The cover image is the Bennington Flag, often used in conjunction with the bicentennial. In this context, it’s actually a reference to a movie I watched on election night, which was a fitting complement to the proceedings in more ways than one.
Here are my belated thoughts on the 2020 election results and where left-wing advocates ought to go from here. Sorry for the tardiness posting this, I just…I’m absolutely sick of politics. I’m tired of getting into fights on social media anytime I express an opinion on anything related to current events. I’m tired of everyone from random college acquaintances I don’t otherwise talk to and friends-of-friends sending me condescending, public messages bullying me into voting for their preferred candidate. I’m upset that things are so tribalistic and fractious to where I can’t even communicate how dire my healthcare related debts are, much less express frustration at the status quo, without someone chiming in that I better still vote for Biden. (Like, would it kill you to show me an ounce of sympathy first, ya jerk? Is basic compassion really contingent on my voting for your boring neoliberal stooge?)
I’ve long since given up hope that America sorts out its problems in any kind of prompt or comprehensive manner. I truly believe that climate change is going to wipe us out sooner than we can get our shit together. And barring that, the NSA and their database on all of us will have a stranglehold on any young up and comers who make too much headway bucking the system. This is partly why I just put it all on the line in my writing. I try to be as forthcoming and honest as possible about my life, interests and feelings anyway since Google, Facebook, the NSA and China know all of it anyway. Might as well own it so you can never be shamed or blackmailed into silence. But I digress…
At this point, I’m just focusing on living my own life and enjoying what’s left of the world instead of doing all this research and editorializing to benefit an organization which seems hellbent on shooting itself in the foot year after year. (It’s not like the people who could change things are hanging on my every word anyway.) I wouldn’t have addressed this topic at all except for the fact that my friends on social media and I had a spirited debate where I ended up inadvertently writing a lot of material which summarized my thoughts anyway. It seemed a waste not to use it.
Oregon decriminalizing all drugs like Portugal, DC decriminalizing mushrooms and the several states legalizing weed were the good news on election night. Progressive ballot initiatives largely won everywhere, even in red states, despite the corporate media largely downplaying that success. The notable exception which (of course) got all the attention was California. (I guess voters value the expediency of Uber above the labor rights of those driving the cars.)
Trump over-performed even if he did lose fair and square. I believe this was due to a rare combination of incumbent advantage plus Trump’s unique ability to be perceived as an outsider even after 4 years in office. (He’s considered a non-politician by his base due to his roots in the private sector and speaking his mind rather than parrot the usual talking points.) Trump also has a nigh-unprecedented cult of personality; his followers are devoted as hell and dismiss any criticism as “fake news.”
Democrats underperformed in the House and Senate and remain behind in State-level races. Therefore, best case scenario, Biden will be another post-2010 Obama term with nothing of substance getting done. Mitch McConnell and the outgoing Trump organization are already pulling out all the stops to see that his administration is as hampered and broken as possible. This will likely lead to a demoralized and newly apathetic Democratic base come 2022 and 2024, meaning we will probably suffer greater setbacks in the near future. Yay.
What Does It Mean?
Americans want change; no one likes the status quo. That may not be a hot take but that’s what the evidence seems to suggest when taken as a whole.
People voted for progressive/change policies where they could, a president who’s seen as a rebel against the system (fairly or not) exceeded polling expectations…but Democrats themselves lagged behind what they should have achieved. I’m sure other pundits have interpreted the data differently, and I admit this isn’t a hard science, but it seems to me people just don’t like Democratic candidates. They like some if not all of the things which left-wing and/or economic progressives are selling (including medicare for all/universal healthcare) but the Democratic Party just isn’t connecting with voters overall. Understanding why that is will be the key to building the base these next four years.
