps' far greater corruption.)
Most provocative of all--inevitably and intensely controversial--is Mark Lilla's call in the New York Times for "The End of Identity Liberalism." While I am deeply uneasy about the dangers to our coalition building that may come from Lilla's call for an end to identity-based liberalism, I do believe it is a conversation we need to have on the left, given what happened in the election. This will be a very difficult and painful conversation, but if we truly want to create a world where everyone is equally valued and respected, we simply must ask about what kind of politics will get us there.
The more we care about vulnerable groups in our society, the more it is morally urgent to ask hard questions about what kind of politics will be effective in protecting their fundamental rights. And I am increasingly in agreement with Lilla: such a politics requires a commitment to universalism and shared civic ideals, around which all groups can mobilize.
Monday, November 14, 2016
First, some basic points to keep in mind.
- However much the Trumpists might pretend otherwise, this election was really close. Just one or two percentage points here and there would have turned his into a victory for Clinton.
- Turnout was low compared to 2012 and 2008, especially in states that Clinton won.
- Clinton won the popular vote, and only the archaic electoral college put Trump in the White House.
We can conclude from these points that American democracy has not failed, and that a little more democracy would have been all we needed to win. In other words, we should have faith that the basic vision of a decent and pluralistic society, where people of all genders, races, and ethnicities feel safe and are equally able to participate in the economic, cultural, and political life of the country, is a vision that most of Americans share. The next four years probably do not presage the eclipse of this vision, and a long struggle to keep what we've achieved since the 1960s in its service. Rather, this election is a bump in the road of continued progress, assuming of course that we can get our acts together for 2018 and 2020. (And nothing really terrible--like a new war--happens in our foreign relations, to which I can only say: I have my fingers crossed.)
I think we will get our acts together, and in some ways the Trump victory helps us mobilize support and clarifies the issues involved. But there are at least a couple viable ways forward from here, it seems to me, and I'm not sure yet which is best.
Option 1: Build the Anti-Trump Coalition
Option 1 for the Trump opposition is to abandon the Trump-besotted white working class and instead build a multi-racial urban coalition that can consistently defeat them. This would include Republicans disaffected by Trumpism, even as the party in general seems all to eager to get behind him now that he's won. A big tent like this would tend to mute other economic and social issues. It's more of a first-things-first strategy: Let's kick these troglodytes back to the sidelines, and after that we can argue more about economic and social policy.
Option 2: Rebuild a Progressive Democratic Party
This is more an intra-party strategy--to get rid of the dead wood in the Democratic party and revivify it as a true advocate for the working classes and poor. This would use the multi-racial urban coalition as a base, but try to broaden it--and to win back some working-class whites--by emphasizing progressive economic policies and fundamental political reforms. This would likely keep away disaffected Republicans, and would be portrayed in the media as leftist extremism to balance Trumpism. But it could also attract more young voters and further heighten the distinctions between the two parties.
As I said, I'm not sure which of these options is best at the moment. I do think that Option 1 is more likely, because it's goal is concrete and short-term, it is less threatening to corporate America, and it hews to the media's (and perhaps voters') predilection for casting events as tales of moral drama, while de-emphasizing economics.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
- Thomas Frank, "Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there"
- Glenn Greenwald, "Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit"
- Dean Baker, "The High Price of the Trans-Pacific Partnership"
- Krystal Ball, "The Democratic Party Deserved To Die"
- Naomi Klein, "It was the Democrats' embrace of neoliberalism that won it for Trump"
- Michael Moore (back in July) "5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win"