All Democrats have some introspecting to do

No matter who you supported in the primaries, you have a lot to think about.

As soon as the 2016 election winners take office, Democrats will be wielding far less power than they have for a very long time. The Presidency and both houses of Congress are under Republican control. The Senate blockade of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court has apparently succeeded, setting up a return to the 5-4 conservative majority the Court had before Justice Scalia’s death. If Justice Kennedy or any of the four liberal justices were to quit or die in the next four years — a real possibility considering that Kennedy is 80 and Justice Ginsburg is an 83-year-old cancer survivor — we could be looking at the most conservative Court since the New Deal.

It’s no better at the state level. When the 2016 victors take office, Democrats will hold only 16 of the 50 governorships, with even states as blue as Massachusetts, Vermont, and Illinois having Republican governors. In 32 states, Republicans control both houses of the legislature, in some cases by supermajorities of 2/3s or more.

Some liberals may not consider themselves Democrats — Bernie Sanders, for example, is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate — but so far they haven’t found a path to power that doesn’t include the Democratic Party. So liberalism as also out in the cold right now.

You might think this situation would cause some soul-searching, but so far it seems to have produced mainly finger-pointing. Having watched a lot of back-and-forth on social media and elsewhere about why Democrats lost in 2016, I’ve been struck by how self-serving it is, on both the pro- and anti-Clinton sides. Everyone seems to be saying, “If everybody had just listened to me, we’d be fine. So I just need to keep saying and doing what I’ve been saying and doing all along.”

I’m not finding that message convincing. Not from anybody.

The pro-Clinton case. Clinton apologists have a long list of she-could-have-won-if points, all of which have some limited amount of validity. She won the popular vote by 2%, almost three million votes, so she’d have won if not for the Electoral College. The Russian interference in the election seems real, and given how small Trump’s margin was in many key states, that probably made the difference. Jim Comey’s last-minute re-raising of the email issue, for what turned out to be no good reason, was another bit of dirty pool that helped put Trump over the top. If Clinton’s internal polling had recognized how she was slipping in the upper Midwest, campaign resources that turned out to be wasted in places like Arizona could have been brought to bear on Wisconsin and Michigan. If Jill Stein hadn’t run, if the national news media hadn’t created a false equivalence between Clinton’s integrity problems and Trump’s, if social media had the kind of anti-false-news provisions it’s trying to develop now …

There’s no end to it, and it’s all more-or-less true as far as it goes. I’m sure that in most parallel universes, it’s Clinton who is getting ready to take the oath of office. Too bad for us that we live in an unlucky one.

But let’s imagine we could look in on one of those other universes, say the one where Comey kept his mouth shut about ongoing investigations, as FBI directors are supposed to do. Let’s imagine Clinton wins the popular vote there by 3% or 4%, rather than the 2% she won by in our universe, and that’s enough to tip the Electoral College in her favor.

OK, now consider this question: Is the Democratic Party in good shape? Is liberalism on track?

We still don’t get the Senate back, because even though Pennsylvania’s seat might also flip, there isn’t a second Senate race that the Republicans won with a razor-thin margin. You could imagine that a House race flips here or there, but again, it’s not enough to give Nancy Pelosi the Speaker’s gavel. And how exactly did Comey (or Putin) influence the governors’ races, or the state legislatures?

In a practical sense, then, Clinton winds up where Obama has been since 2010: unable to push an agenda through Congress, and relying on the veto and other executive powers to keep Republicans from trashing things too badly. Maybe she makes a Supreme Court appointment, or maybe the Senate blockade continues. (I suspect she does, but again, that mostly just prevents disasters; a liberal Court majority doesn’t put us on a path to a new liberal awakening.)

So OK: Clinton beats the Orange Menace with 49% or 50% of the vote instead of 48%, ObamaCare survives another four years, and the country continues to muddle along. That’s better than the situation we’re in now, but my impression is that disaster has just been forestalled a little while, not that we’re on the path to turning things around.

Even under President Clinton, then, the Democratic Party would have some serious rethinking to do.

Anti-Clinton. Inside certain echo-chambers of Bernie Sanders’ supporters, it’s obvious that Democrats just nominated the wrong candidate. Bernie would have beaten Trump, and everything would be wonderful. Trump won because voters wanted an outsider and Clinton was an insider. Or they would have responded to an authentic liberal, but Clinton isn’t one. Or something.

The main evidence for this view is that during the primaries Bernie did better than Clinton in the head-to-head polling match-ups with Trump. A lot of polls showed him winning by double digits, sometimes as much as 15%. But of course, Clinton also had some double-digit leads in polls, some of them fairly late in the campaign. We saw how quickly such leads can evaporate. Since Sanders was less well known than Clinton, and since Republicans had largely treated him with kid gloves that would have come off in a general election campaign, I would expect opinions about him to be more volatile in a general election, not less. So a polling lead over Trump in April is not very convincing evidence.

But the real reason not to buy the liberal-victory or outsider-victory scenario is that as best I can tell, nobody made that message work in downballot elections. If the Bernie-wins theory were correct, I’d expect to see some state or congressional district where Trump beat Clinton, but some plucky liberal outsider candidate pulled an upset win over a Republican incumbent senator or governor or representative. I can’t think of any such example. (The most notable downballot candidate to win a Trump state was Roy Cooper in the North Carolina governor’s race. But he’s not an outsider and his positions on key issues seem pretty Clintonish to me.)

Take Iowa, for example. In past elections it has been a swing state leaning blue. Bush won it in 2004, but Gore won Iowa in 2000 and Obama carried it twice. Trump won it decisively, 51%-42%. So Iowans must really have been fed up with the status quo and ready to throw out all the insiders, right? Well, not exactly. Other than Mitch McConnell, probably nobody is a bigger Washington insider than Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who has been in the Senate since 1980. He got re-elected by an even bigger margin, 60%-37%.

