A month after the election I wrote a blog trying to make sense of what happened. I reflected on Mark Lilla’s New York Time’s op-ed, “the end of identity liberalism,” a controversial essay that placed the blame for Clinton’s loss on her towing the progressive left line, and ignoring the working class. He wrote, “… the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
I do not want to regurgitate the piece I wrote in December, but now, as I write in March, it has been almost 60 days since the inauguration. We have seen some of the craziest turn of events in American politics in my life-time, and the stirrings of scandals that I truly believe will dwarf both Iran-Contra and Watergate, but I want to focus on “the resistance.” And on the question of whether anyone has learned a thing since the election.
The resistance to Trump began on two different fronts. First, there was the women’s march on Washington, on January 21st, and the more than 600 parallel marches across the nation and world, in which an estimated 4 to 5 million people participated in. There has since been a “day without women,” and many smaller rallies and marches, focused on a variety of Trump’s proposed policies. The second front has been the effort to organize efforts to unseat Congressional Republicans, and to put constant pressure on Congress to reject Trumpian policies. This has come in the form of an anti-Tea Party, a movement known as “Indivisible” in which former Democratic staffers have provided a framework for localized mobilization, training, advocacy work, and efforts to put intensive pressure on GOP representatives — and Democrats as well, urging them to do everything in their power to obstruct.
I was moved by the magnitude of the rallies, and I understood the initial impetus for a women’s march — Trump’s history of degrading women, and the October revelations of his “locker-room” talk with Billy Bush. Yet, I wondered why the first major act of resistance should be focused in a narrow way, and why it wasn’t a call for all Americans to come out in opposition to his politics. I wondered if millions of pink “vagina” hats was really the best way to build a broader movement. Was this going to mobilize those on the left? Maybe. Was it going to build support from the 62 million who voted for Trump, and the tens of millions who sat out the election? I doubt it. It did provide incentive for many women to consider becoming more politically active, at all levels. It was resoundingly successful in making it clear that we are more divided as a nation than we ever have been since 1861.
Then there is the indivisible movement. It is absolutely essential to put pressure on Republican representatives and senators. To force them to confront the fact that there are a lot of constituents who disagree with their policy proposals. It is absolutely essential to cultivate candidates who can mount successful campaigns in 2018. It is critical that there is a way to maintain focus and interest, when the fatigue of almost daily “breaking news” alerts has become exhausting. But is this movement doing anything to broaden the base? To reach out to those who felt abandoned by the Democrats?
Here is my concern. I’ve watched (and even participated) in some of the social media groups dedicated to “the resistance,” including an indivisible group, a “Voices of Reason” group, and for awhile, a “Drinking Liberally” group. In each of these groups, I see post after post of criticism of Trump (deservedly) and often derision (hell, I’ve made more than my fair share of comments attacking him), and I’ve seen some excellent calls for action, urges to call the local Congressman, rallies at local congressional district offices, support for rallies against the travel ban, etc…. All of that is good.
What I haven’t seen is ANY actual effort to learn from what happened in 2016. To actually make any meaningful effort to reach out to working class voters who abandoned the Democratic party — although we might also suggest—that the Democratic Party abandoned them. I have seen no indication whatsoever that anyone has learned anything. The narrow focus on identity liberalism might energize those in the movement, but will it do anything to gain support of those who voted for Trump or stayed home? To the contrary I have seen the continued intersectionality, not of systems of oppression, but of identity-liberalism itself. The continued belied that there is a one-sized fits all approach to every single progressive issue. And that support for one issue means support for all. Yet, I’ve seen no effort at all to try to figure out how to create a true big tent. I’ve seen no effort at all to consider the views of working class voters who for a variety of reasons don’t support some or many of these issues. I’m not even sure there has been a meaningful effort to try to understand them.
The only way out of this is to prove Lilla wrong, and demonstrate that we are not “narcissistically unaware” of conditions outside our self-defined groups. If we can do that, then it will be a lot easier to defeat the narcisssit of a different bent, inhabiting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.