For the record, it’s not just me saying this either. Andrew Yang has expressed similar misgivings about the Democratic establishment with regard to their failure to appeal to voters who’ve clearly expressed the desire to change the way things are. Similarly, while correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and I’m sure other factors were at play, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has noted that every candidate campaigning on Medicare for All succeeded. One of my friends kindly noted that this figure is misleading because those respective candidates ran in very safe Democratic districts. However, I think it’s important to note that Corri Bush, AOC, Ilhan Omar, Mondaire Jones, Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman all had primary challengers from more centrist Democrats, whom they soundly defeated. Clearly these districts weren’t howling for neoliberal elites like Nancy Pelosi, nor were they apathetic to who ran on the ticket as long as they had a “D” by their name. This seems to suggest they wanted progressive/left-wing Democrats specifically. So I think it’s worth pointing out either way.
And just for good measure, here’s some anecdotal “evidence” just to show you where I’m coming from in all this. With 2020, I owed over $3000 in obscene medical bills due to a combination of my hormone prescriptions and two unrelated health scares that landed me in the hospital. My stupid, overpriced, worthless ACA insurance did not offer significant aid with ANY of my bills. My monthly premiums are $160 for the privilege, I have a $7000 deductible, practically no copay help and GoodRx is more generous with prescription payments than the bullshit insurance I pay for. I’ve publicly asked “What is Biden going to do for someone like me?” And the only answer given, yet again, was “but Trump though!” I was told his healthcare plan is to “expand Obamacare” (whatever the hell that means) which is just not good enough since I get my insurance through the ACA and I can say from experience that it’s less than useless–it’s useless and expensive. When the supposed liberal champion poised to save the world isn’t even offering substantial healthcare reform during a global pandemic, you know you’re living in a corporate-funded dystopia. But don’t you dare say so, or one of the self-righteous Democrat apologists will chew you out for not hating Trump enough.
We, the Democrats, need to do better, and this shouldn’t be a controversial statement. Again, I know this is hearsay but I’m betting millions of Americans are in similarly dire straights because of how obscene the healthcare system is in this country, especially with COVID going on. Meanwhile the Democrats are offering worthless platitudes like “expand Obamacare” and “Trump will be worse, though!” As I’ve said before in my examinations of US electoral history, it’s never enough to run a purely negative campaign. You can’t win on “hey, at least I’m not as bad as that guy!” you have to motivate your own base and excite independents with reasons to vote for you, not just against the other side. In this writer’s opinion, Democrats largely failed to do that for the second cycle in a row, and I offer this as the explanation the depressed down-ballot results. We only won the Presidency because Trump is a uniquely terrible candidate who couldn’t shut up and get out of his own way. (Had Trump listened to the experts on COVID and stopped putting his foot in his mouth every day, he would have won this election, in my opinion.)
What Should Be Done About It?
First of all, the Democratic Party needs new leadership, pronto. Pelosi, Perez and Schumer need to be kicked to the curb and replaced with fresh faces who aren’t cloistered millionaires. We need someone exciting and charismatic, who understands what the common people are struggling with every day. Sorry, but I don’t believe an 80 year old bragging about her freezer full of expensive ice cream during a time of unprecedented suffering should really be face of the workingman’s party. If that’s ageist or sexist or whatever label you want to hit me with, well, I hate to tell you this but politics is at least 50% advertising. You need a salesman, someone who can express a vision that gets people fired up and willing to stand in line at the polls. Sorry if that’s not the politically correct thing to say, but it’s the truth–and I don’t care if the new Speaker/Chairman/Whip is a disabled, black, Jewish, gay, transwoman or a white male as long as they articulate well and have the gravitas to inspire congressmen and laymen alike. We need someone who’s willing to do more than just rip up a piece of paper in a bit of stupid, meaningless political theater.
