People are still wrapping their heads around the Trump win. Yes, Clinton won the popular vote, but even that was by a razor thin margin.
How did Trump get so many votes?
And from the constituencies that usually go blue? Hispanics? African-Americans? Women?
Before you dismiss me with “you’re just a food writer,” let me reveal little more of my background. Before I came to Korea,
I was one of the first producers for The Thom Hartmann Program (in 2003), which became the largest progressive radio talk show during my tenure. My job was to research topics, outline arguments, and book guests. I loved booking guests because I made it a challenge to find the most unobtainable people. I didn’t always get them, but I had great conversations with Jimmy Carter’s secretary and Willie Nelson’s assistant. David Suzuki called me up and chatted with me for thirty minutes after his time on the show. I pissed off Howard Zinn (actually, I fucked up his time slot). I put in a question that stumped Paul Krugman. I somehow got Moby’s home phone number in New York. I came across it recently while cleaning out my desk. Even the conservative guests enjoyed it.
We were a fun show. In my first couple of weeks there, Thom wanted me to get this obscure congressman on the show, Bernie Sanders. He was so popular, and he had such fun, that we started a weekly “Brunch with Bernie” segment that continued for years. So yeah, I’m more hipster than hipster. I knew Bernie before he was cool.
My value to the show was that I used to be a conservative. It was through studying political philosophy and actually studying conservative political philosophy that I became a progressive. Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, David Hume. Honestly, it was easier to study conservative philosophy because it had less thinkers than liberal philosophy (which I also studied). That may be why modern conservatives have tried to embrace traditionally liberal thinkers as conservative. (Adam Smith had more in common with Karl Marx than with Ayn Rand, but that’s for another time.)
In my studies, I found there were patterns in the many forms of conservative and progressive philosophies. Even before Burke, Locke, and Hobbes. I’m talking about going back to Plato and Confucius. The Chinese legalists. The Hammurabi Code. The Bible. In written history, there has been a pattern of ebb and flow in progress and reaction. Two steps forward, one step back. Revolution and counter-revolution. The most common thread amongst these has been the decentralization of power versus the consolidation of power. Progressivism has been best when it has stood on the side of decentralization. It fails when it takes on conservative traits.
I know. My thoughts can sound fucked up, especially in the face of the rhetoric of the day. I may go into more detail about how it makes sense in a meta view later. But really, my time on the show was intense and burned me out of politics. These days, I prefer to keep silent and not jump into the political moshpit.
No one has answers. No one is always right. We’re all talking out our asses. Lao Tzu said it better. “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”
Here are a few of the issues I’ve observed lately that have weakened progressivism. They have convinced middle and working class people to vote against their interests and go for Trump.
’90s Identity Politics vs. Inclusive Pragmatism
Progressivism made great strides in bringing forward women’s suffrage and civil rights. All those movements were strong because they were inclusive. Men, women, white, black. They all worked together for the common goal. The 1990s was a time of fragmentation. In media. In music. In politics. Rather than have a guiding philosophy, people huddled into their own tribes. It helped bring focus to specific problems facing specific demographics.
The weakness of this is that it is exclusionary. People who had complained about being locked out of the elitist clubs of power instead made their own elitist clubs.
Oh, you’re not black. You can’t understand us. You’re not Asian. You can’t understand us. You’re not a woman. You’re not gay. You’re not trans-gender. You’re not…
One thing that is common amongst all people–they hate being excluded. They become resentful. ’90s-style identity politics went too far by alienating potential allies. It was not the intent, but it was the result. To put it frankly and very politically incorrectly, if an upper middle-class educated African-American woman tells a struggling working class uneducated white man that he’s of the powerful oppressive class, is he going to stop and say, “Oh yeah, you have a point there.”
People don’t like to be the bad guy. The villain. People don’t want to be labeled thugs because of their skin color. People don’t want to be labeled the oppressive villain because of their skin color. It’s hurtful, unproductive, and creates resentment. Whether you agree or not, that’s what’s been happening.
Old-style identity politics just for the sake of identity excludes and fails. Homogeneity is a conservative ideal, not a progressive one. Progressivism is strongest when its make up is diverse and inclusive. It is fueled by ideas and ideals, not by demographic categories locked in circle jerk bubbles.
It’s also dying. Look a the numbers. The pundits, the DNC, and the RNC depended way too much on demographics. Yet more minorities voted for Trump in 2016 than voted for Romney in 2012. Identity is giving way to ideals. The nation did not elect Barack Obama two times in a row and suddenly turn racist. If the 25% of the nation that voted for Trump is all raving lunatic racist misogynists, FUCK!!! Escape while you can.
