The Democratic Party had been the traditional home base of the working and middle classes. Over the years, the party substantially backed away from reflecting the concerns of these working and middle class citizens.
Donald Trump shrewdly championed and articulated working class concerns and offered to be their voice. In the small towns and rural areas largely impacted by race to the bottom globalization and unfair trade practices, Trump won overwhelming middle and working class support in key battleground states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina) and the Electoral College.
The consequences of ignoring their plight and subsequent despair, both here in the United States and in Europe, are numerous. Witness:
• Politically — the English vote to exit the European Union, the emergence of a right-wing populist movement across Europe with Marine LePen, a “France First” candidate in the lead there, the emergence of the extreme Alt-Right in the U.S. and the election of Donald Trump;
• Economically — low-wage, low-benefit and part-time contract work employment and dependence on a not always friendly and uncertain safety-net welfare system;
• Socially — here in the United States — rising death rates, high levels of suicide, increased alcohol and drug addiction, postponed marriage, family dysfunction, and increased divorce rates.
So what now? The Democratic Party needs an empathetic and determined outreach effort to the forgotten middle and working classes to win back the ground lost over the past eight years across the 50 states and nationally. The party has lost over 900 state legislative seats, most state legislatures and governor’s offices, 12 Senate seats and 63 House of Representatives seats. They must be doing something wrong.
The Democratic Party needs an inclusive national strategy — one that also embraces the middle and working class – to reverse their steep decline in areas where they had previously won elections across the 50 states.
Doubling down on social and cultural issues, identity politics, and the virtues of the digital economy and globalism to reach the same limited demographic has not, and will not exclusively, bring them to a better election place. The Republican Party, despite its current internal divisions and disarray, will not implode. Angry attacks on Donald Trump have not and will not bring the Democratic Party to victory either.
The Democratic Party claims to be committed to diversity. But that diversity appears to have excluded the displaced and largely forgotten non-college educated American worker or the worker fearing displacement in the globalization process. The party vaunted theme of social inclusion has been exclusive. Lack of voter support for the Democratic Party in this demographic is evidence.
Further, palliatives about worker retraining or safety net assistance won’t do. Hillary Clinton’s economic position papers posted on the Internet, that few people read, offer condescending and unrealistic five-point plans for jobs. They won’t do either.
The election of Donald Trump and the continued ascendancy of the Republican Party clearly demonstrates that conclusion. Only again including the forgotten working and middle classes and articulating their concerns will do.
With the mid-term elections just over a year-and-a-half away, it is time for the Democratic Party to recognize that the working-class voter must to be part of their winning coalition. Bernie Sanders demonstrated that working class interests and concerns need to be heard and respected. They are not incompatible with the other priorities of the party.
Wishful thinking about emerging coalitions without working class voters will not help win elections. The Republican Party will recoup in time for the election and not go away. Persistent unreality will lead to a long governing exile for the Democratic Party.
Joshua Sandman is a professor of political science at the University of New Haven. He has studied the American presidency for five decades.
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