In the 2016 General Election democrats ate their cake and discovered they have a gluten allergy.
Call it getting their just desert.
Their wedding cake plate thusly empty, democrats are stuck with a president-elect who much of the country can’t decide if he’s naive or inept. Democrats are stuck with a president-elect who better resembles a deer in the headlights than a man capable of “making America great again”. And democrats are stuck with a president-elect who thus far appears that he will attempt to do many of the things he promised in his divisive campaign.
Democrats deserve Donald Trump – because we ignored our country’s deeper symptoms.
Americans don’t respect democracy. To us, politics is either a first-person shooter game, or something that is so far removed from daily life that we don’t participate. About 42% of eligible voters did not cast a ballot in the 2016 general election. That’s 97 million people who have such little respect for their own county that they don’t bother to be a citizen.
This level of non-participation is common in America. Democrats know this, but in the constant “hair on fire” style of twitter-based politics they forgot to ask why so many people behave – and feel – this way about their country.
The accepted narrative of voter non-participation is that people are apathetic; that people think their vote doesn’t matter. I think it’s deeper than that. I think it’s an emotional detachment from country itself. That’s why Trump successfully motivated so many people with his “forgotten man” message.
Younger progressives would argue that the majority of these people are older conservatives who don’t feel comfortable with the changing demographics of America, and that creates the feeling of alienation from country. They’re not wrong, but those people did vote, and they chose President Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders would argue detachment from citizenship and country is a result of the ever-expanding gap between the rich and the rest of us – those with power and those without. He’s not wrong, but many of those people voted as well.
There’s something else in the undercurrent. America doesn’t feel good anymore. (Yes, I know this sounds like psychobabble balderdash, but bear with me.) America easily gets angry and occasionally sad, but it’s most often disconnected in a similar manner to someone suffering from depression: mad and sad are doable, but emotions that facilitate making connections are suppressed or even nonexistent.
America is… depressed. (go ahead, chuckle if you need to)
Democrats, being the “touchy feely” political party, should have noticed this happening in middle America and states where Labor, in the past, created their “blue wall”. Donald Trump, one of the least touchy feely people in politics, managed see it and use it to win the White House.
In 2008, a much younger Barack Obama brought hope that connected millions of citizens to country. People felt connected to America during that election. To a lesser degree, he did it again in 2012. But hope is a temporary bond. That’s the problem with Hope: sister to Muse, she never sticks around for long.
During Obama’s presidency, Mad and Sad began to take over the conservative half of the American electorate. Hope, as she does, walked out the door leaving millions of citizens once again disconnected – emotionally detached from their own country. Among that group, the people with whom Trump’s message resonated voted for taking their country back. The rest sat it out… and the Democratic Party experienced Hope’s cold feet firsthand.
Good Politics is all about making connections
The United States has almost 100 million people who are so disconnected that they don’t even vote. I guess that means we don’t have good politics. Democrats missed the chance to make that connection again for millions of people.
The key to turning a non-voter into a voting citizen isn’t merely connecting them to a candidate, it’s connecting them to country – connecting them to community. That’s where you start. That’s when people start paying attention.
Democrats – the party of empathy and the party of the people – could have won millions of voters if they spent less time trying to define America and focussed on connecting America.
Instead, they relied on the perfumed memory of Hope – and were left standing at the alter.