Rebel Yell- How Pride and Prejudice Will Impact the 2020 Election
In 2040, Whites will no longer represent the demographic majority in America according to population trends. This shift signals a reconstitution of the way our country will see itself and what power looks like.
“Make America Great” was both a campaign motto and defiant call to arms in 2016. But in the 2020 presidential campaign, it is something more- a moral and political question about electability, national identity and the future of this country.
How voters respond will define America’ political compass and moral curve in the years to come. If Democrats hope to take back the White House, they will need to fully grasp the larger context of the 2020 election and how fears concerning displacement and national identify can affect its outcome.
From the beginning, our country has been shaped by the push and pull between our gilded founding ideals-liberty, equality, unalienable rights- and expedient, often partisan,pragmatism, exercised to balance political and economic interests in an increasingly complex and multicultural society.
A recurring theme of the American presidency has been this tension among constituencies and the hard, unpopular decisions that can follow. But the actions taken by the White House in the last year have felt less like tough decision-making and more like a hostile takeover of our democratic process with only one constituency in mind.
Contrary to prior administrations in which hope was the currency of political capital, our current administration built political capital through the lens of fear, self-preservation, and racial insecurity.
No one better articulated this fear than the great Southern writer William Faulkner. Faulkner wasn’t a politician, but he was familiar with the emotional landscape of our country. One of his most famous observations still serves as sage political advice:“If you want to understand the world, you must first understand the people of Mississippi.”
Mississippi’s political significance as both a proxy and metaphor at a time couldn’t be more fitting. 0ur country is facing both a crisis of conscience in our democracy and a deja vu, time capsule moment from the 1950s.
For modern day Confederates, Mississippi is the spiritual mecca of antebellum nationalism. At a time when multiculturalism and progressive values are being articulated as disenfranchising “real Americans” and upending traditional mores.
Mississippi represents that last fort of resistance on our map. Symbolically, citizens are more sovereign citizens, than American citizens- in their struggle to resolve the rootlessness of clinging to a past constantly invalidated by the present.
The state’s mythic legacy is writ large on our national consciousness as a historical marker,(The state’s U.S.senator Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy), a fixed point of reference, and state of mind. As the only state with a Confederate emblem in its state flag, Mississippi also has an enduring legacy as the country’s most terrifying perpetrator of iron-fisted segregationist aggression, resistance, and racial violence during the Civil Rights era.
Beneath its storied magnolia trees, mint-julep afternoons and honeyed hospitality lay a coiled snake of discontent following the Civil War. During the Civil Rights era,it became a multi-headed Hydra that struck at every activist provocation and threat to its racial code.
Mississippi was also a red state before there were red states. Leading the country in lynchings, nearly 600, high profile beatings- voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer- and deaths such as Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the three civil rights workers James Chaney, Matthew Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, its atrocities shocked the country. The iconic anthem by Nina Simone, “Mississippi ,Goddamn” summed up the national mood.
Even in the face of a national spotlight, the state legislature funded the White Citizens Council which created a powerful network businessmen, academics and judges that tracked Blacks and Whites suspected of Civil Rights activity and greenlighted punishment against them ranging from social exclusion, blacklisting, job loss or worse. To this day, voting turnout among African-Americans is consistently low. Even for President Obama, turnout was no more than 36% of the eligible voters in 2012. And that was a high.
Mississippi’s U.S. senators James Eastland and John Stennis, both Democrats, were both revered public servants, avowed segregationists, and unapologetic racists. In fact, Eastland once quoted Benjamin Disraeli on the Senate floor saying “ All is race, that is the only truth.” Current U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith made a joke about lynching during her 2018 campaign. The president campaigned for her.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The Republican Party’s has long considered Mississippi a linchpin of its Southern strategy. The state is one of the country’s poorest states, consistently ranked within the bottom three states for poverty. Yet, as an unflinching symbol of Southern pride, tribalism, and conservative values, it has evolved into a touchstone for the right. Ronald Reagan delivered his famous States Rights speech there. Former Party chair and Washington, DC powerhouse, Haley Barbour, was its governor.