Or look at Wisconsin, which Clinton lost very narrowly, 47.2%-46.5%. Russ Feingold, a liberal hero who in 2001 was the sole dissenting vote in the Senate against the Patriot Act, lost by a bigger margin, 50%-47%.

It’s not a hard or unreasonable test: Find some electoral district where Trump won, but a downballot Democrat also won by running either as an anti-Establishment outsider or on a Bernie-like progressive agenda. I don’t believe there is one.

Another argument is that Bernie could have won just by not being Hillary Clinton. But the voters seemed to have no special distaste for Clinton in comparison to other Democrats. In Pennsylvania, a state that hadn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988, and which Obama won 52%-47% in 2012, Clinton lost by 44,000 votes out of nearly 6 million. But in the senatorial election, Katie McGinity lost a close race by a slightly worse margin, 116,000. The story in New Hampshire was similar, but on the opposite side: Clinton won by 3,000 votes, and the Democratic senate candidate won by 1,000.

In other words, it was the party that lost, not just the candidate. Simply being not-Clinton didn’t gain Democrats anything.

So what should we be thinking about? First, I think we need to lose the Clinton and Sanders labels, because I don’t see the point in refighting that. It’s not like either of them is likely to run for president again, so there’s no need to keep your arguments against them sharp.

There will continue to be a struggle going forward, but let’s focus on ideas and approaches rather than personalities. On the one hand, there are the centrist, focus-on-what’s-possible-today, work-within-the-power-structure, gradual-change Democrats. On the other, the more radical, big-picture, go-for-it, overthrow-the-power-structure Democrats (or liberals who don’t call themselves Democrats because Democrats are too tame). Each group has some important introspecting to do.

The first group needs to answer questions like this: How are we going to inspire anyone? What’s my elevator speech, the simple statement that tells low-information voters what the Democratic Party is about and why they should support it? The half of the country that isn’t interested enough in politics to vote — what in my message will wake them up and get them involved? How can I explain to people that the small step I want to take right now is just the first step on a journey that goes someplace exciting? And — maybe most important of all — does it go someplace exciting? On an issue like climate change, for example, the clock is ticking. Does the gradualist approach deliver change fast enough to avoid global disaster?

Finally, the first group needs to stop waiting for something to happen. Stop waiting for the Republicans to cross some line that will finally make Americans realize that they’ve gone insane and look to us instead. Stop waiting for demographic change to create the electorate we want. Power will not come to us because it’s our turn; we have to earn it.

The second group needs to let go of a myth: There is no hidden liberal majority in America. The non-voters aren’t disillusioned left-wing radicals who are just waiting for a true believer to blow the battle horn. Bernie did that and he lost. [1] Even if he had won, he’d be one guy dealing with the same obstacles Obama has been facing. [2] The only way there ever will be a liberal majority in America is if we figure out how to make one.

I still believe the model I put forward last February in “Say – you want a revolution?“: The vast majority of non-voters are people who don’t have a political identity at all. If you ask the right poll questions, you can get them to express liberal ideas on specific issues. [3] You can sometimes get a number of them to show up in one election just by fielding an appealing candidate (i.e., Obama) or having a good slogan (“Yes We Can”), but that doesn’t change the long-term political balance of the country. Next time it might be the other guys who field an appealing (or energizingly appalling) candidate and have a good slogan (“Make America Great Again”).

Long-term political change involves people joining things that change their identities, the way that the blue-collar union workers of the 1960s became the evangelical church members of the 1980s. Where are we making that happen now? Do we have the vision, the stamina, and the local-organizing ability to facilitate that kind of change?

The turn-the-world-around movement won’t instantly coalesce around the right presidential candidate with the right message. It will start someplace small, with a new approach to very specific, very local concerns. Where are we running those experiments and giving lightning a chance to strike? [4]

So whether you think of yourself as belonging to the Democratic Party or the progressive movement, our power is at a low ebb right now. Nobody — I mean nobody — has cause to feel smug about this. It isn’t that she failed or they failed, but I’m all right. We’re where we are right now because I failed, you failed, we all failed. Each of us needs to be looking in a mirror and asking what we’re going to do differently.

Extra credit question. While researching an article I’ll probably post next week, I read the 1955 classic They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer, in which he relates his conversations with ten low-level small-town Nazi Party members after the war. I was struck by this comment from a high school teacher.

For the first time in my life I was really the peer of men who, in the Kaiser time and in the Weimar time, had always belonged to classes lower or higher than my own, men whom one had always looked down on or up to, but never at. In the [National Socialist] Labor Front— I represented the teachers’ association— I came to know such people at first hand, to know their lives and to have them know mine. Even in America— perhaps; I have never been there— I suspect that the teacher who talks about ‘the common people’ has never known one, really known one, not even if he himself came from among them, as I, with an Army officer as a father, did not. National Socialism broke down that separation, that class distinction. Democracy— such democracy as we had had— didn’t do it and is not doing it now.

In other words, in a cultural sense the Nazi regime felt more democratic to him than the Weimar Republic. As a Nazi, he felt that he was part of the German Volk, no better or worse than any other German. He believed this was a common perception among his acquaintances.

There’s a lesson here about how Trump won. It seems to me that Democrats have lost that sense of cultural democracy, and that this is why the stereotypic poorly-educated white working-class Trump voter resents us. Instead, our leaders (of all factions) seem to identify with the meritocracy, which is a fancy way of saying that some people are just better than others. Hal Walker explains why this is a problem:

Economic disenfranchisement becomes an issue of who did well at school and who didn’t, not structural forces acting on society. What should be a progressive politics becomes just another version of the bootstraps myth, with grades and scholarships standing in for sweat and prudent personal budgeting. … In the end, the snobs lost to the slobs, but true to the character of the well-educated, they simply will not hear criticism that does not come from the similarly credentialed.

