One of the more interesting sub-plots emerging from last November’s election is whether white progressives are ever going to talk to their Trump-voting relatives again. I may exaggerate a little, but there are reports from all over the country of progressives unfriending Trump supporters on facebook, changing holiday travel plans to avoid conservative relatives, and otherwise cutting themselves off from camaraderie with people on the right. In fact, I’ve done all these things myself. I don’t have any close friends who would have voted for Trump but I’ve unfriended some facebook friends and taken a break from others. I’ll be traveling past several conservative siblings on the way to Florida on Saturday but they’ll be lucky to get cards let alone visits.
There’s been a fair amount of surprise over the intensity of the anger over Trump’s election among white people on the left. I’ve seen that surprise from arguments on facebook, conservative writers for the National Review, and even some black commentators. I’m not sure why though. Donald Trump is a sex predator, peeping tom, and con man. He’s not just a racist, but he’s been flamboyantly racist towards blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims while his campaign single-handedly brought anti-Semitic hatred of Jews back into the public sphere. Trump’s also the kind of buffoon who bragged about how he would have dated Ivanka if she hadn’t been his daughter. Voting for Trump wasn’t just “deplorable,” it was despicable and any moral person—not just white progressives– would be obligated to reconsider their connections with Trump supporters.
Of course, this didn’t just didn’t happen overnight. The white population in the United States has been dividing into mutually hostile progressive and conservative tribes since the 1990’s at least. Just before the 2008 election, former Herald-Leader reporter Bill Bishop wrote in The Big Sort that white progressives and conservatives were beginning to move away from each other geographically and concentrate in politically similar neighborhoods and regions. If anything, the Obama years have accelerated that trend as more white progressives move to multicultural urban areas while rural conservatives sink ever deeper into evangelical churches, gun stockpiles, and nostalgia for the manufacturing economy and white-dominated politics of the 50’s. Commentators bemoan the increasing geographical and cultural distance between white progressives and conservatives and African-American writers, in particular, urge white progressives to stay in touch with their conservative contacts in the hope that some form of mutual understanding will develop in the future.
But I don’t see that happening. If the 2016 election has shown anything, it’s the power of bigotry and the lack of moral principles among the 45-46% of voters who supported Trump. In my opinion, white progressives would be better off if they left conservatives behind and became better friends and allies with the African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrant populations, feminist, and gay rights activists who are going to be the prime targets of the Trump administration and its supporters. Becoming more closely tied to minority friends and allies involves a number of issues for progressives whose lives have been as shaped by white privilege as any other white people. Progressives would do well to expand their personal allegiances, shared culture, and political alliances with other groups in the America’s democratic multicultural coalition while continuing to loosen their bonds with the white conservative world. That way there’s a chance that we can emerge as a better country after the dark days of the Trump administration.
John Stoehr of the Editorial Board believes that the Democrats will overthrow “the political order of the last 40 years” if they can hold the House of Representatives after all 2022 votes are counted. Of course, a big win for Biden and the Dems has been unfolding and the consequences of the Democrats expanding their Senate majority and possibly holding the House are significant. Because of the 2022 election, the U.S. will both be a more stable country and maintain its current global role as a stabilizing force in Western Europe, East Asia, and Ukraine. But the idea of “overthrowing the political order” implies consequences on a much larger scale than that, and needs to be thought through.
That’s partly because there are several ideas of “political order” that may be in play.
The main question is what would be the political order of the last 40 years that’s being overthrown. Forty years refers to the Reagan Revolution and the election of 1980 where Ronald Reagan’s victory triggered the assertion of white conservatives as the dominant force in American politics and society and inaugurated several rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business, decline of the labor movement, and growing income inequality between the rich and the middle class. During the Reagan years, white men were advantaged politically, culturally, and economically while the claims of racial minorities, sexual minorities, and women were met with increasing skepticism if not outright derision.
Call that the orthodox model of the “Reagan Political Order.”
*But there are other ways to look at the idea of political order. If I were a conservative Straussian, I might refer to the U.S. in terms of a “liberal political order” including the representative form of government established in the 1788 Constitution, universal ideas of freedom (“all men are created equal”), and both broad and expanding rights to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and own property. In relation to this idea of “liberal political order,” the Reagan Revolution and 2022 mid-terms would both be seen in terms of redistributions of power toward white conservatives and away from liberal/minority factions. However, nothing would be “overthrown” by the Democrats maintaining their slim institutional advantage of holding the presidency and the senate while Republicans dominate the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives. It would just be that the liberal/minority coalition holds some advantages within the “liberal political order” while white conservatives hold others.
It’s also possible to view the traditional American political order as a “white republic” or “white patriarchal republic” in which constitutional processes concern the distribution of office among factions of white men while white women, racial minorities, and sexual minorities were subject to exclusion, surveillance, and control. Thus, Reaganism can be seen as reasserting white and male dominance in the face of the Black civil rights movement, feminist advocacy against patriarchy, gay rights activism and the claims of immigrants and Native Americans. Far from overthrowing the white patriarchal republic, the Reagan Revolution is best seen as reinforcing white patriarchy as a long-standing socio-political order. But there was a big difference between Reaganism and the re-assertion of white patriarchal order after the end of Reconstruction in 1877. With the end of Reconstruction, the gains of reconstruction were much more thoroughly negated and black opponents of the white patriarchal republic were much more thoroughly marginalized than was the case with the Reagan Revolution. During the Reagan years, the opponents of white patriarchy were put on the defensive but civil rights activism, feminists, gay rights protests, and labor unions formed a more or less permanent internal opposition to dominant white conservatives. White patriarchy may have asserted its dominance, but opponents of white patriarchy were able both to preserve large parts of the gains made as a result of the Civil Rights Acts, Roe v Wade, and various Warren Court decisions and maintain effective defenses of that legacy. As a result, the Reagan political order was defined both by a reassertion of the white patriarchal order and opposition between ascendent white conservatives and their liberal, minority, and feminist opponents.
