Stick around Washington long enough and you will learn a simple rule: Success also brings risk. Danger comes calling when the winning side in a political fight either overreaches in its hour of triumph or fails to turn newly won political capital into something useful.
This is the risk for Democrats right now. There is no doubt they won—convincingly—in their showdown with President Trump over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the southern border. They stared down the president during a monthlong partial government shutdown, and in the end they got exactly what they were demanding: a temporary reopening of the government without providing any money for the wall.First, they now have spent the opening period of their new control of the House of Representatives focused not on their priorities—health care in particular—but instead on Mr. Trump’s top priority, immigration.
Second, the shutdown prevented the new Democratic House leadership, and all those new House members elected last November, from starting off by demonstrating they can govern effectively.
.. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that positive feelings about the Democratic party fell to 35% this month from 39% in December. That means the share of Americans who have positive feelings about Democrats is essentially no different from the 34% who have positive
The Democratic electorate has shifted sharply to the left, taking many politicians along with it — willingly and unwillingly.
The most active wing of the Democratic Party — the roughly 20 percent of the party’s electorate that votes in primaries and wields disproportionate influence over which issues get prioritized — has moved decisively to the left. With all the attention that is being paid to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and other new progressive voices in Congress, this may not seem like news, but we are only just beginning to realize the full significance of this shift.
The Primaries Project at the Brookings Institution conducted extensive polling of 7,198 Democratic voters in the 2018 primaries and found that 60.4 percent described themselves as liberal, including 26.4 percent who said they were “very liberal.”
In its most recent analysis, Gallup found that from 1994 to 2018, the percentage of all Democrats who call themselves liberal more than doubled from 25 percent to 51 percent.
One key Democratic target, Sawhill observes, is the “well-educated, suburban women, many of them Republican, who voted for Democrats in the midterms.” Once Trump is gone, she continued, “they could easily return to their natural home in the Republican Party.”
“Over the longer-term,” Sawhill continued,
as millennials and minorities become an ever-larger proportion of the party, it will have a natural constituency that supports a new and bolder agenda, but the concentration of those voters in urban areas that are underrepresented in our electoral system will be a continuing drag on the party’s prospects.
The extensive support among prospective Democratic presidential candidates for Medicare for All, government-guaranteed jobs and a higher minimum wage reflects the widespread desire in the electorate for greater protection from the vicissitudes of market capitalism — in response to “increasingly incomplete risk protection in an era of dramatic social change,”
Take liberalized attitudes on immigration as an example. From 2008 to 2018, the percentage of Democrats who said the government should create “a way for immigrants already here illegally to become citizens if the meet certain requirements” grew from 29 to 51 percent, while the share who said “there should be better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws” fell from 21 to 5 percent.
Similarly, the percentage of Democrats who agreed with the statement that “racial discrimination is the main reason many blacks can’t get ahead these days” rose from 28 to 64 percent from 2010 to 2017.
While progressives have gained ground in long-held Democratic areas, more centrist candidates have won the more competitive districts. This second development will limit how far to the left the party can go. The more the party expands into the suburbs, the more dependent it will be on those relatively centrist votes — and that dependence will become a constraint on the policies that Democrats are able to agree on.
.. In addition, while acknowledging the rise of the progressive wing, Starr pointed out that a separate December 2018 Gallup survey found that 54 percent of Democratic voters would prefer their party to become “more moderate,” while 41 percent said they would like the party to become “more liberal.”
movement is across the board on policy, ideological identification, and values, but remains furthest left on specific policy. The public movement seems to be strongest on race and gender issues as well as any proposal tied to Trump.
Somerville had moved from downscale to upscale, not to the level of Brattle Street in Cambridge or Boston’s Beacon Hill, but still many steps up the ladder.
