Markos Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos, the largest progressive community blog in the United States. Daily Kos is so large, in fact, it can house Markos’ enormous sense of entitlement which has apparently grown to planetary proportions since the election of Herr Trump.
On Monday Markos published a breathtakingly offensive post called, “Be happy for coal miners losing their health insurance. They’re getting exactly what they voted for.” It’s a short four paragraphs citing a New York Times infographic on the voting patterns of non-college educated, and coal-country heartlanders.
Markos doesn’t hide his contempt for those who choose a non-college route, but this is also about these non-college educated folks not voting for his candidate. Because they voted wrongly, they deserve to die. Here’s a quote: “…don’t feel sorry for the ones who enabled this nightmare by voting for the incoming Trump-Putin administration. For example, why should we weep for the retired coal miners who will now lose their health insurance thanks to the GOP majority—despite the best efforts of coal-state Democrats to change the outcome? Yes, this will be a terrible outcome for a group of people who have really drawn a shitty lot in life. But how sorry should we be for this crowd? Coal country swung hard for Donald Trump, winning 70 to 80 percent of the vote in some of these counties…Don’t weep for these coal miners…They are getting exactly the government that they voted for. Democrats can no longer offer unrequited love and cover for them. And isn’t this what democracy is all about? They won the election! This is what they wanted!”
So let’s unpack this.
Punching down at all people who live in coal country is not a rational progressive stance that anyone should take seriously, and Markos is a fool and a charlatan for saying any such thing in public. With this one shot, he’s lost all claim at being a progressive leader, and just needs to go write some code for his website and stay out of public view for a few years.
First off, he conveniently forgets that coal country in general, and West Virginia in particular voted for Bernie Sanders like he was the second coming of Christ (and you know how serious these folks are about Christ). Sanders won West Virginia 51.4% to Clinton’s 35.8%. That’s a 15.6% advantage. Sanders won these voters by talking about the economic reality people face in the devastated Appalachian heartland. Sure, insurance is a concern. But it’s nothing if you don’t have a doctor within a day’s drive, or worse, you don’t have a job to be able to afford the co-pays. Once Hillary won the primary, many of those Sanders voters either moved to Trump or stayed home because she simply didn’t present a credible economic message to the heartland. We have to fix this, not just in terms of messaging, but in terms of policy. It’s unsustainable that all jobs go to only college graduates. Sanders presented solutions that appealed to heartlanders, proving they would happily vote for Democrats that aren’t neoliberal. Had Hillary put Sanders on the ticket West Virginia might have swung differently. Had the DNC not kept their giant thumb on the scale for HRC, all the polling showed Sanders would have beat Trump. All of this is conveniently forgotten in the red mist generated by Markos’ animus for heartlanders.
Second, I spent enough time in the Appalachian mountains (20 years) to understand that “people with college degrees” aren’t the only people who count, but this is tragically lost on elite progressives like Markos. During the campaign Chuck Schumer famously said that for every blue collar worker lost in western Pennsylvania coal country, Hillary Clinton will pick up three college-educated, suburban Republicans in the eastern part of the state. Good lord, do we also need a roadmap to find our elbows in the dark? We’re counting on losing solid democrats and picking up republicans? This is exactly how we lost Millennials, FDR-Dems, and Sanders independents. And what’s up with the calculus here? Schumer would much rather have rich Republicans than working-class Democrats. How predictable from the Senator from Wall Street, but what’s sad is this is reflective of all establishment Democrats, not just Schumer.
Just in case it needs to be repeated: I need my party to work toward my policies and priorities — not the policies and priorities suburban, college-educated Republican soccer mom who sends her kids to private school. That’s why so many people stayed home nationwide.
How many times did Hillary go to coal country and talk about lost jobs? According to her campaign surrogate, Chuck Schumer, they didn’t matter. That’s now confirmed by a giant of the “progressive establishment” who insists that they are beneath contempt, and deserve to die.
We have to fix this, because we’ll never win another election if we don’t, and I’d argue we wouldn’t deserve to win again if we don’t.
Here’s a story to illustrate. When I first started organizing I did a little fundraiser called “Party for Peace” at a music venue called The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee. I got some bands and speakers. It snowed, so it was a worst case scenario for turnout, but people showed up anyhow, because that’s how we rolled in Johnson City.
The venue was run by a partnership of older guys, some had served in Vietnam and some had “served in the arts.” They had been running The Down Home “Picking Parlor” for many years to showcase mountain music, and had recently opened it up to electric bands.
In between bands I agitated on the issue of nuclear disarmament, because that’s how long ago it was, during the Cold War and Reagan administration. I talked about how much we spent on building warheads, and how much that money would buy in terms of education and heathcare.
I wanted everyone to reach out to their representatives and remarked that we have to work smarter, because look, “some folks don’t even know how many Senators we send to Washington.” It’s two. It’s one of those smarty-pants college kid things you say that’s meant to elicit gasps from your in-the-know compatriots — “oh my god there’s people who don’t know this!”
My smarty-pants illustration had no place in the context of the audience I was speaking to, because of course there’s people who don’t know that. Let’s not be a dick about it. But I was too young and stupid to know that the reason my room was somewhat full when it was SNOWING outside was because of the folks who didn’t go to college. THEY were the ones who drank a bottle of whatever and rounded up their buddies to come see their favorite band.
I finished my rap and went to the bar for a soda (underage), one of the Vietnam vets said to me in a big Sam Elliott voice, “I don’t know how many Senators we send to Washington, but I damn well care about what happens to that mountain up there.” God, I felt like an idiot.
Right up the road in the county next-door was Nuclear Fuel Services, a plant that supposedly converted spent nuclear fuel rods into usable fuel, somehow or other, that didn’t have to be buried in the ground. It makes no sense to me. Every so often the news carried stories about mysterious fires breaking out around the plant, and flocks of birds falling from the sky. Also, there were bizarre killings 20 years apart at a place called “Beauty Spot” which happened to be where the flock of birds fell from the sky, but that’s another story.
My point is, coal country is isolated and people famously mind their own business. It’s actually misleading to call it “coal country” because there’s a diversity of “dirty” industry up there. The Appalachians are dotted with nuclear and chemical factories, and they aren’t attracted to the boonies because of the views or the sweet mountain air. They come for the seclusion and corruption. Folks have died up there for generations — either from running moonshine or drinking contaminated water — and no one cared.
I doubt Markos is aware of that history, which is sad because it might help humanize the hill people to him. Maybe if he knew about the suffering the area has traditionally endured, he could shed a tear for people dying lack of healthcare under Trump, or Obama, or whoever. It’s not been good for anyone up there under any administration. That’s why it was easy for them to vote for Trump.
It’s unfortunate that Markos “showed his ass” as my mother-in-law would say. In that little rant, he painted a picture of himself that reveals a person who couldn’t care less about anyone outside of his highly educated, Democratic-voting tribe. It’s a shame because that’s not the progressivism he’s supposed to represent. That’s punching down, and it’s what bullies like Trump do.
So let’s stop and take a deep breath. Voters are in pain, which makes them vulnerable to being conned. They don’t deserve contempt. They need understanding and guidance. Those providing it will need to have credibility. Markos has a long, hard row to hoe before he cultivates that kind of trust again.