In the second Democratic primary debate, Marianne Williamson struck a surprisingly deep chord nationwide by proclaiming wonky plans are insufficient, and that it will take something deeper and based in feeling to beat Trump. She says that it will be love to conquer Trump’s hate.
Ask yourself whether a message of “love” would resonate, or constitute a realistic message to win in American politics today. If anything, “hope and change” left a bad taste in the mouths of my ilk even if they liked Obama. Those years weren’t years of sweeping progress but of obstruction and crawling. Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland was perhaps the deepest instantiation of this, since Garland would have been a centrist on the court and the Republican senate blocked him for the sheer joy of flexing their “fuck you, liberals” power.
This feeling isn’t coming exclusively from Trump’s office, and it is probably more than just hate. Right-wing politicians are tapping into the rejection of a certain perception of liberalism. It’s a call to arms to beat back overstatements like “we’re all the same,” and “we don’t need strong borders.” It’s a big fat NO to the “choice” conversation altogether, since they prefer a “life” conversation. And, above all, it’s simple: government is bad, so less government is good.
Summing this up as hate is too reductive, though hate is certainly in the mix.
Likewise, talking about love is probably not how Democrats win. David Brooks did something fascinating in this piece by refining (perhaps ignoring) Williamson’s call for love, and instead explaining his notion of what America stands for.
Unity: We’re one people. Our leader represents all the people. He doesn’t go around attacking whole cities and regions.
Honesty: We can’t have deliberative democracy without respect for the truth. None of us want congenital liars in our homes or our workplaces.
Pluralism: Human difference makes life richer and more interesting. We treasure members of all races and faiths for what they bring to the mosaic.
Sympathy: We want to be around people with good hearts, who feel for those who are suffering, who are faithful friends, whose daily lives are marked by kindness.
Opportunity: We want all children to have an open field and a fair chance in the great race of life.
Those values are hard to deny being more American than love, yet they feel a bit complicated to be good foils to Trump. It might take something simpler than Unity + Honesty + Pluralism + Sympathy + Opportunity to beat Trump. Maybe pick three to talk about, or just one feeling to leave voters with? At any rate, we aren’t going to hear that much on values if the debates continue to focus on drawing policy divisions between the candidates instead of discussing values specifically.
Maybe that’s a good thing? Recall the 2004 election when, after polls explained that Bush’s relatability was key to his successes, there were lots of questions aimed at capturing the the whole “guy you’d want to have a beer with” thing. The answers weren’t that strong, and Bush got reelected. Values, it turned out, were more of a Republican value.
Pete Buttigieg is probably the 2020 Democrat who has done the most to portray himself as a “values first” candidate. Even when called on to provide policy answers, he almost always provides a vague answer that gets at who he is instead of what he will do. In the second debate, he seemed to think it was important to remind us of his relative youth. By not taking the time to lay out a specific vision for the country when asked to, he can sound vacuous.
To make sure there’s still time to hear the candidates on values, maybe it would make sense to actually ask them? We certainly have enough debate time left to ask why their values will appeal to Americans. Specifically, why will their values stand up well to Donald Trump’s?
Thus far, the media has instead largely framed this primary as another battle between progressives and pragmatists — a dichotomy that seems to stem from the beliefs that an idea’s viability correlates strongly with how close it is to the “center” and that all ideas can be placed on a left-right continuum. Ideas like UBI show why this simply isn’t true. There is nothing obviously centrist about it, yet its appeal is extremely wide. Or getting money out of politics? That, too, is an idea that could shatter the spectrum. Most people, no matter their political orientation, don’t want big money interests to have more say than they do.
For my part, I think getting policy priorities right is more powerful than people like Marianne Williamson would have you believe. She’s right about the importance of feelings, of course, but feelings come from all corners of the psyche and the truth has remarkable staying power.
Take Andrew Yang, for example. Yang doesn’t make many appeals to emotions. He talks about math a lot. He almost always answers questions with policy prescriptions, if given the time. But his supporters are as passionate as any out there, and that’s how you get groundswell.
Similar could be said for Bernie Sanders and his refusal to bend on healthcare policy. It shows he means what he says, and he’s generally meant it for more than thirty years. That’s authenticity and that also gets you considerable groundswell.
Not coincidentally, those two are the only candidates a recent poll found to have double-digit support among 2016 Trump voters. Yet the media keeps talking as if the fact that Biden is front-runner somehow means America thinks he’s a safer choice. He’s actually just the Democrat with the most recognizable name and who has held the highest office. And in the big picture, he isn’t safe at all. He’s a vote for more crawling and obstruction, and afterwards more rejection of liberalism when in 2024 or 2028 American voters once again vote against what they see as failing and not for what they see succeeding.
Let’s vote for someone bold enough to make changes. To me, that leaves only Warren, Sanders, and Yang. But Warren is unpopular with the Right, and Bernie is unpopular with the “establishment” or the country’s powerful Center-Left. As for Yang? If he can somehow gain the traction to make it past the primary, he stands great chances both to beat Trump and to pass transformative legislation.
He’s a non-politician, which would give him great chances among Republican voters who actively rejected insiders in 2016. He’s a creative policy thinker, who defies the spectrum more often than not with ideas like lowering the voting age and eliminating pennies. And he’s an Asian, which gives many on the Left another kind of outsider they’re so bizarrely obsessed with having.
It’s still early and I fully expect to vote for Warren or Sanders in the end, but if the primary were today Yang would have my vote. Why? What actual values does a vote for Yang show you have? Lets give David Brooks’s list a check.
Unity: The campaign’s slogans are “Humanity First” and “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” It’s built around coming together against certain dangers posed by new technology — not coming together against other people. And as at least one author noted, Yang has the ability to unite a YouTube comments section.
Honesty: Yang is currently taking hits for pointing out in the last debate that we’re ten years too late to stop climate change. This would be truly terrible to say, except that it’s actually true. And he’s the only one saying it. Afterwards, he defended his statements by pointing out on CNN that in Greenland “the ice pack is melting at the rate that was predicted to be in 2070.” He isn’t saying we shouldn’t do anything about it. He actually has a great set of proposals for the climate, but he is also being honest about where we are because you can’t measure change any other way.
Pluralism: He is for studying the case for reparations. He’s favors a common-sense approach to the border, and finding ways to secure it that don’t involve a physical wall. His is for a long-term path to citizenship for undocumented people who are already in the US. He’s expressed deep solidarity for the plight of the working class, white or otherwise. And his own parents are personal champions for the American immigrant story. (And he’s Asian.)
Sympathy: In one of the most negative pieces published against Yang so far, Vox had to point out that no matter what else you hear about him he’s undeniably a deeply decent person who takes responsibility for his actions. Following a suicide within Venture For America, he made it clear that human loss would be taken immensely seriously and he used that experience to talk to new recruits. He is quoted saying, “This is not simply success or failure. This is sometimes the difference between health and tragedy.”
Opportunity: He wants part of the American Scorecard that replaces the way we talk about GDP and stock market indexes to include measures of life expectancy, happiness, income inequality, infant mortality, volunteerism, access to education, student debt, and freedom from substance abuse. What could be more American?
I’m sure the candidate you fancy can be measured this way, too. So do it. How does he or she measure up?
If Williamson is right, we should be looking closely at comparing candidates with this kind of checklist right now.
If this is what will give you the best chance of beating Donald Trump or seeing a better America, would you spend some time thinking about what you and your neighbor both value?