Monday, November 16, 2020

Are the Democrats Just Renting the Presidency?

The possibility must be faced squarely, because otherwise it cannot be avoided. Dani Rodrik correctly poses the issue on Project Syndicate, properly situating as part of the overall crisis of the center-left.
"As Joe Biden eked out a victory in the US presidential election after a few suspenseful days, observers of American democracy were left scratching their heads. Buoyed by polls, many expected a landslide for the Democrats, with the party capturing not only the White House but also the Senate. How did Donald Trump manage to retain the support of so many Americans – receiving an even larger number of votes than four years ago – despite his blatant lies, evident corruption, and disastrous handling of the pandemic?
The importance of this question goes beyond American politics. Center-left parties everywhere are trying to revive their electoral fortunes against right-wing populists. Even though Biden is temperamentally a centrist, the Democratic party platform has moved considerably to the left – at least by American standards. A decisive Democratic victory would have been a significant boost to the moderate left’s spirits: perhaps all it takes to win is to combine progressive economic policies with attachment to democratic values and basic human decency....
In sum, it is clear that the election does not resolve the perennial debate about how the Democratic Party and other center-left parties should position themselves on cultural and economic issues to maximize their electoral appeal. But neither does it fundamentally alter the challenge these parties face. Political leaders on the left need to fashion both a less elitist identity and a more credible economic policy.
As Thomas Piketty, among others, has noted, parties of the left have increasingly become the parties of educated, metropolitan elites. As their traditional working-class base has eroded, the influence of globalized professionals, the financial industry, and corporate interests has risen. The problem is not just that these elites often favor economic policies that leave middle and lower-middle classes and lagging regions behind. It is also that their cultural, social, and spatial isolation renders them incapable of understanding and empathizing with the worldviews of the less fortunate. A telling symptom is how easily the cultural elite dismiss the 70-plus million Americans who backed Trump in this election by portraying them as benighted people who vote against their own interests.
On economics, the left still lacks a good answer to the burning question of our time: Where will good jobs come from? More progressive taxation, investments in education and infrastructure, and (in the United States) universal health insurance are critical. But they are not sufficient. Good, middle-class jobs are becoming scarce, owing to secular trends in technology and globalization. And COVID-19 has deepened the polarization of labor markets. We need a more proactive government strategy directly targeting an increase in the supply of good jobs."
This is the center-left's challenge here and everywhere. It's time it was faced up to rather than simply deploring the behavior of those who have rejected the center-left. That will solve nothing.

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