In other words, the liberal/minority coalition remained strong enough to be considered part of the main dynamic of the Reagan political order.
There’s another consideration for the Reagan order. The big question hanging over Reaganism was whether white conservatives could maintain dominance over their domestic opponents. That is because the stakes were bigger than the distribution of power between conservatives and their opponents. Ascendancy by the liberal/minority opposition would not just give “liberals” the upper hand, it would threaten the white patriarchal character of the American republic as it had been defined in the Revolutionary and Constitution. Hanging over the Reagan political order was the specter of the United States becoming a very different kind of country than it had been for the previous 200+ years, a country that did not revolve around white men.
To a certain extent, that’s what happened.
Because Barack Obama initially posed himself as both a GOP-friendly Democrat AND aggressive reformer, his election in 2008 did not initially represent a sea change in American politics and society. But Obama was the first black president, the symbol of America, the nation’s most prominent celebrity, and someone on the news everyday. After the civil rights movement, white conservative tolerance for black people was always tethered to blacks only having a token presence in areas outside sports and music. But with Obama and other prominent black people like Attorney General Eric Holder being so “present” in American life, the result was a racist backlash that could be seen as early as the 2008 general election campaign and gained steam throughout Obama’s first term as a result of the “birther movement,” conspiracy theories about Obama’s wife, the Henry Louis Gates incident, the murder of Trayvon Martin, and conservative stonewalling of Obama’s initiatives. The backlash ensured that 2012 would be a test of strength between a stronger liberal/minority coalition and white conservatives who wanted “their country back.” With Obama’s victory in 2012, much more favorable opinion on gay marriage, the Supreme Court decision overturning bans on gay marriage, and the Black Lives movement highlighting police violence against black men, it looked like American culture and politics was swinging to liberal/minority ascendancy over white conservatives and the threats that entailed to traditional white patriarchal order.
Of course, the 2016 election happened with the white conservative backlash gaining even more intensity under the MAGA label and Donald Trump winning election. The result was both a factional arms race and major cultural changes on both sides. Beginning with the gay marriage decision in 2015, the liberal/minority coalition continued to strengthen in response to Trump’s election and morphed into something more like a multicultural, socially liberal society. With the expanding presence of civil rights ideas, the adoption of diversity as corporate and popular culture ethics, and the normalizing of an LGBT, Hispanic, and Native presence, the lib/minority coalition became multicultural, socially liberal and predominate enough in politics, business, education, and government that the U.S. could be described as a multicultural, socially liberal “society.”
Simultaneously, white conservatives developed what’s best called a MAGA counter-culture revolving around Trump and involving an overlapping religious right, a quickly developing conspiracy world, and gun culture that superseded the business oriented, small government, and national defense conservatism of the Reagan era. Even with the acquiescence of traditional Republicans and the advantages of President Biden and other Democrats being off the campaign trail because of Covid, the multicultural, socially liberal constituencies were stronger than MAGA and Donald Trump lost his campaign for re-election in 2020. For white conservatives, the defeat of Donald Trump did not signify his or their weakness but served to further energize 2020 election conspiracy theories, rejection of Covid vaccines, another round of vote suppression legislation aimed at black voters, and a culture war aimed especially at trans people but also against other LGBT folks and their supporters in education, business, and government. In this way, MAGA morphed from a slogan for supporting Trump to support for the Jan. 6 insurrection, political violence to achieve their political goals, and non-stop culture war against multicultural constituencies connected with the Democrats.
In other words, MAGA became a cover term for a more generalized white conservative assault on American government and society that’s best seen as permanent insurrection. The Reagan Political Order has definitely overthrown but it was just as much overthrown by MAGA as it was by the morphing of the Reagan era liberal/minority coalition into a multicultural, socially liberal “society.” White conservatives are still a bulwark for the white patriarchal Republic of the past but their main orientation is toward culture war against the contemporary society rather than defense of “tradition.” Indeed, in contemporary culture and politics, “tradition” is being re-defined in civil rights, multicultural terms.
So what do Democratic gains in the 2022 elections mean? Well, current political order is one in which a multicultural, socially liberal society both remains ascendent and is continuing to weaken the reach and appeal of traditional white patriarchy in favor of values of civil rights values and orientations. But white conservatives still have formidable power bases in the Supreme Court, right-wing state governments, and MAGA popular culture and have more or less committed to overthrowing the American democratic system if they can’t win political power at the ballot box. The Reagan political order has been overturned but the dangers associated with white conservatism have increased dramatically as a result.
Society vs Backlash. America has been destabilized by two broad and related developments, the evolution of a multicultural, socially liberal mainstream and a bitter backlash among white conservative best seen in terms of permanent insurrection. Politically, the Democrats are the party of multicultural mainstream America and indeed the civil rights, diversity politics of the Democrats has been one of the main vehicles for creating and defining that mainstream. But politics is also important for understanding the destabilizing and dangerous white conservative backlash. As America’s conservative party, the Republicans have been a focus of backlash since Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and backlash phenomena like MAGA, QAnon, the Big Lie, the re-articulation of bigotry as “anti-woke,” and the campaigns against transsexual teens and drag shows are intimately connected with GOP politics.
