It’s a little ironic that the Democratic Party that in 2016 nominated a losing presidential candidate who was heavily identified with the party’s shift away from working-class politics and toward corporate neoliberalism would now seek belatedly to counter its failure with new messaging.
With great fanfare in a tiny white and rustic Republican town, Berryville, Virginia, Democratic leaders unveiled what their pollsters and consultants tell them is a winning slogan to try to encapsulate what they stand for: “A Better Deal.”
“A Better Deal” contains a lot of vague promises, such as raising the minimum wage and providing health care for all, designed to ring in the ears of Berniecrats and progressives while not putting off the corporate “pro-business” wing of the party that remains wedded as ever to the same neoliberalism voters rejected.
I suppose the pollsters who came up with this new brand read about TR’s “Square Deal” or FDR’s “New Deal” to concoct a prepackaged catchphrase going forward that might make the Democrats appear to have ideas again and to stand for something now that they’ve lost the whole enchilada.
But the new zippy slogan raises the obvious question: “A Better Deal” compared to what? Are Democratic leaders finally copping to their three-decade failure (despite controlling the government from 1993 to 1995 and from 2009 to 2011) to do anything meaningful to make the lives of most working Americans “better” in any way? For thirty years they’ve been too busy to worry about giving working people “A Better Deal.”
They’ve been too busy deregulating Wall Street banks and then bailing them out; facilitating corporate mergers and global trade deals that batter workers and the environment; supporting military build-ups and trillion dollar wars; and beating up on teachers’ unions and “welfare” recipients. “A Better Deal” would seem to conflict directly with the Democratic Establishment’s loving embrace of everything neoliberal.
Democratic power brokers including Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Shultz were so busy transforming their party into Republican-lite and serving largely the same billionaire and corporate donor class that bankrolls the GOP to notice that the American working class was being chewed up and spit out by the neoliberal policies and transactional politics to which they are beholden (and are now attempting to re-brand).
A Crisis of Values
While Democratic leaders party in the Hamptons with Trump officials and supporters they’ve failed to notice that we face a crisis of values as a nation and as a people and no change in simple messaging will be adequate to address this crisis. Some big questions keep being ignored in our era of transactional politics and plutocracy despite the nice sounding rhetoric we hear to the contrary every election season.
Are we going to be a nation where people take care of and support one another as fellow citizens in a republic? Or are we going to fragment into a set of mini-states where most Americans are forced to go it alone while a ruling elite uses governmental power to serve its narrow class interests condemning the rest of us to fight against each other in a race to the bottom? And what does the term “A Better Deal” even mean at a time when we are facing so many social injustices and grotesque inequality?
Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan represent a pathology in American society with roots deeper than we wish to acknowledge. Self-reflection has never been a strong suit in “exceptional” ‘Merica. We seem incapable of understanding the meaning and ramifications of the United States’ deadly actions in Afghanistan and Iraq (and elsewhere), the economic injustices exposed by the Wall Street rip-off of 2007-2008, and the racial injustices symbolized by events in Ferguson Missouri and Flint Michigan.
To get beyond this pathology we must first begin to recognize and reinforce the values that created Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and build on these with a national health system where everybody has a human right to health care; a society that understands and celebrates our interconnectedness despite our racial, ethnic, and sexual differences.
An empty slogan concocted by Democratic pollsters cannot even begin to provide an alternative to the real struggles involved in acknowledging and ultimately overcoming this crisis in values. Talking about “A Better Deal” in a little white Republican town in Virginia isn’t going to begin to chip away at the Far Right juggernaut we now face.
The Republican Party of Trump, McConnell, and Ryan doesn’t so much “govern” as it does twist every institution within its icy grasp to serve the power and class interests of a ruling corporate and banking oligarchy. The people who run the GOP as it stands today in the Trump era are in favor of further impoverishing those who are not already rich and stripping health care away from millions of working and low-income people. They don’t value the arts or humanities, or science, or anything with the word “public” attached to it. They’re against basic privacy rights and net neutrality. They promote a 19th Century capitalism that preys on its own people and destroys the planet with abandon. Trump Republican “values” are best symbolized by some of the worst scenes of poverty in a Dickens novel combined with the self-congratulatory claptrap of Ayn Rand.
All of their values are subordinated to one overarching value: the use of state power to throw as much money as possible to the already rich while ensuring that working people lead harder, grubbier, less secure and increasingly impoverished lives. The end result of all of this “deconstruction of the administrative state” can be nothing more than a nation with larger and more desperate pockets of extreme poverty, where working people breathe dirtier air, drink dirtier water, send their kids to crappier for-profit schools, work longer hours for lower pay, and get ripped off by every corporation or bank they come into contact with.
