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What the Democrats Don't Get (And Why It Could Cost Them the Election)

Maybe the Democratic Party convention looked like a smashing success. But was it? (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

If you’re a Democrat, you probably think the Democratic Convention was a big success.  Not only did they silence the Bernie die-hards, but they dispatched some serious heavy artillery on Trump by calling out his fear mongering and his megalomanic, “Only I can fix it.”

And, yes, the first post-convention polling suggests Hillary got a bump from the convention, and Trump continues to be an idiot.

But so far, Democrats have failed to confront the two issues they most need to address, and unless they do, that bump will disappear and it’s likely to cost them the election.

The first issue they neglected is the very real fear and anger most voters are feeling, and the second is the deep distrust the vast majority of voters have for Hillary.

Network’s Howard Beale Explains It All – “I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore.” 

If you want to understand the anger, just go here, and Howard Beale, “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves” will explain it to you.

Many people—particularly Trump’s supporters—agree that America is a scary place, because for them it is. Oh, maybe it’s not the wild west dystopia that Trump makes it out to be, but most people are having a hard time making ends meet, and their future looks even worse. They haven’t had a raise since 1980, and if they’ve been laid off, they can’t find a job that pays a living wage. They can’t afford to retire, for the last three decades they’ve been told social security will be insolvent, and for the first time in anyone’s memory, it’s likely that their children will be worse off than they were.

Meanwhile, they’re watching as the uber-rich, corporations, the big banks and Wall Street siphon off huge profits while returning nothing to the people. The Obama recovery has effectively left them out. In January of 2000 the median household income was $57,826, and in June of 2016, it was $57,206. Since 2009, over 93% of all income growth has gone to the top 1%, and earnings actually fell for 80% of households.

Meanwhile, corporations and the rich have taken over.  The US is no longer a Democracy, it is an Oligarchy. As Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page pointed out, in their landmark study on the influence of money and special interests in politics:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy. (emphasis added).

And if you have any lingering doubts about the influence of money on politics, here’s a stat that ought erase them: A recent study examining the 200 most politically active companies found that they got an astounding 76,000% return on their federal lobbying and campaign investments.

Is it any wonder many people are mad?  Is it any wonder that many are falling for a false prophet?

Trump is exploiting this potent brew of fear, anger, distrust, blame and desperation.  And that translates into motivation. His supporters will show up at the voting booth.

Trust and Turnout

What the Democrats in general and Hillary Clinton in particular desperately need to address is the deep distrust the overwhelming majority of the people feel for her and the establishment wing of the Party. In fact, in many recent polls, Trump gets higher trust ratings that Clinton. That, in the end, is the greatest threat to her victory, and the biggest weapon Trump has.


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Here’s why. Hillary’s speech – indeed, much of the convention – essentially channeled Sander’s positions.  Which a recent poll  conducted by Democracy Corp shows is exactly the right thing to do.  The problem is, Clinton’s record shows she was against many of the issues she now claims to be running on, and this plays right into her problem with trust. 

For example, until Sanders forced her to “evolve,” Clinton favored the XL pipeline, fracking, clean coal, laws encouraging mass incarceration, bankruptcy laws that benefit corporations and the ultra-wealthy while punishing students and the middle class, and the TPP in particular and corporate-friendly trade agreements in general.  Meanwhile she opposed the $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, a fracking ban, a price on carbon, more stringent regulation of Wall Street, a new Glass-Steagall provision, an increase in payroll taxes to help support Social Security, campaign finance reform – on and on the list goes.  She also advocates the neocon Defense policies that the military industrial complex feeds off of – a policy that keeps us mired in perpetual war, even as it strengthens the opponents it’s supposed to be defeating.

Shades of Bosnia, Batman.  Many progressives are legitimately skeptical of her sincerity on the issues they care about (particularly since her surrogates fought against including them in the platform, and she herself is still equivocating on outright support for many).  But more importantly, imagine the ad campaign Trump and the Republicans can run, showing a million flip-flops.  Throw in the Bosnia tapes, her arrogant and dangerous email debacle and the millions she’s received from Wall Street, and watch the turnout of rational people and progressives plummet.  And that leaves the Howard Beale acolytes of the national id storming the polling places.

Anger, fear and disgust at the rigged system and the elites who run it are now more important than the old left/right politics the establishment prospered under and believes is still in play.

That’s why outsiders like Trump and Sanders seemingly came out of nowhere, surprising the Parties, confounding the pundits, and capturing the passionate support of people. Quite simply, the people don’t trust the establishment. And now the Democrats are running with the ultimate establishment candidate, telling everyone that “it’s morning in America,” and speaking in the language of progressives.

Well, this has become a quadrennial farce. Every four years Democrats whisper sweet progressive phrases, invite progressives to the dance, then leave them standing by the wall while they waltz away the next four years in the arms of Goldman Sachs and friends.

Like the empty “morning in America” meme, the appeal of experience and competence won’t wash with the disaffected. To the Trumpites, it simply means Hillary will be better at screwing them than someone without the experience.  To the real progressives, it simply means she’s been a part of the rigged system.

But wait, you say. Trump only garnered about 35% approval for his convention speech. 

That’s certainly the reaction from media—you know, the folks who have spent last year telling us Trump had no chance—or that this time he really did shoot himself in the foot.  Gwen Ifill, Rachel Maddow, the Daily Kos, the Huffington Post and the rest of the faux progressive media have been positively giddy when contrasting the farce that was the Republican Convention with the slickly managed Democratic Convention.

But about that minority that supports Trump.  They’re pissed off, and they have a reason to be, and that will make them vote.  Meanwhile, Clinton only generates passion from the elite establishment and women and African Americans over 45 and that’s dangerously close to not being enough. Unless she can turn around the trust issue, turnout is likely to be low.

In short, the ubiquitous—and justifiable—anger dominating this election works to Trump’s advantage, while it hurts Clinton.  The angry, fearful jingoists will vote, while many of the angry and disenfranchised progressives will skip the election, vote third party, or write in Bernie Sanders.  

Clinton’s best hope is to issue some sincere mea culpas and then come out with concrete, specific and comprehensive proposals to change the system, not simply nibble at the corners of the corrupted carcass—and then invite people to hold her accountable. Her entire career has been about obfuscating and equivocating, so this kind of clarity and  candor won’t come easy, but at this point it’s probably necessary if she wants to have a good shot at victory.

Because here’s the deal: The Trumpites may only comprise 30% or less of the electorate, but if only 50% of eligible voters turn out to vote, that’s enough to win. And if the Democrats don’t get real and get honest, that’s how it’s likely to play out.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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