Politics of Insurrection. The assault on the Capital building in Washington was an attack on the United States on the same level as the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor that brought America into WWII and al-Qaeda’s attack on New York City, the Pentagon, and the Capitol on 9-11. The American media has under-estimated the extent to which the insurrectionary energy of Jan. 6 continued for more than a year after President Biden’s inauguration. There were many examples of insurrectionary activity, including the continuation of the QAnon movement, all the bizarre conspiracy theories around Covid vaccines, and local insurrectionary activism in places like Idaho. In politics, insurrectionary energy focused around the Supreme Court taking a case that would allow state legislatures to ignore the popular vote in presidential elections, MAGA fascists like J. D. Vance, Blake Masters, Doug Mastriano, and Kari Lake running for governor and Senate positions, and a number of Republican candidates for the state Secretary of State positions that controlled elections in the states. GOP Secretary of State candidates in Michigan, Arizona and Nevada all claimed (one way or another) that Democratic candidates could only win by fraud and promised to attack voting by Democratic constituencies.
Blowing Out the Insurrectionists. Of all the insurrectionists who ran for major office, J.D. Vance was the only one who won and that only happened because of a major injection of cash from Mitch McConnell. Insurrectionist Republican Doug Mastriano lost by 15 in the race for governor in PA, Blake Masters by 5 for the Senate seat in Arizona, and Tudor Dixon by 10 for governor of Michigan. The most prominent of the insurrectionists running for statewide office was Kari Lake in Arizona and she’s currently trailing by 34,000 in a still undecided race and Adam Laxalt has lost in Nevada now that all the votes are counted from Las Vegas. Even more to the point, all of the insurrectionist candidates lost for Secretary of State offices in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, and Wisconsin. For example, Arizona GOP Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem lost by 5.6%, Kristina Karamo by 14% in Michigan, and Jim Marchant in Nevada by 2% (where the GOP won the governor’s race and only lost in the Senate by 5,000 votes). Insurrectionist candidates like gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels of Wisconsin wanted to guarantee that “will never lose another election” in their states but were turned back by their Democratic opponents.
WhenWill Normal Become Normal? Hard left podcaster Matt Christman tweeted that Democrats did well in the 2022 mid-terms because they are the “normie” party and were able to remain “normal” despite determined Republican efforts to “flip that by associating them with crime and immigrants and gender sickos.” Christman added that “[t]his is problematic for people who are obsessed with defining themselves in counter-cultural opposition to the normie mainstream, but ON BEHALF of some imagined heartland “normal” American.” Of course, the “counter-cultural opposition” isn’t much of a force in American life and indeed it seems that multicultural and liberal Democrats have not been able to establish as “normal” even though they were successful in portraying themselves as “more normal” than MAGA Republicans. That’s because the far more powerful force of the mainstream news media agrees with both the counter-culture and Republicans in imagining a “normal America” of small towns, small business, farms, and factories in which the template is white conservatism even though Democrats do make inroads. That’s why the New York Times, CNN, and Politico sent so many reporters trekking to diners, bars, and gun shows since 2016. Like Paul Simon, they all wanted to “look for America” or at least the “normal America” that they thought was Saginaw rather than NYC, Chicago, or Detroit. In 2022, the Democrats were able to portray the MAGA extremists of small town America as threats to democracy but were not able to establish their own multicultural, socially liberal base as the American normal. Even though the Democratic coalition “is” the norm, it doesn’t “seem” to be the norm. And that’s still a problem.
The Election: Today is the mid-term election for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives with elections for Governors and other state officials all over the country as well as local elections for mayors, sheriffs, county officials, city councils, judges, and a deluge of special voting districts on the local level. In my state of KY, there’s an election for county Judge-Executive, Mayor, County Attorney, Commonwealth’s Attorney and Sheriff. There are no elections for state office, but there are two constitutional amendments on the ballots, one Senate seat (held by Rand Paul) and the member of the House of Representatives from our Congressional District (KY-05). That office is currently held by the worst public speaker I’ve ever heard and one of the most obscure members of the House, long-time Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers.
National Overview: The big question in American politics is whether President Biden and the Democratic Party maintain their very slim advantage in Congress where the tie-breaking vote of VP Kamala Harris gives the Democrats a slight edge in the Senate where seats are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. In the 435 member House of Representatives, Democrats only have to lose five seats to lose their majority.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, there is a deeply ingrained historical pattern of the president’s party losing seats in mid-term elections and the Democrats are predicted by most observers to lose anywhere from 10 to 43 seats in the House in today’s election. Therefore, the Republicans are expected to have a majority in the House of Representatives and California Republican Kevin McCarthy is expected to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
The Senate is perceived to be more up in the air but the Republicans are widely seen as favored to take control of the Senate as well. The reputable FiveThirtyEight site views the Republicans as “slight favorites” to take control of the Senate with a one vote margin based on their view that Herschel Walker will defeat Rev. Rafael Warner in Georgia. The Cook Political Report also sees the Republicans as gaining one seat and regaining control over the Senate. So does long-time University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato. Republican observers see the Republicans as having big enough wins that the election looks like a Republican or “red wave.” The right-leaning web site RealClearPolitics predicts that the Republicans will gain three seats and views Democratic Senate candidates in states like Ohio reached the limits of Democratic support but were unable to push through in largely Republican states. Former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich is even more optimistic about a “red wave” and predicts that Republicans will gain five seats in the Senate.
