• 10:05
  • Tuesday ,12 November 2019

Will the 2020 US election heal or deepen ‎divides?‎

by Al Ahram



Tuesday ,12 November 2019

Will the 2020 US election heal or deepen ‎divides?‎

 For a growing number of Americans on ‎both sides of our ever-deepening political ‎divide, the 2020 presidential election has ‎become a critical contest about the future of ‎our country. While so many significant ‎policy concerns are at stake in November ‎‎2020, this will be an election about Donald ‎Trump and what he has done to our politics.‎

There can be no doubt that, by any ‎measure, Donald Trump has been the most ‎outrageous president in our history. In fact, ‎it is a role he appears to relish. It isn t just ‎the policies he has pursued. It is the way in ‎which he has exacerbated the polarisation of ‎our society and coarsened our political ‎discourse.‎
Ever the performer, he has used his rallies ‎to incite against his opponents, resorting to ‎name-calling and even vulgarity to denigrate ‎them. In addition, he has used his tweets ‎and engagements with the press to the same ‎end. Despite the discomfort this has brought ‎to more staid members of the Republican ‎establishment, they have, for the most part, ‎held back from criticising his behaviour, in ‎part because they fear incurring his wrath ‎and/or ridicule.‎
It s important to understand, however, ‎that there is method to this madness. What ‎Trump has intuited is the anger of a ‎significant portion of the American ‎electorate that has been squeezed by a ‎changing economy, threatened by cultural ‎forces beyond their control, and ignored by ‎political elites in both parties.‎
Whatever they are called, whether it s the ‎white middle class or white working class, ‎this is the base to which Trump has played. ‎And he has played them well. He has ‎condemned both trade deals that he ‎maintains have sent their factory jobs to ‎Mexico and China in search of cheaper ‎labour, and environmental regulations he ‎claims have cost them their mining jobs. He ‎has railed against immigrants whom he says ‎have displaced hard-working Americans, ‎and the “coastal elites” who have looked ‎down their noses at ordinary folks, scorning ‎their values and ignoring their aspirations. ‎And he has preyed on people s fears and ‎insecurities by scapegoating Mexicans and ‎Muslims.‎
When Trump says he ll “Make America ‎great again” (MAGA), his base understands ‎this as recapturing the country s lost glory, ‎while at the same time evoking a ‎romanticised past of quiet middle class ‎neighbourhoods free of crime, where work ‎was plentiful, and opportunities were ‎available to all who “played by the rules”.‎
There are, to be sure, problems galore ‎with both this messenger and the message. ‎If anything, Donald Trump is the ‎embodiment of the very “coastal elites” he ‎derides. His business practices, values and ‎lifestyle are not those of his base. His ‎bankruptcies have left tens of thousands out ‎of work and his resorts have regularly hired ‎undocumented cheap labour. His and his ‎daughter s product lines have moved their ‎operations overseas. And the policies he has ‎pursued have benefited the wealthy and ‎only increased income inequality. But none ‎of this has mattered to his base, because he ‎speaks directly to them and has convinced ‎them that he alone understands them and ‎will fight for them. Hungry for a saviour, ‎they have latched onto him as their “last, ‎best hope” to improve their lot in life. As a ‎result, they see attacks on his presidency as ‎threats to their future well-being.‎
The dilemma now confronting Democrats ‎is how to respond to this Trump challenge. ‎On this, the many 2020 candidates and the ‎party, itself, are not of one mind. All are ‎agreed that Trump s behaviour is to be ‎condemned and that moving forward with ‎impeachment is a national priority and a ‎constitutional imperative. But what about ‎the divide and how to relate to Trump s ‎base? Here there are divergent views.‎
Some appear to see no need to address ‎this concern. They simply want to defeat the ‎man, send him packing and restore a ‎Democrat to the White House. Others ‎believe that the way forward is to heal the ‎divide by preaching a message of unity and ‎civility.‎
But while winning will obviously be an ‎important goal for Democrats, governing in ‎a post-Trump America is a critical concern ‎that cannot simply be pushed aside. We ‎have seen the dysfunction created by hyper-‎partisanship. When either party has ‎controlled both the legislative and executive ‎branches of government, bills get passed, ‎but rancour only grows. Recall the “Tea ‎Party” reaction to Obama and the ‎‎“Resistance” that greeted Trump. Winning, ‎by itself, won t do the trick. Changing our ‎politics and the governing coalition is what ‎is required to move the country forward.‎
What polling makes clear is that our ‎political divide isn t just partisan. It s really ‎demographic. For too many election cycles, ‎political consultants using advanced data ‎mining have identified target constituencies ‎and directed their messaging and outreach ‎efforts to reach them. For Democrats this ‎has meant focusing on what has become ‎known as the “Obama coalition,” including ‎young voters, “minorities,” educated ‎professional women, etc. Republicans, on ‎the other hand, have directed their outreach ‎to their base: the wealthy, of course, and ‎white, “born again,” non-college educated ‎and rural voters. Democrats condemned ‎inequality, promoted diversity and ‎tolerance, and proposed a range of social ‎programmes designed to meet the needs of ‎the most vulnerable. For their part, the ‎Republican mantra has been “smaller ‎government, lower taxes,” coupled with a ‎number of social issues (from abortion to ‎anti-gay rights) to appeal to their voters.‎
In all of this, white working-class voters ‎were left behind. The Democrats, who had ‎been the champion of the working class, ‎appeared to abandon them with their focus ‎on a “liberal social agenda”. Meanwhile, ‎Republicans worked to lure them away from ‎the Democrats by denouncing that same ‎‎“liberal social agenda.” What Trump did ‎was couple the traditional Republican ‎message with an appeal to the left behind ‎middle class. He spoke to their anger and ‎frustration and turned them into his MAGA ‎movement.‎
If Democrats are to not only win, but ‎erase the divide and change politics, they ‎must break from their narrow focus on their ‎base and speak to the crowd that Trump has ‎co-opted. The strategy they have pursued of ‎focusing exclusively on increasing the voter ‎turnout of their base, and directing their ‎anger at Trump, may win an election, but it ‎will do nothing to change and expand the ‎governing coalition. They need to be able to ‎continue to appeal to their base, while also ‎speaking directly, as Trump has done, to the ‎anger and frustration of the left behind ‎working class of all races. Winning and ‎transforming American politics means ‎adopting a “both/and” instead of an ‎‎“either/or” approach to politics. Ignoring or ‎just trying to get more votes than the “other ‎side” will only perpetuate the divide. And ‎lame calls for unity and civility fall flat ‎when people are hurting, frustrated and ‎mad. ‎
Only by recognising that hurt, ‎acknowledging that frustration and sharing ‎that anger can voters become unified around ‎an agenda that speaks to all Americans ‎across the divide. Maybe then we can begin ‎to heal.‎