Or maybe. Just maybe. There is a less simplistic rationale. Something more nuanced. Something I’ve learned from living in a inter-racial relationship for over a decade–Dismissing is easy. Listening is hard. For both sides.
Almost half of Americans didn’t even vote at all. That’s the bigger message.
I’m not claiming to speak for any demographic club that I don’t belong to. It’s just common sense. We do not win arguments by insulting the other side. We do not win elections by excluding others.
IT’S A FUCKING NUMBERS GAME!
Orwellian Political Correctness vs. Positive Political Correctness
One of the hugest drives pulling people to Trump has been cartoonish overdone political correctness. It’s another fossil from the ’90s. It’s a good idea that went out of control and became the monster it was trying to fight. It has helped in changing how we think about downtrodden sections of society.
Then it became Orwellian.
It became a spiked club to hammer down free speech. To oppress expression. The right to free speech is one of the most precious progressive values. Oppression of speech is a conservative tactic. So when progressives start acting like conservatives, it backfires.
Boycotting speakers at a university because you disagree with them, alienating allies because they’re not talking in the correct lingua du jour, firing professors because they make you feel upset by challenging your world view, getting offended by every joke that doesn’t fit a stringent PC purity test go against progressive values. That’s Orwellian. That’s hardening your bubble. That’s fear of the other. Fear is of the lizard part of our brains and is a powerful tool that conservatives use. When progressives use fear, it only makes people conservative.
’70s Feminism vs. Modern Watsonian Gender Equality
This goes in conjunction with exclusionary identity politics. 1970s style feminism was needed–it was crucial–to raise women up and empower them. Then it rotted from the inside and became exclusionary. It became a mockery. It gave a narrow path for women to be feminist. If a woman wanted to dedicate her life to raising her children and running a home, she didn’t fit in the feminism club. She was excluded. ’70s feminism went from giving women more choices to taking them away. It defined itself not as a positive force to lift society but by demonizing The Other. I knew someone who hated cooking, not for cooking itself. She thought she betrayed feminist values if she cooked. She narrowed her own life choices for some narrow ideal.
It ironically became paternalistic. In raising awareness about spousal abuse and in making crucial progress, it took the tactic of making women out to be weak and needing to be protected, a paternalistic point of view. It also created an environment in where men could be abusive villains but women were immune from that. Women could be equal with men, but men couldn’t be equal with women. People scoffed at the notion that a husband could be an abused spouse. Men who decided to stay at home while their wives were the breadwinners were considered weak. Girls are encouraged to be more than princesses, but boys are chastised if they want a Mini-bake Oven and a Barbie doll for Christmas.
Then Emma Watson gave her groundbreaking speech at the U.N. on gender equality. This is the next evolutionary step. It needs to be more inclusive. Men are a part feminism. Like I said before, people don’t want to be painted the villain just because of how they were born. That’s not fair. That’s exclusive, not inclusive. It creates resentment towards progressives and turns them to people like Donald Trump.
Women can be anything they want, and men can be anything they want. We need to move forward with gender equality. We need to make equal pay for equal work. We need to push forward woman health needs and safety. We also need to create a safe environment for men to take the roles that were exclusive to women. Spousal abuse is spousal abuse, no matter the gender. Toys should not have gender baggage. Men can be competent nurturing fathers, not Homer Simpsons.
As an aside, I was puzzled that no one brought up that all the male candidates through history have been addressed by their last names–Trump, Obama, Bush–but the woman candidate was addressed by her first name. Didn’t anyone sense that was condescending?
The Clintons and the DNC
I loved the Clintons. But they were the ’90s. For all the Trump rhetoric about turning America back to a fabled earlier time, the Clintons were a reminder of the ’90s. Rachel hair. Phone modems. AOL. Really awful pop music. And Clinton scandals.
Everyone knew, even the progressives, that Clinton wouldn’t have gotten that much done in her presidency. There would have been scandal after scandal. It doesn’t matter if they were fabricated, which the evidence shows most of them have been. The couple has been accused of so many things over the decades that they’re forever tarnished.
They were also the symbols of the established elite. Third Way triangulating politics. The politics of triangulation won Bill re-election in 1996 after the 1994 Gingrich Revolution, but it cost him and his party their souls.
Remember, Al Gore should have won by a large margin in 2000. Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 nomination to an African-American man with the name Barack Hussein Obama. Turned out Obama was the coolest president since Kennedy, but at the time that was an unknown. It was a giant blinking red warning light that not only the Clintons but the DNC machine were unpopular. I don’t think many remember that Hillary Clinton was expected to cruise through to the 2008 nomination. Instead, a junior congressman put up a big enough challenge to eventually win the nomination and ride the post-Katrina anti-Bush wave to the presidency.