But there has been pushback from Democratic consultants and observer. Christopher Bouzy who is known mostly for his “Bot Sentinel” web site believes that it is the Democrats who “will gain at least two seats in the Senate and hold the House with 2 – 6 seats.” Christopher Bouzy justifies his prediction by citing registration and early voting data which focuses on young voters (18-29), women, and minorities. The idea is that early voting among Democrats is outpacing the high early voting rates in the “blue wave” election which say big Democratic gains in 2018. From Bouzy’s point of view, the increase in early voting means that numbers among Democratic voters compared to Republican voters and the polls thus are underestimating the Democratic vote.
The other argument made by Democratic optimists focuses on the thesis that the polls are over-estimating the Republican vote. Democratic consultant Simon Rosenberg is arguing that GOP polling firms have been “flooding the zone” with polls that are biased toward Republicans and that this has influenced poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight.com and analysts like Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato to over-estimate support for Republican candidates. A couple days ago, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com admitted that the rush of GOP polls had affected his site’s poll average in favor of Republicans although he saw that more as correcting for the anti-GOP bias that had surfaced in 2016 and 2020 presidential polling. It makes a significant difference as can be seen in a Rosenberg tweet on the Senate race in George where the Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock is trying to hold onto his seat vs former NFL star and Republican Herschel Walker
That’s a 7 point difference that’s not balanced out by “Democratic-leaning polls.” Rosenberg thinks the data supports Democrats but does not venture the same of prediction as Bouzy. Seeing this kind of discrepancy and observing the high rates of early voting among Democratic voters Savvy political observers like Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Never Trumper Republican and former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele largely accept both that the rush of GOP polls has biased the poll average and that there’s been a late surge toward the Democrats. As a result, Marshall sees a fairly wide range of possibilities for the Senate elections with the Democrats possibly gaining 2 seats and holding the majority the Republicans possibly gaining 4 seats and thus gaining the majority. For his part, Michael Steele foresees a tight election that has a great deal of variability and think there will be a lot of surprises some of which will be favorable to the Democrats and some to the Republicans.
My own sense is somewhat the same as Steele’s. My suspicions is that this won’t be either a Republican “red wave” or a Democratic “blue wave” election and that there will be a number of surprises going both ways. In relation to national politics, I see three possibilities.
GOP takes the House, Dems keep the Senate. House Republicans are a real threat to default on the national debt, will probably impeach President Biden, and will also keep a lot of Democrats off committees. But it’s likely that the government will remain functional.
GOP takes House, GOP takes Senate. The situation would depend on the extent to which Establishment and MAGA Republicans can work together in the Senate. But the tendency of the national government toward chaos would increase with GOP control over both.
Dems Take House, Keep Senate. This is the Christopher Bouzy scenario that’s still not taken very seriously. But if the Dems keep control over Congress despite mid-term trends, inflation, and higher crime rates, that would allow the Biden administration to keep functioning in its current way and create a great deal of consternation among Republicans. If they can’t win now, when will they ever win?
After being dropped by Adidas, Kanye West (hereafter “Ye”) responded with a post on Parler:
“I lost 2 billion dollars in one day and I’m still alive. This is love speech. I still love you. God still loves you. The money is not who I am. The people is who I am.”
Like others in search of popular conservative religious/political leadership, Ye stresses his love for “the people” (“I still love you”) and God’s love for the people (“God still loves you”). Likewise, he makes the populist leader claim to identify with the people in a way that assumes that his identification means leadership over the people–“The people is who I am.” By identifying this way, Ye shapes his activism so that his will can claim to be seen as the will of the people. But Ye’s claim pales before Trump’s. Over the last seven years, Trump and his followers have shaped each other to the extent that Trump’s will can be seen as the will of the followers who he also calls “the people.” Ye’s not popular enough and his following is not committed enough to justify his claim that “the people is who I am.” Indeed, the following Ye seeks is already devoted to Trump and Ye is more of a mid-level player in the story of Trumpism than anything else.
I’m sure there’s reasons for Ye’s lack of a following, but I’m stuck on the question of what Ye means by “the people” and how we can think of “the people” in relation to the on-going struggle between the multicultural, socially liberal mainstream and right-wing white insurgency in the U.S. What Ye does NOT mean by “the people” is becoming more clear. Most obviously, Ye is like most Trump supporters in having a version of the people that most definitely does not include black people as he stresses that black people chose slavery, Harriet Tubman didn’t free any slaves, “white lives matter” instead of black, and white men are the world’s most disrespected group. Ye’s so anti-black I’m surprised he didn’t quote the Dred Scott decision on black people having “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Ye also went all out with his current war on Jews, saying that he was going “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” accusing Jews as “[owning] the Black voice” through Black people wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt, “being signed to a record label, or having a Jewish manager, or being signed to a Jewish basketball team, or doing a movie on a Jewish platform like Disney.” Like anti-Semitic bigots worldwide, Ye attributes the same all-encompassing power to Jews as the Nazis did and is apparently acting on his longstanding fascination with Hitler and the extent of Hitler’s power. One has to wonder about the extent to which Ye now approves of the Holocaust.
But what about the long list of constituencies Ye’s offended–black people, white liberals, Jews, women, Adidas, the record industry, the fashion world, the mainstream news media, and social media. For Ye, it’s the Trump right wing and especially the religious right and white men who are “the people” but is there any way to consider the broad and diverse coalition of Ye’s opponents as a “people?”
