Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trump: Divide and Conquer

"Elections aren't won in the brain, they are won in the heart and in the gut."

                                                         Art Baden, Guest Post

Culture War update:  Today Trump is visiting with veterans rather than the Super Bowl winners, the Philadelphia Eagles. 

It is easy to have an opinion on black athletes. It is hard to calculate the allocation of benefits in the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017. Trump makes things easy.

Donald Trump is locking in an impeachment-proof base, and very possibly a 2018 mid-term election base. He has villains identified: the media, the Mueller investigation, the FBI, the Deep State,uppity blacks, MS-13, immigrants, terrorists, Muslims, gun-haters, liberals, liberal cities, professors, Mexico, China. He uncovered what George Wallace and Pat Buchanan understood, that there is a deep well of public discomfort with the cultural changes in America following the Civil Rights re-set of sixty years ago, the Women's Liberation movement, environmentalism, secularization, and immigration from Latin America and Asia. 

Cultural conservatives don't want ethnic and cultural diversity. They want to live in a country where our kinds of people do things the old familiar way. If we must have a melting pot then we need it slow, newcomers need to melt and melt fast, and they need to turn into "regular Americans" and therefore not change anything.

Who feels this way? A whole lot of people, including people in states that Democrats think they should win.

Art Baden is an insurance broker who grew up in New York, worked in Chicago, then retired early and came to Ashland, Oregon. He is active in Democratic Party politics. Like this blog, he brings an "inside baseball" approach, observing political craft as a practitioner, analyst, and close observer. He can look at Trump's technique and be appalled by its effect on our democracy, yet simultaneously note its craft and effectiveness. 

Baden puts into historical context Trump's success in using the culture war to bond to voters and distract from his abandonment of economic populism. It is still "the economy, stupid" but Trump chose economic scapegoats that link economic populism with ethno-nationalist traditionalism. If the economy is still strong by November, Trump can claim that he was proven right.

Guest Post, by Art Baden

"Trump and his enablers, following in the footsteps of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, are effective politicians in that they appeal to the most basic human instinct — fight / flight. They have continued the old tradition in American politics — provide the white working class a bogeyman to fear and hate, and distract them from how they are getting screwed by the system.

In the 1850s the Know Nothing Party rose to prominence on an anti immigrant, anti Catholic platform, spreading fear that Irish Catholic immigration would lead to America being controlled by the Papacy (replace Catholic with Muslim and Papacy with Sharia). In the 1920s, following huge waves of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, Ellis Island was essentially shut down by Congress and immigration slowed to a trickle — based on fear stoked against Jewish leftists and Italian mobsters. Nixon’s southern strategy picked up on the fear of Southern Whites that they were losing their social status due to African American empowerment following the Civil Rights advances of the 1950s and 1960s. And in Northern Cities, open housing laws and school desegregation led to massive white flight from cities, predating the continued flight due to the riots of the mid-60’s.

And let’s not forget the Viet Nam War - which split this country apart in ways we are still experiencing. Educated middle class college students growing their hair, listening to rock and roll music and flaunting sexual mores while the children of the working class went off to fight a war that was ultimately lost. Lots of grist for the right wing hate mill there. And let’s not forget Bush the Elder’s use of Willie Horton as an avatar for fear of African Americans.

And even here in Oregon, the Republicans turn public employee unions into the bogeyman that is destroying our state budget, distracting from the relatively low state corporate income tax.Persuading someone to hate and fear is easy work, especially when you can dehumanize the object of the hate and fear using racism and xenophobia.

Asking someone to come to a logical conclusion about how tax policy or environmental regulation are adversely impacting their family is a tougher climb.

Used to be that the left had a bogeyman too — the rich and powerful. But the dogma of the left, Socialist theory, has to a great extent been delegitimized in America (although Bernie Sanders certainly seemed to bring it back in 2016).

A Bernie’ite versus Trump election would have been an interesting battle of the bogeymen - Trump’s racist xenophobia v. Bernie’s fat cat plutocracy.

Aside from Hilary Clinton having been a flawed candidate and lousy campaigner, her message was nuanced and didn’t play on an emotional or visceral plane, as did Trump’s and Sanders’ Her message was essentially that government can even the playing field and provide opportunities like education, job training, tax credits, housing credits, etc., so everyone can get an equal shot. The problem with this messages is that it tells people the government will help you, but ultimately, your future is in your own hands. If you want to succeed in the post-industrial society, it's up to you to get the education, job training necessary, and you might have to leave the town you grew up in and move to where the jobs are. That’s a much harder sell than hate and fear: “The Chinese stole your jobs and the liberals on the coasts helped them do it."

Democrats and Progressives forget that elections aren’t won in the brain, they are won in the heart and in the gut. Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama were able to appeal to the heart and the brain. Good policy is not enough."


  1. Darn, I wanted to share this post on Facebook, but I have a policy, no pictures of trump's mug on my page! So, I encourage finding other photos than this man's self-satisfied face.

  2. One small tweak in the analysis. The Poor. Who don’t vote. The Poor who live at the bottom. White man analysis from a privileged position.
    Clinton who sold out aid to dependent children. Obama who fell in love with SNAP and bailed out Wall Street without jail penalties.
    Feel good history . True hate and fear comes when you are hungry, sick without medical help, and working controlled short work hours on minimum wage. Include these in your analysis of bogeymen. Flabby political parties parading before their own mirrors.
    Thanks for contributing your thought to Sages blog.

    Ralph Bowman


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