In his Boston Globe column, “Renewing the Democrats — and America,” Richard North Patterson’s lede shares an ominous statistic:
WHY HAVE DEMOCRATS struggled to defeat President Trump’s most objectionable cabinet nominees? Because Hillary Clinton’s 3 million popular vote margin obscures this nettlesome fact: Outside California, Massachusetts, and New York, Donald Trump won by 4 million votes.
Patterson was making the point that Trump’s popular vote totals were broadly impressive outside those three states. Indeed, this is the kind of statistic Trump supporters will use to justify their “mandate,” such as it is. But, if Clinton had won Florida and North Carolina she would be the new president. There are many such cherry-picked alternative scenarios favoring either Clinton or Trump, none of which adequately reflect the complex totality of America very well.
When you factor in the votes of third and fourth party candidates, Trump lost the popular vote by more than 10,600,000, hardly a mandate to force unwanted legislation or executive orders on the majority of voters. Not that he will ever admit it, claiming as he still does that he won a popular vote majority, which was ‘stolen’ and is not reflected in the official count.
Trump clearly hopes to dazzle the public with his mighty juggernaut that runs on hot air and outright lies, to an extent never before seen in the White House. Instead of picking a moderate cabinet, or one with both conservatives and liberals, to indicate that he respected the real popular vote and wanted to win broad sympathy for his bipartisan efforts, he thought he could bluff his way into stampeding a fearful congress, egged on no doubt, by the likes of Bannon, Flynn and other extremists in his circle.
Call it a missed opportunity. A Republican who charted a more moderate course might have been able to build popular support to the point where he could actually pass legislation and break the partisan deadlock in congress. That would have required real leadership, the kind that strives to bring people together, rather than drive them even further apart. Apparently, that was never a consideration. Trump’s governing philosophy is the polar opposite of he Lincoln/Obama strategy of reaching out to adversaries and building unity.
Trump has chosen to govern from his ever-dwindling base of resentful authoritarians, who get their jollies bashing liberals, joined by wealthy elites who benefit from right-wing economic policies. By all appearances, this is about a third of the electorate at most, and shrinking. Many of those who voted for him are abandoning ship, as it becomes increasingly clear that he has no intention of actually helping the working-class voters who enabled his electoral college majority. His “disapproval’ poll figures are already setting records early in his presidency.
In his column, Patterson does share some good ideas, urging that “a responsive Democratic party can provide education and retraining for the new economy; strengthen public schools; diminish student debt; and make college free for those in need.” Democrats have supported those policies, but somehow, have failed to get any credit for doing so. Also
Universal health care prevents illness from ruining lives and draining our collective wealth. Rebuilding infrastructure — roads, airports, internet access, energy grids — creates jobs and strengthens our economy. Tax breaks? Former Democratic National Committe chairman Howard Dean suggests they go to businesses that invest in regions left behind.
This vision of national renewal cuts across age, ethnicity and class. Further, Dean believes, Trump is repelling young people who embrace inclusiveness, reproductive choice, and combating climate change. Last year’s election showed them that disengagement breeds disaster; now the party must become their vehicle.
The voters leaving the Trump ship are not quite ready to get on board with the Democratic Party, which has yet to successfully brand itself as the credible alternative for working people, or the party of “national renewal,” to use Patterson’s term. Democrats have the right policies, but they have failed convince the public as a whole that they intend to serve first and foremost, as champions of America’s workers of all races.
The prevailing image of the Democrats is one of an umbrella party sheltering a gaggle of different interest groups, but lacking a central message of incorruptible support for working people and their families. That has to change. When it does, a new era of Democratic-driven progress can finally begin.