We lost, what should the left do now?
So what do we do now?
For a start, we must be brutally honest.
Several Democrats, including many on this site, will tell you working class people voted for Trump because they liked his racism and/or misogyny. They are largely wrong and need to be told as much.
The racism and misogyny of Trump’s supporters, fed by him, distracted us. Because we were so obsessed with the Trump’s latest tweet, or the latest vile t-shirt a Trump supporter wore at a rally, we missed the far more dangerous arrow aimed right at the heart of our appeal to the working class.
We got trapped in our own outrage machine, an echo chamber of disapproval that included most of the media. And we proved Trump’s point, that we are more concerned with tweets and t-shirts, “political correctness” than with ensuring people have work which lets them feed their families and live with dignity.
In our candidate’s transparent flip-flops on TPP, in watering down a $15 minimum wage, working people saw an unwillingness to stand firmly for their interests. We will have to work to regain their trust.
Call me crazy, but I do not think we can regain their trust by calling them racist misogynists.
So sadly, for the left, our first task is to combat those Democrats who will surely seek to blame working class people for voting in their economic self-interest. They will want us to believe the same working class and union households who voted for Obama, twice, in 2008 and 2012, suddenly woke up in 2016, looked in the mirror and decided they really were racist misogynists all along.
We must fight them on this. These people are wrong and we must make no bones about it. They were wrong to pivot to the right and try to appeal to Republicans. They have nothing but an identity politics hammer. So everything looks like a gendered or colored nail to them. We must combat them because their thinking will destroy the Democratic party.
That hammer was useless. The electorate was 52% women, that is down from 53% women in 2012. They voted for Clinton by a 12 point margin. This is virtually identical to Obama’s 11 point margin in 2012. One additional percentage point from women. One additional point for a woman running against a man who boasted about sexually assaulting women.
Pantsuit flash-mobs do not win elections. Working people know that viral videos won’t put dinner on your table or pay for your kids books.
Inevitably, our honesty will be misunderstood and mischaracterized. Centrist Democrats will tell us we are pouring salt into wounds that are too raw. Thing is, salt is used to stop infections from spreading. Yes, it’s painful. It’s purpose is to prevent the entire body from rotting away. So let us pour salt into these wounds with urgency, because our coalition is rotting away.
The party must take this medicine as soon as possible so we can re-group and be ready for any local elections in 2017 and Congressional elections in 2018.
We can be understanding and tactful towards well-meaning Hillary Clinton supporters who expended enormous energy on her campaign. We should, they are with us.
But under no circumstances should the reckoning be delayed.
DID DEMOCRATS HAVE TO LOSE TO CHANGE?
There’s a valid argument to be made that political parties (indeed any organization) is unlikely to reform itself in the absence of a crisis. In political terms, this would mean Democrats had to lose, and lose very badly to shift decidedly left. This conventional wisdom was applied to Republicans in this cycle:
“At some point, parties tire of losing,” says Wehner. “It happened to Democrats in the ’80s. What happens? Along came Bill Clinton and the New Dems. Same thing with Tony Blair and the Labour Party in England.” These leaders reversed their parties’ losing streaks, Wehner argues, with “policy changes, stylistic changes, and key moments that signaled to the country that they were a different kind of party and a different kind of candidate.”
In a sense, we got lucky. If we’d won, Democrats would have avoided this necessary reckoning. If we had won, Republicans would likely have had to face the task of removing the racist xenophobic misogynists among them. Instead, they will now form a more emboldened part of the Republican base. There in enormous risk in that, which is why we have to continue to combat their hateful agenda.
But we now have a chance and momentum to reform ourselves and the left should grasp it with both hands firmly. Remember that Bill Clinton and third-way Dems worked within the Democratic party. They were ready to take advantage of the crisis when it occurred. They took over the Democratic party and silenced all its New Deal and anti-trust leaders. The left must return the favor.
