Reimagining The Democratic Party
by David Todd McCarty | Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Election day is finally here and for better or worse, what’s done is done. The die has been cast. We win. We lose. We move on.
But even before we know the results, I want to begin to think about the future; the next election, and even the future of the party.
In many ways, we’re still recovering from the 2016 election, the divisions in the party and the continued infighting between more moderate democrats and the progressives to their left. We need to find a way to come together and build a stronger party that has a relevant message to today’s voters.
The way I see it, is that Democrats, and liberals in general, got smug over what they saw as a populist movement led by a buffoon and a cadre of conservative fear mongers and bigots. Democrats came off as condescending and elitist; not in touch with the fears and realities of too much of the country.
Many of us are still in disbelief that such a large percentage of the population would vote for a party that, while claiming to represent average Americans, was proposing policies that would do great harm to those same communities.
Much of what happened in the 2016 election was the result of decades of changing economic conditions, specifically the globalization of industry, the shift from manufacturing jobs to technology, outsourcing of cheap labor jobs, and a population shift towards urban areas and away from the heartland. Entire communities were devastated, and no one was doing anything about it, not even the Democrats.
Unfortunately for these communities, the Republicans used culture war tactics to convince them that the Democrats were their enemy, while pushing policy after policy that effectively further damaged the most vulnerable of our communities.
Trump is not going to bring coal jobs back. He’s not going to bring steel plants back. The Republican plan is to offer huge tax breaks to corporations, which they will likely use to line their own pockets and those of their shareholders, while investing in technology that can make them more productive while relying less on labor. None of that money is going to “trickle down” to the workers.
Running a country of this size is an almost impossible task. Nothing you do is going to please even half of the people at any given time. But presumably, you try your best to do the best for the entire country as a whole, despite all the special interest groups.
From a position in our culture though, the Democratic party has lost it’s way. In the 1970’s there was a decision by Democratic Party elites to marginalize labor unions and transform themselves from the party of the working class to the party of the professional class. They convinced themselves that they needed to abandon working people in order to serve a different constituency: a constituency essentially of white-collar professionals and that’s the most important group in their coalition and that’s where they draw from.
The problem with this shift, is that the professional class believes in the concept of meritocracy, that believes that those at the top deserve to be there on merit. It’s also believed to be tied to education. That the difference between the working class and the professional class is entirely about education. But the reality is the difference is about inequality at all levels, but specifically about wages.
“The big overarching problem of our time is inequality. If you look at historical charts of productivity and wage growth, these two things went hand in hand for decades after World War II, which we think of as a prosperous, middle-class time when even people with a high school degree, blue-collar workers, could lead a middle class life. And then everything went wrong in the 1970s. Productivity continued to go up and wage growth stopped. Wage growth has basically been flat ever since then. But productivity goes up by leaps and bounds all the time. We have all of these wonderful technological advances. Workers are more productive than ever but they haven’t benefited from it. That’s the core problem of inequality.
Now, if the problem was that workers weren’t educated enough, weren’t smart enough, productivity would not be going up. But that productivity line is still going up. So we can see that education is not the issue.
It’s important that people get an education, of course. It’s a fundamental human right that people should have the right to pursue whatever they want to the maximum extent of their individual potential. But the idea that this is what is holding them back is simply incorrect as a matter of fact. What’s holding them back is that they don’t have the power to demand higher wages.
If we talk about the problem as one of education rather than power, then the blame goes back to these workers. They just didn’t go out and work hard and do their homework and get a gold star from their teacher. If you take the education explanation for inequality, ultimately you’re blaming the victims themselves.
Unfortunately, that is the Democratic view. That’s why Democrats have essentially become the party of mass inequality. They don’t really have a problem with it.”1
I would argue here that this is line with much of what Bernie Sanders was yelling about, and has been yelling about, for decades. That it’s all an issue of economic inequality. You don’t have to agree with all his ideas, but I think it’s hard to defy that income inequality is central to the problems we are having in this country, including race relations.
The Democrats need to become the party of the people again. Not just a party of rich, white college-educated professionals, but of working class people. We need to be looking at ways to make the lives of people living in small towns better. We also need to figure out how to balance that with the needs of people in urban areas, who are just as hard off. We need to look at how to help farmers and construction workers, small business owners and people struggling to make ends meet while they work three fast food jobs.
In the simplest terms, if you want to win elections, you have to have an enemy. Authoritarian regimes always have a scapegoat. Someone to point at while deflecting any blame from yourself.
The Republicans have been much better at, and much more willing, to demonize the Left as the cause of all Middle America’s problems. It’s immigrants, black people, rich coastal elites, homosexuals and artists that are ruining America. They are out of touch with the heartland. They don’t share your values. Meanwhile, every policy put forward is either not likely to solve the problem at hand, but make a fancy show of things, or it’s a money grab for the wealthy.
You want to talk about the greatest trick the devil ever pulled off? The Republicans have convinced poor white, working class voters that cutting their healthcare and other services they rely on, in order to pay for huge tax cuts for the wealthy, is somehow in their best interests.
I don’t think Democrats can argue their way out of this. We think that logic and facts should be enough, but we’re way beyond that. We need to begin fighting fire with fire.
We need an enemy and the Republicans have done a fine job of proving they are a party without moral ideology; that they worship the almighty dollar and have sold America out to the highest bidder. They won’t believe it at first. Just more fake news. But we need to be hammering Republicans constantly and as they reveal themselves, people might begin to see they’ve been duped.
This could only be effective if the Democrats are actively looking for ways to reverse income inequality. We can not be the party of the wealthy, professional class. Thinking liberals everywhere, regardless of background, education and class, will understand the difference. We don’t need to cater to them in the same way. We need to propose better ideas that make sound financial sense for the good of the whole.
Democrats need to give people back a way to fight for higher wages. We need to strengthen unions and make it more difficult for corporations to screw workers for profit. We need to make everything about reversing the trend of income inequality so that both urban and rural poor can pull themselves out of their misery. That Working Class can move into the Middle Class. And that the Middle Class can grow and prosper.
They’re going to need our help. The rich are going to have to kick in, because as a society, that’s what we’re meant to do.
It’s time for a new generation of Democrats.
1. “Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?” by Thomas Frank