Part 2.5/3: What the fuck do we do now?
Part 1(“What the fuck happened?”)
Part 2 (“What the fuck did we accomplish?”)
Imagine you live in a country that’s very polarized with a heavy tribal identity: everything from news sources to language is customized to the tribe you belong to. In the eyes of your tribe, the worst member of your tribe is viewed more sympathetically than the best member of any other tribe. Tribe members think of themselves as free thinkers though, so you can sometimes have conversations with them where you both question your assumptions.
You’re walking down the street and see two people, one (Sam) whose circle of friends is probably most like your tribe, and one who’s probably in circle of friends that is not-your-tribe (Alex).
You need to recruit one of them to officially join your tribe. You have one conversation’s worth of time to talk to one of them. And you know that whatever you say, no matter how persuasive, will be reinforced or countered down by the friends and news sources that Alex or Sam will interact on a daily basis for a long time after that conversation.
It’s certainly possible that Alex, not in your tribe, may be convinced by you in that moment, but will it stick? That’s possible, but unlikely.
Sam is the person you should speak to.
If you have all the time in the world, you should speak to everyone. But in a world of finite resources, you should speak to Sam. Frankly, Alex may not even want to speak to you. Alex may identify you as someone so different from themselves that you can’t even agree on basic facts to have a conversation. Things that are verifiably true may be simply not believed by Alex’s media sources and circle of friends. If you say something that challenges Alex’s shared belief with their friend circle, you challenge whether or not Alex can trust these same people. You challenge Alex’s entire social identify. Your persuasive argument may not stand up against Alex’s social circle and media sphere’s daily assault.
Alex isn’t going to go there willingly. And Alex’s friends, without even knowing if your conversation, will continue to undermine you at every turn. Alex simply has more common with them than you and spends more time with them.
Sam is the person you have a better shot at making a lasting connection with.
You talk to Sam. You and Sam may not agree on everything, but you have a bunch of shared cultural references. Sam’s friends agree on a bunch of things with you. In fact, if you recruit Sam, some of Sam’s friends may come along with Sam because they are so similar.
Whether or not you accept this theory of how electoral politics works in America now, will determine if you think my plan for our volunteer team for future elections is bugfuck crazy or not
To be clear, I really want to live in a country where people aren’t so polarized that they can agree on independent facts like “The Dow is up 100%+ since Obama took office”, but that’s not the country I live in.
I would like to live in a country where concerned Republicans and Democrats get together to solve our country’s and our planet’s most challenging problems, but that’s not the country I live in.
I would like to live in a country where people don’t want to win so bad they would subvert our independence by inviting a foreign power to interfere in our elections, but that’s not the country I live in.
I would like to live in a country where it’s voters aren’t so stupid that they contradict themselves every time they lose an election, caring about deficits when they are out of power and ignoring them when they’re in power, but that’s not the country I live in.
The time for trying to hold hands with people who think Obama is a Kenyan-born Secret Muslim and hope they see that giving them healthcare is in their best interest is pretty much over. They’re simply not interested.
I still want to create a country where Americans, even racists, have access to health insurance, unemployment insurance, and a basic living wage in retirement so they aren’t starving to death. I just don’t expect them to help or appreciate it. In fact, I expect them to fight it, all while calling my son a terrorist in middle school and playing as dirty as possible to win elections when they don’t have enough votes to do so fairly.
So what are you going to do?
I’m going to attempt to lead people who live in safely Democratic parts of the country to send money and volunteers to places that are teetering on the edge of the Republican/Democrat divide and swing them Democratic.
It’s what we did well in 2012 and 2016, and I’m going to keep doing it a little larger every time. Though right now I and my family need a break from my travel schedule, so I’m not doing anything except hanging out playing games with my kids and spending time with my wife.
Note that if I lived in Wisconsin, I would have a different opinion and a different plan. But the achievable goals for the volunteer work I have done are about battleground states and districts, not places with a quirky new twist on the electorate. And I’m not moving to Wisconsin any time soon.
Alright, time to poke holes in my analogy about electoral politics in America
If you want a better perspective on this from a more eloquent writer, go read this essay by Miri Mogilevsky and then come back. (“Yes, We Did Fail to Empathize with Conservatives”) and this one from one of my mentors Shayna Englin (“Now what? Culture change, that’s what”) about why our failure this election cycle isn’t because we failed to meet the economic or safety net needs of the white working class.
Both quantify my thinking about the post-election thinking well. On to the objections:
This is terrible. You’re contributing to the polarization of America.
I didn’t polarize the electorate. But trying to appeal to a racially panicked segment of the country when they’re in power is not possible. They won, and they’re going to act like it. They are busy running their agenda over us like an asphalt paver. They’re not interested in talking to you about bipartisanship. This is when you fight tooth and nail. When they lose their grip on power is when you’ll start to hear them sing the praises of bipartisanship. When that happens, you can ignore them.
So you don’t think there’s any hope of the country becoming less polarized?
I hope it does, but I’m not under any illusions that it will any time soon. Hoping for it to be so isn’t going to make it so. If you want the country to become less polarized you’re going to need to change the entire way media works in America, and I don’t think that’s happening in the next 20 years.
So you don’t think there’s value in reaching out to the white working class voters?
Three part answer:
First: That’s only one dynamic in the election where there’s many. The races we worked on in both Nevada and California were close, and the white working class voter grasping at racism and ignoring the danger to themselves was a factor, but you know what was a larger factor? Minority voters of all stripes (religious, racial, sexual orientation). Also people who have progressive values voted, and appear to have outvoted social regressives.
In those races we have coalitions that can win and did win, and we haven’t even maxed out our numbers yet.
Second: Do you really think this is possible? Basic, independently verifiable facts like “Did the Dow go up during Obama’s 8 years?” are outright denied by a large part of Trump white working class electorate. I don’t think I have the energy to argue with people like that.
Third: This is above my pay grade. The Away Team are about sending volunteers and money from safely Democratic places to battleground places. We’re not in charge of analytics or messaging for the campaigns we work for or for the national party organizations. We benefit or suffer in our effectiveness based upon their work, but we have to let them do their job well and support them by doing our job well.
Thousands of smart people I know are working hard at that, and perhaps you want to volunteer to help them? But that’s not my gig, and I already have too many. I’m going to trust that they are working hard to figure it out as fast as possible. They will need boots on the ground in 2018, and that is what I’m good at.
But wait, there’s no election until 2018. Aren’t you going to lead protests and provide an outlet for all your volunteers who feel so disappointed by the election?
No. All the people should do all the things, and I’m not all the people. There are plenty of people out there leading a resistance. They actually need people to back them up. Go do that.
I’ll have some projects to do during 2017, but they will be about getting us ready for the next major election, not stopping the current party in power.
I’m going to fight the current party in power by preparing for an election to take them out of power.