The Costly Mistakes Liberals Continue To Make: Elitism vs. Trumpism
“Anyone with confidence in the American people (and I have quite a lot of it) had to believe that Donald Trump’s unpreparedness, instability and just plain meanness would catch up with him eventually. This, as the polls show, is what happened over the past week or so. Simply by revealing who he really is, Trump sent millions of voters fleeing him in disgust.
But understanding what still attracts many voters to Trump is important, not only to those who want to prevent Trump from staging a comeback but also to anyone who wants to make our democracy thrive in the long run. Those of us who are horrified by Trump’s hideous lack of empathy need empathy ourselves.”
The problem with Dionne’s column is that it doesn’t mention, not even once, Trump voters’ counterparts on the left. There are millions of them and, no one is taking care to even acknowledge their existence, never mind their pain. Dionne makes the same mistake in his piece, addressing the fact that Trump’s supporters, however misguided they may be, do have some valid claims, when it comes to economic pain.
Furthermore, in the sea of polls we are now awash in, the constant is the general dissatisfaction with both candidates and not just Donald Trump. In a new report from Pew Research, one can find this observation:
“Roughly four-in-ten voters (41%) say it is difficult to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton because neither would make a good president – as high as at any point since 2000. And just 11% say the choice is difficult because either would make a good chief executive, the lowest percentage during this period.”
The strange thing about the usually thoughtful Dionne’s writings, however, is that if Trump’s supporters’ pain is real, why isn’t the suffering of Sanders’ voters given a mention? This tack of making a conscious choice to ignore the economic elephant in the room by the Liberal establishment will prove to have been a costly tactical calculation, when all is said and done. As it is, there has been an irreparable rift among Democrats when it comes to diagnosing the state of our economy and then prescribing a modicum of remedies. The liberal and neoliberal wings of the party have been playing catch up to a very vocal insurgency on the part of their progressive partners, even as the primary was winding down and a new party platform was being written.
It has long been known that trade negotiations are a huge sticking point for the lower middle and working classes. While Secretary Clinton took her time to declare her opposition to the latest trade agreement on the table, that declaration has been met with a great deal of skepticism and, just as the DNC convention was about to take place, the left’s incredulity was given a boost when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe let it slip that Hillary Clinton would “flip” on the TPP. McAuliffe eventually walked his statement back but by then, the damage had already been done.
Clinton, in her acceptance speech at the DNC convention, spent very little time talking about the TPP or the economic pain many voters are experiencing. While one can argue a great deal about Donald Trump’s lack of honesty in his self-portrayal as the savior of the working class, it is undeniable that he has lavished his attention on it since the beginning of his campaign. That, not racism, has been the secret to his success.
Make no mistake, the racism Trump brings to the table is a bonus – not the main attraction. The political and pundit classes have made a huge mistake in only hammering away at the racism inherent in Trumpism, but not so much the pandering to what Professor Guy Standing of the London School of Economics calls the “precariat.” But the precariat is who has been driving this election, on both sides of the political divide.
Former Sanders voters still aren’t ready for Hillary and that is reflected in post-convention polling, with the rise of both third parties in the poll and, given Trump’s significant negatives, the relatively modest bump gained by Clinton after her coronation at the DNC in Philadelphia. The fact that we are praising Clinton for achieving anywhere from a 3 to 10-point lead over a candidate like Donald J. Trump just goes to illustrate how much the public dislikes both candidates. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken the week of August 1st reveals that Hillary Clinton’s post-convention bump may be shrinking:
“About 42 percent of likely voters favored Clinton, to Trump’s 39 percent, according to the July 31-Aug. 4 online poll of 1,154 likely voters. The poll had a credibility interval of plus or minus 3 percentage points, meaning that the results suggest the race is roughly even.”
Trump’s support among his voters is more an expression of rejection of the Republican establishment than it is an embrace of what Trump is offering. Clinton’s relatively modest support among Democrats is the expression of protest among the left, at a time when the ascent of a woman should be the main unifying theme among all Democrats. Cries of Republican-created bias over decades and sexism haven’t swayed progressive voters who can rattle off a litany of policy positions issues on which they don’t believe Clinton will follow through. This isn’t because of anything Republicans have said about her, but because of her past positions on those issues and her advocacy on behalf of her husband during both of his terms, and on a variety of issues, especially social and economic.
