Three Democratic candidates for president walk into a bar.
The first one says, “I’m going to beat Donald Trump by re-starting the Bolshevik Revolution”.
The second one says, “I’m going to beat Donald Trump by breaking up the big banks and sticking it to the man.”
The third one says, “I’ll be in my trailer. Call me on the horn when they’re ready for my cameo in The Way We Were.”
Democrats lack a unifying message, and that’s why the top candidates are polling about the same. Democrats have surgically dissected their party into so many interest groups that these debates have the feel of a department store where lawnmowers and pitchforks are on the first floor, and lingerie and men’s shirts are on the third. The issues being debated are tedious, repetitious, and pedantic.
We have only one issue to discuss and find a solution for, and that is this: Who can deliver a knockout punch to Donald Trump and repudiate all of what the Republican Party stands for?
But to do that, we have to understand why Donald Trump won in the first place. We weren’t listening closely enough when he took the stage at his campaign rallies in 2016 to the refrain of:
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
What they needed was to be heard. If we had been listening then, we’d know now that we’re not in a debate at all. We’re in a Thunderdome where two enter, and only one leaves – where it’s dystopia on Planet Erf; where taking out a bad guy with a drone and caging brown skinned toddlers is now mere entertainment on the nightly news.
Back in the olden days of 2016, Democrats thought that Trump’s rally song was another clueless Republican attempt at dad-coolness like Reagan’s use of Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born in the USA”. Reagan and his boys thought it was an anthem of American patriotism and not what it was: Springsteen’s bitter critique of American hawkishness and indifference to those working-class men who returned from Viet Nam.
So, what was Trump saying to his voters as he pranced onstage to the dulcet tones of Mick Jagger?
“And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t, we’re gonna blow a fifty-amp fuse”
Not particularly good poetry, but hey, they’re not many poets left on Planet Erf. Nobody asked why Donald Trump won in the first place, because nobody in the Democratic Party saw him coming. We weren’t listening because we couldn’t look up from the past. We never saw Trump coming even as we saw our democracy being consumed from within by the inverted logic of the Republican Party: its war against the working class; its war against good government; its cultish Tea Party hatred of government itself.
So, maybe if we can understand what it was that resonated with the historic base of the Democratic Party, the “white working-class”, we might have a clue as to what the response to Trump should be. While Donald Trump summoned their rage, the Republican Party actively worked against the interests of this segment of American society by ruthlessly killing off the unions that had traditionally negotiated on their behalf for a livable wage. But Trump still won. Why?
Sherrod Brown had it right with his slogan, “The Dignity of Work”. He was speaking directly to Trump’s disillusioned and infuriated voters. He didn’t speak down to them; he understood what they wanted and what they needed – good paying jobs. Joan C. Williams, author of “White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” presents a compelling assessment of how the Republican Party led us to Donald Trump. In her 2016 essay entitled: “What So Many People Don’t Get About the US Working Class”, she retold this story, sent to her from a friend:
“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would “help” the working class. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. WWC (white working-class) men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. [Now, about 66%] Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.”
Williams goes on to say: “I fully understand why transgender bathrooms are important, but I also understand why progressives’ obsession with prioritizing cultural issues infuriates many Americans whose chief concerns are economic”.
Today, ideas like: transgender bathrooms, opposition to tax-breaks for the 1%, breaking up the big banks, Russian espionage, or # MeToo, won’t make Donald Trump a one-term president because we’re drowning in identity politics and lack a unified message.
So, if the Democrats want to win, and win big enough to silence this infernal presidency, each candidate for president must answer this question: “What specifically are the new jobs that will provide the dignity of work that the white working-class of America wants and needs?”
If the Democratic Party ignores these voters in America – those who don’t want to end up being greeters at Walmart – Trump will be reelected. They want jobs that will pay enough to support their families and educate their children. So, if the next debate is entirely about the actual jobs that the Democrats will deliver, then these debates might engender something more than hopelessness and despair – and deliver to Trump’s supporters both what they want and what they need. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the five fastest-growing occupations in the United States over the next ten years will be solar panel installers, wind turbine technicians, home health aides, personal care aides, and occupational therapy assistants. And none requires a four-year college diploma. But currently, jobs like these pay less because, when we de-industrialized and shifted to a service economy, Republicans killed off the unions that assured those good paying jobs that manufacturing had provided to Americans. Democrats have to fix this.
But we’re not going to get there with pitchforks, and we’re not going to get there with nostalgia. We’re going to get there by speaking directly to Trump’s supporters and telling them what they want to hear about: a future of good paying jobs.
Image: wikimedia commons
Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc. and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations. If you find her perspectives interesting, provocative, or controversial, follow her at: https://www.facebook.com/debby.long.98499?ref=br_rs