The story of the 2018 midterms isn’t Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th District, Ben Jealous in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Maryland and a leftist surge. Or, rather, that’s just one narrative, eclipsed by the less cinematic triumphs of less progressive Democrats. They’re by and large winning the primaries in the swing districts that might actually turn from red to blue. They’re the stars of their party’s mission to erect a barricade against the worst of Donald Trump.
.. Without doubt, Ocasio-Cortez’s ouster of Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary delivered an important message about entrenched politicians disconnected from their constituents. But when she gets to Congress, she won’t be replacing a Republican. She’ll be a new Democrat (and yes, a new kind of Democrat) in a seat that the party already holds and wasn’t going to lose. And she’ll almost surely be outnumbered by Democratic newcomers who waged more moderate campaigns in areas of the country where that’s the safer tack.
“The real story out of these Democratic primaries isn’t left or right — it’s women,” Dave Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told me. Additionally, he said, he has been struck by the consequential role of candidates’ biographies, sometimes captured in compelling campaign videos, like Ocasio-Cortez’s, that go viral.
.. he doesn’t see many politicians like Ocasio-Cortez. “They’re mainstream Democratic candidates,” he said. “They’re more running against Republicans and against the tax and health care bills than they are running to reshape the Democratic Party.”
.. NPR found that pragmatism is winning out over progressivism in the key races that will decide control of Congress.”
.. While only a minority of candidates endorsed by progressive groups like Justice Democrats and Our Revolution had won their primaries, more than three-quarters of those endorsed by the more centrist New Democrat Coalition had.
.. On the same day that Ocasio-Cortez generated front-page headlines by beating Crowley, much less progressive Democratic newcomers came out on top in crowded primaries in New York districts that are currently represented by Republicans and are high on the party’s red-to-blue wish list.
.. Six years before Trump’s win, the state’s voters elected conservative populist Scott Walker governor. With the help of a Republican-controlled legislature, Walker waged an unprecedented assault on public employee unions in the state and later signed a right to work bill, which undermined private-sector unions.
.. he would go along to these small towns and speak to people about this danger of corporate influence on their lives.
DAVIES: And how far into the 20th century did this sort of progressive trend hold in Wisconsin? And I note that Senator Joe McCarthy – probably the most notorious anti-communist of the century – came from that state.
.. he undertook a pretty radical approach to dealing with public employee unions. What did he propose to do?
KAUFMAN: Well, he proposed to all but strip them of collective bargaining rights, which is their ability to speak as a collective voice around wages, benefits and other workplace concerns, workplace safety, basically, reducing their ability to act as a collective voice. He exempted the police and fire department unions. Some would say that cynically because some of these unions supported him.
.. Tim Cullen, a moderate Democratic state senator – he said, the one thing that was non-negotiable was the automatic dues checkoff.
.. He stoked resentment against the public workers. It was clear in his inaugural address in 2011. He said the public employees can no longer be the haves, and the taxpayers can no longer be the have nots. Privately, he even went further.
There’s a famous recording of him speaking to a billionaire donor where she says when will we become a completely red state? When will we become a right-to-work state? She conflated the two. And he answered, you know, have you seen what we’re going to do with the public employees? And then he went on. He said, you know, because you use divide and conquer. What he meant by that was he was going to first attack the public employees. And then several years later, he instituted a right-to-work law against the private sector employees. Now you have a state that went from 14 percent union density when he was elected to 8 percent.
.. in 2016, the presidential election arrives in Wisconsin, as it does in the rest of the country. The Democratic primary – Bernie Sanders beats Hillary Clinton by 13 points. Why did Hillary Clinton have trouble connecting to Democratic voters in Wisconsin?
.. she has never been a close ally of labor. Wisconsin progressives were deeply wounded by the attacks on labor. She was a former corporate board member of Walmart, a notoriously anti-union company. And she also supported for many, many years free trade agreements, like NAFTA and the China’s membership into the World Trade Organization, that have really impacted the industrial Midwest in such a profound way. People are aware that you can drive by a factory, and they’ll say, oh, this factory moved to Mexico and then went on to Vietnam. They are very keenly aware. Other factors played a role – automation and so on – but these agreements really impacted particularly the industrial Midwest – Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio.
DAVIES: And particularly unionized workers, I think.
.. I think people forget that Donald Trump’s message during the campaign – he also twinned his message of resentment – racial resentment – with a defense of the welfare state. You can look at his speeches. He staged five huge rallies in Wisconsin. He almost always mentioned, we’ve got to protect Social Security and Medicare, and he railed against these free trade agreements. So there was a different kind of Republican message that resonated with a certain sector of the population enough to put him over the top, coupled with Hillary Clinton’s noncampaigning and non-effort in these places, and it really impacted the race.
