I have acquaintances who like Ben Carson and Donald Trump. I think they speak for many of the traditional conservative voters in our region. It’s refreshing, they say, to hear someone tell it like it is.
The ‘it’ that they tell is a fascinating bag of miscellany.
- He will seal the border, and stop the flood of violent illegals who are committing crimes and taking our jobs.
- He will make us great again, like we used to be. No one respects the USA anymore because Obama is weak.
- He will make it better for people like me who are struggling to stay in the middle class.
- He will get us out of this horrible economic recession that has lasted for so long.
- He will do away with big government interference in our lives.
- He will assure that gays and illegals will not be the favored class like they are now.
- He will rebuild our military so that it is once again the best in the world.
- When we go to war we will go to win.
- Putin won’t push us around.
One of the oddest claims came from a friend who looks forward to getting rid of the “Unaffordable Care Act” so that he can buy decent insurance at a decent price after he retires. A firefighter, he will retire long before he is eligible for Medicare, and so is searching the private market for insurance as good as his current union negotiated package that covers everything at city expense. He won’t find it at an affordable price, and somehow that’s Obama’s fault.
They like Ben and Donald more than the other umpteen Republican candidates because they don’t look or sound like politicians, and their lack of government experience, or even knowledge about government, is seen as a big plus. If they don’t know much history, well, most Americans don’t either, so what!
These unreflective preferences say a lot, and it needs to be taken seriously.
Many of my friends and acquaintances get their news from Fox, right wing talk radio, or conversation with others of like mind. They have been fed a constant barrage of propaganda that the southern border is a sieve and almost deliberately left unprotected. That the economy is in the tank and getting worse. That Obama is not respected by world leaders. That the federal government is intent on invading and controlling every aspect of their lives. That the poor are lazy. That those on welfare are drug users, street gangers, and living as well on tax payer handouts as hard working Americans do on hard earned paychecks . And that the last eight years have been an unmitigated disaster on every front. Of course the unstated problem is that Obama is black.
Apart from that, they are convinced that Democrats are the party that believes you should not be held responsible for your own well being, that government can make better decisions for you than you can, and that every problem can be solved if enough money is thrown at it. Democrats are the party of takers and taxers, not hard working earners.
In one sense they have a point. The economy has recovered from the mess that existed in 2007-08, and which had been long time coming, but it has done so very slowly, and in a way that has not benefitted most of them. They have not seen their paychecks rise, their jobs are always in jeopardy, and they are vaguely aware that there are others making huge profits and enormous salaries, so something must have gone wrong somewhere. Moreover, the social fabric is changing very quickly. It’s not just that gays of one stripe or another can get married. The superior place of a white majority is being threatened by blacks, Hispanics and Asians to the point where there will soon be no majority race. That’s a very real threat to a certain kind of self identity.
My point is this. These are assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes that have been annealed by the heat of public rhetoric (read propaganda) and salted with just enough truth to become a very tough, inflexible world view. It cannot be ridiculed out of existence. It cannot reasoned into greater flexibility. And it must be taken seriously by any progressive party or candidate that wants to win an election. Is there any workable way to approach them? I think there is.
What they lack, and what they want is hope. They want candidates and parties to take their fears and beliefs seriously. They want to know that a better life for them is not only possible, but that candidates and parties have a plan that makes sense and can work. In the end, I think most are sufficiently good hearted to want to share the reality of a new hope well beyond the social environment in which they feel most comfortable. Obama’s “change we can believe in” was seen by them to be the threatening kind of change that has actually come about. It was threatening because it was the promise of a change calculated to not only exclude them, but penalize them in the process. What they want to know for certain is that the changes yet to come will not leave them behind. Hope is what they want.
That will take a message from Democratic candidates that is quite different from the usual appeal to liberal voters. Exactly how to craft that message is for others to do. But whatever it turns out to be, it must be believable because it is authentic.