Trump was able to nail Clinton — and would have been able to nail Bernie and most of the rest of us — as the kid who sat in the front of the classroom and always had her hand up. Every time we fact-checked him, his fans were identifying with him, not us. “I know. They think I’m stupid too.”

I’m really not sure what to do about this. It’s one of the things I’m introspecting about. The meritocracy says that people in the lower classes are just losers, particularly if they can’t point to some form of discrimination that has kept them down unfairly. Without turning our backs on facts and science, how do we establish and project a sense that all people have worth?

[1] Legitimately. In the primaries, Clinton got about 3.8 million more votes. Bernie-or-bust folks tried to de-legitimize that result in two ways, but in neither case does the quality of the logic rise above the conspiracy-theory level.

The more specific version was a direct election-rigging claim that foreshadowed Trump’s baseless claims in the Fall. For example, there was this report from Election Justice USA. Here’s one of the points from the executive summary:

Analyses in [this report] show that voter purges [in New York] also disproportionately affected Sanders’ vote totals: the percentage of purged voters for each precinct was a significant predictor of Clinton’s vote share.

Anybody who understands the first thing about statistics should see that the conclusion doesn’t follow. If you’re aiming at a group of people, you’ll hit more of them in places where they congregate. So if a voter purge were targeted at likely Sanders voters, you’d expect to see the exact opposite result: More voters would be purged in precincts that Sanders won. (And no, the rest of the report doesn’t explain or justify that backwards conclusion.)

The whole report is like that. If something looked off somewhere, it must have been part of the grand anti-Sanders conspiracy.

The more vague argument was that the all-powerful DNC somehow manipulated those 3.8 million people into voting for Clinton. The evidence for this is supposedly in those emails that Russia hacked and WikiLeaks released.

I can’t say I’ve gone through the whole trove, but I read the emails that made headlines, the ones Bernie supporters point to. You know what isn’t in them? References to some specific anti-Sanders action that they carried out. I am not shocked to learn that when they talked among themselves, DNC folks weren’t neutral. They’re professional politicians; they couldn’t possibly be neutral in their hearts. I’m also not shocked that they discussed anti-Sanders arguments or strategies. But did they do any of them? That’s what’s missing.

Here’s the parallel that rings true for me: I’ll bet that if you bugged the umpires’ dressing room in a major league baseball stadium, you’d hear lots of resentment against players who make the umps look bad and fantasies of things they could do to those players. And since umpires are baseball people, they’re probably also fans and have players they admire. But (absent other compelling evidence) I would not interpret those conversations as a plot to throw the game.

And even if they had wanted to throw the election, they couldn’t have done it. The DNC is not a masters-of-the-universe club. Primary elections are run by state election commissions, not the national parties.

The fact needs to be faced: Clinton beat Sanders by 3.8 million votes.

[2] On Day 1, President Sanders sends a Medicare-for-everybody plan to Congress. On Day 2, Speaker Ryan assigns it to a committee that decides not to hold hearings or have a vote. What happens on Day 3?

[3] You shouldn’t interpret polls on particular issues as expressions of the public’s political identity, because issue-polling has persistent paradoxes. For example, if you ask whether the government spends too much or too little, a solid majority will say “too much”. But if you then start asking about specific cuts — “Should we cut Social Security?”, “Should we cut defense?” — all the major spending lines have majority support. If you could balance the budget by ending foreign aid to countries that hate us, the public would be all over that. But the things we actually spend big money on are fairly popular.

In short: Public opinion on a list of issues does not typically cohere into a worldview. Interpreting it as if it did will cause you to make mistakes.

[4] I think that’s the message to take from Roy Cooper’s win in North Carolina. It’s not Cooper himself, it’s the Moral Mondays movement that is changing the conversation.

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  • Nancy Lacy  On January 2, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Thank you for stating so clearly what many of us have been thinking since the election. The “she should have”, the “he would have won”, and the constant bickering I am seeing in social media is hurting the progressive movement and frankly holding us back. I appreciate your commentary and wisdom.

  • Dennis Maher  On January 2, 2017 at 9:52 am

    We can’t turn the world around here without taking down Fox News, or building a real alternative to it, which I think would be a simplified center-left message built on anger at Trump and Ryan for not really changing anything. Part of what failed was the perfectly good notion that Hillary and Bernie promoted that free education was the key to development that would help the de-industrialized areas of America. “Education” would have to be reframed as “bringing jobs back.” This would have to be tied to workable programs to end drug abuse. The whole thing needs to be led by a popular non-politician, like Tom Hanks.

    • Terry Sherer  On January 2, 2017 at 10:25 am

      Beginning that”transformation” is the election of the New Democratic National Committee Chair!

      Dems are starting over, closing the Clinton/Sanders era and renewing/rejuvenating our belief in education and the uplifting of the “uncommon” man who will revive the “middle” class.

      Our greatest enemy is our inability to identify young, vibrant, articulate young people for elective office! We are virtually “dry bones.”

      • Alex  On January 7, 2017 at 8:00 pm

        “identify young, vibrant, articulate young people for elective office”

        There isn’t a shortage of “young, vibrant, articulate young people.” They are all over the startup world. But as Mike points out below, young people are more liberal and less partisan than their parents and grandparents. Although unlike Mike, I don’t think that they are independents. I think they don’t pay any attention to politics. It’s not just that they don’t vote in the mid-term elections – they don’t even know that they’re happening.

