It is still the late 1960's.
There was no culture war in 1963, during the time of John F. Kennedy. By 1970 it was in full flower. It still is. Trump is fighting it.
Bernie Sanders may be making the same mistake Hillary Clinton made. He seems to think Americans care about policy, and the alternative to Trump is an advocate for good progressive policy. Trump remains on center stage because he realizes that people are still itching to fight the culture war on race, diversity, feminism, Christianity, and good old fashioned patriotism.
Bernie Sanders was on Bill Maher's Real Time Friday night. He was asked by Maher what Democrats stood for--our counter to Trump. Sanders said universal health care as a right. He said the words that can go on a hat should be that the Democratic Party advocates for the working man and woman, not the wealthy.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is the center of American politics even though his policy positions are fluid and unformed, both as a candidate and now.Trump wants to win, but he doesn't seem to care about what he wins, so long as he wins the big, important thing, the culture war.
He essentially reversed the policy of the GOP on trade, and he campaigned and won saying he wanted to expand health care and increase taxes on the wealthy--although in office he supported policies that did the opposite. Trump isn't about policy, except on cultural symbols. He represents resistance to social changes that emerged in the 1960s.
Race. By 1968 the Civil Rights movement was moving into a new phase. The laws giving black Americans legal equality in employment, public accommodation, and housing had stopped being primarily a matter of northerners scolding openly segregationist southerners. Backlash went national.
|Al Capp's caricature of student protesters|
Blacks being beaten up did not threaten the social order. Blacks standing upright and getting hired was different.
Meanwhile, immigration, both legal and illegal was taking place, primarily from Latin America and Asia, changing the complexion of America.
Feminism. The birth control pill gave women more control over pregnancy and second wave feminism emerged. Ms. Magazine began publication in 1971. Women agitated to enter the professions. Women demanded equal rights with men.
Vietnam. The war in Vietnam ground on during the late 1960's. American TV covered it, and it looked ugly. The era of competitive body counts didn't seem heroic. Americans divided on this issue, with pro-war parents and anti-war children, pro-war families and anti-war families. The war conflated being "patriotic" with being supportive of the war.
Patriotism seemed like a universal value in 1961 when Kennedy was inaugurated, but it was controversial by 1970. A lot changed in the 1960's.
Donald Trump represents the resistance and backlash to those changes. By 1972 George McGovern was attacked with slogan that he favored "acid, amnesty, and abortion." The culture war was on.
Trump has picked up the unfinished business of Richard Nixon, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan. Trump is pushing back against diversity, calling it an attack on traditional American values rather than an expression of them. He re-affirms his attack on NFL players taking a knee in protest to police violence against blacks, a way of showing he is both patriotic and intolerant of uppity protest. He attacks Muslims. He says Mexico will pay for a border wall. He appoints anti-abortion judges. His Attorney General calls for longer sentences on drug cases. His choice for a symbolic tariff--the steel and aluminum industry--and his support for "clean coal" are chosen to symbolize his defense of past economic foundations, not new economic realities.
Trump represents an entirely different message than does Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. They deal with policy. Trump deals in cultural symbols. Trump is a celebrity, not a politician.
As Democrats sort through their potential legislative and presidential candidates they need to realize the electoral matchup in front of them. A policy wonk versus Trump may be a bad matchup for Democrats.
|Click: Culture War 1972 matchup.|
I voted for McGovern, but most people did not.
Democrats can take back some of the cultural symbols that form Trump-style ethno-nationalism. Just because Trump likes them does not mean they are terrible. Some are good. They can re-affirm the value of the self-made man. They can be patriotic and progressive without being racist. They can be both inclusive and proud of America. There is a way to do this.
The traditional way would be to find a war hero, but I don't think there is one on the bench.