Let me begin clearly:
- President Trump ran a racist campaign.
- Trump is not President because he ran a racist campaign.
If we consider the things he said and the promises he made, it becomes clear that he won for typical reasons a Republican wins. He wasn’t afraid to be politically incorrect, which wins over voters who feel isolated from liberalism for cultural reasons. He would protect the interests of the wealthy, which wins over rich jerks. He promised jobs that will surely never materialize, which wins over communities without jobs. He promised a crackdown on terrorism, which wins over the paranoid and afraid.
At the center of his promise was a narrative of how things got so bad: immigrants took your jobs and made your communities unsafe. Politicians screwed you over. Politically correct liberals refuse to go after the Bad Guys.
Clinton’s narrative was the opposite: immigrants make America great. Politicians — Democrats at least — have made some real progress and mostly try to do good. Political correctness is part of an American tradition of kindness and equality that makes us great.
And I generally agreed with Clinton’s narrative. But Trump’s narrative supported repeated promises: more jobs, more wealth, better healthcare, a regained respect for the culture of the forgotten man. Clinton’s narrative was in service of a different, and ultimately ineffectual message: her own qualifications, and Trump’s unique contemptibility.
We now know that her advertisements focused on attacking Trump instead of telling voters how she would help them. She was politically correct, except when she called a lot of voters “deplorable.” She had no specific message on how she would bring jobs to struggling communities. She offered nothing specific to the people who haven’t been helped by Obamacare.
Clinton’s narrative was nice, but it lacked something crucial: she couldn’t tell voters why they were hurting, and she couldn’t promise anything that would help stop the pain.
We cannot go into another election without a message that can win those voters. We must develop a message that can help achieve these two foundational goals:
- We must win voters over to a program that ensures racial equality, income equality, universal health care, women’s rights, and rights for LGBTQ people.
- We must root out racism, worker exploitation, poverty, sexism, and discrimination against LGBTQ people.
So how do we do that?
Clinton’s campaign, and liberal groups post-election, have focused on the second — scolding voters for indulging a politics of discrimination in the form of Trump. As Ryan Cooper points out, that’s not a winning strategy.
Scolding people for their beliefs is unlikely to win them over. Even worse, focusing on racism as a political issue indulges the divisive politics that propelled Trump to the White House. The best way for the left to accomplish both of these goals is to redirect our political focus to a narrative that helps us win voters? What kind of narrative could possibly do that?
Obama’s narrative is a good place to start, particularly as many now-Trump voters were Obama voters not so long ago. Obama’s message zeroed in on issues like inequality, strengthening the working class, and improving healthcare. But his narrative provided outdated enemies: namely, the failure of politicians to compromise and work together. It should be clear by now that compromise will not save us. We should settle for nothing less than a Democratic majority that can suppress Republican dissent.
Thankfully there is another enemy we can readily target, a group of people we can rightly direct the electorate’s anger toward: millionaires and billionaires; pharma and health care execs; CEOs cashing checks while laying off workers; hedge-fund managers and bankers profiting off the pain of the working class.
If Democrats can redirect anger toward those people — the right people — they can build popular support for programs like Medicare for All, an expanded Social Security, and major investments in infrastructure that can support a jobs program. And if we can direct the nation’s anger at the people who really deserve it — the exploiters, the rich jerks, the trust funders — we might even have a chance of building solidarity between poor and working people of all color, sex, and identity. Two birds, one stone.
It’s time for a class war the upper class doesn’t win. Here’s to an inclusive, multi-racial working class movement!