What’s the Matter with Calais?
by Sam Pelletier
After almost two months it’s probably not a bad dream. The birther dude from the Apprentice is going to be the president. While we’re temporarily not-exploded, let’s ponder how America got here.
The demographic breakdown is clear. Democrats lost the blue collar white vote something brutal. Pew says we saw the biggest gap between white college graduates and non-graduates since 1980. We can use code words for this like “rural,” or “flyover.” But it is what it is.
For reasons that are most likely super shady and depressing, whenever liberals talk about whites, we talk about “moderates.” Therefore, when we lose the “moderates” we have to revamp the agenda. Our messaging is mis-calibrated like a fair slot machine, and we have to decide if it was “too progressive” or “insufficiently progressive,” because we definitely didn’t hit the goldilocks zone.
I’m going to suggest that we go more progressive, because I live and perform in the Portland area. Others cautiously advise the opposite.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
When you lose the (ahem) “traditional” voter, there is an instinct to tone down the rhetoric in support of non-white, non-male, non-straight and non-cis people. You don’t want rustbelt voters saying to themselves, “Democrats don’t care about me, they only care about (insert demonstrably marginalized scapegoat here).” The trouble is that you can take away the scapegoat, and they’re still left saying, “Democrats don’t care about me,” which is a big problem with our economic message.
The stat I quoted above doesn’t say Trump won a historic percentage of white voters, because he didn’t. He got roughly the same as Romney in 2012. When myself and others say “blue collar” or “working class” white people, that’s not semantics. It’s addressing a meteor crater’s worth of lost ground among white people sans bachelor’s degree that kills us in the electoral college.
Democrats are the party that says we want to help middle-class people, but that means we actually have to side with middle-class people. The problem isn’t that the GOP has great arguments against good wages and health care. It’s that we say we’re on the side of workers while at the same time backing trade deals that screw unions, funding campaigns with bankers’ money and nominating a presidential candidate who literally sat on the Walmart Board of Directors the year they put out the Gordon Gekko movie.
Similarly, we can’t afford to be weak on issues of social and racial justice. Rural whites don’t automatically shut down when you talk about treating people with respect. If they did, they wouldn’t have fallen for Bernie, who had a damn-good record on that. However, people will tune out if your supposed care for those groups only seems opportunistic, like when your candidate is wrong on Gay Marriage for most of their career, or votes for the Iraq War, or plays ball with corporations that globally wreck people’s lives. Worse still, if you stay silent on something like privilege, you allow your opponent to define the term for you, and that always ends terribly.
We Don’t Need White People Solutions
I should point out that disdain for milk toast moderates isn’t a white’s only problem, like getting a Christmas fedora from your M.R.A. cousin. When the GOP tries to pick off voters in communities where they trail, they target P.O.C., especially middle-class Hispanics. The two-faced, people pleasing efforts to do this by Romney and McCain failed with the same mediocre impotence and for the same reasons. Trump actually did better with Hispanics than Romney did. Perhaps this proves that that Death-Eater level evil is still more appealing than tired, traditional, transparent pandering.
I also get that it’s blisteringly insane to say white people in America need more attention. But understanding demographics is really important to winning, and winning is important to passing the legislation we want.
Lastly, just because we have a white people problem doesn’t mean we need a white people solution, especially from the rich ones. Privileged white people don’t know dick about struggling white people. Keith Ellison called the Trump phenomenon way before the blue-bloods did. If we had a clue how blue collar folks think, we wouldn’t go around talking to them like such snooty douches all the time. There is nothing more obnoxious than hearing people with everything pat themselves on the back for being “down with the cause man.” I do it all the time and I still hate hearing other people do it.
Going forward, let’s try to avoid moderation for moderation’s sake, lest we run losing candidates forever (you know the ones). Let’s also try to avoid being elitist snobs who look down our noses at people with less than us. Finally, let’s not mix those two factors, because that’s how you get Trump.
Sam performs comedy throughout New England and can be seen January 20th headlining Live at 212 in Westbrook and February 2nd performing at Lincolns in Portland.