Steve, in the aftermath, looks back...and looks ahead...
I awoke this morning to a reality that I now know I had
simply refused to truly process as even possible
when it was merely in its hypothetical form for the last eighteen months. I had
been comforted and lulled by statistics which were no doubt mathematically
accurate in reporting what people said
they would do but flawed in their
ability to depict what people would
actually do. I was reading and
watching the news from sources that reinforced my views. And I was mingling largely
with like-minded people in well-to-do enclaves who were appalled by Donald
Trump’s candidacy but who felt that October and November surprises had been
weathered and that sanity would prevail.
I had even written what I thought was a clever essay that
was all ready to post this morning. It was called, “The Party of No vs. The
Party of Know.” The thesis was that the Republicans lost because they were only
united by what they hated, not a set of principles and actions they believed
in. I made the point that for all the shifts in demography, ethnicity, and
gender, the biggest change in the Republican Party since Mitt Romney appeared
to be in the amount of education. It
was a less educated party than four years ago. The Party of No.
In contrast, over the past four years, the Democratic
Party has statistically been proven to be more
educated. More educated than the Republican Party, and more educated than
it had ever been in the past. It was the
party of science and globalism, more open and accepting of otherness. The Party
Instead of happily posting that piece, I am back at the
keyboard at square one, and though all the world has been turned on its head, I
am certain of one thing.
Being wrong is not the worst thing. Quitting is.
Being on the wrong side of a democratic election is
discouraging. Giving up on our democracy is crazy.
When, in the course of human events, democracy screams
something at us at the top of its lungs, we’d all be wise to think long and
hard and carefully about what it said.
We can whine that a demagogue bullshitted his way to the
Presidency, but who, exactly, created the majority voting bloc that didn’t care
We can express outrage that our new President is a sexual
predator, but who created a majority voting bloc that willingly ignored that
behavior and elected him?
We can be horrified that our new President lacks a
fundamental working knowledge of our Constitution, but who created the majority
voting bloc that is ready to make that trade-off?
We did, that’s who. The United States of America.
Some people threaten to flee to Canada or Europe, but if
you think that the U.K., France, or Austria is a safe haven, let me remind you
that liberals are supposed to be the globalists.
The problems France is dealing with and the polarization in their upcoming
election are directly in line with Brexit and Trump. Some would argue that it
is worse. Fine, go live in Manitoba if you must, but this time fleeing to
Canada is not civil disobedience, it is abdication.
The rise of Donald Trump is a multi-faceted phenomenon
that deserves close scrutiny. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope on these
pages to examine many of the factors that led to his victory, if only to help
illuminate the path to a brighter chapter in our nation’s history at some point
in the future. Today, I see three essential drivers of Trump’s win.
A huge component of Trump’s victory is unmitigated rage
against the establishment, be it found on Wall Street, in Washington, D.C., or in
the media. I urge that you all attend a sensational play now at the Public
Theater called “Sweat,” which brilliantly and poignantly depicts how the
closing of the one factory in a one factory town utterly destroys people,
families, friendships, and triggers truly unhinged rage at the establishment
powers – the heartless businesses that decamp and head for the border, and the
government that serves as an enabler. It
is a sympathetic portrayal of the betrayal that anti-Government people feel,
and it provides searing and graphic background and context for the seething anger
that has been on display for months at your typical Trump stadium shows.
And yet, at the same time, the play also lays bare the
sense of unjustified entitlement that
these people feel: that a lifetime of work at the factory was their birthright,
just as it had been guaranteed to their parents and grandparents before. That
the economics of manufacturing changed overnight was not their doing or their
fault, and somebody – the
south-of-the-border immigrant who crosses the picket line, or the cold hearted
company executives who shut out the union – somebody
else is to blame. This dimension of the play illuminates how the absence
of education and transferable skills creates unemployable fifty-somethings who
simply have a different flavor of entitlement, and little left in their lives but anger at what they have lost.
