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The Real Problem For Liberals 

 By Marlin D. Paschal

Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times wrote an article last week titled Are Liberals Helping Trump? She suggests the current anti-Trump fervor on the left may be a double-edged sword. On one side, it serves as an energizing force for the liberal base. On the other, it is creating an alienating effect on right-leaning voters who may be repulsed by Trump’s antics, but also turned off by the leftist voices opposing him. The author raises an interesting point, and there may be some truth to her premise. However, I think the larger problem for liberals has less to do with assuaging the hurt feelings of disaffected Trump supporters, but creating a liberal strategy that generates real support.  

According to Gallup, Trump has a 40 percent approval rating versus a 55 percent disapproval rate with the American public at large (The Pew Research largely mirrors Gallup’s results). However according to Rasmussen, which looks solely at likely voters, Trump’s approval rating is at 55 percent versus a 45 percent disapproval rating. Assuming both sets of polling data are generally accurate — it suggests most Americans have significant misgivings about the messenger, but not enough to actually change the message.

Another curious metric shows that more voting Americans support Trump’s Muslim-unfriendly travel ban and his proposed anti-Mexican wall than oppose them. Again, the level of opposition is strong amongst Americans in general, but when you examine the pool of likely and registered voters – Trump has a meaningful reservoir of popular support.

Lastly, Trump received more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton last November, despite her significant institutional advantages. The typical narrative on the left is Trump won because of a powerful mix of sexist opposition to Clinton and effective racist messaging by Trump. Assuming this is at least partially true, that hardly explains why Republicans have control of the senate, the house, and most governor mansions and statehouses throughout the country.

Protest can be useful, but Trump's rise and the preeminence of the GOP will not be undone by protesting alone. More to the point, the Democratic Party is a big tent — filled with many diverse groups such as the LGBT community, environmentalist, feminist, labor unions, immigrants, social welfare advocates, and various hyphenated racial and ethnic groups. The Republican Party is, for the most part, racially homogenous, and dominated by four interest groups: the big business oligarchs, evangelicals, foreign policy hawks, and fiscal conservatives. In a world of winner take all adversarial politics — voting Republican makes more sense than voting Democrat, if you identify as a Republican — even if your standard bearer is a narcissistic buffoon.

As a general rule, there are not enough Americans that naturally identify with the four dominant interest groups of the Republican Party. As such, the GOP has had to expand its appeal and influence over the group of voters known as the “white working class.” This is a group that doesn’t fit neatly within the “identity-centric” collective of the Democratic Party. Nor is there much of a place for them in the blue-blooded top-down regime of the Republican Party. Republicans, however, have been able to orchestrate a highly successful information campaign aligning the ambitions of the “white working class” voter with the prerogatives and racial identity of the party’s oligarchs (they are mostly white too).

For instance, if I am a coal miner, a fracker, or someone who just wants a job, deregulation and lower taxes are concepts that sound good to me. So even if I don’t understand the nuances of EPA regulations and the tax code, I do understand the cost of government oversight and higher taxes will have to be paid by someone. Republicans have excelled by effectively alleging those cost have been placed on the back of the American worker.

“Make America Great Again,” simply reasserts that central premise and offers a return to Reagan Era trickle-down economics through tax cuts, eliminating job-killing regulations, and increasing military spending. These things are all good for business — and what’s good for business is also good for the so-called white working class. This is a winning formula that has fueled Republican gains across the nation and propelled Mr. Trump to the White House.

In every sense of the word, Donald Trump’s faux populist rebellion is the symptom of a larger malady, which stems from a lack of strategy on the left and the illusion of moral clarity masquerading on the right. Unfortunately, much of the American public has been captured by the surreal spectacle of Trump’s siren call rather than acknowledging and countering the flawed vision he represents.

In truth — America is already great, but liberals routinely critique that greatness without offering a more compelling narrative to believe in. Instead, liberals should imagine a strategy that aims to rebuild America by aggressively connecting it to the rest of the world using every instrument of national power (i.e. diplomacy, information, military, and economy). I don’t think liberals should do this to attract fence-sitters on the right, but to provide a unifying sense of purpose on the left.

Rather than building walls between the U.S. and Mexico, let’s build high speed rail from Cleveland to Mexico City and from there to Lima. Instead of drill baby drill, let’s create a path to total energy independence that doubles down on alternative energy while building a 21st century workforce in the process. Instead of protesting against police brutality, advocate for urban renewal efforts built on demilitarizing all civilian police forces and restoring local economies.  

In the end, Donald Trump is mostly a sideshow who will likely collapse under the weight of his own hubris. And when that happens, Liberals will need more than righteous indignation to galvanize the country and build something from the ruins inevitably left behind. The real problem for liberals is not just railing against the things you don't like, but creating a better politics in the process.