In the Western world, “the people” is a concept that’s at least as old as the Greek city states of antiquity and was long articulated in opposition to the nobility. What gave an organic quality to the idea of “the people” was the shared life of small-scale farming, the seasonal rhythms of agriculture, the work of the urban trades, and the festivities celebrating planting, the harvest, marriage, death, the seasons, the gods, and local patriotism. Because of the roots of the Trump coalition in agriculture, mining, and small town life, Trump supporters routinely see themselves as the “people.” But the rise of America’s urban belts and major interior cities has created a new dynamic in which urban life and service industries are the central dynamic and small towns and agriculture have become peripheral. Trump constituencies have been further marginalized by their addiction, depression, high rates of suicide and violence and general rejection of social norms, education, and science. In many ways, Trump constituencies are too alienated from society to form a people in the traditional sense. In this way, attachment to the “flag” isn’t so much a representation of their connection to the life of society as a substitute for that connection.
But there are also apparent problems in viewing the whole multicultural coalition as a “people.” If the idea of a “people” relies on a common life, then how can lib/left whites, black people, Hispanics, LGBT folks, Jews, American Muslims, Asian-Americans, and Native-Americans be seen as sharing a common life and thus being a people on that basis? But diversity is not as much an issue as hierarchy and class. People from different ethnic and racial groups do live a “common” life in cities in the sense that they share an urban economy, navigate a common transportation system, and work for a deluge of intersecting government agencies, corporations, mom and pop stores, and small businesses. What primarily diminishes the sense of shared life is the extreme disparities of wealth that make rent so expensive, create homelessness, and create opportunities for specialized consumption and concierge systems that for the elite of wealth.
The U.S. has only been a multicultural democracy since the 1965 Voting Rights Act overturned the legal/police apparatus for excluding black people in the South from voting. Likewise, my sense of the U.S. being a multicultural society and having a multicultural politics did not coalesce until Barack Obama’s second term and especially the 2015 legalization of gay marriage. In this sense, it’s too early as of yet for the various groups to fully coalesce into a “people.” But there are some things that have the effect of increasing the sense of shared commonality among the various groups. Among those are:
Opposition to Trump: Millions of people across the multicultural spectrum participated in the opposition to President Trump and his immigration policies, deference to Putin, and attempted coup against the election of Joe Biden. The term “Resistance” faded but the common cause of “The Resistance” continued to be expressed and had an impact on the 2020 election. Despite Biden’s not engaging in public campaigning and Dems not doing public events and door knocking because of COVID, the Democrats still increased their vote by 16 million and much of that was due to the collective spirit of opposition that had been developing since Trump’s announcement in 2015.
Intersectional ethics: The ethics of fully recognizing those in traditionally marginalized groups as citizens and valuing and embracing the differences among a multicultural population. This can especially be seen in the Democratic Party and their constituencies defending transsexual teens and their families against bigoted attacks from the religious right. It would have been politically advantageous for Democrats to retreat under the banner of “compromise” but multicultural constituencies would not have stood for it and Democratic politicians have assimilated enough of those ethics that they were little tempted anyway.
Embracing Difference. I was 10 years old when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and remember other white people talk about “toleration” in the sense of enduring the presence of black people and others who were different (Jews, gay people, disabled folks, etc.) even though that presence was not particularly welcome. But the movement of multicultural and socially liberal people has been toward “embracing” difference and being welcoming to people of different races, ethnicities, immigrant, and disability status. The question of tolerance is directed more often at conservatives who are seen as not accepting the common morality
Empathy. A key to a multicultural principle of empathy is that the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes extends to people across racial, gender, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and regional lines. At the same time, the value of empathy extends to caring for people who are traumatized, damaged, or chronically ill. to give a couple of examples from lib/left and black twitter, people have been broadly sympathetic to my growing up in an abusive family and its attendant traumas and there are continuing outpourings of sympathy and compassion for recovering addicts, cancer patients, and people experiencing deaths in their families.
In a way, the United States is developing a situation where two segments of the population are articulating themselves as “the people” in a separate and mutually opposed manner. It’s part of what makes America such an unstable nation at present.
Contemporary Democrats are as admirable a political party as ever existed in the U.S. Animated by a civil rights ethic, the Democrats have been a multicultural coalition for decades and have expanded their horizon to include defending, appreciating, and promoting the interests of the whole range of LGBT folks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, the disabled population, and legal and undocumented immigrants. The first black president was elected as a Democrat and so was the first woman to be Speaker of the House. The Democrats nominated the first woman for president, and nominated and elected Kamala Harris as a black/South Asian woman for Vice-President. Likewise Deb Haaland became the first Native American cabinet officer. Indeed, the Democrats have incorporated a broad diversity of women at all levels of political leadership. As the Democratic Party became more broadly American and the GOP retreated from “national” views, the Democrats have also become the “national” party for a multicultural nation and the only “America First” party in international affairs. The America represented by Democrats is identified both in the U.S. and globally with the best America has to offer.
I just want to sketch out a few of the things the Democrats have done and a little of what’s involved in their accomplishments. Since the election of Trump in 2016, Democratic officeholders have raised their game and become more forceful in any number of ways. It begins with the Biden administration. They’ve carried out a legislative agenda for transferring wealth to the poor and middle class, addressing climate change, and making massive investments in infrastructure. The Biden people also broke the bipartisanship barrier by refusing to countenance the delaying tactics of Susan Collins and GOP moderates. Likewise, Pres. Biden upped his rhetorical game to attack the MAGA brand as a form of fascism and an imminent danger to American democracy. At an advanced age, President Biden realized that Republican office holders were unrelenting opponents instead of his “friends and colleagues.” That’s a huge step forward in Democratic Party political culture and Biden has governed accordingly The same is true of Congressional Democrats, Democratic staffers, and the more liberally minded media. Concentrated in D.C. and New York, the Democratic apparatus long saw themselves as having much in common with their white conservative counter-parts, but have followed Democratic voters in leaving a sense of common culture with conservatives behind.