“Ocasio-Cortez did best in areas such as Astoria/Steinway and Sunnyside, which happen to be more white than other parts of the district,” a point he elaborated upon in a story quoting him posted on The Intercept:
You can also see that most of her votes, the strongest vote support, came from areas like Astoria in Queens and Sunnyside in Queens and parts of Jackson Heights that, number one, were not predominantly Hispanic, so they’re a more mixed population, and are areas where — this is kind of a term of art — are in the process of being gentrified, where newer people are moving in,
“Ocasio-Cortez’s best precincts,” Freedlander wrote, were
highly educated, whiter and richer than the district as a whole. In those neighborhoods, Ocasio-Cortez clobbered Crowley by 70 percent or more.
Conversely, Crowley did best in “the working-class African-American enclave of LeFrak City, where he got more than 60 percent of the vote.” In fact, Crowley
pulled some of his best numbers in Ocasio-Cortez’s heavily Latino and African-American neighborhood of Parkchester, in the Bronx — beating her by more than 25 points on her home turf.
Jerry Skurnik, a New York political consultant, describes gentrifying communities outside Manhattan as experiencing an influx of “people who really want to live in Greenwich Village but can’t afford to.”
This younger, well-educated constituency — predominately but not exclusively white — is hostile to cautious establishment Democrats, especially to older white men, and they are determined to engineer an intraparty cultural and ideological insurgency.
The emergence in force in 2018 of these insurgent Democrats grows in part out of the Sanders presidential campaign. Sanders mobilized millions of voters, many of whom did not want the Democrats to nominate a candidate with deep ties to party regulars and to the major donor community.
Her communication style is worth emulating, not dismissing
Romney’s main complaint in the piece is that Donald Trump is a mercurial and divisive leader. That’s true, of course. But beneath the personal slights, Romney has a policy critique of Trump. He seems genuinely angry that Trump might pull American troops out of the Syrian civil war. Romney doesn’t explain how staying in Syria would benefit America. He doesn’t appear to consider that a relevant question. More policing in the Middle East is always better. We know that. Virtually everyone in Washington agrees.
Corporate tax cuts are also popular in Washington, and Romney is strongly on board with those, too. His piece throws a rare compliment to Trump for cutting the corporate rate a year ago.
That’s not surprising. Romney spent the bulk of his business career at a firm called Bain Capital. Bain Capital all but invented what is now a familiar business strategy:
- Take over an existing company for a short period of time,
- cut costs by firing employees,
- run up the debt,
- extract the wealth, and
- move on, sometimes
- leaving retirees without their earned pensions.
Romney became fantastically rich doing this.
Meanwhile, a remarkable number of the companies are now bankrupt or extinct. This is the private equity model. Our ruling class sees nothing wrong with it. It’s how they run the country.
Mitt Romney refers to unwavering support for a finance-based economy and an internationalist foreign policy as the “mainstream Republican” view. And he’s right about that. For generations, Republicans have considered it their duty to make the world safe for banking, while simultaneously prosecuting ever more foreign wars. Modern Democrats generally support those goals enthusiastically.
There are signs, however, that most people do not support this, and not just in America. In countries around the world — France, Brazil, Sweden, the Philippines, Germany, and many others — voters are suddenly backing candidates and ideas that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. These are not isolated events. What you’re watching is entire populations revolting against leaders who refuse to improve their lives.
Something like this has been in happening in our country for three years. Donald Trump rode a surge of popular discontent all the way to the White House. Does he understand the political revolution that he harnessed? Can he reverse the economic and cultural trends that are destroying America? Those are open questions.
But they’re less relevant than we think. At some point, Donald Trump will be gone. The rest of us will be gone, too. The country will remain. What kind of country will be it be then? How do we want our grandchildren to live? These are the only questions that matter.
The answer used to be obvious. The overriding goal for America is more prosperity, meaning cheaper consumer goods. But is that still true? Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones, or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far. A lot of Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country. Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.
The goal for America is both simpler and more elusive than mere prosperity. It’s happiness. There are a lot of ingredients in being happy:
Above all, deep relationships with other people. Those are the things that you want for your children. They’re what our leaders should want for us, and would want if they cared.
But our leaders don’t care. We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems.
