Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown’s now infamous remarks on Thursday in Broward County that were first reported by the Miami New Times continued a pattern of Democratic leaders demonstrating contempt, elitism and a malicious anger toward white working class voters. For many in the party, working class white voters deserve their fate because they supported Donald Trump for President. For some like Boynton Brown, beating up on white voters is a passage to advancement in the Democratic Party’s echo chamber (see clip below).
What was thought to be a potential period of soul-searching after the 2016 election instead turned into a period where corporatist Democrats who have turned the party’s agenda and organizing mechanisms into an obsession with demographics, an acceptance of corporate influence and a rejection of progressive economic policies doubled-down to maintain control of the party. Part of the way they maintain control and win internal battles is to play the identity card and to malign white voters.
The Democrats the post-morten establishment narrative goes after all did not lose the 2016 election – it was stolen by the white supremacist axis of Vladimir Putin (who just four years earlier the same corporatist Democrats felt wasn’t a threat and Mitt Romney was an alarmist to consider Russia this nation’s greatest security threat), Steve Bannon, Roger Stone and Donald Trump. So the party can “continue doing what we’re doing because if democracy is safeguarded we will win.”
The echo chamber has been in stronger form than usual since November. What’s apparent is that the institutional Democratic Party has become every bit as elitist as the GOP was from the 1920’s until the 1970’s. In that period the GOP was almost a permanent national minority party even though they won occasional Presidential elections – between 1930 and 1994 they held control of the US House of Representatives for a grand total of four years, while the Democrats controlled the House for the other 60. But many of today’s Democrats at least at the institutional level lack a class consciousness, self awareness or a the degree of compassion for those less fortunate or less educated that used to be associated with the Republicans. Boynton Brown sadly isn’t a one-off or an exception to a general rule – she’s in fact a prototypical Democratic leader in her rhetoric these days, typical of those trying to maintain popularity within the bubble of Democratic Party elites.
We as progressives cannot live in our own silos anymore, we cannot demonize those with less education and worldliness than us while claiming we are tolerant. TOLERANCE MEANS TOLERANCE, FULL STOP. IT DOES NOT MEAN BEING JUDGMENTAL OR INTOLERANT BECAUSE YOU THINK YOU ARE SMARTER OR SOMEHOW MORE ENTITLED THAN THOSE YOU PUT DOWN. IT DOES NOT MEAN CALLING EVERY WHITE VOTER WHO MIGHT DISAGREE POLITICALLY WITH YOU A RACIST.
The left has become more and more intolerant in this country through the last few years toward whites at the same time as the right has created a counter-reaction that pushes racial, ethnic and gender buttons. The book “Chain Reaction” which Bill Clinton read before his 1992 Presidential run described this phenomenon as it pertained to the 1980’s, but this largely faded in the 1990’s and 2000’s. It’s been conjured back up now by both sides when progressives should be talking about economic inequality and how it impacts people of all races, ethnicities and genders rather than basically saying if you are not a minority or a liberal white millennial we don’t want you. Again this might seem harsh but this appears to be the undertone of much of the left’s push in recent years.
Why is identity politics so dangerous?
Besides pitting ethnic groups and races against one another it allows a party to essentially stand for NOTHING. Much like the segregationist Democrats in the south prior to the 1960’s had no ideology other than “party unity” and a desire to maintain a racist social order, playing politics based on race and ethnicity compels members of said races and ethnicity to vote Democratic because it is part of their DNA – not because of any abiding principle or ideology. In reality, this isn’t much different than the southern segregationist Democrats of yesteryear or the many WASP Republicans from New England and parts of New York who continued to support and vote Republican into the 1990’s even though they were very far to the left of the national GOP. Obviously beginning in the 1990’s the two aforementioned groups realigned based on ideology.
I’d even argue the Democrats obsession with Russian influence on President Trump but seeming ignorance or tolerance of Turkish influence (which based on Michael Flynn’s payments appears to be at least at this writing more substantial in terms of HARD evidence) or Saudi Arabia is a warped kind of identity politics. It’s not dissimilar in its own way to how the Democrats from the south pushed all sorts of restrictions on the District of Colombia because it had a majority African-American population and advocated strong engagement with racist regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa while rejecting any trace of multiracial democracy. In the Democrats case, while an investigation is ongoing and badly needed into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, leaders in the party seem unwilling to hit Trump’s associations with non-European Christian countries. The ties between Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has completely changed the direction of his country, turning the secular pro-western republic of Atatürk into an authoritarian theocracy in alliance with the Saudis and other radical religious states.
From my vantage point American alignment and Trump’s business ties to Turkey and Saudi Arabia are as serious as any dealings with Putin’s Russia. But Democrats aren’t focused on these nations at all despite Flynn’s ties to Erdoğan or Trump’s slavish obedience to Saudi Arabia’s misogynistic agenda – yes Russia is an issue but I sense it’s “safe” for Democrats in this identity politics era to tackle because it is a white European country with lots recent problems with racism particularly at soccer matches and other public events. This identity politics embrace is why Democrats find it difficult to openly state the Pulse shooting was an act of Islamic terrorism or to make the obvious link between the radical Islamist’s abroad and the radicalized evangelical Christians at home. Offending the later is fine for many Democrats but for some reason not those who may find some sympathy for the former.
The net result of an overemphasis on identity politics and maligning of working class white voters has been electoral losses for the Democrats and a Republican Party that has come to power that is far less willing to work with minority voters and groups than they were in the Bush years. As recently as 1996, Democrats carried rural areas of many southern states in a Presidential election and as recently as 2012, rural white voters in Iowa and Wisconsin favored the Democratic nominee.
As I discussed Friday, the Democrats attitude toward white working class voters can be demonstrated by the difficulty the party has had in the Wisconsin 3rd district, represented since 1996 by Democrat Ron Kind, a thoughtful and consciousness member of the House. In 2008, President Obama won Kind’s congressional district by 20 points and in 2012 he won it by 11. In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the district by five points, a massive reversal from the previous two elections. Kind’s district is 97% white and dotted by small and medium sized towns as well as dairy farms.
Countless examples of districts like Kind’s throughout the nation can be found. Unless Democratic leaders change their tact and act less patronizing and more respectful toward all Americans, we can continue to see the party lose elections and alienate what once were the core of Democratic base.
Boynton Brown’s comments are symptomatic of a greater problem and one that will doom the Democrats. The party has bet almost exclusively on demographics rather than ideology or policy. The Democrats are holding together a fragile coalition of minorities and white liberals based largely on fear and misunderstanding. The elites of the Democratic Party depends on this coalition to keep THEM in power internally even if it means losing elections externally. The party seems determined despite some symbolism (like letting Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear give the State of the Union response) to completely dehumanize poor white voters with their rhetoric. This seems designed to win internal popularity contests for leaders like Boynton Brown but just further marginalizes the Democrats from the mainstream of American public opinion.