That is the task ahead. The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned. From Elizabeth Warren to Nina Turner, to the Occupy alumni who took the Bernie campaign supernova, there is a stronger field of coalition-inspiring progressive leaders out there than at any point in my lifetime. We are “leaderful”, as many in the Movement for Black Lives. — Naomi Klein
The left NEEDS to bring PoC into the fold
While we work on retaining working class voters and restoring our coalition, we also need to get better at reaching out to minority voters. Since minority voters are a large component of the working class, this should be natural. But it will mean building alliances at the person to person level, and helping support minority candidates.
We must admit this weakness. And admit that it was not a weakness for the Clintonites. If we can blame Third-Way Democrats for failing to maintain links with union members and the working class, we must likewise blame ourselves for failing to build the right relationships with PoC who form a core part of the Democratic base. If Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are going to lead the party, they need to expend energy on developing strong links with POC right now.
Our policies might be in the best interests of POC, but they, especially those in the South, have a well-earned distrust of idealist lefties who don’t understand the deep and entrenched racism they face. We must genuinely do better.
We also have to learn how to more effectively defeat charges of racism supposedly reserved to defeat the right against progressive candidates. We need a strategy to effectively defend against the next generation of David Brock paid trolls employed to malign Bernie supporters as racist misogynists.
As we do all this, we should not forget that many prominent Democrats made it their mission to tell Democratic primary voters Bernie was a white racist from a 98% state who didn’t want to do anything for black people and might never have known any. They derided his courageous activism in the 60s relentlessly. The Clinton camp brought out John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus PAC to hold a press conference. Lewis expressly questioned Bernie’s Civil Rights work. He later had to back track as pictures and video of Bernie getting arrested came out. This was done ahead of the South Carolina and other southern primaries in March. It was one of the dirtiest things in the primary. The Clintons and their allies went out of their way to malign a man who had been a reliable progressive ally and had put his body on the line when it mattered.
They were wrong to do it, and it is the one thing I will never forgive them for.
It must be our mission to make sure they either see the light or are shown the door. And we must remember what they tried to do, who they got to try and smear Bernie as an uncaring white man, or worse a racist, and how it played out. We must protect our flanks from these attacks and find the right way to discredit them when these arguments are made. This means really, really working with minority communities across the board, who are natural allies of the left anyway.
THE DNC NEEDS TO BE SWEPT CLEAN
Top to bottom. That means DWS and Donna Brazile should go, as should anyone else who did anything to compromise their integrity and that of the DNC. We do not need lobbyists on the DNC. We should reinstate Obama’s ban on lobbyists funding the DNC. We should be firm and relentless in this pursuit. The people who compromised themselves to side with the Clintons and their third way politics need to be put out to pasture. Don’t feel bad for them, they will find plush jobs in the corporate or lobbying sector. That is a better fate than the one facing all those who are now at risk thanks to Republican control of Congress and the White House.
We should clean house at the DNC with urgency and immediacy. This will not be easy and we should expect no help from centrist Democrats. The Clintonites will fight to retain their positions and access to power. We can see it already, the Clinton campaign staff are blaming everyone but themselves, and most of the DNC are applauding Donna Brazile for her “positive message”. But it must be done. They’ve shown us they can’t deliver on more Democrats. They have never wanted to deliver on better Democrats. They just lost to the most unpopular candidate in history. It is time for them to go.
Occupy DEMOCRATS to keep the momentum going nationwide
Bernie’s campaign reinvigorated the old left and embraced an entire generation of activists. In and of itself, that is an accomplishment for New Dealers, Lefties, and yes, Democratic Socialists, many of whom had begun to wonder whether they were destined to be a small minority within a third-way Democratic party.
Though elections are where the action is, parties change due to work done in the quiet periods to build allies for our positions. That’s why it’s heartening that Bernie and others within his campaign helped establish Our Revolution. Everyone who wants to take back the Democratic party should play a role in this.
Remaking a party requires building from the ground up, and there is a lot of room for progressives to contribute resources. That starts in your state and within your state party. We need more progressive challengers to centrist Democrats in primaries, to field-test our own ideas and make leftist candidacies viable.