It wasn’t that the electorate wasn’t ready for a woman president. “Just not THAT woman.”
People didn’t like Hillary Clinton not because she was a woman. They found her untrustworthy. She is very likely clean of all the crap the Right has thrown at her.
I’ll say why I think people didn’t like her from the start. She married her way up. She didn’t earn it. I know that’s not the reality. That’s the perception. PER-CEP-TION. People didn’t have negative feelings about Hillary Clinton until she started initiating policy in the White House. The electorate was like, “Whoa! We elected your husband, not you.”
[See also, Choi Soon-sil]
This time around, a Socialist from Ben & Jerry’s country put up the big challenge. He had no identity politics giving him momentum. The Clintonites tried to use the old ’90s-style identity politics against him. “Bernie Bros.”
All that did was create resentment among millennial woman Bernie supporters, resulting in lackluster support for Hillary Clinton. In some cases an outright rejection.
The DNC ran an old style focus group campaign. This was the type of campaign that Mitt Romney, John McCain, Al Gore, and John Kerry ran. They played everything safe. Got a crusty bland white man for vice president. So bland that I kept forgetting his name. Did nothing bold like getting Elizabeth Warren. They came up with slogans, not ideas. We learned from this election that even vile ideas garner votes over slogans that are more appropriate as corporate banners in “Office Space.”
It was weak. We found that the DNC was playing dirty in the background, sabotaging Sanders. They may have done this from elitism. They may have done this out of fear. And we have learned that fear works for conservatives, not progressives. Remember “Hope?”
This was a revolt against the establishment. It didn’t help that almost all the newspapers and even top Republicans supported Clinton. It hurt because they were the establishment supporting the establishment.
Demonizing the Red States
I come from a red state. I grew up in a red state. Much of my family lives in Baldwin County, Alabama, the reddest county in one of the reddest states. I love my family. I know they’re not full of hate. They’re not racist. My daughter, nieces, and nephews are multiracial. Korean, African-American, Indian, Guatemalan, even a redhead. They’re a loving family. They’d deny this, but most of their social and political views are progressive at heart. Yet they consistently vote Republican and Libertarian.
A few years ago, I worked for the Travel Channel show “Food Paradise International.” We were helping them find and set up restaurants to shoot in, along with getting people to be on camera. Regularly, we’d have to alter things because some TV executive in New York City said, “Nah, that won’t work in the red states.”
It sounded to us who actually grew up in the red states that the guy was talking out his ass. He sounded like a guy who grew up in a blue state, possibly within the NYC bubble, and based his knowledge of red states on ignorant stereotypes.
THIS is what keeps the red states red. They are looked down upon by the blue states, particularly the urban areas. It’s been a problem America has had since before the Civil War. The cities look down on the rural areas. Elitism.
Think about it.
When you hear a southern accent, what assumptions do you make? About intelligence? About racism? About militarism?
The media centers in New York and Hollywood have perpetuated this negative stereotype of red staters. Maybe sometimes they think that portraying them negatively will make them change. Most of the time it’s just intellectual laziness.
People see that.
Like any teenager that is told he is a bad kid, they rebel. They act out. Some even wave Confederate flags. That’s more of a desperate act of feeling left out if anything. People want to feel they belong to something bigger, not be excluded.
They resent the blue states, the urban elite, and everything they stand for, even if it’s to their own detriment. This is the logic behind Brexit too.
There is the very sharp accurate analogy of people being born of a certain class, race, or gender being given advantages above others in a race. One that should be included is region. People who don’t live near the large important urban economic centers have a harder time breaking out and making it. They don’t have a support system close by. It’s way much easier for someone whose family is based in or near New York City to make a living in the upper tier glamour industries than it is for someone whose support system is based in Oklahoma. It’s possible to pick up roots and move to the big city. Many do. But it’s more difficult. People whose support systems are based near important urban centers also are given unfair advantages.
If anyone gets anything from this foolish rant, it’s that people don’t like being talked down to. They don’t like to be villainized. They don’t like being treated as ignorant fools. They have real feelings that are just as valid as other people’s feelings. Trump hit a note with them when he said they were abandoned. Trump picked up on that very same anger and frustration that Sanders did.
The country isn’t as divided as pundits say. There are basic values that progressives and conservatives have in common. The DNC ignored that, as did the RNC.
The Fucking Baby Boomers
Sorry, Mom. Your generation fucked things up.
