Democrats, progressives, liberals, whatever, are energized anew in their opposition to Trumpism, but they’re up against others energized by Trump’s election. For that matter, so are traditional center-right Republicans who find themselves marked by Trumpians as establishment elites. The Trumpian way of thinking is not new. It’s always been there, but until recently lacked the means to take center stage. It has taken center stage, and overcoming its momentum requires understanding it better. What provided its momentum was the confluence of three little creeks to form a sizable river.
First was the emergence of the tea party, engineered and financed by right wing money, but swiftly morphing into a genuine grass roots movement. Tea partiers were outraged by a black president, and convinced that the federal government was the enemy of American liberties. If nothing else, they got plenty of cable news airtime, and the heightened visibility that goes with it. Crude and ignorant as the movement is, it harmonized with libertarian ideology to form a potent political force.
Second was the advent of social media providing a multitude of platforms through which right wingers could network with each other, while increasing their outreach to new audiences. Grass roots movements of every stripe excel at networking, and the right wingers perfected it. That the Russians also played in the same sandbox was irrelevant to them, they didn’t care.
Third was the election of Trump, the ultimate triumph surpassing even their small victory with the congressional freedom caucus. The caucus could only bring government to a standstill in a dead end alley. Trump could actually get things done. What things? Well that’s a little vague, but if it smells like high paying factory jobs, tax cuts,1950s social conventions, and anything promising freedom from federal government oversight, they’re for it. That most of what they want would diminish the nation, making it a second rate player on the world stage, is rejected as ‘fake news’.
Living as I do in the intermountain West, I’m burdened with a member of congress whose record can be summed up as ten years of doing almost nothing, eight years of opposing anything and everything with an Obama label, all topped by two years of stalwart support for everything Trumpian. Oddly, as the election year approaches, she’s suddenly taken an interest in the district’s needs. Favoring the repeal of the ACA, and passage of the house tax package, she boldly claims to be for the little guy, farmers and ranchers, children, and God. Her supporters, little guys all, believe her. The mindset that allows her to keep on winning can be described through observations on several recent conversations.
One person got on his high horse about “typical liberals” accusing “all conservatives” of being sexist racists. I guess someone said something that got him going, but I didn’t hear it. The point he made with such vehemence was addressed by David Brooks in an October 3 column about tribalism, in which one’s tribe is understood to be under attack, and everyone not a member of the tribe is an enemy or dangerous alien. A significant number of voters in our district have been sold on the idea that their tribe, the tribe of real (white) Americans, is under attack on all sides by many others, especially liberals, all of whom are elite socialist statists. I have no idea what that means, but they apparently do. And why wouldn’t they believe it? For almost two decades they’ve been fed a steady diet of talk radio and Fox propaganda that tells them so. To be fair, I have a couple of uber-liberal friends who are just as tribal, flaunting their social righteousness over right wingers’ hill billy ignorance. Democrats have to resist their own tendency toward tribalism, and speak to the needs and interests of the district’s communities.
Another responded to the latest round of mass killings by saying it’s not about guns. It’s about what he saw on an internet meme: hearts without God; homes without discipline; schools without prayer; courts without justice. That the data show a clear correlation between guns and the number of killings is irrelevant. Anything that even sounds like regulation of guns is considered a threat to the second amendment, which has somehow become the pivot around which the entire constitution revolves. Guns are needed to protect good people from bad people who don’t go to church, are not from heterosexual two parent families, were raised without old time social values, and didn’t pray in school. Courts without justice? Your guess is as good as mine, and my guess is more arrests with more guilty verdicts, and longer prison sentences, for perps who don’t look like us. We may think we’ve got past that, but as revealed the other day in congressional testimony, the administration thinks black extremists need to be investigated as threats to our safety, but white supremacists and various neo-nazis can be ignored.
Right wing tribalism is cloaked with religion that likes God, but is not fond of what God likes. Democrats must not be reluctant to connect the good they want for society with the good that is at the core of Judeo-Christian faith traditions.
Not yet finished with religious beliefs as a component of right wing politics, all this violence and social discord is the work of the devil, said another correspondent. The evil one has been let loose on us as punishment for our sins, and liberals are on his side. It was not too many years ago that a popular local pastor expounded on how the devil had taken over our valley, with only a small remnant of the faithful standing in the breach. It’s a powerful image, one endorsed by the history of ancient Israel as recorded in the bible. If America is the new promised land, then it has fallen away just as the Israelites did in their promised land. It’s not the fault of the faithful remnant. It’s the devil’s fault, and his followers too. Who are the faithful remnant? Those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and adhered to the social values of the 1950s (washed clean of any stains), fully authenticated with well a thumped biblical seal. My denomination was not included in the remnant, by the way.
The strength of these beliefs cannot be ignored. They’re at the core of Christian fundamentalism, and conservative evangelicalism. It finds common ground with secular tea partiers and libertarians. They’re taught with such fervor and frequency that they become part of the fabric of life for the faithful. They’re firmly held in partnership with another etched in stone: the personal responsibility of rugged individualism. It works. It’s not our fault because we are the faithful remnant, responsible individualists but others aren’t. It’s their fault. They should take more individual responsibility, and, by the way, keep the government out of it. It’s unlikely that many of them can be convinced to vote for a Democrat, or even a moderate Republican.
In spite of their bold voices and strident demands, I think the greater number of potential voters are tired of their noise making and suspicious of their claims. If that’s true, Democrats (with friendly Republican help) must find a way to solicit the votes of those who have given up on conservative evangelical religious talk, and had it with right wing excesses, but don’t want to get in an argument with them. I imagine they’re disillusioned with politics in general. It won’t be easy, but there are avenues of access.
Some of them are pragmatically minded, wanting workable federal action on jobs, immigration, environmental protection, consumer protection, genuine tax reform, rebuilding infrastructure, etc. In our area, working hard on international market access for agriculture is important. Nothing pie-in -the-sky, just plain workable ideas. Anything over promised will be rejected out of hand. Others are adamant about the need for social justice: reform and expansion of the ACA, renewal of DACA, responsible gun regulation, pro-choice, and the like. Getting them to cooperate with each other will take some effort. Both want more jobs that pay higher wages, and are deeply concerned about affordable housing and quality K-12 education. They want a representative who understands all of that, and will speak for them in D.C.
Yet others need to be disabused of long standing mythologies about Democrats. A recent editorial cartoon featured a half dozen donkeys urging more spending, and a final one suddenly concerned about the deficit. That it’s been Democratic leadership in the forefront of responsible spending and deficit reduction is not well known. Equally unknown are the relationships between discretionary and total spending, deficit and debt, trade deficits and economic growth, etc. Democrats need to make simple, but accurate, economic models a part of their campaign platforms.
Finally, NEVER say anything that will earn Pinocchios from fact checkers.
Can it be done? Perhaps.