And this is not purely an exercise. State laws and policy have enormous impact on people’s lives. Conservative “think-tanks”, legislative factories and lobbyists have focused their attention on state legislatures, getting them to pass a largely conservative agenda. We need progressive state legislators and local politicians to help counter this trend. States are also where we protect voting rights.
And we all have a lot of organizing to do. We need to make sure no one forgets the lessons of this election:
- Integrity and Financial probity matters
- It’s the Economy Stupid.
- Income Inequality is the biggest issue in the country.
- The media’s verdict is less than useless
- Bad foreign policy can lose elections
- We have to present a positive message
Integrity and financial probity matters
It’s more important than A-list fundraisers, A-list concerts and universal pundit approval. It’s unfortunate that it took a charlatan to demonstrate just how much the appearance of pay to play politics can hurt a candidate.
During the primary, I wrote a post about a now forgotten episode that forced Bill Clinton to put his ex-presidential office in Harlem. He initially wanted a space in one of the most expensive buildings in NYC. That turned into a scandal since it would have been the most expensive office space leased by the government, and he was forced to look at Harlem. The NY Times had this story:
another top executive, a rare Democrat in the real estate industry, took a dim view of Mr. Clinton's original choice. ''It was a disgrace,'' said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ''It was space for a tycoon. And he's a Democrat.''
Every time we nominate someone who can be painted as a fancy blue-blood, we lose. Al Gore lost, John Kerry lost, Hillary Clinton lost.
If Democrats want to be viewed as allies rather than manipulators by the poor and working class, we will have to insist that our politicians “start flying coach”. Democrats can no longer limit themselves to Martha’s Vineyard, Manhattan penthouses and the glitzier zip codes in Florida, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Seattle.
This election demonstrated that big money matters far less than lobbyists and bundlers at $10,000 a plate dinners tell you it does. Indeed, it can become a liability if a candidate is perceived as having been bought by donors. That lesson must not be forgotten.
It’s the economy stupid
29% of Latinos voted for Trump, that’s 2% more than voted for Romney in 2012. Some around here will call them self-hating fools, or we can remember that like most Americans they or their ancestors came here to make a better life for themselves. If we cannot deliver on that promise, or appear to be working against their material interests, we will lose them too.
Though Democrats under Obama managed to bring us back from the brink of the Great Recession, the gains such as they were, were unevenly distributed. Many people never fully recovered from the foreclosures and job losses they suffered during the recession. They believe the elite who caused the crisis got away with it because they hob-nob with and donate to the political class. They aren’t wrong.
Now, it’s not entirely Democrats fault. There was a bipartisan consensus in favor of clemency, greased by campaign contributions, friendships and revolving doors. But we are supposedly the left-leaning party. It’s our job to look out for the working class. We have been remiss.
income inequality is the biggest issue in the country
Or maybe folks actually do sort of understand FDR economics, but then get confused because both parties have claimed for decades that FDR economics sucked. — katiec
Neither Democrats, nor Republicans, have proposed a simple answer to the extreme inequality in our country. This gross inequality leaves 20% of our children in grinding poverty facing food insecurity while an ever smaller number prosper. I am fortunate to be among that small number, but it is a cold comfort. Unless we have a meaningful answer for the economic insecurity so many of our fellow Americans feel, you can expect to see your politics roiled again and again. They may be tinged with other disgruntlements, but at their core is dissatisfaction about material outcomes.
Centrist Democrats do not know the country they wish to govern. Worse, centrist Democrats are terrible at selling progressive economic policies because they lack conviction, which makes for a bad salesperson. Which is why they are now telling us there was no way to win the voters in Ohio. The fact is, they can’t win the voters in Ohio, unless they accidentally run into a genius on the stump like Barack Obama.
The Democratic party once represented the working class. But over the last three decades the party has been taken over by Washington-based fundraisers, bundlers, analysts, and pollsters who have focused instead on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives and getting votes from upper middle-class households in “swing” suburbs. — Robert Reich
It’s not just income inequality. We on the left own every other good issue too. Just think about the ways Bernie’s politics differ from Hillary’s third-way politics:
- His message on trade was far more labor friendly.
