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The Democrats Better Define Themselves-- Or The Republicans Will Continue Doing It For Them


Joseph Goebbels by Nancy Ohanian


I get the idea Trump is pretending that pandemic doesn't exist-- kind of like an ostrich pretends that he isn't being chased by a hungry lion. But the case load and death toll keep rising and more and more Americans are coming into first hand-contact with it. Yesterday, the states reported another 164,012 new cases, brings the nationwide total to 13,454,254-- pushing the U.S. to over 40,000 per million residents, a grim statistic. (North Dakota is already at 101,346 per million. One in ten North Dakotans have or have had COVID-- and South Dakota and Iowa are right behind them. Yesterday there were another 1,364 deaths, bringing the U.S. total to 271,026. No country has even half the many deaths but the ones who come closest are all third world countries without vibrant healthcare systems.

There is no state that is immune to this wave-- but the Trump states, where governors followed his ostrich strategy, are leading the way. There are 20 states that have more than 48,000 cases per million residents and only 4 voted for Biden.

In the midst of all this mayhem and tragedy, Will Wilkinson wrote an OpEd for the NY Times asking how it was possible that so many Americans voted for Trump. He chalked it up to 3 factors:

  1. the logic of partisan polarization, which inaccurate polling obscured;

  2. the strength of the juiced pre-Covid-19 economy;

  3. the success of Trump’s denialist, open-everything-up nonresponse to the pandemic

It worked down-ballot but at least it failed Trump. Still, "how,", he asked, "could a president responsible for one of the gravest failures of governance in American history nevertheless maintain such rock-solid support? Democracy’s throw-the-bums-out feedback mechanism gets gummed up when the electorate disagrees about the identity of the bums, what did and didn’t occur on their watch and who deserves what share of the credit or blame. When party affiliation becomes a central source of meaning and self-definition, reality itself becomes contested and verifiable facts turn into hot-button controversies. Elections can’t render an authoritative verdict on the performance of incumbents when partisans in a closely divided electorate tell wildly inconsistent stories about one another and the world they share."

Right now a significant number of Americans-- tens of millions-- believe Trump won the election and was cheated by Biden. Some have said they are ready to take up arms if Trump asks them to. How can we be in a union with them? Will another fascist come along in 2024 who has, like Trump, what Wilkinson calls "a knack for leveraging the animosities of polarized partisanship to cleave his supporters from sources of credible information and inflame them with vilifying lies? This time, it wasn’t enough to save his bacon, which suggests that polarization hasn’t completely wrecked our democracy’s capacity for self-correction: Sweeping a medium-size city’s worth of dead Americans under the rug turned out to be too tall an order."


However, Mr. Trump’s relentless campaign to goose the economy by cutting taxes, running up enormous deficits and debt, and hectoring the Fed into not raising rates was working for millions of Americans. We tend to notice when we’re personally more prosperous than we were a few years before.
But the president’s catastrophic response to Covid-19 threw the economy into a tailspin. That is where it gets interesting — and Democrats get uncomfortable.
Mr. Trump abdicated responsibility, shifting the burden onto states and municipalities with busted budgets. He then waged a war of words against governors and mayors-- especially Democrats-- who refused to risk their citizens’ lives by allowing economic and social activity to resume.
He spurred his supporters to make light of the danger of infection, made the churlish refusal to wear masks into an emblem of emancipation from the despotism of experts and turned public health restrictions on businesses, schools and social gatherings into a tyrannical conspiracy to steal power by damaging the economy and his re-election prospects.
He succeeded in putting Democrats on the defensive about economic restrictions and school closures. As months passed and with no new relief coming from Washington, financially straitened Democratic states and cities had little choice but to ease restrictions on businesses just to keep the lights on. That seemed to concede the economic wisdom of the more permissive approach in majority-Republican states and fed into Mr. Trump’s false narrative of victory over the virus and a triumphant return to normalcy.
...Democrats needed to present a competing, compelling strategy to counter Republican messaging. Struggling workers and businesses never clearly heard exactly what they’d get if Democrats ran the show, and Democrats never came together to scream bloody murder that Republicans were refusing to give it to them. Democrats needed to underscore the depth of Republican failure by forcefully communicating what other countries had done to successfully control the virus. And they needed to promise to do the same through something like an Operation Warp Speed for testing and P.P.E. to get America safely back in business.
Instead, they whined that Mr. Trump’s negligence and incompetence were to blame for America’s economic woes and complained that Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even consider the House’s big relief bill. They weren’t wrong, but correctly assigning culpability did nothing to help working-class breadwinners who can’t bus tables, process chickens, sell smoothies or clean hotel rooms over Zoom.
The Republican message couldn’t have been clearer: Workers should be able to show up, clock in, earn a normal paycheck, pay the rent and feed their kids. Democrats were telling the same workers that we need to listen to science, reopening is premature, and the economy can’t be fully restored until we beat the virus. Correct! But how does that help when rent was due last week?
Make no mistake, it was unforgivably cruel of Republicans to force blue-collar and service workers to risk death for grocery money. Yet their disinformation campaign persuaded many millions of Americans that the risk was minimal and that Democrats were keeping their workplaces and schools closed, their customers and kids at home, and their wallets empty and cupboards bare for bogus reasons.
The president’s mendacious push to hastily reopen everything was less compelling to college-educated suburbanites, who tend to trust experts and can work from home, watch their kids and spare a laptop for online kindergarten. Mr. Trump lost the election mainly because he lost enough of these voters, including some moderate Republicans who otherwise voted straight Republican tickets.
Democrats need to rethink the idea that these voters would have put Democratic House and Senate candidates over the top if only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were less radiantly socialist. They need to accept that they took hits on the economy by failing to escape the trap Republicans set by doggedly refusing to do anything about the uncontained contagion destroying it.
And they need to understand how Mr. Trump saved his party by weaponizing polarization. Conservatives needed a way not to get spun by the president’s destabilizing act of disloyalty, so they steadied themselves by reaffirming their loyalty down the remainder of the ballot. They were voting against a personal crisis of identity, not the Green New Deal... Until the mind-bending spell of polarization breaks, everything that matters will be fiercely disputed and even the most egregious failures will continue to go unpunished.

Because the Democrats no longer share a common identity and therefore barely stand for anything at all-- no longer a vehicle for the legitimate aspirations of working families; now a vehicle for the upward climb of grimy careerists-- the party is easily defined by the GOP. Late yesterday Toluse Olorunnipa looked into how the Republicans are trying to redefine Biden now-- from a state-college grad who used to claim he was the poorest man in the U.S. Senate to an elitist who just defeated a creepy and crooked billionaire. Olorunnipa wrote that "After Biden won the presidency in part by claiming a larger share of college-educated suburban voters, some of his GOP foes see his early moves as an opportunity to brand him as an elitist president catering to the nation’s coastal professionals at the expense of its heartland laborers. The burgeoning dynamic underscores how the battle over populism is likely to animate the nation’s politics even after Trump leaves the White House and is replaced by a man who has called himself 'Middle Class Joe.' While Trump’s populism often manifested in style rather than substance, he was able to appeal to a unique coalition of voters that politicians from both parties are now aiming to capture in a post-Trump era."



He quoted a Rubio tweet: "Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline. I support American greatness. And I have no interest in returning to the 'normal' that left us dependent on China." It's true that Rubio came from a poor home and used to have sex with older men for money but now he sells out to the wealthy in the same way that Biden always has-- to finance his political aspirations.

©2000 by Howie Klein. Leading The Progressive Fight Online Since 2000

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