Wednesday, January 04, 2017

January 4, 2017--It's Culture, Stupid

Some friends have poked me for not continuing to write about why Hillary Clinton lost the election and what that might say more generally about the long-term prospects of the Democratic Party.

It is not that I have lost interest in the subject, just that I needed a break from that depressing subject.

All the while, during that break, friends continued to attack the Trump presidency even before it commences. There is a lot to be depressed about, friends say, and I half agree.

To prove their point about how dire and scary things are, they tell me how Steve Bannon is hovering and as Trump sinks further into Alzheimer's (some very smart people I know have come to that diagnosis to explain his contradictory behavior) Bannon is itching to "run the show." Sort of like Edith Wilson, after her husband Woodrow had a debilitating stroke, in charge of things during the final years of his presidency. But of course times were simpler then and much less dangerous. North Korea, for example, did not have a nuclear arsenal and a certifiably unstable Supreme Leader threatening to unleash it.

So here goes--one more attempt to explain what happened in the last election and why Clinton and other Democrats were overwhelmed. Yes, I know she won the popular vote by a wide margin, but still Trump will be the one inaugurated in two weeks.

The excuse-makers continue to point to FBI director Comey's two letters about Hillary's emails and more ominously, the effects of the Russians hacking Democratic National Committee's emails.

Neither helped, but even if that hadn't happened Hillary still would have lost in the Electoral College.

Less conspiratorial-minded progressive analysts have come to conclude, as James Carville quotably did during the 1992 election that, "It's the economy, stupid."

Under ordinary circumstances, national elections are about the economy. Particularly how people view their own economic circumstances. This time around, to the struggling majority, things did not look so good.

But as I try to understand what happened, as powerful as economic issues were and continue to be, the reason Democrats have fared so poorly since 1980 when the Reagan era commenced is that more than the economy It's about culture, stupid.

Yes there were eight years of Clinton's presidency and another eight with Barack Obama in the White House, but that masked the political churning going on at the same time below the surface at the state and congressional levels where election-by-election Republicans won more-and-more governorships, congressional seats, and pulled off an astonishing gain of 900 local legislative seats. The latter, all during Obama's time in office.

By culture I am not thinking now about the Culture Wars that have been simmering and at times raging since at least Reagan times. Combatants fought about flag burning, prayer in school, creationism in the curriculum, same-sex marriage, abortion, bias in the media, climate change, science itself.

At the moment, many of these battles have been muted and a few even resolved. Same-sex marriage is now constitutionally protected with an astonishing 70 percent of Americans believing people should be able to marry who they love. And those who want their children to pray in school either have enrolled them in religious institutions or are homeschooling them.

This is not so say that what has divided us in this war has either gone away or been abandoned. I am suggesting that the worst of it may be over and yet a cultural divide continues to exist, even widen. I see this to be a cultural alienation that derives from socioeconomic and geographic causes.

To use Carville's rubric again, "It's the elites, stupid."

In this view, the heart of the cultural problem it's how the professional class, made up mainly of affluent progressives and Democrats, has distanced itself from any empathetic contact with struggling, less educated, less successful working people, except when they encounter them as patients, viewers, readers, clients, constituents, customers, recruits, students, or miscreants. And how it is primarily through these encounters that the liberal elites communicate their disdain for the needs and what they see to be in the supposed best interests of those beneath them on the meritocratic scale.

It is at these times when we professionals say or imply that, "We know better than you what's good for you."

This ranges from claiming to know what your children should learn (Common Core), how you are to receive health care (Obamacare), how you should gather the news (CNN and New York Times), what sports teams to root for (Yankees and Steelers), how much you should weigh, even what you should eat (anything that includes kale).

In all of this, too many professionals evince a form of moral superiority that "average" people feel as criticism and even condemnation.

This election cycle they finally said, ENOUGH. You're not going to tell us who to vote for. In fact, to assert that we will not be politically intimidated, we're going to vote for and elect, from your smug point of view, the most preposterous orange-faced candidate ever. And in this, rather than being offended by his vulgarity and sexism, they flung it back at us as if to assert their own imperviousness, basking reciprocally in his politically incorrect "inappropriateness."

It was a year of in-your-face and f-you.

As evidence of how culture of this kind is playing itself out politically, look at the map of where Duck Dynasty is viewers' favorite TV show.


It is also a map of Donald Trump's America.

And, as with Duck Dynasty itself, watching it, embracing it and its values is one more way ignored Americas are expressing their anger, culture, and power.

F-us indeed.

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