Opposition to trade deals that favor the top tiers of American society is unanimous across class, gender and race, from the middle tier of the middle class on down to the poorest among us. Blacks have suffered from the flight of jobs overseas no less than their white middle and working class counterparts and they are as angry about it. The fact that this doesn’t get much mention in every day media reporting doesn’t mean that it isn’t felt or that it isn’t an issue in contention. If there is an American precariat, there also exists a Black precariat and, in it, its most vocal component is comprised of Black millennials for whom a myriad of issues have bubbled up to the surface.
Professor Eddie S. Glaude of Princeton University recently debated Professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University on Democracy Now. Both men illustrated perfectly the issues that plague the Democratic party as seen through the lens of Black America. Whether both men realize it or not, when they addressed the conundrum of voting for either one of two candidates with very low favorability ratings, they captured perfectly the sentiments of each faction in the Democratic party as a whole, going across class and race:
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s start with you, Professor Dyson, on this issue of why Hillary Clinton, you say, will do more for African Americans than President Obama.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I was making that argument in the context of a host of things, the least—not the least of which is that President Obama, for a variety of reasons, has been hamstrung, has been disinclined to deal with race, has been hesitant and procrastinating about engaging race. And I think that Hillary Clinton, for many of those reasons, will be more forthcoming. She’s spoken, I think, very intelligently about implicit bias. She has asked white people to hold themselves accountable vis-à-vis white privilege. She’s been talking about systemic racism, as well as individual acts of bigotry and violence. So, I think, in the aggregate, when we look at the degree to which she is capable, because of that very white privilege, to speak about race, in a way that Obama, even if he chose to be more forthcoming, would be categorized and put in a black box, in a certain way, that she has both the drive, the intelligence, the ability and the privilege to speak about it in a way that he is perhaps not only disinclined to do so, but maybe restricted, in his own mind.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Eddie Glaude?
EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, you know, I understand the claim around the limits or the constraints faced—Obama faced, but I think the claims around Hillary Clinton are basically aspirational, because there’s no real—there are no real—there’s no real evidence in her immediate past of any kind of genuine and deep concern about the material conditions of black life. And so, in other words, what I’m suggesting is that part of what—the problem is that we can’t infer from anything that she’s done that when she gets in office, that she’s going to change and address the circumstances of black folk in any substantive way, or the most vulnerable in any substantive way, because at the end of the day, I think, Hillary Clinton is a corporate Democrat, that she is committed to a neoliberal economic philosophy.
AMY GOODMAN: What does “neoliberal philosophy” mean?
EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, a neoliberal economic philosophy involves a kind of understanding that the notion of the public good is kind of undermined by a basic market logic that turns us all into entrepreneurs, where competition and rivalry define who we are, where the state’s principal function—right?—is to secure the efficient functioning of the economy and the defense, and creating the market conditions whereby you and I can pursue our own self-interest. And part of what that does, if we only read it as an economic philosophy and not understand it as a kind of political rationale producing particular kinds of subjects, who are selfish, who are self-interested, who are always in competition with one another, then we lose sight of how neoliberalism attacks the political imagination. So the interesting question that I ask of Hillary Clinton is that, will she fundamentally change the circumstances that are at the heart of the problem facing this country? In fact, I think she’s illustrative of the problem confronting the country.
Professor Glaude’s last sentence above encapsulates the essence of the neoliberal-progressive split in the Democratic party. But that isn’t all that Glaude perfectly exposes here. The popular view among pundits has been to paint the Sanders voters as having a tantrum that they will come down from as we get closer to election day. Later in the debate, in the discussion about how to affect change through the power of the vote, Glaude makes an argument that has been largely absent from the public conversation in the media when it comes to the awkward place conscientious voters now find themselves in:
AMY GOODMAN: And if you don’t want Donald Trump to be in office, how would you prevent that from happening?
EDDIE GLAUDE: So, part of what I’ve been arguing—and I wrote a piece with Fred Harris, a political scientist at Columbia—that we should vote strategically. And that is to say, if you’re an African American or if you’re a person of color or you’re a progressive of conscience, who’s—where the word actually means something, right?—in a swing state, it makes all the sense in the world to me, in a battleground state, that you vote for Hillary Clinton, because one of the objectives is to keep Donald Trump out of office. But if you’re in a red state, like my mom and dad—my mom and daddy are in Mississippi. Right? They’re Democrats, but we know Mississippi is going Trump. Right? What do you do? You can actually blank out. You can leave the presidential ballot blank. You can vote for a third-party interest. Right? Because what will happen? In that moment—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Wow!
