“We have nothing. Nothing. It’s all going to them.”
To regain their political footing, Democrats must publicly confront the angst-peddlers whose business model is premised on stoking white male anger and despair. And make no doubt, there’s a multi-billion-dollar industry devoted to doing exactly that:
Generally speaking, Trump supporters are non-college-educated white men, ranging from younger “bros” to, more typically, white male baby-boomer retirees with plenty of spare time to be relentlessly irradiated by Fox News and AM talk radio.
While the lack of a college diploma binds most Trump supporters together, there are more obvious tells – ones that we can plainly see but that can’t be fully measured by pollsters. Specifically, it’s not easy to quantify the growing resentment of white males who believe they’re slowly losing their millennia-long grip on societal power. Likewise, it’s difficult to measure the brainwashing of Trump’s loyalists by the Fox News and talk radio echo-chamber. Yet we see it on display every day.
Trump’s base has been pre-tenderized by what David Frum calls the “conservative entertainment complex.” Since at least the Clinton administration, white men have been slowly indoctrinated and, in too many cases, brainwashed by conservative media and its rather loose grip on reality. A recently released documentary by Jen Senko, titled The Brainwashing of My Dad, covered this particular phenomenon: the poisoning of otherwise decent older white men by interminable doses of conservative entertainment agitprop. The film follows the life of Senko’s father, who was once a Kennedy Democrat and, through daily assaults by right-wing radio and television, transformed into a racist conservative zealot.
There is no doubt the white working classes in the west have suffered in recent decades, yet no other demographic that has endured similarly straitened circumstances is indulged in this way. For decades, American politicians have demonised the black working classes who suffered far worse structural inequalities and for far longer – and Trump continues to do so today.
And yet, as Stacey Pattoon wrote, only the white working classes are accorded this handwringing and insistent media empathy. No one is telling these voters to pull up their boot straps. The much-discussed American Dream is only considered “broken” when it’s the white working classes who are suffering. When it’s African-Americans, they are simply lazy and morally flawed.
From Stacey Pattoon’s article:
Why isn’t anyone suggesting that these beleaguered White men respond to their relatively new “hard times” by working hard and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps? Where are the people calling on these beleaguered Whites to develop empathy and compassion for those who have long been suffering, like African-Americans and other people of color? Why do we need to understand this community? Why is the opposite never suggested as a potential option? Is it because White men are simply not willing to emerge from their bubble and acknowledge the humanity of those they deem “other?” Or is it because they are unable to see beyond their own reality?
We have nothing. Nothing. It’s all going to them. I mean, seriously, they get all the breaks – the f–ing welfare, the health care, the jobs. I mean, a white guy has no chance for the job these days – the government says you have to give it to them! It’s like completely upside down now. My grandfather and my father both fought to keep this country free, and for what? So their kid could get laid off, and [he looks around the diner, sheepishly], well, you know, the N-word, can get the damned job? This isn’t right, man. It isn’t right. We got nothing.
Democrats need to call that what it is: bullshit. What’s more, Democrats need to call out the angst-peddlers for what they are: hucksters.
Democrats need to say, loudly and often: “You [white men] are being lied to. From the Wealth Care Act – it sure as hell ain’t about caring for health – to their ‘tax reform’ that throws mountains of money at rich people like Trump, the GOP and the right wing rage machine prove again and again that they don’t give a damn about you … except to keep you angry and terrified enough to buy whatever schlock they’re advertising … and to vote for them.”
No mincing words. No pretending there must be a rational basis for irrational, carefully-manipulated white male rage. Yet Democrats should be careful to focus their scolding on the grifters – the angst-peddlers – and not the marks.
“It’s really hard for me to imagine another cheap solution out of this.”
But merely confronting that irrational angst will not be enough. Democrats must also offer concrete, practical proposals to ease the real economic hardship many Americans face. That begins with telling a hard truth: the airbrushed Good Old Days of the 1950s are never coming back.
Setting aside the fact that those Good Old Days weren’t all that good for women and people of color – who together are over half of Americans – the simple truth is that the Industrial Age has given way to the Information Age and, in terms of making things, the Automation Age. Even if there were a way ‘grab back’ every factory that was built in Central America, South America, Africa, or Asia … and there isn’t! … most of those factory jobs are now done by machines. So are most agricultural jobs.
Democrats need to hammer that truth again and again. Democrats must also emphasize that anyone who promises a return to the Good Old Days – where anyone with a high school diploma could get a factory job that paid a middle-class income – is lying. Period.
From that hard truth, Democrats should pivot to those concrete, practical proposals to ease real economic hardship, and their 2016 platform was full of such proposals. Raising the minimum wage. Making college, job training, and child care more affordable. Protecting (or more likely, restoring) and improving Obamacare.
Beyond that, Democrats should be honest about the costs of rebuilding the American Dream. And urban planner Richard Florida emphasizes that there are no cheap solutions:
Maybe we can have a new urban frontier. Maybe that’s rebuilding the old industrial belt, or maybe the Sun Belt is somewhat a new frontier. But in some way, the classical, canonical frontier has been run out of gas, and with it goes the cheap growth we got in the initial frontier.
I think about my dad and mom moving to Newark. They bought a suburban home cheap in North Arlington, New Jersey. My dad could drive his Chevy to the factory in 10 minutes. There was no traffic down the highway. Now, due to the size and scale of our metropolitan areas, because of the investments in knowledge institutions, it’s becoming more expensive.
However, I think in the field of urban planning we get this idea that either everyone is moving in or everyone is moving out. It’s either intensification or extensification. Actually, the history of American urbanism is a history of both. We intensify and extensify at the same time. Part of why I tried to add the suburbs to my analysis is we’re not only going to intensify, but the way out of it is a new kind of extensification. It may be around subway stops and train stops. It may be around different kinds of transit. But it’s not going to be all in or all out; it’s going to be both. There’s no way we can pack everyone in[to] towers in Midtown Manhattan.
It’s really hard for me to imagine another cheap solution out of this. At least in the more developed places, the solutions are going to cost more.
To ease the real economic hardship, we must invest in each other. Some of that investment will have to be led by government, so billionaires and big corporations will have to invest in America. That’s another of those hard truths, and Democrats must not be afraid to say so.
To help find that courage, Democrats should remember that they won the popular presidential vote in 2016. They also gained seats in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and could well repeat that in 2018. The party is not “reeling” … except by the ridiculous double standard where anything less than a complete GOP debacle is a complete GOP victory, and anything less than a complete Democratic victory is a complete Democratic debacle. And that’s another truth that Democrats must be ready to tell.
For Democrats, the solution isn’t about spinning rosier lies. Republicans will always win that contest. Instead, the solution is telling more hard truths, about the challenges we face and the costs of easing those challenges.
That’s how we win.
Photo Credit: Three Lions (Getty Images); Image Modification: Crissie Brown (BPI Campus)
Good day and good nuts