Barring a miracle, it is now a mere 30 days before overconfidence trickster/foundation abuser Donald Trump will assume the presidency of the United States. The most important battle to be fought once that happens is building political organizations powerful enough to combat the damage he will be able to inflict with the collection of frauds, hustlers, and demagogues that will constitute his cabinet, but many people seem to think Job One should be determining who exactly is responsible for his winning in the first place.
I don’t pretend that it’s only mainstream liberal Democrats that are doing this. My own people, if I could use that term to describe the loose coalition of leftists, democratic socialists, and disaffected progressives to which I belong, are engaging in their own post-mortems. The difference, I think, is that we are trying to determine the nature of the problem so as to not repeat it in the next election, while the establishment Ds are looking for someone to blame so as not to have to admit any culpability that would require them to change their ways. No leftist I know thinks we can defeat Trumpism in 2018 or 2020 without the Democrats, but the Democrats, true to form, seem to believe they can get along just fine without us. Absent some kind of reform, Red America will coast to another victory and another set of body blows to the American ideal that Blue America will have to recover from if something does not change, and the reappearance of the likes of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi suggest that this change will not be coming from above.
If the media narrative is to be believed, the two sides have come to two separate conclusions as regards the loss that drove Hillary Clinton into the woods, where she resides to this day, living off the land like a modern Grizzly Adams, emerging only rarely to convey an award to Meghan Trainor. Liberals seem to believe that the fault lies with a wide-ranging alliance of nefarious forces, including but not limited to Russian hackers, poor white trash, neo-Nazis, communist podcasters, and third party candidates and the people who love them. Leftists, on the other hand, seem to be directing their ire at the Democratic Party establishment’s alleged ‘over-emphasis’ on ‘identity politics’ — that is, on the notion that the Clinton campaign spent too much political capital appealing to the needs and desires of women, gays, blacks, Hispanics, trans people, and other minorities, which led to them ignoring the white working class.
In fact, this narrative is patent nonsense. No leftist of my acquaintance seriously believes that there is any conflict at all between race and class, or that one must be ignored at the expense of the other, because the economic interests of the working class and the interests of various minority groups are inextricably intertwined and, frequently, identical. The programmatic approach of every coherent group on the left, from the Bernie Sanders campaign to the Democratic Socialists, has been to oppose both neoliberal capitalism and all forms of bigotry and discrimination, and while some pundits have blamed an overabundance of identity politics and/or political correctness, they tend to be on the right or the mainstream left.
Indeed, if anything, the argument is that it is the mainstream Democrats who have failed, not to address the politics of race and gender in America, but to address them properly — and to do so almost exclusively at the expense of class, thus excusing themselves of their own culpability in three decades of enriching the 1% at the cost of the financial ruination of the rest of the country. Plenty of people, myself included, have noted that the working class of America is far from uniformly white, and that especially in the key battleground states Clinton lost to Trump — states she barely found it necessary to visit following her nomination, following Schumer’s hugely mistaken advice that all the voters she would lose there could be recouped with the votes of professional women in the cities and suburbs — huge numbers of working-class minority voters simply failed to show up at the polls. It is not hard to imagine why they have come to believe that their votes don’t matter.
But leave the issue of class aside entirely. Even if this false dichotomy that one camp is overly focused on class at the ‘expense’ of race and gender, is it true that the Clinton campaign ran on a platform of identity politics, addressing these issues more effectively than the clueless white boys of the left? One searches in vain for evidence of any such thing, while indicators that it repeatedly failed women and minorities at every turn. Clinton ran an ugly platform of racial division in 2008 when faced with Barack Obama as a primary opponent; she has a nasty family history with hot-button racial issues like welfare reform and mass imprisonment, and she has been extremely standoffish with the Black Lives Matter movement. Her commitment to gay rights was shallow at best until it became politically expedient to pretend otherwise, and her outreach to the Hispanic community has largely been restricted to pandering. One would be hard pressed to find an Arab-American, despite the increasing importance of that voting block, who felt comfortable with her as a candidate given her actions at State. And while she made being a woman an important part of her campaign, you could argue that rather than reaching out to women, she simply took their votes for granted, which may explain why her gambit of relying on the votes of white suburban women backfired so badly.
This is the very crux of the leftist argument against liberalism: not that it pays too much attention to matters of social justice, but that it does so incompetently, preferring pandering, pop-culture signifiers, and celebrity endorsements to the real work of going to these communities and finding out what issues are truly facing them (which, yes, are often economic). Clinton received fewer minority votes — and lost a larger share of those minority votes she did receive — not because she overemphasized the importance of women, gays, and people of color, but because she did not succeed in making them feel that they had, in her, someone who would represent their interests in Washington. Obviously, this resulted in the election of a president who will be far worse for them than she would have been; but just as obviously, the party’s approach has to change if it’s ever going to get a chance to repair the damage that president is about to do.