        My guess is that getting them to participate will require changes that are good for democracy – even if they aren’t good for the Democrats – such as small dollar funded elections, and ranked choice voting. But you have to start from where they are and accommodate what they are passionate about, not just try to sell them your agenda. The Democrats might want to create focus groups or a task force or something to find out what appeals to them.

      • 1mime  On January 7, 2017 at 10:00 pm

        Bernie Sanders might differ from you in your assessment about young people’s interest and involvement in politics….

      • Alex  On January 9, 2017 at 9:15 pm

        I think it remains to be seen what happens with the young, enthusiastic Bernie supporters. Do they show up for the mid-term elections? Do they stay involved in politics? Or was this an anomaly?

  • gordonc  On January 2, 2017 at 10:14 am

    I think the Bernie folks’ POV was not entirely that Bernie would have won, but that Clinton was vulnerable for reasons that Bernie and later Trump would point out. Those include the “smarty pants in the front row” and the “not one of us” you referred to, the “not one of us” including speeches to bankers. Mostly though, it has to do with something that was recently pointed out in government figures, the appalling statistic that the bottom 50% of Americans hold barely 1% of the country’s wealth.

    How can a country where half the people have been given only 1% of the wealth maintain a democratic form of government? How long are these people going to give their consent to this kind of result?

  • nwbaxter  On January 2, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Another part of this conversation is that trump (I refuse to capitalize his name) was seen as a counterweight to government as usual. Already rich and powerful, even if it was through chicanery, he was perceived by many as above and opposed to such things in government. Both left and right represent elites, just different ones. trump gave people the feeling that he was speaking to their needs and not just a personal desire for power. Obama did the same thing, but Clinton did not.

  • Anonymous  On January 2, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Another home run article. Living in a purple state that went Blue and has a good democratic base (CO) I do believe as you state clearly, America as a nation is NOT as progressive (liberal) as many believe. A friend who voted for Trump (holding his nose he said) did so primarily because of the Supreme court vacancy. They and many on the fence are afraid of the “progressive” agenda. I felt Clinton has swung too far left in trying to keep the Bernie supporters. In my heart I do believe the Democrats have the better message and from the ashes will get stronger but it begins with (as you point out) not pointing fingers of blame but the points of compromise which will lead in a positive direction.

  • dhkinsey  On January 2, 2017 at 10:23 am

    quick response- we need to transition out of capitalism- in this universe that means way to the left of Sanders- your presuming the country is not left leaning is because -I think- it has been PR’d out of consciousness and never attempted-
    Democrats are uninspiring for they still walk in the path of Reagan- giving us Mourning in America.

    • Bill Camarda  On January 2, 2017 at 10:50 am

      dhkinsey, How would your hypothesis about American politics be confirmed or disconfirmed by evidence? And, if confirmed, how could it be changed? I wouldn’t try to speak for Doug, but I think he offers a fair challenge: where in the country did a truly left alternative to Clinton do meaningfully better than she did? And if the whole country is brainwashed by money, what path forward would there be in an era where money will have even more untrammeled power? (e.g., if you’re right, wouldn’t things be utterly hopeless?)

      How does your hypothesis account for the individualistic aspects of American culture that are now ramped up to overdrive, wherein nobody wants to be told what to do by anyone, least of all a socialist government that can be easily portrayed as paternalistic and elitist — even if people are just being asked to use a different kind of light bulb?

      Put another way, is it possible to envision a transition away from capitalism *forward* to something new and credible, rather than backwards to the 1930s and the New Deal, when people were OK with being viewed as “the common man” or “the working class”? Because traditional socialist parties don’t seem to be doing well anywhere, as far as I can tell. (And when they win, they can’t seem to govern for long.) But decentralized approaches seem to do nothing about soaring inequality; we seem to need a forceful state apparatus to address that. I don’t see the way out of that paradox, but it can’t be ignored.

      I actually agree with you that the Democrats’ only chance is to move left, but I think it needs to be deeply grounded in the realities of the electorate and culture we have, not the one we wish existed.

    • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 7:44 am

      On health care, I once put forward the metaphor of walking a bookcase, where you don’t just pick it up and carry it, you rest it on a right-hand corner, pivot, then rest it on a left-hand corner and pivot again. I think something similar needs to happen here.

      I agree that the true-left agenda has gotten pushed off the stage, and so it doesn’t register as an option for many people. But how do we proceed, given that the PR deed has been done? We can’t just say “You idiots! You’ve been brainwashed! Here’s the right path.” — at least not if we hope to win.

      So how do we walk that bookcase? Starting with where people are, what do we plant on and where do we pivot?

      • Mike  On January 4, 2017 at 8:49 am

        President Obama did a dern good job slowly walking that progressive bookcase forward over the past 8 years despite the efforts of the republicans to hinder his efforts. Sen. Sanders and Sec. Clinton were both prepared to slowly walk it even further. President Trump and the republican controlled congress will be walking it back at such a pace as to destroy the bookcase. Our job now is to try and keep that bookcase whole by pressuring our representatives in congress to slow down President Trump’s agenda. President Obama had a 57% job approval rating on November 8th, 2016 and had he been allowed to run again, would have won easily. We don’t need to be moving left of where he is right now. We need to be right where he is on the issues. We need to find a fresh young face to step up for 2020 and we need to fight against efforts to suppress the vote in those swing states. I feel confident that President Trump, and his anti-environmental regulation appointees, will help energize that 57% to vote in 2020.

