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What if Steve Bannon Is Right?

August 25, 2017

In normal times, you could bank the bet that a man who was a Russian stooge, gave comfort to neo-Nazis and spent his first year in office trying to take health care from 22 million Americans was going to get destroyed when voters finally had a chance to send him a message.

[Timothy Egan | August 25, 2017 | New York Times]

Add to that an approval rating that hit 34 percent this week, and a poll from swing states showing one in five of people who voted for Donald Trump are now embarrassed by his presidency, and you’d think Democrats were in great shape for next year’s midterm elections.

But consider Steve Bannon’s parting political words, which were largely overlooked in the chaos of his exit. You heard the jokes — Trump finally found a racist monument he could get rid of, one of the better ones. But they obscure a dark doctrine from Bannon the Barbarian.

“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” he said of Democrats. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

He may be right. More than anything else, the white voters who driftedfrom President Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump last year — a seemingly incongruent transition — sealed the Republican victory.

It turns out that racial resentment was the strongest predictor of whether a voter would flip from supporting a thoughtful, intelligent Democrat to a boorish, mentally unstable Republican. When you say Black Lives Matter, these white voters hear Kill a Cop. When you say diversity in the workplace, they hear special privileges for minorities at the expense of whites.

So, if you still wonder why Trump would give comfort to racists and Hitlerites, look at the reaction of his base this week. While the civilized world was appalled at his remarks after the hate parade in Charlottesville, Va., a majority of Republicans approved of Trump’s response. Approved.

It’s too easy to write all these people off as racists, for that’s exactly what Bannon is counting on. Yes, there’s a genuine hate-cohort in the Republican Party — neo-Nazis, or “clowns and losers,” in Bannon’s terms — of about 10 percent, which is horrifyingly high.

But there are many more voters in Trump’s camp who still consider themselves Democrats. Some live in the much-discussed zone of despair, places where opportunities for people without a college degree are few, and the opioid epidemic rages. These folks are persuadable, if the message is economic hope — something that Obama understood, and Hillary Clinton never did.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats should not speak out when a cop kills someone for driving while black. Nor does it mean that Democrats should not join with progressive institutions — the military and forward-looking corporations among them — when Trump turns back the clock on transgender rights, or equal opportunity.

But you can’t bang just one drum. Trump has said demonstrably racist things many a time, from his birther obsession to his taco bowl tweet. He still won, “on a straightforward platform of economic nationalism,” as Bannon noted.

“As long as Democrats fail to understand this, they will continue to lose,” he said.

So, even though Trump now threatens to shut down the government that he runs over his insane and unpopular border wall, even though he’s told 1,000 verifiable lies since he’s been in office, his horrid character will not be enough to help the forces of good.

Democrats need to flip 24 House seats to get a majority. History is certainly on their side. When Harry Truman was at his nadir in 1946, Democrats lost 45 seats in the House. George W. Bush, with an approval rating about the same as Trump’s current standing, saw his party shed 30 seats and the majority in 2006.

I wouldn’t trust that history. We’re in a different universe — not end times, but truly awful times. Too many Americans have turned inward and dark. But they don’t have to reside in that cave, if the Democrats can give them a reason to come out.

The history I would trust is with Franklin Roosevelt, who rallied broken Americans during the Great Depression to an agenda in which government could lift people up.

So far, Democrats have come up with a tepid slogan — a “better deal” — and a bushel of banalities. They need to go big, bold and simple, pounding home a single economic message: Trump is trying to make life worse for most Americans. Call him out for going after people’s health care, for gutting protections for clean air and water, for killing studies on the health of miners in Appalachia.

Democrats could grab the economic nationalism argument from Bannon, refine it along Bernie Sanders lines, and run with it. Health care for all is pro-American. Raising wages across the country is pro-worker. A moonshot infrastructure program would lift every community. And then, Trump will do his part, ranting in the gutter where he feels most at home.

 


Showing 4 reactions

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  • Hi Bruce, good to hear from you!

    This website seldom provokes a good discussion anymore. I was open-minded when Trump got elected and willing to give him a chance, especially on trade. But I lost all my optimism pretty quickly. I can see you are still hanging in there. Interesting survey the other day, about 20% of Trump voters are now sorry they supported him. Hard to see how Trump can get anything done with such poor poll numbers.
  • James Crawford,

    I too, am disappointed that Trump hasn’t attacked the trade deficit. However, I think he was more concerned with getting the ChiCom’s help with the Norks. Of course, any effort by Trump to reduce the trade deficit will be reported by the New York Times as “Trump Starts Trade War With China.”

    The Neo-Nazi’s are a pushback against Antifa and BLM, which are both communist organizations, funded by George Soros. The original Nazis were a pushback against the communists. Compared to the communists, the Nazis were junior varsity. Hitler killed a few million, but the communists have killed over 100 million. History repeats. Of course, no one in their right mind is a Neo-Nazi. I don’t think their numbers are significant, compared to Antifa and BLM.

    As to campaign promises, I was mainly interested in “the wall,” and “making China play fair.” The Republicans have had 8 years to come up with an alternative to Obamacare — and they claimed to have one. Apparently, they had no plan worth supporting. Congress has failed. The Republicans have failed. Trump is just getting started. He is fighting an uphill battle against the Democrats, the mainstream media, a useless Congress, the Republican establishment, and the hundreds of thousands of entrenched bureaucrats that make up our greedy, incompetent government. It’s going to take him “a minute” to overcome all of that.
  • No one works harder at "bringing down " the Trump presidency than Trump:
    The Trade Deficit has only gotten worse.
    Becoming a Neo-Nazi has become fashionable.
    Campaign promises on health care and a dozen other topics have been exposed as lies and deception.
    ……
  • The New York Times is the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party. They are dedicated to bringing down the Trump presidency — at any cost. Thank God no one is reading the rubbish besides me.