A second theme I intend to explore is the news media, an
unindicted co-conspirator in the Trump phenomenon. Just as Dwight Eisenhower once
famously warned of the rise of the “military-industrial complex,” it is now time
to examine the “news-entertainment” complex. We are a nation that places
outsized emphasis on entertainment, celebrity, and our once-independent fourth
estate has been co-opted to play by the rules of entertainment. The titans like
Cronkite and Bradlee who had the gravitas and influence to take down Presidents
have been replaced by weaklings like Brian Williams and Matt Lauer, pretty boy
news-readers who have never been real journalists and who wilt in the heat of
the kitchen of democracy. Worse, the objectivity that gave Cronkite his power
has been replaced by intentionally biased reporting on both sides of the
political spectrum that reduces the news industry to propagandists worthy of Pravda. How can we self-righteously
condemn the ignorance of a voter who is simply repeating what he or she heard on Fox
In my third area of exploration, I will return to the
core thesis that informed the essay that I had hoped to publish today: that the
biggest bifurcation in our country today is a gaping chasm of educational
“haves” and “have-nots.” I shall continue to examine that hypothesis: our two-party system today had
degenerated to “The Party of No vs.
The Party of Know.”
Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is relatively
easy to trace. The stinging defeats of John McCain (2008) and Mitt Romney
(2012) fueled the growth of the Party’s Christian Conservative and Tea Party
wings. These two “outlier” groups became convinced that the path of Republican centrists
was forever doomed to produce milquetoast losers like McCain and Romney. Indeed, what followed was the belief that centrist
Republicans were every bit as much a part of the “Washington establishment” as
Democrats. Yes, “centrist Republicans”
became the sworn enemy of, uh, other
Republicans. This blood feud rupture made it increasingly difficult to
articulate a unifying philosophy, and Republicans therefore defaulted to a set
of common enemies. The schism obliterated any notion of what the party believed in; it merely animated what the
party was opposed to. The Republican brand became the party of “shut
down the government,” repeal Obamacare, refusal to consider Supreme Court
nominees, a publicly stated policy of working to thwart the every move of a
Democratic President, and a seeming bottomless well of loathing for Hillary
Clinton. A new Republican brand identity was forming in a bitter miasma of
negativity: “The Party of No.”
Into this vacuum of positive beliefs strode Donald Trump,
who poured a potpourri of angry rants and threats into a vessel emptied of meaning called the Republican Party. His message of rage against the government became the de facto platform of the Republican Party. Pillars of Republicanism -- free trade, religious freedom -- were pilloried.
In a very
real sense, the victory of the anti-government faction of the Republican Party
has changed the character of the “normative Republican.” Where the face of the
Republican Party had once been the conservative, college-educated, white and
white collar suburban centrist, the “anti-government” faction has a decidedly
different cast. Much has been made of the fact that the Trump base is
under-educated aging white males.
Consider this little snippet from a CNN write up of a
CNN-ORC poll taken in three swing states shortly after the release of the
“Access Hollywood” video.
educated whites in Nevada and North Carolina break sharply in Clinton's favor,
49% Clinton to 41% Trump in Nevada and 59% Clinton to 37% Trump in North
Carolina… in Ohio, 48% Clinton to 44% Trump. In all three states,
college-educated whites backed Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012, by wide
margins. Those white voters without college degrees remain a core of Trump's
support, backing him over Clinton by 48 points in North Carolina, 26 points in
Ohio and 25 points in Nevada.
In the span of a single election cycle, Donald Trump and
his impassioned anti-government believers changed the face of the Republican
Party. The Republican Brand of Donald
Trump is, plain and simple, less educated
than the Republican Brand of Romney or the Republican Brand of McCain.
I am sure your next questions are these: (1) is the Democratic Party more educated
than the Republican Party? and (2) has this changed in recent years? Both, in fact, are true. This quote is from a
Pew Center Study of Party Affiliation Trends from 1992 to 2014:
now hold a 12-point lead (52% to 40%) in leaned party identification among
those with at least a college degree, up from just a four point gap seen as
recently as 2010 (48% to 44%). Much of this advantage has come among adults
with post-graduate experience; currently, 56% lean Democratic while just 36%
lean Republican. Among those who have received a college degree but have no
post-graduate experience, the gap is much narrower: 48% identify as Democrats
or lean Democratic, while 43% affiliate with the GOP or lean Republican.
