Resisting the toxic bait by @BloggersRUs

Resisting the toxic bait

by Tom Sullivan

Sowing chaos is one of the acting president's go-to moves. Donald Trump has spent time at his Florida golf resort issuing assassination orders, threatening to commit war crimes, issuing notices to Congress via social media, demanding Iraq pay for the U.S. invasion (or else U.S. troops will not leave), and spilling who-knows-what official secrets to dinner guests/spies. What his allies describe as the acts of a brilliant tactician are simply an expression of Trump's feral instinct for getting the best of others by keeping them off balance. The more desperate he becomes, the more cornered he feels, the more chaos he will sow.

When Trump is not sowing chaos, he is inflaming racial, social and ideological divisions within the country both to keep his base unified and his adversaries unorganized. Fear of the Other he keeps on his utility belt.

E.J. Dionne writes that if polarization helps Trump's base, it hurts progressives. They need coalitions, not only among African Americans, Latinos and city dwellers, but also "blue-collar and non-college-educated whites" from swing states:

Moreover, the left and center-left believe that public action is a positive good, that social solidarity is a realistic possibility and that a society thrives when it shares benefits and burdens equitably. When we live in our bunkers of hatred, none of these dispositions has a chance.
Dionne cites Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-Ohio) 2018 reelection in Ohio "by seven points in a state Trump carried by eight." Brown writes in “Desk 88” about where he failed:
“We lost medium-sized industrial city after medium-sized industrial city, small town after small town, rural community after rural community. Pretty much all of them.”

“Rural and small town voters don’t think either party is going to do anything for them, but they vote Republican because they think Democrats will do something to them: take their guns or raise their taxes, or enact an environmental law that will put them out of work,” he writes.


“I will never be one,” he writes, “who says that people in rural and small-town America vote against their own interest; who am I to say what is their self-interest? But we as progressives have work to do.”
Trump and his allies rely on discouraging everyone from seeing citizenship as a project broader than bunkered self-interest. Democrats of a different era warned against falling into the kind of trap Trump has set. Brown quotes Sen. Robert F. Kennedy from the day after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
"When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered."
Trump and his allies in Congress may view the world that way, but the country cannot afford its citizens to view each other that way, as tempting as that is and as many who do.

Dionne's invocation of public action as a positive good recalls a favorite quote about elections. Country Living last November posted 25 quotes about voting, most of them anodyne. My favorite (not included) is from former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon (D-Denver):
“We think that voting actually is not just a private vote for the person who gets the vote, but a public good, and that the more people who vote, the more legitimate the elected officials are, and that they represent the actual values of the electorate.”
Many fellow citizens have bought into the false notion that self-interest and individual achievement is what made America great. In fact, cooperation did. Alvin York did not win WWI. Audie Murphy did not win WWII. Dwight Eisenhower did not build Liberty ships nor the interstates. Neil Armstrong did not get to the moon on his own.

What progressives need to rekindle is the spirit that made those achievements possible. That will require not simply resisting the toxic bait Trump will throw out and social media will splash in front of our eyes in 2020. It will take actively countering it. And it will take encouraging younger voters to take collective action this year to get the country out of the ditch into which the #okboomer generations see their elders have driven the world.

I keep showing people the 2018 chart at the top (and did again in a statewide webinar Sunday). It displays North Carolina population by age from 18 to 99 (in blue). Below that in orange is voter registration from November 2018. At the bottom in green is early voting voter turnout by age from 18 to 99. (I don’t have the final vote numbers. Don't ask.) Assume the green turnout curve would be taller with final totals but the shape wouldn’t change. Trust me, other states look the same.

Notice in the blue on the left side which age cohort has the raw power in population to run this country (but doesn’t) and to the right the shrinking age group (mine) that dominates American politics because more of them vote (the hump at the bottom right). If we hope to get this country out of the ditch, encouraging people under 45 to use the power that’s already theirs is how that happens. This is your challenge in 2020. It is something we have to do together.

Update: Fixed a name typo and another.