It’s Still the Economy (and avoiding smug condescension)
Joan Williams of The Atlantic, argues persuasively that the forces aligning against Trump need to rethink their own intramural trench warfare, because our opponents continue to trap us in conversations we do not want to be the focus of our national or local attentions.
‘If Democrats want to build a winning coalition that includes not just the blue coasts but also the swath of red in between, they must master this economic message.
The party’s new “Heartland” strategy, articulated by Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, is promising. She has flourished by de-emphasizing socially divisive issues (these lead to “no-win conversations,” she has said) and highlighting economic ones.
…If Democrats spend less time taking the bait on immigration and more time prioritizing good jobs for people without college degrees, they won’t help only the white working class—they will help people of every race.
“Why not just wait for the white working class to die off?” asked an audience member at last year’s Berkeley Festival of Ideas. I get this question a lot, and I always reply: “Do you understand now why they voted for Trump? Your attitude is offensive, and Trump is their middle finger.”
[Of the] Anti-elites—Trump voters most likely to have bipartisan voting habits—nearly half said they voted more against Clinton than for Trump, smaller percentages said that being born in the U.S. is important to being American (58 percent). About two-thirds of Anti-elites expressed warm feelings toward racial minorities. Crucially, only 13 percent of them believed their children would achieve a standard of living better than their own.
This is the group Democrats should target. But there’s one sure way to guarantee failure: smug condescension that lumps all Trump voters together as uninformed racists.
If elites cling to the idea that working-class whites are perpetrators of inequality, rather than both perpetrators and victims, perhaps it’s because they want to believe that they are where they are because they’ve worked hard and they’re the smartest people around. Once you start a conversation about class, elite white people have to admit they have not only racial privilege but class privilege, too.
Acknowledging this also requires elites to cede yet another advantage: the extent to which they have controlled Democrats’ priorities. Political scientists have documented the party’s shift over the past 50 years from a coalition focused on blue-collar issues to one dominated by environmentalism and other issues elites cherish.
I’m one of those activists; environmentalism and concerns related to gender, race, and sexuality define my scholarship and my identity. But the working class has been asked to endure a lot of economic pain while Democrats focus on other problems.
It’s time to listen up. The only effective antidote to a populism interlaced with racism is a populism that isn’t.’