One of the biggest lies our leaders tell us that you can separate economics from everything else that matters. Economics is a topic for public debate. Family and faith and culture, meanwhile, those are personal matters. Both parties believe this.
Members of our educated upper-middle-classes are now the backbone of the Democratic Party who usually describe themselves as fiscally responsible and socially moderate. In other words, functionally libertarian. They don’t care how you live, as long as the bills are paid and the markets function. Somehow, they don’t see a connection between people’s personal lives and the health of our economy, or for that matter, the country’s ability to pay its bills. As far as they’re concerned, these are two totally separate categories.
Social conservatives, meanwhile, come to the debate from the opposite perspective, and yet reach a strikingly similar conclusion. The real problem, you’ll hear them say, is that the American family is collapsing. Nothing can be fixed before we fix that. Yet, like the libertarians they claim to oppose, many social conservatives also consider markets sacrosanct. The idea that families are being crushed by market forces seems never to occur to them. They refuse to consider it. Questioning markets feels like apostasy.
Both sides miss the obvious point: Culture and economics are inseparably intertwined. Certain economic systems allow families to thrive. Thriving families make market economies possible. You can’t separate the two. It used to be possible to deny this. Not anymore. The evidence is now overwhelming. How do we know? Consider the inner cities.
Thirty years ago, conservatives looked at Detroit or Newark and many other places and were horrified by what they saw. Conventional families had all but disappeared in poor neighborhoods. The majority of children were born out of wedlock. Single mothers were the rule. Crime and drugs and disorder became universal.
What caused this nightmare? Liberals didn’t even want to acknowledge the question. They were benefiting from the disaster, in the form of reliable votes. Conservatives, though, had a ready explanation for inner-city dysfunction and it made sense: big government. Decades of badly-designed social programs had driven fathers from the home and created what conservatives called a “culture of poverty” that trapped people in generational decline.
There was truth in this. But it wasn’t the whole story. How do we know? Because virtually the same thing has happened decades later to an entirely different population. In many ways, rural America now looks a lot like Detroit.
This is striking because rural Americans wouldn’t seem to have much in common with anyone from the inner city. These groups have different cultures, different traditions and political beliefs. Usually they have different skin colors. Rural people are white conservatives, mostly.
Yet, the pathologies of modern rural America are familiar to anyone who visited downtown Baltimore in the 1980s: Stunning out of wedlock birthrates. High male unemployment. A terrifying drug epidemic. Two different worlds. Similar outcomes. How did this happen? You’d think our ruling class would be interested in knowing the answer. But mostly they’re not. They don’t have to be interested. It’s easier to import foreign labor to take the place of native-born Americans who are slipping behind.
But Republicans now represent rural voters. They ought to be interested. Here’s a big part of the answer: male wages declined. Manufacturing, a male-dominated industry, all but disappeared over the course of a generation. All that remained in many places were the schools and the hospitals, both traditional employers of women. In many places, women suddenly made more than men.
Now, before you applaud this as a victory for feminism, consider the effects. Study after study has shown that when men make less than women, women generally don’t want to marry them. Maybe they should want to marry them, but they don’t. Over big populations, this causes a drop in marriage, a spike in out-of-wedlock births, and all the familiar disasters that inevitably follow — more drug and alcohol abuse, higher incarceration rates, fewer families formed in the next generation.
This isn’t speculation. This is not propaganda from the evangelicals. It’s social science. We know it’s true. Rich people know it best of all. That’s why they get married before they have kids. That model works. But increasingly, marriage is a luxury only the affluent in America can afford.
And yet, and here’s the bewildering and infuriating part, those very same affluent married people, the ones making virtually all the decisions in our society, are doing pretty much nothing to help the people below them get and stay married. Rich people are happy to fight malaria in Congo. But working to raise men’s wages in Dayton or Detroit? That’s crazy.
This is negligence on a massive scale. Both parties ignore the crisis in marriage. Our mindless cultural leaders act like it’s still 1961, and the biggest problem American families face is that sexism is preventing millions of housewives from becoming investment bankers or Facebook executives.
