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A Different Take?


There has been a massive flood of election assessments. What was gained? What worked? What didn’t? What are people proposing in response?

Writers and activists are wisely touting various lessons. But so far, at least judging from materials I have seen, one direction of thought seems conspicuously absent.

Progressive post election commentary nearly universally discerns that urban and even suburban areas, and particularly minority communities and women in those areas largely repudiated Trumpism and strikingly even supported some very progressive and even radical candidates and referenda, whereas rural areas and particularly white working class men (and women) in those rural areas largely backed Trumpism and were far less likely to support progressive referenda.

Beyond those observations, while numerous progressive pieces quite reasonably entreat that future serious and sustainable gains require further radicalization of program and process able to further attract and protect urban voters, minority voters, and women voters, I haven’t seen any progressive pieces saying that future serious and sustainable gains require enriched program and process that reaches out to rural voters, white voters, and male voters. 

To me this is a serious problem. Celebrating allies is essential. But disarming and even recruiting opponents is not only good, but however difficult, also essential. It is strange to me that this isn’t totally obvious to every left commentator on the elections. Perhaps the short term logic of electoral thinking is at fault. If only winning an election by however slight a margin matters, then, with limited resources, pursuing a just sufficient bloc of voters makes sense. But if the goal is substantive and escalating social change, one needs a great deal more than bare or modest majorities. Winning a vote by a percent, or even by five percent is winning a vote, and certainly matters for the gains that the office holder can pursue. But in the longer run, winning votes by 33% or considerably more is required to get at the heart of fundamentally changing society’s institutions. 

To put it crassly, leaving huge numbers of disaffected citizens unaddressed, or even persistently dismissed and prepared to become foot soldiers for reaction, whether overtly or by implication, is strategically stupid. Of course one shouldn’t appeal to false fears or feed harmful confusions, much less abet vile prejudices. But denying fears, ridiculing confusions, and castigating prejudices isn’t a wise path of appeal either. 

Where are post election entreaties to determine what is accurate and warranted in rural, white, male fears? Where are post election entreaties to address rural, white, male suffering? Where are pst election investigations of what disaffected perceptions have real merit? For that matter, where are investigations of what flaws in decades of past progressive and radical organizing have left audiences who should be radical to instead support Trump? Why aren’t progressive election postmortem accounts urging that electoral and especially extra electoral efforts can and should speak to half the country, rather than dismissively writing them off as a way to celebrate, but not enlarge, the other half?

Shouldn’t we try to determine what programs can fight racism, sexism, and authoritarianism, but also fight the incredible array of debilitating forces scaring, confusing, prejudicing, and hurting rural America? Does doing the former really demand callously dismissing the latter? Doing the former may alienate some current anti-Trump well heeled, suburban voters who won’t rally around programmatically seeking much better wages, greatly improved housing, vastly expanded health care, hugely uplifted schooling, and sharply healthier, more empowered work conditions and much more for poor rural America. But without doing that there may be an end to Trumpism that returns us to Clintonism, but there won’t be an end to Trumpism that moves us on to Sandersism, much less far beyond.

If progressive pundits want to weigh in on which way the Democratic Party ought to turn, isn’t the core issue not whether it should oppose vile racism and sexism, which of course it should, and not whether it should favor wider health care and oppose harsh cutbacks and particularly environmental calamity, which of course it should, but whether it should continue its decades long strategy of serving the material well being and social advantages of professionals and highly empowered voters – or should instead prioritize serving working people more broadly?

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Paul D November 12, 2018 12:52 am 

    Michael,

    I live and frequently travel to and through regions with widespread Republican Party and Trump support, through my job as a mining industry regulatory employee so I think that I have observations to share.

    Firstly, we really have to be careful with framing the appeal of the Trump and Republican message in class terms. Throughout places as separate as West Virginia and Nevada, every Trump supporter I meet is doing well economically – never have I seen more new, expensive pickup trucks, 4-whellers, and home improvements as I do now. There is a shale-gas and pipeline-construction, and shale gas-driven plastics-petrochemical boom in my region right now and the “working class” West Virginians and Pennsylvanians seem to be able to afford things that I, an urban elite “professional” cannot (even if I was interested in such gasoline-burning crap). Trump voters are not poor.

    Serving “working people more broadly” means specific programs, yet isn’t the current rise of extreme conservatism the end-result of a corporate propaganda-driven reaction to the specific programs that were serving working people more broadly – by framing them as programs for the hated, lazy, darker-complected poor in the cities?

    Sometimes, the rise of a strong followership of extremist demagogues has nothing to do with legitimate class-grievances – it has to do with skilled demagoguery that appeals to the darkest, racist, hate-and-spite-filled corners of the human mind. I refer you to this song from the folk-opera “Hadestown”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAgiK07Py9M

    You write that we should not compromise our core principles – yet it is exactly those “socialist” and “cultural Marxist” principles – all of which benefit the poor wage-earner more than anyone else, that the Trumpists vehemently oppose the most.

    Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and fascism is just fascism.

    But yes I invite you to come down to, Beckley West Virginia, or say, Pottsville, Pennsylvania spend some time asking poeple questions and see if you can gain some insights that I have missed.

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