EDDIE GLAUDE: —you will actually, 2020, given the turnout of how many people vote for the presidential—the Democratic candidate, will actually impact the number of delegates that come from that state to the convention in 2020. I’m in a blue state.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right.
EDDIE GLAUDE: I’m talking straight, because part of what we have to do is shift the center of gravity of how African Americans engage the political process, because this is what—1924, James Weldon Johnson says it’s almost as if the “Negro vote”—quote—has already been prepackaged and sealed to be delivered before they vote.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I got you.
EDDIE GLAUDE: In 1956, “Why I Won’t Vote,” W. E. B. Du Bois writes this piece and says, “I reject the lesser of two evils.”
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: We got all that.
EDDIE GLAUDE: In 1965, Malcolm X said we should treat the ballot like a bullet, and, until we get our targets set, keep our ballot in our pockets. Right? So, part of what I’m saying—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: And all I’m saying—
EDDIE GLAUDE: Hold up, hold up, hold up, Mike. You—no, hold up. You invoked the grandness of the tradition. I’m giving you examples—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But we ain’t got enough time to give—
EDDIE GLAUDE: —of what does it mean—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right.
EDDIE GLAUDE: —to think strategically about the vote and what does it mean to actually embrace a radical Democratic vision. If you are a centrist liberal, own that.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right. Here’s my point.
EDDIE GLAUDE: If you’re not, then embrace a different kind of politic.
The “different kind of politic” Professor Glaude alludes to is already being embraced by, thus far, disparate segments of the American electorate – segments which, had Senator Sanders had begun his candidacy much earlier – might have succeeded in unifying. While Sanders himself may not end up leading the revolution he began, there is a sense that his movement will go on and, depending on the way this election is managed, may even result in the split of progressives from the Democratic party and the formation of an independent party for progressives.
The kind of ‘strategic voting’ Glaude outlines is neither unique to progressive academics, people of a certain age or race. It is becoming the prevailing view among disillusioned progressives who believed their party can be reformed. The expectation that a defeated movement will fall in line behind the establishment is largely falling on angry ears. The expectation of tribal fealty to party is also in flux. Professor Marc Lamont Hill on his disappointment in both major parties and the use of fear in this election:
Lamont Hill deals with fear of Trump and how to effect change in ways similar to that of Glaude in some ways, but goes much farther in ways that may be more indicative of the millennial relationship with the establishment. Lamont Hill’s analysis resonates beyond race, class, and the generations. His calculus is the same as that of many former Sanders voters who have left the party to join the Greens. This is now reflected in new polling that shows that interest in both third parties is growing in spite of the tremendous pressure on progressive and Black voters to fall in line.
For the moment, it seems that young African Americans represent the better organized group of dissenters in this election cycle. They have a distinct advantage thanks to the new movement for civil rights: Black Lives Matter, which, incidentally, the Clinton campaign has spurned over and over again, this past year, and more yet during the convention in Philadelphia. In a recently leaked batch of emails on the Guccifer 2.0 site, it was revealed that congressional Democratic leaders issued the directive “‘Don’t Offer Support’ For Black Lives Matter Policy Positions.”
“The document was posted online by Guccifer 2.0, a hacker who has claimed to be responsible for the Democratic National Committee email leak. Guccifer claims the document is from the personal computer of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)”
“Presidential candidates have struggled to respond to tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement,” reads the memo, sent by a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer in November. “While there has been little engagement with House candidates, candidates and campaign staff should be prepared. This document should not be emailed or handed to anyone outside of the building. Please only give campaign staff these best practices in meetings or over the phone.”
Is it any wonder Hillary Clinton is only up by 1-2 points instead of 40-50, just one week before her first debate against Donald Trump?
Will the political revolution produce a new party? All signs point to such an event if the Clinton campaign does nothing to alter the course it is currently on and acknowledge the constituencies it assumes will fall in. This is not 2008. The writing on the wall in 2016 is, assume and you are sure to perish.
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