There was a wave of white middle class frustration in the economy that President Barack Obama, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment as a whole clearly failed to address and the party seems divided between the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wing of the party and the Clinton and Nancy Pelosi wing.
“Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably,” Liberal documentarian Michael Moore professed on Facebook after the election.
“We have been used by a party to the liberal side that once enacted, and once in office, has not enacted policy that was reflective of stuff that would bring our communities up,” rapper and activist Killer Mike similarly professed about minority communities.
“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media,” Senator Bernie Sanders said in a statement after the election. “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
The far left will continue to decry the failings of the democrats for some years to come, but in the diagnosis of the party it’s important to highlight a problem of message, not of policy.
Sanders and the rest of the far left wing of the democratic party, in hindsight, more correctly diagnosed the ailments of the country than the media gave them credit, but let’s not pretend that the actual policies of the republican party will do more to help the middle class than the democratic platform would have.
The Democratic platform developed a progressive agenda for middle class working types. It supports a $15 minimum wage, strengthening unions, child care, maternity leave, paternity leave, affordable housing, infrastructure expansion, clean energy jobs, and higher taxes on the rich.
The Republican platform (which is lacking in the same specificity) on the other hand essentially amounts to the tired policy of lower taxes to grow the economy, removing coal regulation in hopes that those jobs come back in an era of clean energy growth, and denying immigrants entry to the country.
Both are actually legitimate ways of attempting to help white working class people (so long as you don’t mind massive deficits), but the voters never saw those two competing ideologies in full light. Perhaps if that debate was had, more white working class folk would have turned out for Clinton.
In part that’s the failing of the media to address the issues of this election, and in part it’s the failing of the democratic party, and Hillary Clinton herself, to come up with a coherent message.
Bernie Sander’s lofty messages — free college tuition, breaking up the banks, getting money out of politics, and a single payer healthcare system — seemed like pie in the sky ideas compared to Clinton’s hyper detailed policy papers that ranged across a wide array of issues.
The problem is people don’t care about detail. Sure Sander’s goals were overly ambitious but it’s what he wanted for the future of America and he was going to craft ideas that fit that ideology, more or less, and convince the people this is the general direction we should take. Like Obama, many of these ideas were unlikely to happen, but it was a vision for the future, a goal to strive for.
Clinton’s approach appealed to the sort of liberal elite that can see the Affordable Care Act is not failing but could use some tweaks to the incentive structure of the market place. You might have read a snotty explainer piece or two about why the 22 percent price hike in healthcare premiums under Obamacare would mostly be covered by government subsidies and that this was a one-time spike. I was one of those snotty liberals.
But real, normal people don’t care that their healthcare costs will be the same once a government refund check comes in. Those are dollars out of their pocket right now. Democrats failed to relate to Americans at that basic level to explain how their policies would have done much more to advantage the middle class than Trump will.
Clintonian democrats would also point to the Census Bureau’s September announcement that in 2015 median household income grew by 5.2 percent, which is one of the largest year-over-year increases in the bureau’s recorded history.
But if you don’t feel like you’re better off, you’re not going to care what an economist has to say about the overall strength of the workforce. No matter how technically right they are.
The Clinton campaign was right to look at the these numbers, learn from them, look to implement them in future policy, and integrate them into a progressive democratic party platform. It’s the condescending-, I’m-better-than-you, suck-it-up tone that needs to change in the democratic party not its policies.
There are clearly an array of racist, homophobic, misogynistic, transphobic and xenophobic overtones to this election that contributed as well. Democrats for the most part did a good job of fighting against that as best any group can in this environment. But, until liberals can come up with a normal tone for addressing economic inequality, flatlined wages, and increased healthcare costs, there’s going to be more elections like this one.