Friday, January 20, 2017

Donald Trump, John Lewis, Legitimacy, Normalization and The Rust Belt

You may have heard that Democratic Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) ,who also happens to be a civil rights icon, recently stated that he wasn't going to attend the inauguration for Donald Trump in part because he felt that Trump was not the "legitimate" President. As he is prone to do Trump responded with a mostly inaccurate tweet telling Lewis to spend time on his crime ridden district. At this point no one should be surprised that the next President is an incredibly thin skinned individual who takes everything personally. Lewis' views on Trump aside, Lewis has only been to one Republican inauguration after he was elected to Congress. This suggests that Lewis' issues are not so much with Trump as they are with Republicans in general. But Lewis is not alone with his take on Trump's legitimacy. At least 60 Democratic elected officials have said that they won't be attending the inauguration. One writer argues that Clinton is the legitimate President and that courts should intervene to depose Trump. An actress who has feuded with Trump is calling for martial law. Various other intellectuals, bloggers, media and political personalities seemingly spend all day on twitter styling themselves the Resistance, plaintively asking what can be done to prevent Trump from taking office, or arguing that Trump should be arrested for treason. Republicans and conservatives are, in a display of hypocrisy that should surprise exactly no one, are attacking liberals and Democrats for being divisive, saying that everyone should respect the office of the President or saying that being a sore loser diminishes our system of governance. Well.

You should also remember that many conservatives and Republicans steadfastly refused to believe that President Obama was born in the US. This included Donald Trump. Some people also believed that President Obama was a secret Muslim (who for some reason ate pork and attended a Christian church) who wanted to destroy the US from within. Many Republicans still think that and worse about President Obama. Some conservatives could not talk about the President unless they were also calling him and his family apes or monkeys, threatening to kill him, wondering why no one had killed him yet, burning him in effigy, calling him a witch doctor, saying he wasn't their President, or making other statements to let everyone know they rejected Barack Obama as President or as human.

President Obama's tenure concluded with Republicans refusing to even consider permitting him to appoint another justice to the Supreme Court when Antonin Scalia died. And a few Republicans even threatened to continue their Supreme Court blockade if Clinton won, suggesting that for them, no Democrat could ever be legitimate. I reference all that to say that although Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States I'm not going to criticize too harshly any Democrat or liberal who needs a moment to process that fact. Some might need four or eight years. I will say though that there's a difference between taking a minute to figure out your next steps and burying your head in the sand screaming "La la la la I can't hear you!". One approach can theoretically lead to better results in the next elections. The other will almost certainly lead to two Trump terms and the virtual elimination of the Democratic party throughout wide swaths of the nation. There is no method by which the 2016 election results will be overturned so people ought to stop talking about that. The only way we will get rid of Trump before the end of his first term is if (1) he gets bored and resigns or (2) the Republican House impeaches him and the Republican Senate convicts him. Like it or not Clinton lost. This leads into a discussion of why Clinton lost to a reality TV billionaire sybarite with a shady past and toddler-like attention span. Some left leaning folks have decided that Clinton lost because Trump voters were racist and/or sexist. Period. Full Stop. They say that even if the Trump voters weren't all slavery loving killer cop acquitting Confederate flag waving Iron Cross wearing racists they were still racist because they were apparently ok with Trump's implied or actual racism. I think this approach is far too reductive. Now when you say that people immediately accuse you of wanting to "normalize" Trump or of having sympathy for racists.

This sort of emotional overreaction and inability to even investigate different views has hurt the Democratic party. A lot of this approach has been imported from academia/college campuses, but that's a different post. Let's just say that you don't have to agree with or even sympathize with someone else's point of view to understand their issue. But if you don't bother to understand their POV you'll never be able to appeal to them or find common ground. Again, I don't say that you should appeal to such people out of some silly Sesame Street kumbyah impulse or because you crave their acceptance. You must attempt to find some common interests because you each need something from each other. You don't have to like each other to do that. Unions used to be really good at bringing about some base level of solidarity with people who otherwise disliked or even hated each other. Though it's out of fashion to say so you can indeed vote for a racist without being racist. For example, FDR got roughly 70% of the black vote in the 1944 election despite the fact that he initiated and oversaw the internment of Japanese-Americans and made common cause with segregationists. Were those Black voters racist against Americans of Japanese descent? Surely some were. But others had different concerns. It's not a perfect analogy but the same political calculus holds true for some Trump voters, especially in the Rust Belt where Clinton lost badly.  Rust Belt voters speak of why they voted for Trump (or Clinton).

