Speaking to the AFL-CIO Executive Council this past Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D.-Mass., said, “… there are many millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies. They voted for him despite the hate. They voted for him out of frustration and anger – and also out of hope that he would bring change.
“If Trump is ready to go on rebuilding economic security for millions of Americans,” Warren added, “then count me in.”
Where is the evidence that many millions voted for Trump “despite the hate?” If she can’t offer any evidence – and she doesn’t – then it becomes a very problematic claim, to put the best face on it. And even if it were true, it avoids the larger question that she should have addressed at that meeting, as to why so many white people, including white workers, could so easily throw people of color under the bus, even if they thought he was a change agent? Anger alone isn’t an adequate explanation. Especially when we consider that over the past week numerous reports of physical violence, intimidation, and bigotry directed at people of color, immigrants, gay people, and women have been reported. I just read a story of middle school white children In Royal Oak, Michigan, chanting “Build the Wall, as Latino students looked on in shock and fear.
Which further convinces me of two things. One is that the election’s outcome can’t simply be explained by the class resentments of white people. Another is that any progressive economic populism (and Warren from her remarks seems to agree with this) that doesn’t address the politics of “bigotry and hate” will neither present a serious challenge to the Trump administration or Republican controlled Congress, nor improve the economic conditions of our multi-racial, male and female, native born and immigrant, gay and straight working class and people.
In this regard, I found the observations of Theda Skocpol, Harvard sociologist and author of a book on the Tea Party, to John Judis’ article on the elections helpful in understanding the outcome of this election as well as elaborating a way forward in what will surely be difficult and dangerous times.
Here is her (longish) reply:
“John, your piece is an elegant example of a genre of post-election autopsy that works no better, I fear, than those polling models.
You offer speculative interpretations of exit poll responses (known to be problematic data) presented as margins for various voter blocs in an aggregate national election and a lot of creative argument that HRC was a poor candidate because voters did not hear the economic message you wish she had delivered. Two problems: national polls showed that voters said she was better than Trump on plans for the economy. That is a small problem, however, because virtually no real policy discussion occurred in this election. Second, huger problem: HRC actually won the national aggregate election you are imagining in the TPM piece by a whopping 2.5 million or more votes. If America were what you measure here, she would be President-Elect.
The problem is that the United States is a federation that conducts fifty separate winner take all plurality elections for president. There too, she lost by a hair in half a dozen states. But the problem was Trump ran up huge margins in nonmetro rural, small town and some outer-suburban areas. Factory workers, even former ones are few and far between there. Previous work shows that Trump voters are NOT disportionately affected by trade disruptions, factory closings, etc. What is more likely is that these nonmetro areas had organized networks – NRA, Christian Right, some RNC and Koch network/AFP presence – that amplified the right media attacks (including racialized attacks – SW) on HRC nonstop and persuaded many non-college women and some college women in those areas to go for Trump because of the Supreme Court. (my italics)
You say Trump had no organization. True enough for his own campaign. HRC had the typical well-funded presidential-moment machine, an excellent one. We on the center left seem to treat these presidential machines as organization, and they are, but they are not as effective as longstanding natural organized networks (my italics). To get some of those working for him, Trump made deals to get the NRA , Christian right and GOP federated operations on his side. They have real, extensive reach into nonmetro areas. But off the coasts, Democrats no longer have such reach beyond what a presidential campaign does on its own. Public sector and private sector unions have been decimated. And most of the rest of the Democratic-aligned infrastructure is metro based and focused. That infrastructure is also fragmented into hundreds of little issue and identity organizations run by professionals.
HRC’s narrow loss was grounded in this absent non-metro infrastructure – and Dem Party losses in elections overall even more so. Obama overcame that deficit. But he is a once in half century figure. How can anyone blame the HRC campaign for failing to equal Obama’s margins among minorities? No Democrat would have done so. For sure, Bernie would not have done so.
Why do these different analytical approaches (aggregate attitudinal vs. organizational) matter? Because they lead to very different prescriptions for what should be done next. Mine says Democrats have to create sustained organizational reach, not just at election time, stretching beyond metropolitan communities and states (my italics). Yours, however, is the conventional wisdom: This type of argument is used to argue that Democrats must “message” better and move left on policy issues to attract an imaginary factory-based white working class. How would that have worked in an election where the media never conveyed any policy substance at all? Even next time, if a Trump type does not take over the media, all that approach would do is take the war to imaginary terrain. Failed HRC messaging about trade, etc. was not the reason Trump won. There are few such voters in non-metro America and none would hear trade pact focused messages plausible in the actual lives. In much of non-metro America, families and marriages are fragile, drug deaths are rampant, churches are the only community institutions, men try to piece together service and construction jobs, low paid, while women do the same and try to raise kids. Democrats and their messages hardly penetrate at all, and they seem directed at worlds these people do not live in. Indeed, Dem messages seem directed at blacks and browns – there is a lot of racial anxiety at work. (my italics)
You just have to get out and drive around America and listen and look to know this is the world that went for Trump and against HRC (and would have gone against Bernie even more). I analyzed the polls from the primaries, by the way: Bernie’s support was young, liberal whites. especially men. In most states, he did not attract extra working class support at all, outside of cities and university communities.
The key for Democrats is to build outward and look for issues that touch the lives of both urban and non-metro families. HRC made headway. More opportunities will soon arrive, for example if Trump/Ryan really do try to privatize Medicare and remove the huge ObamaCare subsidies that help so many in both urban and non-metro areas.”
I would add – and I bet Skocpal would agree – that for such an approach to be successful, it has to become the property of the labor movement and the rest of the far flung democratic coalition in addition to the Democratic Party. And no less important, the struggle against racism, sexism and misogyny, nativisim, Islamophobia, homophobia, and segregation – in its geographical and other dimensions – has to be addressed with every bit as much vigor (and creativity) as the “natural organized networks” and candidates of the Republican right relentlessly peddle these toxins in order to exploit the fears, resentments, and misunderstandings (including a sense of “earned” racialized entitlement and advantage) of white people and reinforce their social and spatial separation from the Other.