The Biden administration has also done an excellent job of orchestrating American support for the Ukrainian war effort. U.S. intelligence interpreted the Russian intent to launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine early, engaged in a smart political campaign to deter the Russians, and held off full support for the Ukrainians until Ukrainian government and society showed that they were willing to fight. American support for Ukraine has been large-scale and well-timed. The Biden people have shown a great deal of subtlety in prodding reluctant countries like France and Germany to increase their commitments to Ukraine while also giving encouragement to smaller NATO members like Poland and Norway. That subtlety also extends to Biden’s dealings with Russia. The Biden have come pretty close to full tilt in backing Ukraine without doing anything that would provoke a nuclear escalation by Russia. Ukraine is a delicate situation and the Biden administration has played it extremely well.
The Jan. 6 Committee is an example of the extent to which Democrats (with help from Cheney and Kinzinger) have developed outstanding skills at staging events. The Committee and its staff sifted through mountains of documents, texts, cell messages, interviews, and other materials, constructed a dramatic narrative out of the materials, and kept their focus on Trump as orchestrating the whole range of electoral coups leading up to Jan. 6. Cassidy Hutchinson’s appearance was the high point of the Committee’s presentation but the Jan. 6 Committee also made outstanding use of the William Barr, Pat Cipollone, and Eric Herschmann testimony, and every one of the hearings has been a high-profile event. The object of the Committee was to get to the truth of the Jan. 6 Insurrection, they succeeded in accomplishing that goal, and they have been extremely effective in doing so.
Another Democratic leader who’s raised her game is Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s long been a great legislator whose public presence suffered from her average speaking skills. But since returning as Speaker in 2019, Pelosi has put it all together. Combining her “I’m All That” shades and red coat after meeting with Trump after the 2018 elections, her FU clapping after Trump’s 2019 State of the Union Address, and dramatically ripping up Trump’s 2020 State of the Union, Pelosi completely owned Trump for the last two years of his term. It’s easy to forget that Donald Trump is all about dominating any human encounter, but Trump’s penchant for domination meant that Pelosi’s “winning” all their major interactions was a very big deal. To cap her performance as Trump-era speaker, Pelosi took over as a kind of acting president while marshalling outside help to combat the Jan. 6 Insurrection.
Of course, Joe Biden’s inauguration as President meant that Pelosi was no longer D.C.’s most important Democrat. But she delivered the House of Representatives for the Biden agenda at every turn and pushed to shape House legislation in the most aggressively Biden direction possible. With Pelosi at the helm, a slim Democratic majority in the House passed the American Rescue Act to counteract the economic effects of the pandemic, a large-scale infrastructure bill, gun control legislation, the CHIPS Act to bring microchip production back to the U.S. from China, and the wide-ranging Inflation Reduction Acts. These bills all became law and it was BFD’s all around. The American Rescue Act provided a cushion that was a big help for poor and lower-middle class people dealing with unemployment, lower income levels, increased medical expenses, and the stress of the pandemic. Biden’s Infrastructure agenda was the first large-scale investment in infrastructure since the 60’s, gun legislation the first since the mid-90’s, and the Inflation Reduction Act was the first systematic approach to climate legislation while also containing serious reductions to health expenses.
And that was the legislation that passed by the Senate and became law. The House also passed a boatload of legislation that wasn’t brought up for votes in the Senate because of the filibuster. That includes far-reaching voting rights legislation like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that would have brought back the Voting Rights Act, authorized same day voter registration, eliminated gerrymandering, and otherwise enshrined the expansion of voting as the most important priority of electoral law. The House also took the same aggressive, wide-ranging approach to legislation protecting abortion rights. Not only did the bill to codify Roe v Wade define abortion rights as the law of the land on abortion, it banned all the restrictions on abortion rights that had been passed by conservative states since 1973. Rolling back the 60’s and 70’s has been a mainstay of white conservative politics for the last two generations but Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leadership team, and the House Democratic caucus have shown that they have every intention of “rolling back the roll back.”
This post has largely ignored the impact of Democratic initiatives on the 2022 elections. Indeed, the controlling issue for the 2022 mid-terms is likely to be inflation. But whatever the outcome of the mid-terms, the Democratic leadership has shown themselves to be highly capable.
There’s President Biden in all his elderly glory. One of the quickly forgotten facts of the 2020 election is that President Biden and the Democrats did very little public campaigning. Because of the pandemic ethics of preventing the dissemination of the Covid. Joe Biden and Democratic candidates for Senate, the House, U.S. Senate seats, and state governorships did not hold rallies on a regular basis, do all the various kinds of meet and greets, or engage in traditional door knocking campaigns. Sure, the Democratic message got through in television, radio, and social media but I don’t think Dems were able to break through the constant noise made by Trump and focus the conversation on their agenda rather than the latest Trump outrage.
And I believe it cost Biden a point or two in the overall outcome.
President Biden didn’t get out that much during the first 15 months of his presidency either. However, that’s changed as the president has been crowing about the passing of gun control legislation, the competitiveness act and the Inflation Reduction Act as well as student loan forgiveness. President Biden has also made a mark in his attacks on Republicans. Going beyond the “No Republican voted for this” mantra of the 2021 American Recovery Act and Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act, President Biden has just this week denounced MAGA Republicans as “semi-fascist” and proclaimed during rallies in Maryland and Pennsylvania that Republicans can not be “pro-police” and “pro-Jan 6” at the same time.
