Democrats Learned Nothing from the Rise of Trump

Nothing will fundamentally change …

W.J. Astore

The Senate Trial of Donald Trump begins today, though the outcome seems clear: Trump will be exonerated for his alleged role in inciting the Capitol riot.

Democrats will do their best to put all the blame for this riot on Trump. They would be better advised to focus on why Americans stormed the Capitol to begin with, and why 74 million voters chose Trump — despite all his flaws — as their champion back in November.

Trump voters shouldn’t be shoved en masse into a basket of deplorables. Nor should they be dismissed as being beyond redemption, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That an incompetent buffoon like Trump could win so many votes says as much about the (lack of) appeal of the Democratic Party as it says about the grifter skills of Trump.

If Democrats want to continue winning elections while actually doing their jobs as public servants, they’d advance policies that would help ordinary Americans. So far, signs that the Democrats understand this are few. Joe Biden has already said the Covid relief package may not advance the policy of a $15 minimum wage. Covid relief checks, promised at $2000 and pronto, are already reduced and delayed until March at the earliest. Medicare for all is dead; so too is a single-payer option. Biden and Pelosi have promised only extra funds for people to buy high-priced private health care coverage in Obamacare markets.

Americans support Medicare for all. Americans support a higher minimum wage. Americans desperately need Covid relief now. And so far Biden and his establishment Democrats are failing on all of these. This isn’t a bug or glitch in the Democratic matrix, it’s a feature. “Nothing will fundamentally change,” Biden said before his election, and that’s the one promise he may well keep.

Joe Bageant knew the score. A self-confessed “Appalachian native who grew up dirt-eating poor,” Bageant explained how he’d “managed to live a couple of decades in the middle class as a news reporter, magazine editor, and publishing executive.” He also knew to keep his eyes and ears open, writing in September 2008 that “the liberal middle class is condescending to working-class redneck culture–which is insulting, but not a crime. The real crime is the way corporate conservatives lie to my people, screw us blind, kill us in wars, and keep us in economic serfdom.”

If you read “corporate conservatives” as Republicans, you’d be only half-right. As a term, “corporate conservatives” includes Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and most of the people around them inside the Washington Beltway. That doesn’t bode well for “redneck culture”–and it most certainly doesn’t bode well for the country.

Americans are tired of being lied to and disrespected and mistreated. They are also in many cases desperate for help. Angry and desperate people do not make for normalcy. Nor are they an obliging audience for the tepid and often phony acts of corporate politicians, whether Democrat or Republican.

Reading an article by historian Dennis Showalter*, a friend and mentor, reminded me of how the Nazis mobilized “the petty spite and everyday resentment” of “frustrated little men and good Germans” of the early 1930s. About these people Showalter wrote: “They wanted help. They wanted to voice grievances. They wanted to be heard. They turned to the Nazis because the Nazis expressed sympathy for their problems and implied the possibility of solutions in the framework of a new order.”

Trump’s appeal, of course, was to an old order (Make America Great Again). But it wasn’t entirely retrograde or racist. Trump succeeded in showing sympathy for ordinary Americans, e.g. their loss of jobs due to trade deals that favored the richest of Americans, and he did promise solutions even as he failed to deliver on them. Even after all his debacles and disasters, 74 million Americans still voted for him instead of the Democrats.

A few days ago, I was watching an interview of Ralph Nader as he described the powerbrokers of the Democratic Party. A few of his choice words about them: arrogant, bureaucratic, decrepit, exclusive, and indentured (to corporations and special interests). I don’t think Nader is wrong here.

So, as the Democratic Party postures and sputters against Trump this week, they’d best remember that the real issue is helping ordinary Americans, including those in “redneck culture.” People want to be heard, and if Democrats are unwilling to hear them, others will.

* Showalter, “Letters to Der Sturmer: The Mobilization of Hostility in the Weimar Republic,” Modern Judaism, 3 (May 1983), 173-87.

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