.. There was frankly a weak Democratic opposition to his message, and there was a stoking of resentment in a time of economic insecurity. That is very powerful. And they weren’t – people weren’t being offered an alternative – a very compelling one anyway.
.. Another example is gerrymandering. In 2012 election, Wisconsin Democrats won an aggregate of almost 200,000 more votes than the Republicans, and yet they lost seats. That…
DAVIES: You’re talking about in the state legislature.
KAUFMAN: In the state legislature in the assembly, and that leads to demoralizing (laughter) of your party. I mean, it’s hard to get candidates to run when they know they’re going to be defeated if the district is just so heavily drawn to favor the Republicans where – and the Democratic seats are – you know, they’ll routinely win more than 70 percent of the vote. So they pack them in. And that case was, you know, brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s the first partisan gerrymandering case to go to the Supreme Court in more than three decades because the federal court agreed with the plaintiffs – the Democrats – that their rights had been denied because it was so extreme.
Trump forcefully caps off years of deterioration in European-American ties.
.. This trans-Atlantic partnership was a vast historical accomplishment, a stumbling and imperfect effort to extend democracy, extend rights, extend freedom and build a world ordered by justice and not force. Since 1945 it is the thing we have all taken for granted.
Over the weekend, Trump ripped the partnership to threads. He said the European Union is our “foe.” On Monday, Trump essentially sided with Vladimir Putin, who has become the biggest moral and political enemy of the Euro-American relationship. Trump essentially dropped a project that has oriented American culture and policy for centuries. He pointed us to a world in which the central ethos is that might makes right.
.. Progressives fell into the poisonous trap of racialism. They looked at the glories of Aristotle, Shakespeare and Mozart, and the most interesting thing they had to say about them was that they were dead white males. Future historians will marvel at how sophisticated people willfully made themselves so simple-minded. Eurocentrism became a code word for colonialism, oppression and privilege, taking a piece of European history for the whole of it.
Europeans didn’t help. In the wake of the Cold War, they have dedicated themselves to a post-nationalist project that is too top-down and technocratic and is now crumbling.
.. Trump could have gone to last week’s NATO summit and taken credit only for increased European military spending. Instead, he moved the goal posts, humiliated the Europeans, reasserted his trade war talk and made it impossible for European leaders to do anything that might seem to support him. These are the actions of a man who wants the alliance to fail.
His embrace of Putin Monday was a victory dance on the Euro-American tomb.
“This is not just another family quarrel,” Kagan writes. “The democratic alliance that has been the bedrock of the American-led liberal world order is unraveling. At some point, and probably sooner than we expect, the global peace that that alliance and that order undergirded will unravel, too. Despite our human desire to hope for the best, things will not be okay.”
The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in that theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.
Moral elevation gains strength when it is scarce.
.. Mister Rogers was a lifelong Republican and an ordained Presbyterian minister. His show was an expression of the mainline Protestantism that was once the dominating morality in American life.
.. Once, as Tom Junod described in a profile for Esquire, Rogers met a 14-year-old boy whose cerebral palsy left him sometimes unable to walk or talk. Rogers asked the boy to pray for him.
The boy was thunderstruck. He had been the object of prayers many times, but nobody had asked him to pray for another. He said he would try since Mister Rogers must be close to God and if Mister Rogers liked him he must be O.K.
Junod complimented Rogers on cleverly boosting the boy’s self-esteem, but Rogers didn’t look at the situation that way at all: “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”
And here is the radicalism that infused that show: that
- the child is closer to God than the adult;
- that the sick are closer than the healthy;
- that the poor are closer than the rich and
- the marginalized closer than the celebrated.
Rogers often comforted children on the show and taught them in simple terms, but the documentary shows how he did so with a profound respect for the dignity of each child that almost rises to veneration. You see his visceral disgust for shows that don’t show respect — that dump slime on children, that try to entertain them with manic violence.
In the gospel of Fred Rogers, children are our superiors in the way
- they trust each person they meet, the way
- they lack guile,
- the way a child can admit simple vulnerability.
Rogers was drawing on a long moral tradition, that the last shall be first. It wasn’t just Donald Trump who reversed that morality, though he does represent a cartoonish version of the idea that winners are better than losers, the successful are better than the weak. That morality got reversed long before Trump came on the scene, by an achievement-oriented success culture, by a culture that swung too far from humble and earnest caritas.
Rogers was singing from a song sheet now lost, a song sheet that once joined conservative evangelicals and secular progressives. The song sheet may be stacked somewhere in a drawer in the national attic, ready for reuse once again.