      • Zachary  On January 4, 2017 at 9:28 pm

        I’d even say to Mike here that Trump really doesn’t consider bookcases…honestly he has people to deal with walking and other mundane things. It seems to me that our president elect is the a-hole jock from high school that nobody really likes, but always got elected class president. He had people…and for some reason that in itself insipered the masses. The jock never cared about breaking a cafeteria table (or a bookshelf) he cared about losing the game.
        Anyone can lose a game.
        The dems have two obvious advantages here. 1. Trump self destructs every day. We need to continue to point that out every day.
        2. The left, and the electorate at large made gains under Obama that seemed a pipe dream 10 years ago…marriage equality, among others. That supreme court decision alone suggested a shift in common thinking, and I honestly think an attitude of acceptance in general has been on the rise. We need to nurture that in our 14 year olds and guide them in droves to the polls in four years. In the meantime, we have to rally, left and centrist, around one flag. I personally think that flag is unconditional acceptance of people. That’s all I got.

  • karenjerger  On January 2, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Thanks — helpful encouragement for reflection. I appreciate the thought, care and research that you put into your posts.


  • gordonc  On January 2, 2017 at 10:48 am

    On a purely mechanical level, I think it is a grave mistake to nominate someone with a 30 year record in the national political spotlight. It’s just too easy to pin every policy failure on that person. If you go backwards in time thinking about people who have actually attained the Presidency, with almost no exception these were relatively fresh faces.

  • Larry Benjamin  On January 2, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Thank you for focusing on the real problem, the diminishing appeal and effectiveness of Democrats at all levels of government. Against a candidate like Trump, any Democrat should have won by at least double digits. The fact that the election was so close, coupled with the poor showing of Democrats in other races, may point to a trend that can’t be remedied simply by crafting a better message or finding a more charismatic candidate.

    It may be that we are in the midst of a historical trend toward increased nationalism and authoritarianism. This isn’t limited to the United States, either – it’s appearing in many European countries as well. We’ve gone 70 years without a direct shooting war between the major world powers, an unprecedented length of time at least over the past several centuries. The reality may be that our voices – the voices of inclusion, of accommodation, of nuanced explanations and complex solutions to complex problems, may be drowned out by the voices of tribalism and violence, at least for the time being.

    We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong.
    We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.
    We thought the long train would run to the end of Time.
    We thought the light would increase.
    Now the long train stands derailed and the bandits loot it.
    Now the boar and the asp have power in our time.
    Now the night rolls back on the West and the night is solid.
    Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon’s teeth.

    Our children know and suffer the armed men.

    Stephen Vincent Benét, “Litany for Dictatorships”

    • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 8:06 am

      That’s an amazing poem. I hadn’t seen it before and had to look it up. (It was published in 1935 and you can read the whole thing here.)

      • Mike  On January 4, 2017 at 10:02 am

        “The reality may be that our voices – the voices of inclusion, of accommodation, of nuanced explanations and complex solutions to complex problems, may be drowned out by the voices of tribalism and violence, at least for the time being.” This is surely where we are right now in a few areas of the world but I don’t believe that the progressive worldview is diminishing in America or around the western world. I do believe it takes much more energy to keep it alive and thriving and because the forces of chaos and entropy have a strong down and back pull, we will always have to fight harder to move forward. By 2024, this will all be turned on it’s head if progressives continue to hold to their values. The light will increase!

  • Trackdude  On January 2, 2017 at 10:55 am

    “As a Nazi, he felt that he was part of the German Volk, no better or worse than any other German.”

    He obviously wasn’t Jewish.

    • Tom Amitai (@TomAmitaiUSA)  On January 2, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      That’s the other part of the equation, which trump and the republican/neo-confederates understand; you can make a man feel big by giving him someone to look down on. A unified government under republican control is going to be a rough ride for all of us, but way, way worse for racial, ethnic, religious, and gender/sexuality minorities.

      • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 8:41 am

        An interesting feature of Mayer’s book is that (although he was Jewish himself), the Jews play a fairly minor role in the memories of his ten Germans. What the regime expected of people at their level was only that they remain oblivious, not that they participate in active hatred.

        One man asked Mayer about the Japanese internment in America. Mayer responded that the American camps weren’t exterminating the Japanese. And the German countered, “And if they had been, what then?” Would Mayer have known? Would he have done anything? What?

        So the situation for these ten Germans seems less like the Jim Crow South, where blacks were a visible underclass, and more like today’s upscale suburbs and white rural areas, where people would rather not notice Freddy Gray or Tamir Rice.

    • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 8:09 am

      Obviously not. But that’s the main flaw of populism: “the People” is usually not everybody.

  • tammeri  On January 2, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Why no discussion of campaign tactics? Seems to me to be the biggest overall reason for Clinton’s loss but you don’t seem to count it as a factor. Lots of breakdowns from various sources but most concur the campaign leadership made tactical errors on every level. This to me would be the biggest advantage a Sanders nomination would have had – I don’t think he’d ignore the warning signs the way the Clinton campaign did, speaking from experience of working with his primary campaign.

  • Dennis D Degenhardt  On January 2, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I think your 4th footnote was very interesting. It wasn’t the governor winning as a dem but the Moral Monday movement. What can we learn from them?

    • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 8:11 am

      I’m wondering the same thing. My reading list includes “The Third Reconstruction” by William Barber, the most visible leader of Moral Mondays. I’m sure I’ll have something to say about it.

      • Chris  On January 3, 2017 at 9:15 pm

        One of the most promising paths toward your “turn-the-world-around movement” is transpartisan dialogue: creating new policy solutions that appeal to people of all political persuasions. Two good ideas are Wisdom Councils:

        and Convergent Facilitation:

        Click to access MinnesotaCaseStudy.pdf

      • 1mime  On January 3, 2017 at 10:49 pm

        Great link, Chris!

