On Distractions

By now most people have figured out that we are meant to be distracted by the outrage-of-the-day committed by the Trump Administration.

Is the media sniffing around your Russian connections? Start talking about voter fraud. Is that not enough? Sign an order that purports to start building your crazy border wall.

Are you planning to pith the NSC and install your Svengali in place of actual national security professionals? Kick up a mess with a ban on Muslims.

Do these things on a Friday for added effect.

Hopefully you have internalized the idea that you are being distracted and that there are bigger things afoot that will take focus, drive, and discernment to uncover and understand. You’ve had the entire campaign to learn that lesson relative to Trump (and decades previously about other politicians). This past week was pretty much a cram session for the lazy students in the back.

Are you ready for the next part?

Trump is the distraction.

From what? Well, that’s your homework…

Figure it out, and fast.

“The President in particular is very much a figurehead—he wields no real power whatsoever. […] His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.”

Douglas Adams, The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Three Liberals* You Meet After an Election

I am not going to pore over the exit polls and election results. You can read plenty of that analysis elsewhere. Instead, I’ve taken a few days to step back and observe. My goal was to get a 30,000-feet view of what happened and where we go from here, as a country generally, and as liberals in particular. The view is still murky, but a few themes have emerged.

The Outsiders

Amongst my liberal friends, two general camps have emerged, with some overlap between the two. One group, the #NotMyPresident camp, are the ones you see out in the street on the news. They are taking the principled position that we should not legitimize a candidate for office who gets there the way Donald Trump did, with lies and hate. This is a perfectly legitimate position. The most visible member of this group is Michael Moore.

The Unifiers

On the other side is the #Unite camp, made up of more moderate Democrats, urged reconciliation and acceptance from the start. Not much needs to be said about this group. Secretary Clinton and President Obama are part of this camp.

The Pragmatists

The overlapping group, the pragmatic #RespectTheOffice camp, do not like Trump and are just as upset as the first group, but they will still accept the result. They will also work with the Trump Administration on issues where there is common ground, and will oppose him on everything else. This approach runs the risk of giving the Trump Administration political victories and capital that can be used for less savory efforts. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have embraced this approach.

I don’t know which group is correct. I see my friends falling into these categories. None of them are wrong.

As a pragmatist, mediator and firm believer in consensus-building, and as someone more comfortable working within institutions than assailing them from the outside, the pragmatic engagement approach is an easy fit. My family is traditionally Methodist. I’m not. I don’t have much use for organized religion and I don’t particularly know much about Methodism, but I have always liked this saying, often improperly attributed to John Wesley:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

Imagine my surprise to hear this in Hillary Clinton’s DNC acceptance speech!

What do we do going forward?

Several good ideas have emerged, including these from Michael Moore, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

Michael Moore:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT):

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):

So let me be 100% clear about this. When President-Elect Trump wants to take on these issues, when his goal is to increase the economic security of middle class families, then count me in. I will put aside our differences and I will work with him to accomplish that goal. I offer to work as hard as I can and to pull as many people as I can into this effort. If Trump is ready to go on rebuilding economic security for millions of Americans, so am I and so are a lot of other people — Democrats and Republicans.

As I write this a week out from the election, I don’t have any answers. Right now, it is probably enough to know that we will all have to make politics a much more central part of our lives. This time it is personal!

Writing at The Intercept last week, Jon Schwarz laid out a positive plan for the coming struggle:

  1. If you can, make politics one of the centers of your life.
  2. White liberals must step up right now in the right way.
  3. We need a story.
  4. We don’t need a third party, we just need a party.
  5. We need non-corporate media.
  6. Be not downhearted.
  7. Barack Obama gets one day off.
  8. Be good to yourself and everyone else.

I think I can get behind all of those. Are you in?


*I’m a liberal. You probably are, too. Sure, the term “progressive” gets lots of play and is the hot new thing, and the L-word has been much maligned by the now-moribund conservative movement, but I’m not going to let someone else define my terms for me. I’m a liberal, I believe in liberal ideals and programs, and I’m going to own it.

Premature Celebration

Or, Demographics Are Not Your Friend

The Emerging Democratic Majority
The optimism of youth …

Democrats have been predicting a demographic victory for seven election cycles now, since Judis and Teixeira’s “The Emerging Democratic Majority” came out in the wake of the 2002 midterms. We assumed a number of facts not in evidence: that these new citizens would vote, and that they would vote for Democratic candidates; that the traditional Democratic base would hold strong; and that we had the better ideas. We counted on voters’ support, but did little to earn it. Poor engagement, coupled with our abject failure to also engage with the concerns of White, working class voters, explains much of this loss. We also know that there was a significant enthusiasm gap between the two candidates. Finally, we know that a significant number of voters rejected Clinton but voted for Democrats down-ballot.1 The results show that every state with a US Senate seat up for election went to the same party that particular state picked for President.

The time may come when the Democratic party can rely on demography to carry the day. Too many of us thought we were there already.