- He hit all the right notes on Women’s Rights, including equal pay, family leave
- His foreign policy was far better. He would not have been assailed on support for various wars.
- His focus on income inequality was spot on.
- His tax policy was far more progressive.
- His views on the outsized impact of the financial sector on our economy and politics resonated.
- His attention to money in politics and Citizen’s United was critical.
- His rhetoric and thinking on all the following were inspiring:
- especially childhood poverty
- racial justice
- unabashed advocacy for single payer health care
- free/low-cost college
- a living wage
These are the right positions for Democrats to hold. We do not need binders full of legislative proposals from lobbyists right now. Instead, we need to do the hard work to introduce and sell these ideas to the broader public. While we do that we need to keep it simple. Once we have the support and win, the detailed legislation can be written.
These issues are winning issues in many parts of the country. We have lost those parts because we allowed third-way Democrats to repudiate the New Deal. As we move forward to reform the Democratic party, don’t be disheartened. We are the change the country needs.
The media’s verdict is less than useless
As this cycle demonstrated, universal media affirmation is toxic. Every newspaper in the country endorsed Clinton, because she was familiar. And she lost.
BAD FOREIGN POLICY CAN COST ELECTIONS
We must repeat and emphasize that poorly thought out wars (like the Iraq war and our many “interventions”) have real costs. Certainly in terms of hundreds of thousands of brown people killed overseas. But also in terms of political losses at home. Earlier this month, the NYT tried to explore why Clinton trailed with veterans by 19 points:
In interviews with more than three dozen veterans, many praised Mr. Trump for candidly criticizing the costs of war, an issue they see few politicians in either party taking on. And they are unconcerned with how or when he arrived at his positions.
“The Iraq war was a disaster,” said Dustin Stewart, a former Army captain and Iraq veteran. “He is at least not trying to tiptoe around it. And I think some of the other Republicans were afraid of it.” [...]
Mr. Stewart grew up in a conservative family in Texas, where Rush Limbaugh’s show often played on the radio. In 2000, he cast a proud vote for George W. Bush. But six years later, he was leading an infantry platoon outside Ramadi, a hotbed of the insurgency then enveloping parts of Iraq. Mr. Stewart returned home alive but disillusioned. He supported Mr. Paul in the 2008 Republican primary race and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, in the 2012 election.
“I don’t want pity. I just want people to care,” said Mr. Stewart, adding, “Do you know what your politicians are sending us to do?”
The anti-war left may never be able to speak to all these voters. But many of them won’t they hear out a centrist hawk they believe is enthralled by defense industry lobbyists and generals lusting for new toys.
We must have a positive message
In a strange way, Trump's message was one of hope. And half of all Americans voted for that. Make America Great Again was left deliberately vague. People invested that with whatever they felt used to make their America Great but was taken away from them. It meant different things to different people. It might have meant a steady job that got shipped overseas, or a house that was foreclosed. For some it was undoubtedly a yearning for an America where their race was supreme. It was, a way of saying "I feel your pain".
Running a largely oppositional, fear-based campaign, even against some as reviled as Trump was a mistake
We have a hopeful message. We have a progressive message. It is far better than anything the Republicans or third-way Democrats have. Let's keep working to make the dream real.
I’ll end with Michael Moore whom I agree with almost entirely. Except that I think the electoral college and our federal structure are fine:
- Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.
- Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn't let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must "heal the divide" and "come together." They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.
- Any Democratic member of Congress who didn't wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that's about to begin.
- Everyone must stop saying they are "stunned" and "shocked". What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren't paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all "You're fired!" Trump's victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.
- You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: "HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!" The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don't. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he's president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we'll continue to have presidents we didn't elect and didn't want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there's climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don't want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the "liberal" position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).
Let's try to get this all done by noon today.
-- Michael Moore
And in case you need some musical inspiration today.