  • SCL  On January 2, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Democrat and republican is a distraction. Lets throw the parties out for a minute and work without them. What it comes down to is, “help others succeed”, or “work only for your own self interest”. Trump, of course represented self interest. As a rich narcissist, he never has to think of others. He gets all the gains for himself. And thats what he is promising to do for America. Make us successful at the expense of other countries. That’s what people responded to, thats what they wanted.

    No democrat could have won, period. In the end, even Obama lost against the tide of narcissistic greed that has overcome human society. Telling the public to share is like bringing a knife to a gun fight.

    Republicans won because they are exploiting a flaw in the human brain. Evolution has hard wired us to get personal gain above concern for others. We are incapable of sharing with others. No ideology has been able to overcome this. Not communism, not christianity, and not science. No human institution ever will.

    We are about a million years of evolution behind the point where we can have real functional empathy and consideration for others. Humanity’s options are: to bomb ourselves back to the stone age and start over. To let robotic consciousness take over(maybe they could do better). And finally, to wipe the slate clean, trusting that whatever evolves after human extinction will have a stronger mental capacity.

    If you’re rooting for human extinction, congratulations, you won this election.

  • coastcontact  On January 2, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    “It’s the economy stupid” was the campaign theme of James Carville. Where was Clinton on that theme? She was not there! The Democratic Party was the working man’s party. Donald Trump took that theme when he promised to stop outsourcing and bringing back jobs that have left the country. That is the reason he won. Clinton had no theme and offered few new ideas. “Stronger together” meant nothing to most people. Social issues take a back burner to economic issues. Trump’s win of social conservatives proves that fact.

    If Trump does bring back jobs, or at least stops the outflow of jobs, he will be re-elected in 2020.

    • Dennis D Degenhardt  On January 2, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      But the big lie was outsourcing when the primary reason for job losses was automation, cheap natural gas. Even if jobs return, it won’t create that many opportunities as our factory output is high with few workers.

  • Mikel Aickin  On January 2, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    On Clinton/anti-Clinton:
    (1) The presidential election is to an unhealthy degree
    a personality contest. Many people didn’t like Clinton,
    but Sanders didn’t seem to raise such antipathy, and was
    more personally genuine.
    (2) Clinton went after the center, the undecideds/independents,
    and less conservative republicans. We never got to see whether
    Sanders would have gone directly after Trump’s supporters,
    the disaffected, change-seeking, deeply-closeted
    (3) Re your argument: Clinton (and the DNC) never pressed
    on the down-ballot. Arguing that this is a sign that Sanders
    would not have done better is using a Clinton failure as
    evidence in her favor. We don’t know how a Sanders general
    election campaign would have worked down-ballot.
    To sum up, there are quite a few reasons to imagine that
    a Sanders-Trump contest might have turned out differently.
    (4) You want to focus on ideas instead of leadership. Seems to
    me that’s what got us to where we are.
    (5) I agree that waiting for the masses to awake to how the
    right has abused them is a waste of time (look at Kansas).
    Cell phone marketing has done a better job of informing people
    about the benefits of instant communication than the democrats
    have at explaining how liberal politics helps, and rightist
    politics hurts ordinary people. This has been true for years,
    and it is now part of why we have to trudge upward into
    a mudslide of bumper-sticker style misinformation.

    • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 8:19 am

      This reasoning cuts both ways. Clinton was brilliant in the debates, and got a polling bump out of each of them. She got under Trump’s skin and didn’t let him get under hers. I doubt Bernie would have been nearly as good. I can easily imagine him being the one who got baited.

  • Greg  On January 2, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Though it doesn’t negate the overall themes of your post, I’m surprised to not see any mention of sexism as an explanatory factor related to Clinton’s loss. Researchers found, for example, that hostility towards women is significantly correlated with support for Trump.

    • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 8:17 am

      You’re right, I should have mentioned it. I haven’t covered that angle of the campaign since August. One of my flaws as a communicator is that I hate to repeat myself. But it’s ridiculous to think that of course everybody read my August article and remembers it perfectly.

      • Alex  On January 3, 2017 at 8:44 pm

        Maybe summarize and link?

  • GJacq726  On January 2, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    As an optimistic idealist myself, I see the same optimistic idealism in the Left. The problem I am finding for me may be the same as the Left. As humans, we tend to project who we are, how we play onto the world. Our collective optimism doesn’t serve us when we are playing a fair game and so expect everyone to play a fair game when this is simply not the case. The Right, as it stands, plays dirty. The Left has too long projected a fair game onto them.

    I’ve witnessed a slow coup by the Right over 30+ years culminating in the Tea Party, and then Trump riding in on coattails, speaking directly what the GOP has long been saying dog-whistle style. The GOP has been working on gaining substantial power in the States, creating belief systems and self-serving districts, undermining education and lately health care all for their own eventual gain.

    Generally speaking and in current forms, the Left rallies around power for the common good; the Right rallies around self-serving power. The Right says what needs to be said to win elections, then do what serves the oligarchs, theocrats and nationalists/supremacists. The Left loses because the Left doesn’t want to play the dominance game more easily played and attributed to self-serving power because in many ways it’s a dirty game. The Left needs figure out how better to see the game and strategies from all sides then create a better strategy around and/or through it that includes reasonable forms of dominance (yes, conscious responsive dominance is a thing) because tolerance, optimism and idealism are not, in and of themselves, serving the common good.

    • 1mime  On January 2, 2017 at 10:43 pm

      Democrats can start by deciding what their message is and what their game plan is. They haven’t even decided on who will lead the DNC and the new Republican majority House and Senate are sworn in tomorrow. You can’t lead from behind.

