A Sketch Of Why Nothing Seems To Work For Democrats
It’s not because they are the party of the elites or because they are the party of identity politics—not at its core. This completely misunderstands what drives the resentment of the elite and the identity issues. It’s not as simple as racism and “fuck you, I’ve got mine”—though that is a very uncharitable way of looking at it.
If I had to use some kind of somewhat familiar terms, I’d say it’s that right-leaning voters tend to see politics as being for universalizing micro-phenomena and left-leaning voters tend to see it as applying macro-solutions with the least impedence. Before you close the window, let me explain.
What is sometimes seen as “fuck you, I’ve got mine,” is, in the mind of the right-leaning voter, “I worked my ass off for mine and you want it for free.” To the left-leaning voter this sounds like greed. The left-leaning voter wants the problem—whatever it is—solved. Should welfare recipients be drug tested? Well, people who work to put food on the table don’t get drug tested to buy food, but they aren’t asking for other people to pay for it, either. You can apply this to dozens of examples.
This voter feels that the sacrifices they made were hard and they have a right to the rewards. People who don’t make those sacrifices don’t. The left will cite arguments why that sacrifice was easier than they make it out to be on the one hand and that the people who don’t make that choice face steeper odds on the other.
Worse, from this point of view, the left (seems?) to demand that people who did nothing to get the same fruits be treated identically to those who did, completly bleaching away the sacrifice—which, regardless of statistics feels real enough to the voter to motivate them.
Since the economic and (especially) the social demands of the left are always increasing, it’s hard for this voter to understand where it ends or how it works. If everyone gets everything from the state, what do they work for? If they don’t work, how does the state provide it?
The right’s problem is that it doesn’t provide a compelling answer to the macr0-level problems. If there are millions of hungry people, are we really going to teach them a lesson by not feeding them? Do we want hungry people around—right or wrong—doing what hungry people will do to get fed?
How you see the answers to these problems will say an awful lot about your politics. The problem isn’t so much that there aren’t any solutions that fit both perceptions, but that no one sees the need to bother anymore.
If you think a welfare program rewards bad behavior and seems to correlate with high-crime areas, you’re a racist—even if, in your mind, the racial makeup of those areas is a total coincidence. If you think gun violence is a national problem, you’re a freedom-hating gun-grabber because on a micr0-level, I can make good choices.
Even raising certain issues that might suggest certain solutions opens you to epithets from partisans. This just totally disincentivizes any reason to be polite. If you’re going to get called a racist anyway, well, you’re not going to change your beliefs—you know damn well people abuse the system because you’re drunk-ass brother-in-law does it—then so be it. I’m a socialist? So be it. Badges of hate become badges of pride.
All of this fits into the narrative that somehow the rich elites who fund the tax-cut über alles politics of the Republican party are somehow liberal: because the kind of top-down, act-of-god-like havoc they wreak on normal people makes them feel like their sacrifices are meaningless as collateral damage in the same way that do-gooder liberal politics does.
And no one has been more successful at profiting from this epistemic closure than Trump. Voters in Republican districts may ultimately turn on Trump the man if he gets in more serious trouble, but I strongly doubt they will turn on the Republican party unless the Democrats can come up with something that sounds good to them, not just in terms of goodies (though making sure whatever you enact is for everybody is absolutely key), but in terms of making meaning out of the stuggles and sacrifices that people pride themselves on.
This doesn’t mean ignoring the plight of the worker or the poor. Far from it, it means stepping up the attacks on the micro-level transgressions of the rich and powerful and punishing them. Drug tests for white collar criminals! (just don’t make it cost jobs!)
There are a few issues that probably can’t work well both ways. Health care, for example. Even at the micro-level, you’re better off that your neighbors have access to treatment so they don’t become disease vectors—even if they are terrible people that don’t deserve the perqs you’ve struggled for. Likewise, I don’t expect liberal macro-solutions to issues like mass encarceration to ever ring true with the majority, because of the question of criminality being involved. Criminals are the extreme case of those who shouldn’t have what I have.
What gives me some hope, though, is there are many issues that are amenable to this kind of solution. Sadly, the best hope may just be for wealthy liberals to start funding Republican primary challenges rather than trying to improve the D brand.