Political Ironist: Danger of “Us vs. Them” in Politics

November 27, 2016 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Donald Trump now rides into Washington D.C. on a wave of populist anger and frustration so large it submerged Washington D.C.’s establishment politicians. Few saw it coming.  

The 2016 presidential election surprised Democrats and the liberal media partly because they believed the country had moved past the anachronistic and nationalistic version to which Mr. Trump appealed. Hard fought battles for marriage equality as confirmed by the Supreme Court and growing cultural diversity had persuaded them that the country had tipped past its conservative fulcrum.

How wrong they were. Yes, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote tempting them to discount the 46 percent of Trump voters as shortsighted cultural conservatives.  But the demographic prism that is America renders it hard and risky for anyone to assume it was an “us vs. them” campaign.  Pollsters learned that reducing complex individuals to a single identity is foolhardy and it was this kind of reductionist solitarism that proved fatal to Mrs. Clinton and her party.

People with gay children to whom they are accepting and loving voted for Mr. Trump. Their reason was based on immigration. Conversely, there were Hispanics who voted for him for his favorable views on pro-life.

Democrats believed that time and destiny was on the side of their Progressive movement, and the emerging Latino and black voters as well as millennials would tip the election in their favor, a formula proven by an exceptional candidate, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

But as Mrs. Clinton found out those blocks didn’t swarm to voting booths in the significantly increased numbers that Obama drew, partly because she lacked the charisma he possessed.

Ironically, Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats, who proclaimed to be the inclusive party, failed to include Middle America in its appeal, instead writing them off as a basket of deplorables. Throughout the campaign she condescended to Trump as unfit to be president and dismissed his supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic.

It is no wonder those outside the minority demographics and urban centers fell into Mr. Trump’s camp like minnows through a fish net.
Independent more than either Republican or Democrat, Mr. Trump is like a Rorschach test in whom voters could project any of their fears to create a savior of their liking.  

Permutations of such sentiments are protean but also decipherable as proved by Prof. Kathy Cramer from the University of Madison. For eight years she visited 27 small towns and rural communities across parts of Wisconsin, a pivotal and surprising state that turned red.  She wanted to find out what they thought and believed, societally and politically.

She determined that Americans politics is driven by identity and resentment, rather than a politics of competing strategies put forth by opposing candidates. This realization became so central to Cramer’s findings that she titled her book on the research, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin. (published March 2016 by U Chicago Press.)

Her studies discovered that nearly all of her subjects felt a deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved. To the extent they are fearful of immigrants and minorities getting a head of them, then race was an implicit issue. Mr. Trump intuitively played to this while Mrs. Clinton ignored it.

By reducing ethnic groups to generality, democrats are committing the same sin as racists and bigots who define people as one-dimensional beings and miss the nuances among groups.

As Democrats look among the ruins of the 2016 presidential election in what was to be a coronation of their party, they must dismiss their obsession with annexing groups and instead define problems and solve them. They must realize, too, that if it is to rebuilt it must be with the muscle and sinew of the working class no matter what their pointy head demographers tell them.

Written by Mike Bernos

Mike Bernos is an award-winning journalist, having written for among others, ABC News, Gannett News, USA Today, Florida Trend and Christian Science Monitor. He is the author of three books and a songwriter whose works appear on Pandora, Sirius XM, and Spotify. He lives in Riverside.