  • Dale Piper  On January 2, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Yes, there is some introspection due. But this doesn’t even mention the highly successful effort by Republicans to gerrymander the US, state by state. There’s a reason only about 30 seats in the House were even conceivably possible switches that has nothing to do with party enthusiasm.

    • 1mime  On January 2, 2017 at 10:41 pm

      Operation Red State by the Republicans was how they won not only federal seats but local and state seats and judicial positions. No one handed it to them, they worked for it and that is exactly what Dems need to do now. Learn from their successful efforts. No whining allowed. This is war.

  • peteybee  On January 2, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    “In other words, it was the party that lost, not just the candidate.”

    That was precisely Sanders’ strength.

    • 1mime  On January 2, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      Without the structure of the Democratic Party, Sanders would not have been able to get as far as he did. He was a super candidate but he understood that he could not succeed as an independent candidate OR he would have run as an independent. I don’t care if he had regrets as his following grew, he made an early choice and had to live with it.

      • peteybee  On January 3, 2017 at 8:50 am

        The point is, tho, that Sanders’ long career as an independent gave him credibility as an outsider, something Trump had but Clinton did not. I think this alone would’ve put him over the top, and adding his wildly popular economic populist platform (which most Clinton supporters during the primary liked, they just didn’t believe he was “electable”) I think Sanders would beat Trump by a comfortable margin. As the polls showed but the author of the article discounts for some reason.

      • 1mime  On January 3, 2017 at 9:49 am

        Possible, I don’t believe probable, but I agree that he was an exciting candidate. The Republicans treated him with gloves off which would have changed if he had been a nominee instead of Clinton. I will say that I believe Clinton’s team lost the election through many mistakes altho the mail server issue was bogus. Comey and Wiki did her in and poor campaign choices…She worked incredibly hard but the campaign relied on old methods for a new mood. It’s all history now. Gird yourself for what the GOP will do and what Trump can do with his shallow, narcissistic, impulsive personality.

  • Anonymous  On January 3, 2017 at 12:10 am

    I recommend to you this book: This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping The 21st Century by Mark and Paul Engler.

    • 1mime  On January 3, 2017 at 12:49 am

      I saw that and another posted somewhere … the second one is: Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Guilded Age. I’ll order the Engler book first on your recommendation.

    • weeklysift  On January 3, 2017 at 8:50 am

      I’ll look for it. So far, what I’ve seen in 21st century non-violent revolt has a hole in it: It disrupts, but hasn’t produced institutions of its own. The Egyptian example is telling: the protesters succeeded in forcing elections, but formed no party and so failed to gain power. Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood formed the new government, and then the army overthrew them. So back to Square One.

  • Charles  On January 3, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    It’s hard to draw conclusions from down-ticket races. More than anything else, legislative races are determined by presidential politics — not just at the national level, but also for state houses. This has been the case for a century.

    • 1mime  On January 3, 2017 at 12:54 pm

      That is certainly the way things “are”; however, to effect change, Democrats have to go local and build from there. The top down approach is neglectful of the power employed by State Legislatures who have authority to gerrymander and pass state-specific legislation that may not make it on the hill. There is simply no better way of reaching people and selling your values and plans than to know them. That is done locally.

      Been there, done that.

  • katherinejlegry  On January 3, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Trump didn’t win dork. Putin did. This has noting to do with Hillary. It’s about the tech world and Kleptocracy. If you want to use reason to fight Donald who was mentored by Roy Cohn, you’re surrendering your freedom. Your democracy has been usurped. You are blaming democrats? It’s about money. Capitalism didn’t work with democracy. Be a grown up and write about that.

  • Harry  On January 3, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    Here in NC a state senator has put out a game plan for Democrats to take action – at a local level – to make a difference in the state this year and break the Republican super majority. Please do check it out.
    Seems to me we were worried this year about one candidate and one office and ignored all the changes that have happened over the last thirty years all around the country. All last year I was saying I’d rather have 60 Bernies in the Senate and 250 in the House and as governors and state legislators – the Democratic party can’t be about the success or failure of one candidate for president or as president. I think we should have all figured that out in 2010 but here we are. I am focused on local this year.

  • Mike  On January 3, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    “The first group needs to answer questions like this: How are we going to inspire anyone? What’s my elevator speech, the simple statement that tells low-information voters what the Democratic Party is about and why they should support it?

    The second group needs to let go of a myth: There is no hidden liberal majority in America. The non-voters aren’t disillusioned left-wing radicals who are just waiting for a true believer to blow the battle horn.”

    Instead of putting time and energy into trying to inspire low-info voters or trying to convince yourself and other liberals that most of America isn’t liberal leaning, why not be more like those practical patriots on the compassionate conservative side? The party that has made it their goal to convince Americans that voter fraud is an issue and to suppress the vote over the last 8 years is winning, locally and nationally. Put all of your efforts into making it easier for people to register and to vote. I firmly believe that most young people between the ages of 14 and 32, regardless of race, economic status or education, are less superstitious, more liberal and less partisan (independents) than their parents and grandparents. If you asked young people if they should be allowed to register and vote from their phones, 80 to 90 percent would say yes. If Americans were allowed to cast their vote over an app on their phone, I feel very confident that the liberal progressive environmental party would make much more gains than the traditional conservative party. Young Americans have grown up in the digital age and they are less patient which makes the traditional voting structure even less attractive to them now and going forward. Even if they can convince themselves that their vote does matter in this winner-take-all, billion dollar bullshit fest, they aren’t likely to stand in a line for hours or even fill out an absentee ballot. Oregon, Washington and Colorado are the only states that allow mail-in ballots for all elections and they are all solidly blue. They will likely lead the way with the inevitable transition to voting over an app as they are not completely satisfied with the minimal increase in voter turnout from their mail-in efforts.