Trump takes the oath of office Friday, a surprise winner of a shocking election. Tapping into voter anger and Democratic disaffection not seen since Ronald Reagan, the president-elect lost the popular ballot by nearly 3 million votes but still won due to a near-sweep in the industrial Rust Belt. By flipping three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — by a total of less than 80,000 votes, he won. That razor-thin margin, about six-tenths of a percent of the nearly 14 million votes cast in those states, wouldn’t even fill the Big House at the University of Michigan.

Those three states together hadn’t backed a Republican nominee since Reagan in 1984. But Trump’s victory wasn’t just about them: It was about Ohio and Iowa, which both had twice backed Barack Obama. It was about Indiana, which supported Obama in 2008 but now looks out of reach for Democrats. And it was about Kentucky, where Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, won twice in the '90s but which rejected her by 30 percentage points. In Trump, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., voters — especially white working-class ones — heard an economic and cultural clarion call they hadn’t heard since Reagan: Their losses could be reversed.

Trade deals could be torn up. Coal could be big again. Manufacturing could return.

“These are people whose lives have been transformed over the last couple of decades, hitting them in their families and where they live. They don’t have the skills, they can’t pick up and go,” Madonna said. “These are people who had no expectation that their lives could be better until Trump.”

They’re voters like 26-year-old Ryan Wylie of Detroit, who is unemployed and supported the Republican despite the grief he says friends gave him in a city where Trump lost 95% of the vote to Hillary Clinton. He sees Trump as a strong leader who will start “bringing jobs back and just taking care of business.”

In Brownsburg, Ind., Robin Maynard, a 53-year-old union worker at Carrier, argues Trump has already saved his job by convincing the company not to move 1,000 slots to Mexico. Indiana backed Obama in 2008 but chose Trump by 19% this time around.  In Luzerne County, Pa., Democratic county council member Eileen Sorokas — who volunteered for Obama, voted for him twice and even named a couple of ducks after him and the vice president — voted for Trump and is confident he’ll be a great president.

Now some of these people are bigoted, sexist, racist, reactionary, what have you. It would be stupid to argue otherwise. But some of them also voted for Obama previously. So they can be reached. How to reach them is the question. If I had all the answers I wouldn't be writing this blog post. I'd be charging hefty fees to would be Democratic candidates. But I know for sure that calling people stupid or racist or exulting when their communities shrink may be cathartic for some Democratic partisans but it won't win votes. Many people were concerned about the economy. Others had social concerns. Democrats will need to engage with some of the Trump voters. Writing people off is not what Democrats should do. It's defeatist. Back in the day the Detroit Pistons played the Los Angeles Lakers for the 1988 NBA championship. It was classic Midwest Muscle vs. Hollywood Glamour. Detroit was up 3-2 and on the verge of winning it all in game 6 on the strength of Isiah Thomas' 43 points on a badly sprained (broken?) ankle. Unfortunately in the last seconds the refs called a phantom foul on Detroit center Bill Laimbeer and gifted Los Angeles the win. Los Angeles would go on to win the series as Thomas was ineffective in the final game. Although rabid fans such as myself always bring up this ridiculous foul call the Pistons themselves didn't say too much publicly about the bad call (cheating?) after the fact. Because after all what is dead may never die but rises again harder and stronger. The Pistons came back to settle accounts and win it all the following year. Democrats could learn something from that approach. If people want to say that Trump is not legitimate and the Russians stole the election and all Trump voters are white supremacists and Clinton won the popular vote and the Electoral College is discriminatory and yada yada yada I say fine, believe what you like. But my question for anyone who holds those views is how does fixating on Clinton's loss help the Democrats win in 2018 and beyond? Look forward. Voters are racist? OK, you still need to get some of those votes.

If you're opposed to Trump take that energy and turn it into arguments to persuade the other side. Don't just sit there and boo Trump. Don't be reactionary. Listen to people who tell you why they voted for Trump so that you can speak to their concerns even if you privately think that such people are dumber than dirt. Accept that maximalist demands on such fringe issues as transgender bathroom access may not be the hill to die on right this moment. But if you're just going to whimper about the evil Republicans then the election results from 2016, 2014 and 2010 indicate you might be in the wilderness for a minute. Instead of fretting about who is "normalizing" Trump, get people registered to vote. Make an argument about why your worldview works instead of just reacting to Trump. Organize.
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