Note: This article contains coarse language that may offend some readers.
Democrats have been taking a lot of heat over the terrible Papa John slogan they rolled out this week, but the unveiling of this new strategy exposes much deeper problems in the collective mind of Democratic leadership that are almost too numerous to mention.
Let me try, though, by breaking it down into the three main categories of bad advice that they're listening to.
The first category is brain-dead Beltway conventional wisdom that has been saying, for months, that Democrats need to apologize for whatever it was they did to earn 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, and that they should ease up on their opposition of Trump.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) fell right into line with that thinking when he previewed the Democrats' bold new strategy on Sunday's “This Week”:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Fifty-two percent of Americans think Democrats only stand against President Trump. Don't know what you stand for. Why don't Americans know what the Democrats stand for? And is that your fault?
SCHUMER: Well, it is, in part, our fault. When you lose an election with someone who has, say, 40 percent popularity, you look in the mirror and say what did we do wrong? And the number one thing that we did wrong is we didn't have — we didn't tell people what we stood for. Even today, as your poll showed, they know we're standing up to Trump. They like that. But they want to know what to you stand for?
So tomorrow, Democrats will unveil our economic agenda. It is called “A Better Deal.” It has three components. We're going raise people's wages and create better-paying jobs. We're going to cut down on their everyday expenses they have to pay. And we're going to give them the tools they need to compete in the 21st Century.
So simply put, what do Democrats stand for? A better deal for working families — higher wages, less costs, tools for the 21st century.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You had a president though for eight years. You had control of Congress for part of that time. What took so long? And why didn't it happen during the campaign?
SCHUMER: Well, I don't know why it didn't happen in the campaign. We all take blame, not any one person. But now we have spent a lot of time working on this. And it's going to really impress the American people.
It is not going to be left or right. It is going to be totally focused on working people who realize, believe correctly, that the system is rigged against them, and not helping them with all the changes. Rapid changes, economic and social. And people ask, well, are you going appeal to the Obama coalition? You know, young people, LGBT, people of color? Or the Trump people — Democrats who voted for Trump, blue collar voters? This will appeal to both.
None of what either of these guys said was true. That poll did not say people don't know what Democrats stand for, it posed a ridiculous false choice by asking if the Democratic Party “stands for something, or just stands against Trump,” which is like asking if cops stand for something, or just stand against criminals. Standing against Trump is standing for something; for an inclusive, just, and yes, populist politics.
And Schumer's wide-eyed discovery of an economic message is equally full of shit. This is play-acting to the Beltway cheap seats who demand the appearance of a course correction for a party which, I will remind you again, won the popular vote by millions. He claims not to know “why it didn't happen in the campaign,” but you know what? It kinda did, right down to their exact slogan:
All of the things Schumer is proposing were featured prominently, in one form or another, in Hillary Clinton's detailed policy proposals. The only thing that's new is what's missing, and that brings me to the second bit of terrible advice the Democrats are taking.
Senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had some very positive impacts on the Democratic Party's platform, but he has been pushing a notion of “identity politics” that is toxic to the Democrats' most loyal base. He's been doing it for years, but in the wake of the 2016 election, he put forth an explicit and offensive rejection of the inclusive politics that Democrats are known for, which he believes amounts to “vote for me because I'm a woman/Latina/Black person”:
It goes without saying, that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans — all of that is ENORMOUSLY important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen. But it is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘Hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class in this country and is going to take on big-money interests.
And one of the struggles that we’re going to have … in the Democratic Party is it’s not good enough for me to say we have X number of African Americans over here, we have Y number of Latinos, we have Z number of women, we are a diverse party, a diverse nation. Not good enough! We need that diversity, that goes without saying ...
Sanders' rejection of what he calls “identity politics” — which somehow doesn't include the explicit white identity politics of this tweet — gets a lot of well-deserved attention, but there's another part of his philosophy that exposes the emptiness of his lip service to diversity. It's a theme he hit twice in the clip above, and later during that same event (emphasis mine):
It goes without saying ...
That's the problem with Sanders' message, and with the Democrats' new strategy. They think they can energize a base that cares deeply about these issues, and which correctly recognizes that “identity politics” issues actually are economic issues, by letting those issues “go without saying.”
At the same time, they hope that the white voters who elected Trump will ignore the fact that Democrats stand for inclusion, and hop on board for their economic message. That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works.
Trump's election was not about “economic anxiety,” it was about white grievance. Nothing the Democrats ever do will convince these people that they are more with white people than Trump is, because it has gone without saying, for a very long time, that Democrats stand for inclusion, fairness, and justice. By letting it go without saying in their new strategy, Democrats will not gain a single Trump vote, but risk losing the votes of the people they are silencing.
The fact is that there are already a lot of white people who didn't vote for Trump, and a whole lot of white and non-white people who didn't vote at all. Those people might find powerful appeal in an economic message that recognizes that people of every sort are, oh, I don't know, Stronger Together, or something.