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Friday, December 30, 2016


Coping with 2017

by Tom Sullivan

The coming year(s) appears daunting for the American left. Overconfident Democrats gave up a Supreme Court appointment without a fight. Donald Trump appears no better prepared for the presidency than he was before November 8. Republicans dominate state governments. North Carolina just saw a legislative coup reported around the world.

In the aftermath, progressives should eschew the lure of zero-sum politics. In what could be a pretty dry period for the left, already we risk retreating into issue silos and fighting over scraps. Candidates for chair of the DNC want to bring back Dean's 50 state plan. But that worries some among the Democrats' multicultural coalition. To hell with the red states. Attention paid there means me and mine get ignored. But as I already argued, recovering lost ground isn't about disadvantaging members of the coalition, nor about Democrats advocating affirmative action for racists. It's about the math.

Jamelle Bouie offers a sober assessment of the problem:

Trump has a strong core of voters who, as we saw during both the primaries and the general election, refuse to abandon a figure who speaks for their resentments, their anger, and their frustration. But Democrats don’t need that core. They don’t even need the typical Trump voter (i.e., a Republican). All they need is the marginal Trump voter. The person who flipped from one side to the other. Who cast a ballot for Barack Obama, then turned around to vote for Trump. Who disliked both candidates but went with “change” instead of continuity.
Swing states that went red in November aren't necessarily all that red. In North Carolina, 2.2 million voters (46%) chose Hillary Clinton for president. 2.1 million (45%) chose former ACLU attorney Deborah Ross for U.S. Senate. We should be careful where we aim the broad brush with the red paint. There are a lot of supporters in those "red" states, and they've had their share of being ignored by Democrats' shortsighted bi-coastal presidential strategy.

Michael Tomasky repeats how narrowly Trump won: "Just 1.35 million voters, out of more than 170 million in two countries, threw the world into chaos." But he insists he's not trying to downplay the "seismic nature" of the outcome. He offers a New Year's resolution:
But here is American liberalism’s biggest short-term job, what should be its 2017 New Year’s Resolution, and some of you aren’t going to like it: See to it that multiculturalism includes white people. And not urban white people or Jewish white people or gay white people or white people who live in hipster neighborhoods and wear ironic eyewear. Suburban, gray-haired, church-going white people.
Tomasky notes that Mark Lilla took a lot of heat for his New York Times op-ed calling for the end of identity liberalism. A lot of friends will feel threatened by that, but Tomasky observes that focus led to one of Hillary Clinton's many missteps in 2016:
But Lilla’s money paragraph said something liberals need to think about. Clinton, he wrote, had tended to call out explicitly to “African American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop, the noting that “if you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded.”
You bet they will. But Tomasky's shout-out to suburban whites still fails to address the urban-rural divide. In terms of controlling the U.S. House, Senate, and state legislatures, that's where Democrats have to gain ground. Les Leopold cautions that the popularity of "white working class" as shorthand for red states is another dog whistle, and obscures a key fact:
Rural America, also, is not lily white. Hispanics and African Americans make up a total of 17.5% of rural and small town America.
Alana Semuels writes for The Atlantic that breaking through out where Democrats are a minority in more ways than one will be more than a messaging challenge:
Elkhart is a case study in how Democrats lost the 2016 elections despite the economic resurgence the country experienced under Obama. It shows how, in an increasingly polarized country, an improving economy is not enough to get Republicans to vote for Democrats, in part because they don’t give Democrats any credit for fixing the economy. Gallup, for instance, found that while just 16 percent of Republicans said they thought the economy was getting better in the week leading up to the election, 49 percent said they thought it was getting better in the week after the election. And in a Pew poll in 2015, one in three Republicans said the economy wasn’t recovering at all, while just 7 percent of Democrats said that. This bias is true for Democrats, too, of course. Before the election, according to the Gallup poll, 35 percent thought the economy was getting worse, while after the election, 47 percent of Democrats thought that.
In a polarized country, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth tells Semuels, “What we want to be true influences what we believe to be true.” To counteract that, Tomasky would like to see rich liberals investing in an institution devoted to promulgating facts in a world of fake news. The goal would not be to persuade everyone, and certainly not the Trump core Bouie describes, but even a little help is some help:
The point would not be to persuade conservatives; half of Trump voters said in the same poll that they still think Obama comes from Kenya, so they’re unpersuadable. But if 8 percent of the middle 30 percent of voters can be reached, that will be enough to swing elections and public opinion.
In this environment, we may have to glean votes where we can find them.

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