I Was Wrong
koppie Wed, 11/09/2016 - 23:22
Turns out, I didn’t know what was going on.
To be fair, we were coming off of 8 years of liberal dominance. The Republicans were in disarray. All the conventional wisdom pointed to a Clinton landslide - even the polls did. So what went wrong? I don’t know; I’m going to wait for smarter people to try to answer that question for me.
But one thing I do know: a large swath of the population was not happy with the status quo. I have no idea what they’re thinking or feeling or what they want. It clearly isn’t the same things I want.
But I know where I can find out.
I’ve got friends who voted for Trump. Not many - we are far too good at self-selecting these days. I am vaguely aware that my conservative friends (is that even the right term any more?) have been trying to tell me what the problem is, but I didn’t listen because I was too busy winning and being right. But that stopped working on Tuesday night.
I wonder if this is how the Russian intelligentsia felt in 1917. Because this is a revolution - the American kind. The proletariat said “fuck this shit” and flipped the table.
I’m lucky: my conservative friends are good people. I know they’re not racists, or sexists, or xenophobes. In fact, they’re compassionate and patient. Maybe they knew this revolution was coming, and they were patiently waiting for me to embarrass myself so my eyes would be forced open and I could begin to learn what the hell is actually going on in this country.
One thing is clear: my conservative friends possess a wisdom and understanding that I lack. And if my liberal movement ever wants to be relevant in this country again, I need to start understanding what the majority of Americans need and want, and I need to help my people understand it, and I need to start advocating for the right kind of change from within the Democratic party. I still feel strongly about fixing injustices for women and minorities. I still feel strongly about reproductive rights and immigrant rights. I still feel that we can improve health care in this country, reduce income inequality, reduce violence, and fight global warming. I still believe that America has an important part to play on the world stage, defending the weak and protecting a system that benefits everyone worldwide.
But part of my problem is my side has no idea how to sell this message to the majority of people in this country. Even more important, I need to figure out what’s important to the majority of people in this country. The Democrats used to know. We used to be the labor party. We used to be the party of unions. We used to be the Southern party. We used to be populists. But somehow we became the party of urban coastal fart-sniffing elites, so convinced in our own rightness that we refused to even look or listen at what was going on in the rest of our country. We were convinced that we could force our liberal agenda by controlling the executive and judicial branches. Why wait for an actual majority when we could litigate our way to reproductive rights and gay rights. Why respect state rights when we could use the Supremacy Clause to force our will. Toward the end, we were shockingly cavalier about abolishing the filibuster - an important tool of our democracy. I’m glad we didn’t get the chance, and I hope the Republicans choose not to use it now.
But I do know a few things:
I know that gun control is not the solution. We need to listen to the conservatives on this one, not just because they’re right (which they are), but because our myopic insistence on undermining the Second Amendment has needlessly alienated vast portions of the American electorate. Is gun violence a problem in this country? Yes. Is there a solution? Yes, probably. But we’re going to have to get a lot more open minded and less dogmatic if we’re going to figure it out.
We’re also wrong about energy and industry. Yes, global warming is real, and yes the Republicans need to wake up to that at some point. But we need to stop acting like it’s okay to destroy the livelihood of a 50 year old coal miner in West Virginia who has a family to feed. His needs should be more important than the polar bears. We can’t tell him to go to community college and learn how to be a programmer. And we can’t expect him to live off the public dole. Both suggestions are offensive and a big part of why people are pissed off.
We’re also wrong about free trade. To be sure, free trade is a good thing. It’s nice that I can go to Starbucks and buy a $5 latte made from fair trade beans. But what about all the unemployed factory workers? I’ve done more to help Guatemalan coffee farmers than I have to help Michigan auto workers. We were so gleeful about TPP, and why? Because it would increase our “influence” in Southeast Asia? What about our influence in Michigan? Once again, the Democratic party has put the interests of foreigners ahead of the interests of Americans, and we were pretty blatant about it too.
We’re right about gay rights and reproductive rights, but we were wrong about how we went about it. The Supreme Court isn’t democracy - it’s kinda the opposite. Before Roe v. Wade, there was already a slow push in favor of abortion. If we had let the popular movement run its course, we would have had it by now anyway. Instead, we forced the issue, and got 9 justices to override the will of millions of voters in dozens of states. It gave the Religious Right something to rally around. Same with gay rights. 3/4 of the states had already legalized gay marriage, and we were all pretty sure it was just a matter of time before the rest of the states woke up to the 21st century. But instead, we pushed the issue and explicitly overrode the will of the voters in a dozen states.
Yes, it’s a shitty deal for women and LGBT who live in red states and have their rights denied. But by shoving our values down other people’s throats, we’ve only undermined our own cause. Yes, I believe that reproductive rights are a basic human right and shouldn’t be negotiable. But the Religious Right believes just as strongly and honestly that abortion is murder. For them, it’s not about subjugation of one gender, it’s about defending the rights of those who are too small to defend themselves. I don’t believe that’s true, but they do, honestly and fervently. We have ignored that to our own detriment. Which brings me to my next point -
We were wrong about states rights. I used to smugly pontificate that states rights was really just a euphemism for “we don’t like colored people,” and maybe in 1861 that was true (let’s not forget that it was my party that used that argument - not the Republicans). But now that the shoe is on the other foot, I’m really glad I live in a blue state that has the authority to legalize marijuana and outlaw plastic bags. For the next four years, Californians are going to hope that we can have our own little liberal agenda in peace, and not be bothered by the other party ruling things from Washington. All Wisconsin wanted was the same thing. (And Ohio, and Pennsylvania.)
I also know that activism matters. I have friends who canvassed in Nevada, and helped turn the state blue. That’s a big deal, and it shows me that we already have the answer. We need to reach out and understand middle America, but we also need to advocate for what we know is right. We need to sell it all the way across this country, not just at the coasts.
Beyond that, I’ll admit I’m afraid. Four years ago, my father in law confided to me that he was afraid Obama’s armed thugs were going to march down his street; that’s why he needed to stockpile so many guns. Now I’m the one afraid that the Neo Nazis will be “emboldened” to start an American Kristallnacht, and President Trump won’t do anything to stop it (and in fact might actually encourage it). Good thing I have my own guns, but I’m afraid it won’t be enough. I’m afraid he’ll start World War III and my kids won’t be safe from the nuclear fallout. I’m afraid I won’t see the warning signs in time and will miss my chance to move to Canada before San Francisco housing prices drop and the US dollar is devalued. I worry about global warming. I’m afraid that Trump’s poor economic policies will cause another global recession, which will even hurt the robust tech industry in California, and I’ll lose my job and won’t be able to provide for my family. I’ve already lost sleep over this.
However: I also know that my conservative friends are compassionate, patient, and forgiving. My challenge to myself is going to be to reach out with an open mind and try to understand what the deal actually is with this country. Because I thought I knew, and I clearly didn’t.
But I can learn. And maybe I can help influence my fellow Democrats. The midterm election is only 2 years away - maybe by then the Democrats will have something worth voting for.