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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: How to Beat Right Wing Populism

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Two interesting recommendations here. In the UK Guardian, Paul Mason emphasizes the role of emotion, inspiration and economic hope.

“The first lesson…for liberal centrism, if it wishes to survive, is that it needs an emotional narrative with an inspirational core offer. And that core offer has to be economic hope: there is nothing that says the far left has to own policies of fiscal expansion, redistribution, state aid and high wages. It’s just that the neoliberal economic textbook says they can’t be done. The “fear of the future” reported in much qualitative research on supporters of the nationalist right is, for many of them, rational. People are reacting as if scared, depressed and angry because the world created by precarious employment, poor housing and rising inequality is scary, depressing and annoying.

If you can’t answer the question: “How does life get rapidly better for me and my family?”, no amount of communicative power will help. Secondly, the centre has to make a strategic choice: to side with the left against the right. All discussions of populism that avoid that conclusion are worthless.”

Amen. On a different tack, Joan Williams on the Atlantic site focuses on the various ways educated and affluent whites tend to look down on the white working class. She includes a tendency to pooh-pooh the whole idea of economic anxiety as a driver of reactionary populism (“it’s just racism”) and a tendency to see any and all opposition to open borders as yet more racism.

She concludes her piece with a challenge to white elites. I particularly like the last line.

“With each trump-fueled outrage, people on Twitter ask whether I’m finally ready to admit that the white working class is simply racist. What my Twitter friends don’t seem to recognize is their own privilege. If elites cling to the idea that working-class whites are perpetrators of inequality, rather than both perpetrators and victims, perhaps it’s because they want to believe that they are where they are because they’ve worked hard and they’re the smartest people around. Once you start a conversation about class, elite white people have to admit they have not only racial privilege but class privilege, too.

Acknowledging this also requires elites to cede yet another advantage: the extent to which they have controlled Democrats’ priorities. Political scientists have documented the party’s shift over the past 50 years from a coalition focused on blue-collar issues to one dominated by environmentalism and other issues elites cherish.

I’m one of those activists; environmentalism and concerns related to gender, race, and sexuality define my scholarship and my identity. But the working class has been asked to endure a lot of economic pain while Democrats focus on other problems. It’s time to listen up. The only effective antidote to a populism interlaced with racism is a populism that isn’t.”

4 comments on “Teixeira: How to Beat Right Wing Populism

  1. Candace on

    I live in the purple to red part of a blue state. Republicans won everything here and nearly all of the progressive initiatives won as well. Was there some deep meaning for not choosing Democrats tied to financial suffering and hurt feelings over elites calling them racists? I think its fair to say that the majority of the people that voted are confused over what the two parties stand for.
    Why is that? What can be done to change it?

    Joan Williams from the Atlantic said Trump/Republicans look like they say and do things to pander to racists but also when doing so they’re targeting the left to talk about race instead of economic policies and suggested they stop taking the bait.
    She didn’t say why Republicans choose race as their topic change or what Republican strategists anticipate some voters are looking for and will find in how both sides interact involving race and decide to vote Republican. I think that would’ve been interesting.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    “The only effective antidote to a populism interlaced with racism is a populism that isn’t.”

    It may well be possible to create a populist movement which is not “interlaced with racism.” I hope so. What is certainly impossible is to create a populist movement which will not be accused of racism. Both the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party and Occupy Wall Street claimed to be populist movements whose goals were wholly economic, tax limitation in the former and wealth redistribution in the latter. Yet, both were accused of racism, as a simple internet search can confirm. If anyone, left wing or right wing, launches a “populism that isn’t interlaced with racism”, its founders and adherents simply have to accept it that they will be accused of racism by the people who find racism in everything and that this accusation will be accepted by people willing to believe any accusation of racism however bogus.

    • Watcher on

      I think there is a difference between criticisms that fault the Occupy Movement as not being sufficiently attuned to racial discrimination and those that criticize the Tea Party that deliberately use anger directed at minorities in order to pursue their goals (or even explicitly propose white nationalism in Era of Trump).

      I would also caution against using a few comments and articles to draw conclusions. I had a white man tell me Sanders was “racist”. Do the majority of blacks think so? No.
      “Last spring, a Harvard-Harris poll found Sanders to be the most popular active politician in the country. African Americans gave the senator the highest favorables at 73 percent — vs. 68 percent among Latinos, 62 percent among Asian Americans and 52 percent among white voters. It wasn’t a fluke: This August, black voters again reported a 73 percent favorability rating for Sanders. Critics, such as Starr, continue to point to the senator’s 2016 primary numbers among older African American voters to claim that his message somehow doesn’t resonate with people of color as a whole — and continue to ignore that, according to GenForward, Sanders won the black millennial vote in the primaries.”


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