For our ruling class, more investment banking is always the answer. They teach us it’s more virtuous to devote your life to some soulless corporation than it is to raise your own kids.
Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote an entire book about this. Sandberg explained that our first duty is to shareholders, above our own children. No surprise there. Sandberg herself is one of America’s biggest shareholders. Propaganda like this has made her rich.
What’s remarkable is how the rest of us responded to it. We didn’t question why Sandberg was saying this. We didn’t laugh in her face at the pure absurdity of it. Our corporate media celebrated Sandberg as the leader of a liberation movement. Her book became a bestseller: “Lean In.” As if putting a corporation first is empowerment. It is not. It is bondage. Republicans should say so.
They should also speak out against the ugliest parts of our financial system. Not all commerce is good. Why is it defensible to loan people money they can’t possibly repay? Or charge them interest that impoverishes them? Payday loan outlets in poor neighborhoods collect 400 percent annual interest.
We’re OK with that? We shouldn’t be. Libertarians tell us that’s how markets work — consenting adults making voluntary decisions about how to live their lives. OK. But it’s also disgusting. If you care about America, you ought to oppose the exploitation of Americans, whether it’s happening in the inner city or on Wall Street.
And by the way, if you really loved your fellow Americans, as our leaders should, if it would break your heart to see them high all the time. Which they are. A huge number of our kids, especially our boys, are smoking weed constantly. You may not realize that, because new technology has made it odorless. But it’s everywhere.
And that’s not an accident. Once our leaders understood they could get rich from marijuana, marijuana became ubiquitous. In many places, tax-hungry politicians have legalized or decriminalized it. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner now lobbies for the marijuana industry. His fellow Republicans seem fine with that. “Oh, but it’s better for you than alcohol,” they tell us.
Maybe. Who cares? Talk about missing the point. Try having dinner with a 19-year-old who’s been smoking weed. The life is gone. Passive, flat, trapped in their own heads. Do you want that for your kids? Of course not. Then why are our leaders pushing it on us? You know the reason. Because they don’t care about us.
When you care about people, you do your best to treat them fairly. Our leaders don’t even try. They hand out jobs and contracts and scholarships and slots at prestigious universities based purely on how we look. There’s nothing less fair than that, though our tax code comes close.
Under our current system, an American who works for a salary pays about twice the tax rate as someone who’s living off inherited money and doesn’t work at all. We tax capital at half of what we tax labor. It’s a sweet deal if you work in finance, as many of our rich people do.
In 2010, for example, Mitt Romney made about $22 million dollars in investment income. He paid an effective federal tax rate of 14 percent. For normal upper-middle-class wage earners, the federal tax rate is nearly 40 percent. No wonder Mitt Romney supports the status quo. But for everyone else, it’s infuriating.
Our leaders rarely mention any of this. They tell us our multi-tiered tax code is based on the principles of the free market. Please. It’s based on laws that the Congress passed, laws that companies lobbied for in order to increase their economic advantage. It worked well for those people. They did increase their economic advantage. But for everyone else, it came at a big cost. Unfairness is profoundly divisive. When you favor one child over another, your kids don’t hate you. They hate each other.
That happens in countries, too. It’s happening in ours, probably by design. Divided countries are easier to rule. And nothing divides us like the perception that some people are getting special treatment. In our country, some people definitely are getting special treatment. Republicans should oppose that with everything they have.
What kind of country do you want to live in? A fair country. A decent country. A cohesive country. A country whose leaders don’t accelerate the forces of change purely for their own profit and amusement. A country you might recognize when you’re old.
A country that listens to young people who don’t live in Brooklyn. A country where you can make a solid living outside of the big cities. A country where Lewiston, Maine seems almost as important as the west side of Los Angeles. A country where environmentalism means getting outside and picking up the trash. A clean, orderly, stable country that respects itself. And above all, a country where normal people with an average education who grew up in no place special can get married, and have happy kids, and repeat unto the generations. A country that actually cares about families, the building block of everything.