    Swipe right for Trump, swipe left for Clinton.

    • 1mime  On January 3, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      Mike – 42 million Americans didn’t vote. Some might look at that number and blow them off – I see a pot of gold. Environmental issues are not only critical but young people are passionate and well informed on the subject. Meet people where THEY are as opposed to trying to sell your agenda. Diversity, equality, the environment, income disparity – those four categories are all you need to fire people up if you communicate honestly and on a personal level. Here’s a guide that some ex-Congressional staffers put together that you might find helpful.

      • Mike  On January 4, 2017 at 3:25 pm

        As you stated, diversity, equality, the environment, income disparity AND college affordability and student debt are the issues that the majority of millennials care about and Bernie Sanders (an Independent) had them energized because he was talking about these issues and it was believable that he really intended to do something about it. Millennials make up 1/3 of the voting age population and are the key to winning in the future. According to a 2016 Gallup poll 44% consider themselves Independents, 28% Democrats and 19% Republican. Eventually, registering to vote will be made easier and many more Millennials will vote and I feel confident that the country will be much more progressive.

        Thanks for the link. I think this will make a difference in 2018 and 2020

    • weeklysift  On January 4, 2017 at 9:16 am

      I agree that it should be easy to vote, and I particularly oppose voter suppression efforts that are targeted to produce a result, like Republicans targeting people of color. But I remain skeptical that the non-voters are unmotivated liberals. I think most of them don’t vote because they don’t have a political identity at all. If they suddenly acquire one, it could go either way.

      • 1mime  On January 4, 2017 at 12:01 pm

        That is true, but it is the Democrats job to not just go after new voters from this apathetic sector, but to enthuse them and educate them so that they will become informed, committed Democratic supporters. You can’t take people for granted and you won’t be able to entice all people despite the benefits. You do so because it is right, it is necessary, and it is smart.

      • Mike  On January 4, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        Republicans not only targeted people of color but also college students. You believe most of the non-voters are unmotivated and lack a political identity. I believe most non-voters are millennials (progressive independents) but they felt the two nominees weren’t addressing their issues so they didn’t feel it worthwhile to go through the hurdles to register or vote. Bernie did get a lot of them registered for 2016. I suspect many of them voted for Johnson or Stein.

    • Larry Benjamin  On January 9, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      Voting by app would be convenient. It would also be comparatively easy to hack into the app and with no paper trail, change the outcome. Voting by snail mail poses the danger of vote selling, but that would be minor compared to the number of voters it would bring in along with the ease of auditing.

  • politicalsensesearching  On January 4, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Really enjoyed reading your article! Very interesting points about focusing on ideas rather than identities, I think a lot of people forget that. I have recently started a political blog and I would really appreciate if anyone reading this article could take a look and give me some feed back 🙂 thanks

  • Alex  On January 4, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    And then of course there’s the money in politics problem. Political campaigns are funded by corporate money, a *very* small number of wealthy people, and with money funneled to campaigns by lobbyists. Democrats sound disingenuous talking about “regular people” because we all know that money talks in congress.

    I watched trump’s official video about what he’s going to do. Some of it was predictably weird, but one was: A lifetime ban on Executive officials lobbying on behalf of foreign governments. I’m wondering why lobbying on behalf of foreign governments is even allowed. Why limit that to “Executive officials”? Lets’ just ban lobbying on behalf of foreign governments by ANYBODY.

    • Larry Benjamin  On January 4, 2017 at 10:50 pm

      You misunderstand what lobbying is. It’s not just corporate hacks nagging Congressmen and Senators for special favors – lobbyists also provide necessary research and information. In the old days (the 1970s), Congress had more paid staffers to do this; now it’s done by outsiders. If you ban all lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, you will cut off a source of information with nothing to replace it.

      What needs to be addressed is the privatization of the work now being done by lobbyists that used to be done more cheaply and effectively by legislative branch employees.

      • Alex  On January 5, 2017 at 10:23 pm

        A lobbyist is paid by and works for their client. If they provide research, it’s to benefit their client. If they write legislation, it’s to benefit their client.

        If any of what they do happens to benefit U.S, citizens it’s by accident. If we need to set up another system for doing research and writing legislation that’s designed to benefit U.S. citizens, so be it. But Americans aren’t being served by the current system.

  • ramseyman  On January 6, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Inherent worth and dignity? Good luck with that.

  • Leon  On January 11, 2017 at 12:38 am

    Regarding footnote [3], that description could be an example of Anscombe’s Paradox (which incidentally also offers a ex post facto justification for the 75% supermajority threshold for constitutional amendments.)

    Basically, in Anscombe’s Paradox, if three or more issues pass with a majority of votes, it’s still possible for a majority of voters to disagree with a majority the outcomes. That’s even if individual voters are internally consisten regard… which I suspect an awful lot of voters do not hold an internally consistent position regarding government spending.

    • weeklysift  On January 11, 2017 at 6:50 am

      Both things are probably happening. You could, for example, have two voters who both think government spending should come down, but one thinks social spending should be cut and the other wants to cut defense. Multiply cases like that and you could get the poll results I’m seeing.

      But I think there’s also a lot of evidence that people just don’t understand what the government spends money on, and believe that we could balance the budget by cutting foreign aid or some other expense that actually is a trivial percentage of the whole.

      You can specifically see this in regard to poverty, something I examined in 2014. There’s quite a bit of consensus about the various reasons people might not be supporting themselves financially, and even what kind of help the people in each category should be offered. What we mainly disagree about is which situation is most significant: If you focus on people who just don’t want to work, you want to cut anti-poverty programs. If you focus on people who want to work or are working, but can’t make enough to support their families, then you support anti-poverty programs.


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