This was the most selfish generation, and it sabotaged decades of progressivism built by generations before them. The Whiskey Rebellion. Abolitionism. The fight against the Guilded Age robber barons. Child Labor. Women’s Suffrage. Progressivism used to spring up from what are now the red states. Kansas farmers. Rust belt factory workers. The only people who glorify the Guilded Age are Karl Rove and his ilk. This was when there was little government oversight, and corporations grew to have more power over ordinary people’s lives than any government. The robber barons grew fat off of cheap labor and ruthless business practices. It was a game of football with no referees, where only the cheaters won. Private armies beating and killing communities of men, women, and children who dared defy their bosses. The Progressive Movement fought that. Teddy Roosevelt. William Jennings Bryan. Al Smith. Woodrow Wilson.
Then there was the inevitable backlash. The Klu Klux Klan had its greatest power during the Roaring ’20s. McKinley pro-business conservative policies got a revival under Herbert Hoover, and then CRASH!!! FDR came in and cleaned up THAT mess, and progressivism moved forward with a new generation of Okies, unionized workers, and a blossoming civil rights movement.
Then came the Baby Boomers.
I’m particularly referring to the white Baby Boomers. Yes, some of them participated in the Civil Rights movement. But come on. The picture we have of the 1960s Counter Culture movement was hippies turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. They protested the Vietnam War. On the surface a good idea. Underneath, it was that they were too scared to be drafted. It’s speculation, but if the U.S. was using an all-professional military at the time, I’d doubt there would have been so much of an anti-war movement. Today’s top conservative thinkers were liberals in the 1960s. Some admitted the real reason why. The drugs and the girls.
The hippies hijacked an over half-century progressive movement to get high and to get laid.
During the hangover of the 1970s “Me” decade, all great progressive ideals pushed forward by the sacrifices of farmers and factory workers were associated with visions of tie-dyed moon children in rose colored glasses. Even now, if you talk about issues that used to be associated with gruff union men in the ’30s, you get shrugged off as a hippie singing “Kumbaya.”
The former liberals turned conservative in the 1970s. Maybe they didn’t have a deep thought until they read Ayn Rand. They started going along with this Nixon-era memo that laid out a strategy of demonizing liberalism, turning “liberal” into a dirty word. By the 1980s and 1990s, Rush Limbaugh was on the air and successful doing just that. Does anyone remember that Rush got so mainstream that he briefly had a late night TV show?
The Boomers didn’t turn conservative because they grew up. They became conservative because they had to start making money to continue getting high and getting laid. Atomized individualism.
They were also the first generation of Cold War Babies. Today we know that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had concerted propaganda machines. The Boomers spent their formative years at the height of Cold War panic. So any mention of anything that has a hint of socialism causes irrational hives. It doesn’t matter that most of Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, have been doing just fine, even prospering, with socialist governments. Just saying the dreaded S-word causes involuntary jolts in the lizard parts of their brains because of years of Cold War programming they can’t shake.
Generation X, my generation, got a taste of it. But we weren’t totally indoctrinated. We did go through the Reagan ’80s and Rocky III. Then Nirvana and NWA blew off that gaudy pastel Gordon Gecko illusion into the sobriety of what extremist right wing policies and the up-and-coming Boomer generation were doing.
The Millennials never fell victim to Cold War propaganda. That was already history. That’s why there’s this big break between Boomers and Millennials. Millennials don’t flinch at the word “socialism.” Boomers thought that just saying Bernie was socialist was enough of a deterrent. But it didn’t have the same Pavlovian response on Millennials that it did on them.
Trump was their Bernie. The anti-corruption (term limits for Congress) and some of the anti-globalism (tariffs for overseas corporations) measures Trump has put forth in his 100-days proposal rhyme with Bernie’s a little. Yes, a lot of it is scary. But Boomers just wouldn’t have voted for Sanders because of the S-word.
When the Boomers came of age, they gave us Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump. At least the forgotten Generation X gave the world Barack Obama.
Despite my generation’s bitching about Millennials, this is where we have placed our hope. We hope that the next generation won’t be as selfish as our parents’. We hope they will revive progressivism as a movement for the working and middle classes of all races, genders, gender preferences–everyone who is abandoned. We hope that ’70s-style feminism and ’90s-style identity politics, which practice shutting others out and creating barriers, evolve into modern Watsonian gender equality and inclusive pragmatism. Rather than dismissing the red states as “deplorables,” listen to them and bring them into the fold. Michael Moore is so right on this one. Let’s ditch the focus-grouped machine-driven campaigns. The Clintons are gone. Let’s wipe our hands clean of them. The Boomers are having their last hey day. They’ll do all they can to selfishly horde all they’ve been given since they were watching Howdy Doody. They won’t destroy things for much longer.
I’m putting my hopes in the ones left in my generation who no longer wear goatees and in the Millennials. Let’s clean house, evolve, and move forward.