The Corner

Politics & Policy

A United America, or a Basket of Deplorables?

The Democrats and liberal activists have learned the hard way that white, upper-Midwest, culturally moderate, economically populist voters matter. The question, is what are they going to do about it?

The Democratic politicians (even lefties like Bernie Sanders) are being pragmatic. They recognize that the Democrats got a lot more liberal policy done when they were making some overtures to culturally moderate, populist, working-class white voters. As the great Henry Olsen wrote, populist working-class whites are at least as ideologically compatible with conventional Democrats as with conventional Republicans.

My read is that many liberal activists and journalists are taking a different view. The Democratic politicians are proceeding as if the Democratic party failed white, working-class, populist voters. Many liberals and activists seem to be arguing that the white, working-class, populist voters failed America (and the world) by surrendering to racism.

That raises the problem that many of these voters supported Obama twice. As near as I can tell, the explanation seems to be that white working-class racism is kind of like the shingles. It was dormant during the Obama elections but then broke out into a nasty Trump rash.

From this perspective, working-class white voters were tolerated as long as they voted Democratic, but they were not forgiven for their racism. They were serving a life sentence of electoral servitude to the Democratic party and earned privileges only as long as they stayed in line. These liberal journalists and activists are not going to be especially happy to see the Democrats spending as much time talking about white working-class populists as Clinton talked about Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter.

The politicians will almost certainly win this intra-left fight, but, absent untoward events like the last election, it is the journalists and activists who set the tone within the Democratic party. The leftist activists are the ones who show up to the meetings and are organized on social media. The soft cultural power of liberal activists and journalists helps explain how the Democratic party drifted from Barack Obama’s “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America” to Clinton slandering her opposition as a racist, sexist, homophobic “basket of deplorables.”

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