We need to drop neoliberalism, which is what everyone’s angry at, whether they know it or not. (That’s the privatization of everything and globalist trade deals which were a hot button issue in 2016, for those who haven’t actually read the definition.) Stop advocating same old, status quo economics in this vain hope of attracting “compassionate conservatives” and “moderate Republicans.” That mythical unicorn niche doesn’t exist, never has, and chasing it has done nothing but bring failure after failure to the party. The Obama years were a disaster for the Democrats, losing an unprecedented number of seats in Federal and State elections. Hillary was a complete embarrassment which should never have happened. Biden under-performed even with a home run setup in his favor. I can’t believe I’m still seeing Democratic apologists continue to advocate pivoting even further right to chase a “center” that doesn’t even exist. People are so desperate for a change that ballot initiatives to legalize drugs passed in Mississippi and a reality TV star with no coherent ideology nor any relevant experience won the presidency. Trump didn’t lose votes since 2016, he gained them. Clearly a boring, milquetoast “nothing will fundamentally change” / “single payer will never, ever happen” centrist isn’t exciting to Republicans either. Let me repeat that: YOU WILL NEVER CONVINCE REPUBLICANS TO BUY THE OFF-BRAND MODEL WHEN THEY CAN HAVE THE REAL THING. NOBODY WANTS THE STATUS QUO.
That being said, we can and should expand our own base at the expense of the Republicans’. The answer isn’t promising nothing of substance, it’s by doing the following:
Get better at branding. Every time Democrats have to explain what socialism means, and why Democratic Socialism is different than Soviet totalitarianism, we’re losing the narrative wars. Every time Democrats have to explain that “defund the police” doesn’t actually mean defund the police, we are wasting time explaining rather than attacking the other side. This is politics 101 yet these clowns still flounder around like a bunch of amateurs. It’s inexcusable. I coined the term “political malpractice” in 2016 to describe it. It’s not like obvious, common sense alternatives don’t exist either. Just say “workplace democracy” (like Babbit did in ’88) and “reform the police.” Hell, you could actually study political science and throw around terms like Distributism and Mutualism too. It’s not hard, guys.
We need to start doing some serious voter outreach and ground game again, because clearly the opinion polls aren’t as accurate as they used to be. What happened in Georgia this year is a good start, and should be built upon going forward. We need to try to communicate with Trump voters and see if there’s a way they can be won over. (Those deep in QAnon are probably a lost cause, but I’m sure some of the populist / “throw a wrench in the system” people who voted for him out of protest could be swayed if we tried.) We need concrete research to understand what’s important in each district and then target them with tailor-fit candidates to appeal to the needs of those specific enclaves. A one-size-fits-all, top-down approach isn’t going to cut it anymore.
We need to stop fighting each other over differences in policy. (Within reason.) And to share the blame when it’s warranted, I will say AOC needs to stop targeting other Democrats online for not being progressive enough. Some parts of the country are never going to be as “woke” as others, and a moderate Democrat from Alabama is better than a fire-breathing Trumpist / evangelical. Sometimes you have to work with the imperfect allies you are given–that’s politics. To be fair though, the centrist Democrats need to stop antagonizing her, muzzling her and therefore alienating the members of the party who agree with her too. The benchmark should be economic justice, rather than being anti-guns or “woke” on women’s and minority issues. Obviously it would be nice to have candidates that meet all the criteria but, again, if we’re gonna make gains in the South we need to recognize that in those particular local elections we have to accept candidates who can compromise to get a winning plurality among their constituents.
Democrats need to do far more advertising and media outreach. Be like AOC (to an extent) and play the twitter/social media game. (As silly as it may seem, it works.) Go on TV and explain your platform and why it’s needed–not your ice cream collection. Go door to door and/or do rallies back home (once COVID calms down) and get in touch with the people whose votes you need to get/stay in office. Make sure everyone knows what you stand for, why it’s what America needs and why the other guys are responsible for holding back progress. Democrats in my experience get too complacent that their “superior” ideas will win the day without any prodding. Even Bernie is guilty of this, refusing to talk up his policies and past association with MLK to win over black voters.
