The elite think they know what liberalism includes and what it doesn’t include — and labor, work, exploitation, and economic equality are not on the agenda.
Liberals lost the election. And they lost it in the states they thought they had in the bag — where unions and labor have long reigned. They lost it due to a growing liberal elitism that has taken over the ‘Party of the People’ — leaving ‘the people’ largely behind.
When The Fight Became About Winning, Labor Was Left Behind
Winning became the party’s reason for existing, not fighting for the rights of the American people. Centrists took over with the assurance that they knew precisely how to accomplish that goal.
Political analyst Thomas Frank has taken Democrats to task for not learning the lessons of previous election cycles — for leaving behind the people who have historically made up the party’s base, for believing that they held the key to victory. Here is the consequence, summed up in Frank’s words:
This year the Republicans chose an honest-to-god scary candidate, a man who really ought to have been kept out of the White House, and the party’s centrists choked. Instead of winning, the pragmatists delivered Democrats to the worst situation they’ve been in for many decades, with control of no branch of the federal government and only a handful of state legislatures. Over the years, and at the behest of this faction, Democrats gave up what they stood for piece by piece and what they have to show for it now is nothing.
There is a smidgen of good news that comes out of the bad. Some of the beliefs of the liberal elite have been smashed into oblivion by Donald Trump’s surprise, slimly financed, victory. Primary among those beliefs is the party’s prioritization of big money:
Along the way, [Trump] has destroyed the core doctrine of Clintonism: that all elections are decided by money and that therefore Democrats must match Republican fundraising dollar for dollar. This is the doctrine on which progressive hopes have been sacrificed for decades, and now it is dead.
Now is the time for liberals to look at the fact that they have been cozying up to the wrong interests — namely, ‘the Wall Street guys’ and ‘the national security set’ and ‘disaffected Republicans.’ The strategy of courting monied interests failed spectacularly. Take the following single fact as an indication of how badly the party has failed in its mission:
Donald Trump won 76% of counties with a Cracker Barrel but only 22% of counties with a Whole Foods, a 54-point gap. Yet in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency, the gap between those same counties was only 19 points.
Main Street Still Has Two Advocates
There is at least one significant sign that Democrats may be listening to the election’s message — notably, the continuing rise in influence and visibility of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The mainstream press that basically ignored Sanders and his main street message suddenly can’t seem to get enough of him, asking his opinion on everything from Trump to Fidel Castro to ballot recounts to the DAPL protests.
Meanwhile, however, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are focused elsewhere — on the re-election of the woman who has overseen many of the party’s losses, Rep. Nancy Pelosi. A challenger for the House minority leader position has emerged in Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who not only represents a Rust Belt state, but wants Democrats to build a core economic message.
In announcing that he was challenging Pelosi, Ryan wrote:
While having a position in Democratic leadership has never been my life’s ambition, after this election I believe we all need to reevaluate our roles within the caucus, the Democratic Party, and our country.
Senate Democrats have already turned a deaf ear to the demand for change by re-electing Sen. Chuck Schumer as their leader.
Frank notes other discouraging signs that Democrats are committed to staying out of touch with the electorate. He says that ‘the media and political establishments’ hate economic populism:
They will remind everyone that Clinton didn’t really lose. Alternately, they will blame Sanders for her loss. They will decide that working-class people cannot be reasoned with and so it is pointless to try. They will declare – are already declaring – that any Democratic effort to win over working-class voters is a capitulation to racism.
Labor’s Resentment Was Clear In 2004
But we don’t have to take Frank’s word for how the liberal elite behave. We have the words of author Tom Wolfe in a 2004 interview with The Guardian, commenting on the presidential race between George W. Bush and John Kerry. This was essentially before the economy collapsed:
I think support for Bush is about not wanting to be led by East-coast pretensions. It is about not wanting to be led by people who are forever trying to force their twisted sense of morality onto us, which is a non-morality. That is constantly done, and there is real resentment. Support for Bush is about resentment in the so-called ‘red states’ … which here means, literally, middle America. I come from one of those states myself, Virginia.
To some, Wolfe’s assessment of the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, might also sound familiar:
He is a man no one should worry about, because he has no beliefs at all. He is not going to introduce some manic radical plan, because he is poll-driven, and it is therefore impossible to know where or for what he stands.
But the bottom line in Frank’s assessment is that the economic interests of the liberal elite — or the ‘enlightened professional class’ — simply do not align with those of the working class. They are not likely to listen to those who aren’t a part of their own exclusive club, and labor is no longer a member.
These people think they know what liberalism includes and what it doesn’t include. And in the latter category fall the concerns that made up the heart and soul of liberal politics a few decades ago: labor and work and exploitation and economic equality.
So, is there any hope for the future of the Democratic Party? Frank says:
If the unreconstructed Democratic party is to be saved, I suspect, what will save it is what always saves it: the colossal incompetence of the Republicans. This, too, we can already see coming down the rails. Donald Trump is getting the wrecking crew back together.
Where does that leave labor? Sitting back and watching the ‘wrecking crew’ doesn’t sound like much of a strategy. Struggling families don’t have the time or leisure to wait.
Hopefully, Sanders and Warren have the skill to mightily refocus the Democratic Party — or to give birth to something new.
Feature photo, Fast food workers on strike, via Wikimedia Commons, cc-by-2.0 license.