The genius of the Republican Party lies in its ability to package the special blend of racial paranoia, resentment, instinct for racial self-preservation, and fierce sense of heritage, enshrined within Mississippi’s history into a star-spangled litany of patriotism, faith, freedom, law and order.
It’s important to remember that the secret sauce lies in the fact the party’s most prominent leaders are Southerners who either grew up as New Deal Democrats (like Ronald Reagan) aka Dixiecrats, or in families that were.The party has been effective in spinning messages and contexts that appeal to the disaffected voters of the Democratic Party because at one time.. they or their family members were the base.
The Republican Party may be the party of billionaires and Big Business, but its leaders understand the vernacular of struggle, hardship, alienation from a working-class, low-man-on the totem pole perspective. Validating the fears and frustration of citizens who have had their American dreams derailed by tough life circumstances has been a core political strength.
Only three Democratic presidential candidates in the last 50 years were more skilled at it, two Southerners and a Midwesterner- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton,Barack Obama. And they won.
That vernacular, however has taken a dark turn into the normalization of supremacy and nationalism. What we are now experiencing in the shadow of the Republican Party’s dark arts is something ominous.
With the prospect of minorities evolving into our country’s majority, the hardening of rhetoric and tactics, similar to the geopolitical extremist threats in other parts of the world, can result. The threat imposed by 2040 may take this country to the brink of a political jihad and culture war.
Shots are already being fired in every direction.
The full court press is evident in restrictive voter ID laws and the ability of states after the Supreme Court’s disastrous 2013 ruling in Shelby County.v Holder to change voting laws and their practices (such as closing polling sites at the last minute)without federal oversight. Restrictive abortion laws that challenge Roe v. Wade have passed in 9 states.
In June, the Supreme Court effectively sanctioned partisan, race-based gerrymandering by declining to intervene on a “political” issue. On the immigration front, the White House has signed off on new raids by ICE, children are still being detained in cages and separated from their parents, our detention centers at the Southern border remain in deplorable conditions. On a recent Tweet, the president directed 4 congresswomen to “go back” to their countries of origin.
HOW DO DEMOCRATS WIN IN 2020?
If you want to understand the world, you have to understand the people of Mississippi-William Faulkner
Electability in this election and within the context of the moral crisis created by the president’s actions will be a referendum on race, political intimidation, and the state of the American democracy. This isn’t the time for fluffy talk, teaching moments about virtue, hyperintellectualism or bourgeois remoteness. We need street fighters in this battle to retake the White House. It’s time for the Democratic Party to take the gloves off and put on the brass knuckles on.
The president’s core strength so far in this election has been positioning himself as a die-hard race warrior and pseudo sovereign citizen who chooses for himself what laws he will respect and those he will defy. He presents himself as a straight-talking folk hero and defender of every White American citizen who feels victimized and threatened by the prospect of being displaced from their majority status, dominant political position and social privilege by a multicultural minority.
The unabashed race-mongering may be drawing criticism and public hoopla, but it is energizing his base and gaining him political capital. Trump didn’t start the fire on race in Washington or this country, but no US president has publicly thrown as much gasoline on the flames as he has. He sees this as a badge of honor, as does his base.
Furthermore, allegations of immoral criminal behavior haven’t diminished his support among the religious right. 69% of regular, churchgoing, white evangelical Protestants support him. He also has the confidence of Congress. A bill to impeach him was soundly defeated in the House. He also just signed an executive order aimed at boosting American manufacturing.
More importantly, he’s raised $105 million in the last fundraising quarter, more than all five Democratic frontrunners-Biden, Harris, Warrren, Sanders and Buttigieg combined. And his approval ratings remain steady. There’s a mandate for his leadership and the lens of race that he brings to his rhetoric. In other words, he remains highly competitive.
