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Friday, November 11, 2016

A lesson in tone deafness
by Tom Sullivan

A piece up at Bloomberg yesterday looked at what Donald Trump's data team saw that others did not:
Trump’s numbers were different, because his analysts, like Trump himself, were forecasting a fundamentally different electorate than other pollsters and almost all of the media: older, whiter, more rural, more populist. And much angrier at what they perceive to be an overclass of entitled elites. In the next three weeks, Trump channeled this anger on the stump, at times seeming almost unhinged.
They identified what people wanted to hear and went with the hard sell:
Trump’s team chose to focus on this electorate, partly because it was the only possible path for them. But after Comey, that movement of older, whiter voters became newly evident. It’s what led Trump’s campaign to broaden the electoral map in the final two weeks and send the candidate into states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that no one else believed he could win (with the exception of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who deemed them “Brexit states”). Even on the eve of the election Trump’s models predicted only a 30 percent likelihood of victory.

The message Trump delivered to those voters was radically different from anything they would hear from an ordinary Republican: a bracing screed that implicated the entire global power structure—the banks, the government, the media, the guardians of secular culture—in a dark web of moral and intellectual corruption. And Trump insisted that he alone could fix it.
The system is in fact corrupt and economic inequality a cancer on democracy, as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have argued on the left. Except where they really want to fix it, Trump called forth people's darkest impulses to get himself elected to a position of great power. With Trump, as with Obama, supporters saw in him whatever they wanted to see. Except where Obama offered hope, Trump offers himself. Trump is the anti-Obama.

This is not a man who has ever in public memory expressed either empathy for the plight of others or a desire to help anyone but himself. Chance are slim any of his policies will impact the wealth he boasts of possessing or help those below his station except as a byproduct of enriching his kind. For the rich, money is how they keep score. It is a surrogate for real power if not a kind of power in and of itself. Trump will soon have more than he's ever dreamed. Perhaps he's found a new drug.

But while the left tries to understand how it got sucker punched, some Democrats are still tone deaf to the populist anger that Trump used to beat them. An interview last night on NPR's All Things Considered made that plain.

Ari Shapiro spoke with Rep. Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat, and with Tamara Draut from Demos, the progressive advocacy group. Shapiro asked whether the Democratic Party was too close to Wall Street. He had to push Becerra to answer the question as Becerra hedged. The chairman of the House Democratic Caucus spent his opportunity on air not talking about helping the little guys, but bent over backwards to defend the financial sector and address its concerns:
TAMARA DRAUT: We need to shed any remnant of a more Wall-Street-friendly approach to the economy. And I think that's why you saw so much support for Bernie Sanders and why you have Elizabeth Warren as sort of the new leader of the Democratic Party. We need to make it clear to people that we believe the heroes of our economy are janitors and home health aides, not Wall Street CEOs. And that wasn't clear to people. We had a problem with the trade issue on the Democratic Party. We had been the party of these trade agreements that Trump was running against.

SHAPIRO: Congressman, do you agree that the Democratic Party should distance itself from Wall Street more than it has?

XAVIER BECERRA: My sense is that Democrats should be prepared to stand by the things that give Americans reassurance that we're going to fight for them. We don't want to...

SHAPIRO: Does that mean closer or farther from Wall Street?

BECERRA: Well, we - what we don't want is to drive business out of the country. And I think it's important to recognize that all of our different business sectors, whether it's the financial service sector, whether it's communications, whether it's construction, hospitality - we want to fight to have businesses start up here in America, to create jobs here.

SHAPIRO: Including Wall Street.

BECERRA: Including Wall Street. I think every sector that helps create more opportunity to build the economy and create jobs - and good-paying jobs - that's what we want. And Wall Street can do that, too. We just don't want to let Wall Street to take advantage of any American who's working really hard.
Becerra was tone deaf. Draut took him to task for his "long exposition" on the importance of bankers:
DRAUT: So, Ari, I would have answered that question completely differently. And I actually think that this is an important thing that the Democratic Party needs to have a debate amongst ourselves. And that is that Wall Street is not helping create jobs in America. It is enriching itself. And if we can't answer a question about our posture towards Wall Street and how it has been so destructive - let's not forget the Great Recession that most people are still feeling deeply. And if we cannot say as a party that we are going to reform Wall Street and not let it play this outsized role in the values that our companies practice, then we have a problem.

SHAPIRO: Congressman?

DRAUT: You can't operate a business and open a new establishment without credit these days. And you need a bank that will help you do that. You know, every sector of our economy has a role to play. It's when it becomes abusive that we have to take action. And so I would simply say that whether it's a bank or whether it's the mom-and-pop down street, we want to make sure they can all succeed without exploiting the American worker who works very hard.

SHAPIRO: It's that without-exploiting-the-American-worker phrase that I think might be the source of the disagreement because I think that there's a big portion of the country that feels that Wall Street is inherently exploitative and that saying Wall Street is great as long as it doesn't exploit the American worker is saying, in the view of these voters, that wolves are great as long as they don't eat sheep. Well, that's what wolves do.

BECERRA: If you can name me a society and a particular civilization that hasn't had someone who's helped finance the building and construction of that civilization, then I'm willing to look at it. But we all rely on the help of someone, whether it's the federal government - our government - or the private sector, to help us move forward because we don't always have the collateral - the cash - in our pocket.

SHAPIRO: Tamara Draut, what do you make of that?

DRAUT: Well, I would have started maybe with that point, right? I think that long exposition about how we need banks in our lives to do things is absolutely right. Of course, we do, but that actually happens to be what banks aren't mostly doing in our economy today. But the big banks aren't playing this ma-and-pop role in our society. And I can tell you people would love it if they did - if they actually went back to being able to go down the street and say, I want to start a new enterprise. Will you give me a small business loan? I think everybody hungers for those days, but that's not the banking world that we are living in right now. And if the Democrats want to fight to get back to that day, to being able to go to a neighborhood bank, then we have to start with that point and make it really clear that that is not how the banking system is operating.
So long as Democrats in leadership spend more time talking about the concerns of the urban power structure than they do on those of rural voters who feel like "everyone's punching bag, one of society's last remaining safe comedy targets, they will find themselves in the political wilderness.