It’s All an Ego Trip for Them
The Republican donors and Trump Administration officials are already so wealthy they could choose to do anything they want. But for their own ego-driven weirdo reasons they choose to finance campaigns and candidates and propaganda forums like Breitbart or head off to Washington themselves to carve up those parts of the government that serve to protect people and the environment from craven exploitation to make it easier for corporations to plunder nature, oppress workers, prey on sick people, and profit from war.
Their contempt for democracy is clear. They’ve created a voter suppression “commission” filled with characters out of a parody headline from The Onion. Kris Kobach played a pivotal role in disfranchising as many as two million voters prior to the 2016 election and he heads the commission. Another member is Kenneth Blackwell who is notorious for suppressing the Democratic vote as Ohio Secretary of State (and Bush-Cheney campaign state chair) that threw the election and gave us four more miserable years of President George W. Bush.
So what is “A Better Deal” when compared to this onslaught of greed, social pathology and death? The Trump Republicans are behaving exactly like the rapacious capitalist ruling class that leaps from the most lurid descriptions by Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin. The billionaire donor class is filled with aging baby boomers who view their fellow citizens with contempt and see them as little more than another resource to be plundered. After “deconstructing” the welfare state they’ll turn their attention to shredding Social Security and workers’ pensions, suppressing voters they can’t bamboozle, and privatizing everything from schools to prisons to citizenship itself.
Trump “Re-centers” the White Male
On a superficial level, after eight years of the Obama presidency there appeared to have been accomplished what academics tucked away in English and Cultural Studies departments had been theorizing about for decades: the “decentering” of the white male. Remember the hours of breathless commentary on MSNBC and other so-called liberal media outlets about what a big mistake Trump was making by alienating non-white voters?
With Trump we’ve seen what might be called the “re-centering” of the cis white male (with a vengeance). And Trump accomplished this feat with the support of 53 percent of white women voters who preferred a pussy-grabbing misogynist over the first real chance in American history to elect a woman president. According to the two journalists who wrote the book Shattered about the Hillary Clinton campaign, on election night Democratic consultants and strategists were stunned when the results came pouring in from counties in Florida and elsewhere long considered bellwethers of the white vote with Trump driving the white vote up nearly ten times the tally of votes Mitt Romney received in 2012. (Shattered, 2017, p. 375)
With Trump and Pence, Bannon and Priebus, Price and Pruitt, Ross and Mnuchin the rich cis white guys are in control now and they – along with their ultra-wealthy backers like the Mercers and the Kochs – are aggressively doing everything in their power to cement their current institutional advantage well beyond the next eight years.
And squaring off against this rich white male, politically “incorrect” corporate juggernaut, the “Left” (whatever that means in 2017) has no choice but to organize in workplaces, in neighborhoods, in districts and in counties, and seek to unify those Americans who are NOT rich or male. We will need to weaponize the “intersectionality” we’ve heard so much about in recent years, turn it into an electoral force and a form of resistance. We must band together in unapologetic and fierce resistance to counter the resurgence and dominance of the rich white male Christian political order we now live under - or else we’re sunk.
“A Better Deal”
Partying in the Hamptons with Trump supporters and then flying off to Virginia to launch the new “A Better Deal” brand isn’t going to work for an anemic and defeated political party mostly run by hacks and overpaid consultants. We’re in an existential battle to save American democracy, not searching for “A Better Deal.”
We are now ruled by people who have nothing but contempt for democracy, for working people, for the rule of law, and even for common decency. The tone of the President of the United States’ tweets is that of a spoiled pre-adolescent boy and an embarrassment to the world.
Meanwhile, the inflammatory rhetoric that comes from Trump’s supporters on right-wing talk radio, Fox News, Drudge, Breitbart, Reddit, and 4chan has the tone of eliminationism: “liberals” aren’t only seen as the “enemy,” but as a cancer in society that must be totally obliterated. And with control of the House, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court, this new brand of immature authoritarianism, Trump Republicans can very well succeed in vanquishing the “opposition” through means that a few short years ago would seem outside the bounds of what’s possible in the United States.
Despite it all, people who consider themselves part of the “Resistance” or the “opposition” or whatever we want to call ourselves have no alternative but to choose optimism over despair. But that doesn’t mean we have to sugarcoat the dystopian moment in which we find ourselves. The new Democratic party slogan, “A Better Deal,” despite its best intentions, is simply not up to the task to counter the rising authoritarianism in the Trump era.