It’s not enough to take minority voters for granted because “Republicans are racist.” It’s not enough to take progressives for granted (especially in urban districts where they are numerous) because “Republicans are worse though.” You have to earn every single vote, not call people -phobes and “deplorables” for not loving you when you offer them nothing they actually want. You can’t just dismiss all criticism of your candidate as racism or sexism, nor can you blindly accuse everyone who disagrees with you of being “brainwashed by Russian propaganda!” I’ve been hit with that nonsense personally, despite being pretty unapologetically left-wing, and I can tell you firsthand it’s very insulting. I can only imagine how many skeptical-yet-approachable independent voters these overzealous Democratic-apologists have pushed away with insults like that. If someone has a problem, and appears to be communicating in good faith, try to educate them. Don’t dismiss them without hearing their concerns first.
We need to stop worrying about upsetting the Republicans feelings every time we act. We need to be willing to play hardball and fight fire with fire once in awhile. The constant waffling when we could put up more of a contest and refusing to do things that are in our power (like use executive orders to tell the DEA to back off policing weed) is what’s depressing turnout and demoralizing the base. For me as a former-political junkie, it often feels like Democrats are catering to traditional Republicans with their promises and messaging, sometimes at the expense of over our own supporters. Nobody likes to support a loser who won’t even try to stand up for the things they claim are important to them. Everybody is tired of empty lip service and half measures. The Republicans are going to call us communists no matter what we do. Trump said Kamala was even more radical than Bernie which is just nonsense but his supporters ate it up. At a certain point you just have to stop worrying about what the bullies on FOX news say and just do what’s right. I’m so damn sick of laymen corporate-Democrat apologists on social media telling me legal weed and medicare for all are “not realistic” without providing any evidence why, even as both positions are widely popular. It almost feels like they want us to invite the Republicans to write our platform for us.
It’s not enough to think casting a wide net of women and minorities is enough if you give them nothing to be excited about. Saying “guys, we’re NOT racist!” to Latino voters is like telling a woman “I’m NOT a rapist!” on a first date. This is why I advocate, not abandoning our position of social wedge issues per se, but refocusing on economics. Let me repeat that: I’m not saying abandon women’s and LGBT issues, I’m saying we focus on economic reform in our advertising and outreach instead. A rising tide lifts all ships, and everyone can get excited about economic policies that benefit them. Running token minority candidates and speaking broken Spanish at the DNC only gets you so far. (And in my experience, can feel patronizing to the people you’re trying to win over.)
We do need to expand our electoral coalition in order to comfortably take the legislature and have more State level magistrates though, and yet I’ve said Democrats should stop trying to cater to Republicans with conservative economics and centrist upholding of the status quo. So how do I reconcile these two positions? Well, as I’ve said before on my blog, we can do both by targeting certain niches within the American electorate to break off. Just as Nixon peeled away Southerners with his Southern Strategy, we need to find a weak link in the Republican base and sway them to our side. Without doing any in depth research, just going by my gut, my best guess for how we could do such a thing is drop the anti-gun positions. It’s a deciding issue for a lot of Americans, one that’s unpopular with a majority of the population in the rural areas we’re trying to make inroads towards, and toning down anti-gun rhetoric could therefore sway many single issue voters back to our side. That’s just one possibility of many we could explore.
We need to reform the primary system and, once in power, the general election system. It’s bullshit how the South, who lean more right-wing even in the Democratic Party and never vote for us in the general, essentially decide who the supposed left-wing nominee is going to be. I’ve gone on at length about why first past the post is the bane of human existence and there are many more essays about why it’s bad floating around too. We need to prioritize election reform because once that’s in place, everything else becomes exponentially easier to enact. Plus, it’s an issue that has across-the-aisle support since plenty of Republicans would prefer to cast votes for the Libertarian or Constitution parties if not for the spoiler effect. The only people not in favor are the Democratic and Republican establishment, since they know it would be the end of them.