Should Democrats Try To Win Over Trump’s Supporters, or Just Move On?

Roundup
tags: election 2016, Trump



Rick Perlstein is the author of "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus," winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, and "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" (2008), a New York Times bestseller picked as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by over a dozen publications. 

Leave aside the question of whether a Trump presidency would actually help ordinary Americans: Obviously, it would not. But what about Trump’s constituency? Should the left focus on regaining what has become known by shorthand as the “white working class”? Or should we stick to mobilizing what’s been called the “Obama coalition”—youth, minorities, college-educated professionals, women?

Those arguing for the latter often make an important point: Whenever people talk about the “white working class,” they seem to refer only to white men. This is self-evidently ridiculous, but for some reason it endures. In an important recent book on the history of the culture wars, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s, the historian Robert O. Self explains how, prior to the 1960s, liberalism was built on a economic and social foundation we now would call sexist: The job of the state was to provide for the health of families by providing for men—who in turn would provide for their families. Self labels this “breadwinner liberalism.”

Much of the work of feminism in the 1970s was an attempt to unyoke social provision from family status. In halting ways, it has enjoyed some success—but that has only helped provide access to a pie that itself has not grown in decades. Because breadwinner liberalism, never particularly strong in the first place (see: America’s inability to achieve universal healthcare), has obviously failed so many in the regions where Trump is doing best, white males there feel doubly dispossessed: in terms of both the economy and of gender. The failure of breadwinner liberalism unmans them.

The right has an answer to this, what Self calls “breadwinner conservatism”: a politics of symbolic remuneration, the phony promises of mastery that Donald Trump grunts forth from the podium day after day. It hates those perceived as others because it has no genuine answer to the rage at this loss of mastery.

Do we? A society that guarantees security for women as a right of citizenship, not as a reward for having a husband, should be a fundamental goal of any left worthy of the name. But that strategy has real consequences for those who once enjoyed a petty lordship just for being born with a penis. To understand is not to excuse. But the rage is real, and don’t think it will be easy to forge a politics to transcend it.




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