Saturday, February 18, 2017

Two Cents

Conservative David Brooks wrote about how deeply divided the country is in a recent column. He went on at length about how unhinged the Trump administration is, how 65% of us are horrified, and how 35% are loving every minute. I suspect, or at least hope, that Trump’s hardcore supporters are closer to 25% rather than 35, but I think he’s right about the sharp divide.

Brooks has been critical of Trump since the beginning of his campaign. He would clearly prefer a more moderate Republican in the White House. But he turns a blind eye to the reality that the reasonable Republicanism he admires has been dying since the 1960s, and Republicans are the cause. Republicans decided they were going to be the anti-Civil Rights party and courted the votes of southern racists who had been avoiding Republican candidates since Lincoln. They went on to embrace the Religious Right, which has roots in southern white evangelical racism, and the Religious Right uses Jesus to justify prejudice against and fear of women, LGBTs, Muslims and other minorities. The Republican Party has become America’s white nationalist party.

Republicans, with the aid of Right Wing media, have been telling their base they are victims for 50 years, and nearly every problem they have, real or imagined, can be blamed on minorities and liberals who use government to oppress them, steal from them, and give free handouts to their enemies. Meanwhile, they have cut taxes on the super rich and have done everything in their power to minimize regulation of banking and industry.

We now live in a tyranny of the 1% + 25% or 35%. Those hardcore supporters are dyed in the wool believers, and they’ve been attending the church of hate all of their lives. A snappy comeback or a meme on Facebook won’t dissuade them. You can’t appeal to their humanity either. They truly believe they are the ones suffering, and the problems of others are either fake or self-inflicted.

So how do we overcome this? Well first, I think we need to assess the situation and accept the facts. These hardcore Republicans are out there, and they’re not going anywhere. They might eventually die off, and minority groups might eventually outnumber them, but in the meantime, we have to accept that they’re there, well organized and vote in a solid block. We have to accept that the way our system is set up, the votes of rural voters count more than the votes of urban and suburban voters, and we have to accept that the Republican base is mostly rural, and they have found a way to work the system to their advantage.

I believe that the Democrats need to expand their base. We need to flip some of these red states. To do that, we first have to believe that such a thing is possible. Yes, the Republican machine is operating at full capacity in these rural states and counties. But even so, not everyone who is voting is voting Republican, and there are a lot of people who aren’t voting. They are unmotivated because they don’t think their vote will make a difference. Many feel abandoned because they have been. Democrats have all but given up on rural voters.

I believe Democrats need to stop lumping everyone outside of metro areas together. I lived most of my life in rural West Virginia, and I’m probably more liberal than the average city voter. The racist bigots have the loudest voices out in the country, but country folk don’t all march to the same drummer. To assume they do is to indulge prejudice. And if you want a national party capable of winning elections, writing off half of the electorate and turning your back on huge sections of the country is foolish.

Politics is about addressing needs, and if you want more rural voters on your side, you have to address their needs. And they do have real needs. There are real worries out there about economics, healthcare and education. I hear some of my liberal friends dismiss the needs of rural folks. They say they should just move to where the jobs are, but that’s not a reasonable solution. It would be a disaster if millions of people began moving to metro areas. Housing costs in metro areas are already high, and there aren’t that many jobs to be had there. I hear some of my liberal friends throw around the word “privileged” a lot. They abuse that term, and some of these rural people are living in dilapidated housing and dying in their 40s, 50s and 60s. To call them privileged is absurd. Imagine if you were out in the sticks. You work at Wal-Mart. You live in a 30-year-old trailer. Your father died at age 54, and you’re worried the same thing will happen to you. Election time rolls around. You wonder if you’ll vote this year for the first time in 20 years, so you start looking into the various candidates, and you notice that many of the supporters of the Democratic candidates speak contemptuously of you and relentlessly insist that you’re spoiled and privileged. And if you try to tell one of these Democratic supporters about your worries and problems, they tell you that you’re imagining things, blowing things out of proportion, or your problems are self-inflicted. Well, doesn’t that sound familiar? Meanwhile, not a single Democratic candidate comes within a 100 miles of you to ask for your vote.

Economic problems are real, and millions are living close to the edge, millions of all races, and these people are everywhere…the cities, the suburbs and the countryside. Massive economic growth can’t be counted on to fix the problem. The kind of growth we experienced in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s is not likely to be repeated. But despite slow growth, there’s still enough to go around. But we need progressive policies put in place to make it happen.

Japan’s post-war economic miracle was even more extreme than ours, and it ended in the early ’90s. But life in Japan is still pretty good. It’s politically stable, the standard of living is high, life expectancy is high and crime is low. But they’re better at income distribution than we are.

The crazies are out there and in numbers, and they vote. But the majority is less likely to roll over and play dead if we provide for their basic needs, give them hope and give them something to fight for.

I hope politicians with a strong understanding of these problems and have solid, workable solutions come to the surface. And I hope we rally around those who are capable of connecting with voters across the country, politicians who are just as comfortable talking to someone who wears jeans and speaks with a twang as they are with someone who graduated from Harvard, someone like Ann Richards, for instance.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that human beings are feeling beings who happen to think rather than thinking beings who happen to feel. I think our candidates have to have some charisma. When we choose to support a candidate, it’s not enough to settle for the one who we like best. We have to find candidates who have wide appeal. Then we have to push them past their comfort zones so they can charm Americans from coast to coast.

That’s my two cents for today.

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Ben Dahlhaus and Others