Dear local Democrats: "It's the economy, stupid."
After the Fumble, by Matt Stoller (The Nation)
Having dominated the Democratic Party for years, the meritocrats now find themselves in a state of crisis.
Donald Trump is hated by large swaths of the country. Yet despite this fact, he is now president, and in the process of undoing the work of Barack Obama, a man whose elegance and intelligence rival that of any American president in the last 50 years. The results of the election have left liberals and Democrats scrounging for explanations—often those that don’t require accepting their share of the blame for one of the greatest electoral upsets in American history. According to some, it was Putin’s meddling in the election. Others point to a press that has been hostile to Hillary Clinton for decades; or to the various strains of racism and sexism in America that Trump exploited; or to the Republicans’ scorched-earth strategy against Obama, obstructing his policies and political appointments; or to the Electoral College, since Clinton won the popular vote by several million.
As with any complex event, there is no single cause for Trump’s election. But what is clear is that the Democratic Party revealed much deeper weaknesses in its foundations. The collapse of the party in most states, and the weakness of the center-left globally, underscores a larger ideological problem: a crisis not only of policies but of the theories justifying them.
Two books published before the election—Steve Fraser’s The Limousine Liberal and Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal—issued prescient warnings of this crisis and offer some clues as to the ideological problem facing the Democrats
In the end, Frank argues, the Democrats need to recognize that their ideology is the problem. By invoking the rhetoric of meritocracy, partnering with financial elites, dismantling much of the welfare state, and ignoring the interests of working-class Americans, they have created a nation that is far more deeply unequal (and also, ironically, one in which it’s harder for them to win elections). “The course of the party and the course of the country can both be changed,” Frank writes, “but only after we understand that the problem is us.”
Steve Fraser’s The Limousine Liberal gives us another gloss on the Democrats’ transition from a majority to minority party. But Fraser shifts the optics: Instead of focusing on the Democrats themselves, he chronicles the history of an image that reactionaries have used for years to go after “elites”: that of the “limousine liberal,” the self-satisfied establishment do-gooder whose condescension creates an “aggrieved sense” among the public. Limousine liberalism as a metaphor, Fraser argues, is the historical glue that binds the 1930s hostility to the New Deal with the anger at “the countercultural and racial reformations of the 1960s.”