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Nov 30 2016

“No matter where you go, there you are.”

Buckaroo Banzai

How the Democrats could win again, if they wanted
by Thomas Frank, The Guardian
Tuesday 29 November 2016 07.00 EST

And here we are again. Today Democrats are wondering what went wrong, but before too many fundraising dinners have been digested they will have concluded they don’t need to worry, that demographics will bail them out sooner or later, and that the right and noble course of action is to proceed as before.

This will happen because what leading liberals cannot understand – what they are psychologically blocked from understanding – is that the problem isn’t really the white working class. The problem is them.

Let me explain what I mean by reminding you what this form of liberalism looks like. Somewhere in a sunny corner of the country, either right now or very shortly, a group of tech tycoons or well-meaning private equity investors will meet to discuss what went wrong in this election cycle. They will consider many things: the sexism and racism of Trump voters, the fundamental foreignness of the flyover, the problems one encounters when dealing with evangelicals. They will celebrate some activist they learned about from NPR, they will enjoy some certified artisanal cuisine, they will hand out prizes to the same people that got prizes at the last event they attended, and they will go back to their comfortable rooms at the resort and sleep ever so soundly.

These people think they know what liberalism includes and what it doesn’t include. And in the latter category fall the concerns that made up the heart and soul of liberal politics a few decades ago: labor and work and exploitation and economic equality.

To dedicate your life to concerns like these today is to sign up for obscurity and frustration. It’s to enter a world without foundation grants, without appearances on MSNBC, and without much job security. Nothing about this sphere of liberal activism is fashionable or attractive. Books on its subjects go unreviewed and unread. Strikes drag on for weeks before they are noticed by the national media. Labor organizers are some of the hardest-working but least-thanked people I know. Labor reporters are just about extinct. Promises to labor unions are voided almost as soon as they leave a politician’s lips.

If rich liberals had listened to such people, Donald Trump might not have been able to lure away so many millions of working-class voters. Maybe they will change their ways now? Perhaps the well-meaning folks at those Florida resorts will finally close ranks with working people and their representatives?

Put the question slightly differently: will the Washington Post or the New York Times take the sad fate of Democratic centrism as a signal to bring a whole new vision to their op-ed pages? Will NPR finally say to its cast of well-graduated tastemakers: you missed it just one time too many? Will the thinktanks and pressure groups of Washington finally be told by their donors: we’re shifting your grant money to people who care about deindustrialization?

I doubt it. Liberalism today is an expression of an enlightened professional class, and their core economic interests simply do not align with those of working people. One thing we know about professionalism is that it exists to shield insiders from public accountability. If coming up with a solution to what ails liberalism means listening to people who aren’t part of the existing nonprofit/journalistic in-group, then there will be no solution. Liberals would rather lose than do that.

If the unreconstructed Democratic party is to be saved, I suspect, what will save it is what always saves it: the colossal incompetence of the Republicans. This, too, we can already see coming down the rails. Donald Trump is getting the wrecking crew back together, and before too long, I suspect, he will have the country pining for Hillary Clinton.

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