Education may be just one part of the broad equation, but
its implications for the Republican brand going forward are significant. It is
the less educated voter who tends to dismiss climate science. It is the less
educated voter who is less equipped to discern whether a news report on a
biased news network (take your pick, MSNBC or Fox) is hopelessly misleading. It
is the less educated voter who is less equipped to discern whether or not his
or her own candidate is telling the truth.
It is the less educated citizen who falls more easily under the spell of
a supremely confident demagogue.
Yes, it would have been a wonderful essay explaining why
the “Party of No” lost.
However, the problem is that
the “The Party of Know” lost.
Let’s start by joining hands and acknowledging that maybe
– just maybe – the Party of Know needs to
For starters, perhaps it is time to finally stare at the nomination of
Hillary Clinton and ask whether it was such a great idea after all. Many ardent Hillary supporters
simply refused to acknowledge any basis for her high negativity ratings, so
they plowed forward in the belief that such unsubstantiated loathing should not
be factored into the nominating process. Seeing no justification for her
appalling low ratings on likeability and trust, they ignored the warning
signals. Whether you think those awful ratings for trust or likeability were merited, they were real.
Here is a fact about yesterday’s vote that should be
examined. Hillary Clinton’s loss was attributable to losses in in Rust Belt
states... the very states in which Bernie Sanders ran his strongest primary races against her. Those
were the states that heard and responded to messages about bad trade deals and
income inequality. For sake of argument, one could hypothesize that Sanders would have won all the liberal "gimmes" that Hillary won, and he would have been far more competitive in the Rust Belt. Yes, it is entirely
possible that Bernie Sanders might have beaten Donald Trump.
And, just to round out the critique, we need to
remind the Democrats in 2020 that every time they run a dry, odorless,
colorless, policy wonk whose platform is experience and competence (Mondale,
Dukakis, Kerry, Hillary Clinton) they lose,
and that every time they run a brilliant charismatic (John F. Kennedy, Bill
Clinton, Barack Obama) they win.
Maybe “The Party of Know” needs to know a great deal more.
Maybe we all do.
I, for one, need to spend less time with MSNBC and more
time with original source material.
Perhaps liberals need to spend less time explaining why we are right
and more time actually being smart about what voters really feel, and more time finding solutions
that they believe will truly address their concerns.
The Party of Know needs to know one thing: in a
democracy, truth is not subject to a vote, but leadership of the country is. You’ll
recall that old Daniel Patrick Moynihan quote -- that people are entitled to
their own opinion, but not their own facts. Votes, my friend, are an opinion. Everyone can have one, and
nobody has to justify it.
Here’s a radical thought: perhaps in the next four years,
The Party of Know may want to actually try to collaborate with Republicans to get things done. Sure the
Republicans tried to obstruct Obama’s every move, but what was it that Michelle
said? “When they go low, we go high.”
But for now, the Party of Know has to know one thing.
you ready, everyone?
Repeat after me:
“Donald Trump is the President of my country. I am a
patriot. Donald Trump is my President.”
In fact, Mr. Trump, you needn’t be concerned about my loyalty.
If I were you, however, I’d be more than a bit concerned
about that spigot of rage you opened when it is turned back on you. I think
that will happen when the zealots you’ve unleashed discover that you’ve actually
been lying to them all along… that
you can’t build the wall, you can’t ban Muslims, you can’t bring manufacturing
jobs back, you can’t lower taxes, you can’t bomb the shit out of ISIS, and you
can’t replace Obamacare. And, oh by the way, the mid-terms are just two years away.
In the coming years, we risk the continued downward drift
to a society driven by our most base fears rather than fueled by our
aspirations. I do not see easy or quick solutions. But more than anything else, we need to repair vital
societal institutions that have been degraded by decades of neglect. Our educational
system is in need of desperate repair, particularly in underfunded,
underprivileged areas in the K-12 years. In truth, the best way to defeat the Donald Trumps of
the world is with educated voters who can discern fact from fiction.
For that to happen, we can't have out idealists quit and run away to some version of imaginary Canada, be it in the form of
apathy, abdication, or accommodation.
Get out of bed, lefty. Stop your whining and your denial.
You lost the battle, but the war rages on.
Yesterday, in the long course of human events, democracy
screamed at us.
If you chose to ignore that scream, perhaps you belong in
the Party of No.