Not only are the attacks true, they’re effective.
President Biden has struggled to get the media to focus on his message on issues like inflation but his calling MAGA Republicans “semi-fascists” at a Maryland gathering was widely covered by the mainstream media (by CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS, ABC, New York Times) and widely discussed in social media forums. Even with all the focus on the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, the war in Ukraine, and mid-term elections, “semi-fascist” was THE topic over the weekend. When I was teaching government at Morehead State in KY, I always stressed presidents were the “leading celebrity” in the United States among other things. Because of the super-charged Trump drama of the last seven years, President Biden has long had trouble commanding the bully pulpit, but this weekend he was the center of attention in a way that had not been the case since early 2021.
Republican office holders and the conservative media apparatus have been free to engage engage in non-stop attacks on the Biden administration and Democrats. However, Fox News personalities have been forced to defend Republican office-holders and voters against aspersions of fascism. Nikolas Lanum of Fox News tried to blunt the impact by relating President Biden’s semi-fascist remark to previous “monikers” directed at Republicans and conservatives by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. For Molly Hemingway of the Federalist, was “more hateful than the worst thing that Donald Trump ever said.” Building on that theme, Sean Duffy argued on a Fox Business show that Biden’s remarks were worst than anything Trump said because they went after Republicans as a group rather than just condemning them as individuals. The point isn’t so much about the weakness of conservative responses but the fact that Biden’s comments on GOP semi-fascism obligated conservative media to defend MAGA Republicans at all.
Characterizing MAGA conservatives as semi-Fascists also paves the way for President Biden to adapt harsh rhetoric on GOP claims to support the police while also continuing to offer aid and comfort to the Jan. 6 Insurrectionists.
So let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress: Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened on the 6th. Don’t tell me. Can’t do it.
I remember Trump once claiming that “Make America Great Again” is the greatest marketing campaign in history. What President Biden has accomplished with associating MAGA with “semi-fascism” is call into question the value of the brand.
I’m originally from the Upstate NY village of Waverly in the Southern Tier region along the Susquehanna and Chemung rivers. Waverly has always been a Republican town and has become a Trumpy kind of place as Republicans have become a Trumpy kind of party. A liberal Rockefeller Republican growing up during the 1960’s and 70’s, I didn’t start voting Democratic until 1980 when I was living in Chapel Hill, NC and in my third year of grad school at Carolina.
Forty years later, I’m estranged from my Republican siblings, have no Republican friends, and have blocked pretty much all my GOP facebook friends, including three cousins in Texas, an aunt in South Carolina, folks from Waverly, and favorite former students. Like other Democrats I’ve stopped debating Republicans about issues like abortion, taxes, government regulation, and police murders. And I think that’s an extremely important thing. Liberal v conservative debates were one of the few things that lib/left whites and white conservatives shared over the last couple of decades and now that’s gone. Like other white Democrats, I’ve lost so much respect for white conservatives that I don’t view myself as sharing a common culture with them and view them as despicable for their support of a pathological liar, con man, rapist, flaming bigot, and traitor like Trump. Like President Biden, I view the MAGA/Trump movement as “semi-fascist” and think they’re moving to full scale fascism in a hurry.
That’s why New York governor Kathy Hochul’s statement that conservative and MAGA Republicans should just leave New York made so much sense to me even if Republicans are outraged.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., sparked intense outrage after lambasting New York Republican candidates during a speech last week, telling them to “get out of town” and “head to Florida” where they belong . . . We’re here to say that the era of Trump and Zeldin and Molinaro – just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong. Get out of town,” she said.
It will be interesting to see what the mainstream media does with Hochul’s statement if anything. Mainstream media outlets rarely interview Democratic voters and are especially averse to interviewing Democratic voters on their opinions concerning Trump voters. IMHO, it’s because the media does not want to engage with the contempt in which everyday Democrats hold their Trump voting fellow citizens.
If the media did interview Democrats, they would find out that Hochul’s views are just what Democrats think.
Once Covid started in 2020, Democratic presidential candidates stopped holding full-scale rallies and did most of their campaigns through media appearances, television advertising, radio spots, and fund-raising messages. That continued after the election of Joe Biden as president and there were reasons. The Covid pandemic peaked again in Fall 2021 and Jan. 2022, Pres. Biden prefers insider politics, and (outside the Sanders movement) Democratic audiences got out of the rally-going habit, preferring less stagy events like protest marches.
But Democrats should re-integrate mass rallies into their mix for the 2022 election and beyond. Large scale rallies of 5,000, 10,000 and more are good ways to focus attention on Democratic office holders and policies, get media attention, and keep up voter optimism for the hard times of the post-Roe era. Pro-abortion, voting rights, and gun violence rallies would give Democratic office holders a big stage, provide exposure to activists on various issues, and be doubly popular because famous singers and musicians would be eager to perform. Large rallies might also be safer than the street protests which are increasingly subject to police violence and right-wing incitement.
The virtues of large-scale rallies can be seen in a Beto O’Rourke rally held at the Pan American Neighborhood Park in Austin, Texas last Saturday. Thousands were in attendance, Beto increased his profile in the Texas governor’s race, and he was able to tie the overturning of Roe v Wade to the Uvalde Massacre.
Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke called for a restoration of the right to abortion in Texas, along with other state and local Democratic candidates and leaders from abortion advocacy organizations, at a rally in East Austin on Sunday evening. “If this were about life, then those 19 children in Uvalde, Texas would still be alive, enjoying their summer break right now,” O’Rourke said at the rally. “This is about controlling the lives and the bodies of the women of Texas.”
Willie Nelson and other country musicians performed and speakers included activists like “Aimee Arrambide, the executive director for the abortion advocacy group Avow Texas” as well as more nationally known pro-choice Texas advocates like Wendy Davis.
One advantage of rallies is that they allow organizers to combine national political personalities and agendas with local diversity, activism, and flair. I went to a Barack Obama rally in Lexington, KY where a University of Kentucky voice student did a remarkable rendition of the national anthem. People (like me) in the audience were so overwhelmed that Obama had won the crowd even before he stepped out on the stage.
Democrats have super-majority advantages in public opinion on most issues in American politics. One way to focus, encourage, and shape that opinion in politically effective ways is to hold mass political rallies.
On Tuesday around 11:30am, 18 year old Salvador Ramos invaded Robb Elementary School in the South Texas town of Uvalde, locked a classroom door behind him, and killed 19 students and 2 teachers before Border Patrol ran down a key, opened the classroom door, and shot him to death. Ramos purchased two AR-15’s and 375 rounds of ammunition for his 18th birthday and had apparently begun adopting an identity as a mass murderer when he put “Kids be scared irl [in real life]” into his twitter bio. Ramos began his spree by shooting the grandmother with whom he was living, crashing a car into a ditch, and invading the school after exchanging shots with law enforcement at the school.
Evidently, local law enforcement not only stood around outside during the 40 minutes Ramos was inside shooting but was preventing parents and relatives from trying to rescue their children themselves.
Personally, I’m numb with grief and disbelief and have trouble sleeping. The Uvalde massacre is almost as traumatic for me as the May 14 Buffalo massacre where the shooter was from my home region in Upstate NY.
But I want to discuss Beto O’Rourke and the politics of the Democratic Party in relation to the Uvalde Massacre, the Buffalo Massacre, and other mass shootings. Yesterday (May 25), Greg Abbott and Texas Republican officials were holding a news conference about the Uvalde Massacre in the town itself when Beto O’Rourke interrupted. Here’s a still picture:
In some ways, it was Beto O’Rourke standing up as a lone citizen against the corrupt Republican establishment of Texas with Gov. Greg Abbott seated in blue, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick sitting on Abbott’s right, and Sen. Rafael (Ted) Cruz standing above Abbott. In some ways, it was a Jimmy Stewart kind of moment.
Good for Beto!
I want to explain what is particularly effective about Beto’s appearance at the Abbott press conference in Uvalde. The Democratic leadership in Washington has been aggressive, determined, and disciplined about Covid, the Build Back Better proposal, and Ukraine. Even though his down in the polls and events haven’t gone his way, Joe Biden has been a much more effective president than I anticipated. At the same time, the Biden administration has done a poor job of promoting itself and I could say the same thing for the Democratic Congressional leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Same with Jaime Harrison and the Democratic National Committee. They’re all strong in the trenches but find themselves in weak political positions despite having super-majorities of public opinion on their side. They should have done a lot better in taking the battle to Republicans on Covid, critical race theory, the homophobic campaign against public schools, and voting rights. They need to do better when Roe v Wade is overturned this summer.
So what is Beto doing that the Democrats need to do? He
MADE NEWS. Beto got in front of Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP Establishment at a sensitive time and let him have it. Beto’s interference with Abbott made the press conference into an event that centered around Beto and it was reported in the Washington Post, New York Times, the New York Times Again, CNN, a CNN op ed by Chris Cilliza, CBS News, and so on. In other words, Beto O’Rourke criticized Texas Republicans in a way that was amplified by the mainstream media. That should be an objective for Biden White House communications–make news that is amplified by the mainstream media.
MADE REPUBLICANS DEFEND THEMSELVES. Beto’s appearance at the press conference forced an immediate defense from Greg Abbott himself. According to Abbott, “every Texan, every American has a responsibility where we need to focus not on ourselves and our agendas, but we need to focus on the healing . . .” It was a weak response that did address anything O’Rourke said while Beto himself expanded on his condemnation of Abbott after being forced outside. In other words, Beto kept dominating the moment. Still feeling the need to defend Texas Republicans and conservatism, Fox News had Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick appear on Laura Ingraham’s show last night to attack O’Rourke. By forcing Republicans to respond, O’Rourke kept amplifying the story and further pushing the Republicans to defend their inhuman positions on gun possession and gun violence. Some of these defenses are foolish and open the GOP to further criticism and ridicule. For instance, the twitterati reminded Trump apparatchik Andrea Kremer about Rafael Cruz when she attacked Beto by using his birth name “Robert Francis.” Speaking of Sen. Cruz, he got upset when a reporter asked him why school shootings only happened in the U.S. That question might not have been asked if O’Rourke hadn’t inflamed the “controversy.”
CREATED MORE OPENINGS. O’Rourke’s criticism of Abbott will most likely keep the Uvalde Massacre in the media beyond the three days allotted for the murder of 10 black shoppers in Buffalo. Beto’s critique of Abbott both for “doing nothing” and enacting new gun laws which made the situation worse a theme that could apply to the Republicans on Covid, infrastructure, Ukraine, and other issues. However, Beto can’t do this himself. He needs President Biden, VP Harris, the White House Communication Office, and the DNC to keep coming back to “doing nothing” and “making things worse” as the main imperatives of Republican politics.