Having spent my life in Republican politics, there is much about the Democratic Party that baffles me. I had a front-row seat for the fight over race and religious fundamentalism that transformed the GOP from the Party of Lincoln to a racist mob. What was happening across the aisle was of bare academic interest to me. How did the Democrats execute their transition from the party of the blue collar left to the party of college educated professionals? That’s a history I’m only learning now. And with no real interest in their party’s main agenda, I’m finding myself attached to the Democrats like a refugee from a tropical country trying to make a new life in Minnesota.
The Washington Post published a fantastic op-ed this morning that explains with outstanding clarity the forces beyond race that have alienated their party from its traditional base.
Many Democrats think that Trump supporters voted against their own economic interests. But voters don’t want concentrated financial power that deigns to redistribute some cash, along with weak consumer protection laws. They want jobs. They want to be free to govern themselves. Trump is not exactly pitching self-government. But he is offering a wall of sorts to protect voters against neo-liberals who consolidate financial power, ship jobs abroad and replace paychecks with food stamps. Democrats should have something better to offer working people. If they did, they could have won in November. In the wreckage of this last administration, they didn’t.
While a tremendous explanation of how Democrats lost their voice in the Obama years, it also outlines a crucial dilemma. For alienated Republicans and former Republicans who have allied themselves with Democrats, this is the agenda we fear we will enable – a flight from markets into a lunkheaded resistance to business innovation in the name of protecting the vulnerable. In other words, a return to life under Democrats and their allies in the western world in the 70’s.
The agenda Stoller describes is probably what it would take for Democrats to regain their working class swagger. It’s also what we fear most in policy terms from a Trump administration. It may be that we can’t “restore balance to the force” until people like me and the rest of the Democrats’ tentative new allies in the business world have either split off into our own organizations or rejoined a reformed GOP. For my Democratic friends, let me offer a strange piece of advice – if you find me trying to join your party, it isn’t a sign of success. It indicates either an aimless political party, a broken political system, or in this case, a lot of both.