So here’s how Democrats have to bring the fight:
Develop a strong social media strategy that keeps a scoreboard of what’s happening in heartland America re: jobs lost, health care spending, economic growth, public high school attrition rates etc. It’s important to report out what’s actually happening in our country around specific metrics like the economy, education. Criticizing the president generally isn’t the ticket, the focus has to be on the state of our union.
Confront the president on his inconsistencies and know his report card backwards and forwards:
For instance in 1999, the president resigned from the Republican Party and criticized presidential candidate Pat Buchanan as being a “Hitler lover.” He also said that the “Republicans are just too crazy right” and asked who would embrace a candidate who hated blacks and gays.
Other areas to raise-
Where are the 25 million jobs he promised?
Has he articulated a plan for resolving the cycle of poverty and lack of economic progress in states like Mississippi, where he got nearly 20 percent of the vote?
He has gradually reduced Medicaid and Medicare spending- How do you keep a country great that’s not healthy?
Take a hard look at the tax revenues in all 50 states and compare what percentage the average person is paying in taxes versus those paid by businesses under his reformed tax code.
Make economic recovery and global competitiveness the centerpiece of the Democratic strategy. As Senator Kamala Harris stated during the debates, people are concerned about how they put food on the table and keep it there. Job growth, funding for small business, recovery for small town and rural America, educating our children, the return of manufacturing, trade are high impact themes that align well with core, kitchen table concerns that everyday Americans have.
Technology matters in today’s economy. It also drives anxiety within the workforce about disappearing jobs due to AI, robotics and innovations such as driverless cars. Big Box store retail, trucking, factory and plant jobs are ladders of survival where job options are few. Dems need to a strategy and message for helping people connect to the innovation economy.
Challenging the president on race is a no-win proposition. It’s his power source and well, Trump card. Instead, focus on the unconstitutionality of certain decisions and executive branch overreach.
Emphasize the moral center of this country and its capacity for unity. Highlight common values and priorities that are the cornerstone of Main Street America -family, a shot at the American Dream, hard work, good health care, good education, school safety for our children, building something for the next generation, service to country, a government that is accountable to those who follow the rules, pay taxes, and help hold down communities.
Demonstrate more cultural competency and EQ about working class and small town America. College isn’t for everyone. (Google and Apple don’t even require a college degree) Connect the dots between small business support and local job creation. Communicate effectively with voters on difficult or sensitive issues by emphasizing shared affinity.Senator Kirsten Gillibrand did this in a textbook perfect exchange with a voter in Ohio about white privilege. It will be remembered as an iconic campaign moment.
Polls should not be the sole source of key voter insights about immigration, health care, public education, building a base, fair wages. The president has a well-honed antenna for tapping into the private conversations taking place at country clubs, kitchen tables, hunting lodges, beauty salons, church picnics, gun ranges about issues in the country. Dems need to do the same. These are the conversations that determine who wins or loses.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
Our country is navigating through an Upside-Down season of hyperbolic rhetoric and the rebel yell of nationalism and jingoism. William Faulkner’s wisdom about understanding the people of Mississippi conveys a couple of insights which are relevant to the Democrats.
First, take it as an article of faith that racism and its byproducts-racial hostility, insecurity and division are hard-baked into this country’s DNA. Some people’s hearts and minds will not change. And they will vote according to their prejudice and tribal loyalties.
Second, disaffected constituencies of the Democratic Party who have felt marginalized and alienated by identity politics and multiculturalism still regard themselves as decent people who aren’t blinded entirely by race. This dynamic creates a path towards common ground. Out of the Pandora’s Box of this country’s discord, this offers hope and the rise of our American spirit.
The demographic change forecast for 2040 and what that shift means, calls to mind the words Justice John Marshall Harlan who wrote in his Supreme Court dissent to Plessy v. Ferguson: “ There is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
That’s the America we have to fight for in this election.