Saturday, July 11, 2020

To Reach the White Working Class You Have to Learn to See the World Through Their Eyes

That's Andy Levison's argument in his new memo from The Democratic Strategist. I strongly recommend it. Many of these voters are souring on Trump but holding their support is no sure thing. And it's not as simple as just offering proposals that are in their economic interest. It's more complicated than that and involves taking today's liberal Democrats out of their comfort zone. Levison explains:
"In the last three months opinion polls have shown a dramatic decline in support for Donald Trump and growing support for Joe Biden among a wide range of white “middle Americans”—the overlapping categories of white working class people, the elderly, non-professional women and Red state voters.
The decline in support from these groups has deeply shaken political strategists in the Republican Party because they know that they have no serious chance of making up any of this decline by gaining support from other groups like people of color, youth, urbanites and college educated professionals. Without overwhelming majority support from “middle America” not only Donald Trump but GOP control of the Senate and State governments across America is in serious jeopardy.
As recent reports indicate, Trump and his circle of close advisors have clearly decided on a two pronged strategy for their coming counterattack this summer and fall.
* First, maximize the enthusiasm of Trumps rock-solid base voters—racial bigots, the religious right, the passionate ideological conservatives and bottom line oriented businessmen and executives—all of whom see the re-election of Trump and the GOP as vital to protect and advance their agendas.
* Second, frame the election as a profound life or death cultural clash between the white working class, small business owners, small town and rural red state voters of “middle America” on the one hand and the diverse elements of the Democratic coalition— minorities, young urban dwellers, professionals and educated liberals on the other.
A key element of this strategy will be to highlight—or if necessary create—examples of Democratic attitudes that show contempt for Middle America and its working people. The goal will be to convince these voters that Democrats see them all as ignorant and bigoted “deplorables.”
The truth is that condescending attitudes are sufficiently widespread within the Democratic coalition to provide plenty of raw material for such attacks and this strategy can indeed succeed if Democrats fail to convince these voters that they will genuinely represent them. This is especially true for the white working class voters whose defection from the Democrats in 2016 was the key to Trump’s victory.
The essential problem is that what is required for Democratic victories are candidates who can not only present objectively pro-worker proposals but who can also convince white working people and other middle Americans that they are genuinely “on their side” “will fight for them” “understand their problems” and “share their values.” These are characteristics working people consistently say they consider important in choosing a political candidate.
In fact, the central obstacle that many progressive candidates and their supporters face, unless they actually come from the communities where they are running for office, is how to genuinely become accepted in the culture and community where they are campaigning and to learn to see the world through the eyes of the people who live there.
In fact, it must be admitted that a substantial number of urban, college educated people have difficulty imagining why middle American culture and community is something that working people deeply value and even consider superior to the culture of those above them. From the outside, the urban fringes of major cities, the Rust Belt small towns and the rural areas across the country where white working class people live can easily appear to outsiders like sad, declining areas with stagnant economies, rampant drugs and little to recommend them.
But the people who live in these communities deeply feel the importance and the value of their neighborhood, friends, communities and home. To them the tractor pulls and rodeos of the West and the country music bars, motorcycle rallies, church socials and state fairs that go on across the country are as valuable and meaningful to them as the art galleries, receptions, sushi bars, bookstores and coffee shops of “hip” urban areas are to the educated and affluent.
And integrally connected to these physical aspects of community are shared and distinct rooted in traditional middle American and working class culture—a respect for hard work and common sense, a commitment to simple honesty rather than subtle wordplay and a belief that genuine friendship and personal integrity is more valuable than wealth or status.
The problem can be stated simply: a progressive Democratic candidate who tries to run a campaign based on an elegantly detailed agenda of issues and policies but who cannot communicate a personal connection and emotional identification with the culture of the voters he or she seeks to represent will rarely succeed."
Levison follows this up with some fascinating ethnographic descriptions of white working class communities and workplaces that illustrate his argument. You owe it to yourself to read this; it will open your eyes and perhaps help you understand how part of the world you're not so familiar with sees itself.

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