|There’s no water at THIS reservoir.|
“In the vast catalogue of social posturing, there are few more repugnant sights than rich people congratulating themselves for being righteous. In particular, it is a terrible way to win back the blue-collar white voters who were responsible, even more than were the Russians, for Trump’s win.”
— Thomas Frank
Frank’s original essay at Harper’s is a longer read, and I recommend it, but the Cliff Notes version is provided at The Nation.
Thomas Frank: Trump Could Win the 2020 Election, by Jon Wiener (The Nation)
Let’s focus on two questions asked of Frank by Wiener.
JW: Okay, what about Mueller saving us?
TF: Every Democrat that I talked to is counting on Mueller to deliver the midterms for them. This has worked for Democrats before. The famous Watergate class in Congress in 1974 was entirely the doing of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, and the Democrats are basically expecting that to happen again. It looks like it will work.
JW: What’s wrong with that?
TF: It breeds a kind of passiveness among Democrats where they never have to think about their own message. They may succeed in the coming midterms, but that’s a recipe for disaster in the long term. If Trump is not running for reelection three years from now, there’s going to be another Trump. The Republicans are never going to retreat from what this guy showed them in 2016. They now understand how you beat the Democrats. The next Trump is not going to be so vulgar, he’s not going to have affairs with porn stars, he’s not going to pick fights with NFL players. So the Democrats have to be thinking bigger. They can’t think “Oh, he screwed up. Great! Now we get back in.”
Or, as Frank put it at greater length at Harper’s:
How do Democrats change course without sounding like they’re criticizing Obama or the Clintons — or, by extension, the neoliberal fantasy that has sustained the party since the Nineties? The answer is that they can’t, and so they don’t. They would rather sit back and expect Robert Mueller to rescue them. They would rather count on demographic change to give them a majority somewhere down the road. So they “do nothing and wait for the other side to implode,” observed Bill Curry, a former adviser to President Clinton who has emerged as one of the Democratic Party’s strongest internal critics. “That’s been their strategy for most of my adult life. Well, how’s that been working out?”
Curry continued his critique. The party, he said, desperately needs to get over its infatuation with its glorious past: “The mistakes of the Democratic Party are the mistakes of Obama and Clinton. Taking responsibility for those mistakes means holding them accountable. And so many people have such deep, positive feelings for Obama and the Clintons that they can’t bear to have that conversation.” His conclusion was as blunt as what I heard from so many others: “Trump wins by the Democrats not changing.”
It would be enjoyable to speak of these matters with our local Democratic horizontal hierarchy, serial drinkers of the DNC’s by-the-numbers-bot-speaking Kool-Aid for so very long. But it remains a tableau of circled wagons, dedicated first and foremost to maintaining grassroots beak-wetting at the expense of ideas.
Frank persists in offering the solution to our miasma.
Get that great majority back together, I think, and it would be unstoppable. There is really only one set of successful politics for an age of inequality like this one, and it naturally favors the party of Roosevelt. Trump succeeded by pretending to be the heir of populists past, acting the role of a rough-hewn reformer who detested the powerful and cared about working-class people. Now it is the turn of Democrats to take it back from him. They may have to fire their consultants. They may have to stand up to their donors. They will certainly have to find the courage to change, to dump the ideology of the Nineties, the catechism of tech, bank, and globe that everyone now knows is nothing but an excuse for an out-of-touch elite. But the time has come. History is calling.