Personality, politics and perseverance will be key to winning back voters who Clinton has so far ignored.
Nothing, so far as I can see. Instead, Clinton continues to focus on the base alone, even as Trump seeks to appeal to women, albeit shakily. And with polls showing the candidates neck and neck, leaving votes on the table for Trump to vacuum up isn't just bad strategy: it's a reckless move that could deliver our nation's social fabric, economy, courts, foreign policy and, yes, nuclear codes to a demagogue whose political acumen is matched only by his stupidity, mendacity and debased ego. (Re-watch the 1964 Daisy ad as you consider a nuclear-enabled Trump.)
Displaced by technology and globalization, the voters to whom Trump appeals are suffering grievously from ills both real and imagined, due to causes both clearly perceived and misperceived. They're working class males, many of them straight and white, and many of them unemployed, underemployed or precariously employed, and they are suffering economically - not because of their gender, race, sexual orientation or gender identity, but in spite of those factors. "Critical theory" says they're privileged due to their white cis-male heterosexuality - but their pinched wallets, disappearing jobs and inner turmoil say they're not.
The anguish of these often undereducated men in no way negates the very real racism, sexism and heterosexism that persist in this country, including, of course, among that very group. Nor does it mean Clinton should stop speaking to the base or working for equality. But the urgency of discrimination is no justification - either in policy or in politics - for ignoring the travails of a population whose afflictions are real and whose nominal dominance no bulwark against privation.
Trump is right to imply that Republican leaders have ignored the growing problems of that party's own base. Most national GOP leaders from Nixon onward have simply hoodwinked and agitated a frightened, angry and sometimes gullible constituency, using racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and now trans-phobia to persuade them to vote against their own economic self-interest: notably, to support lowered income and estate taxes on the rich, a class most of them will never join, in the name of discredited trickle-down theories, and to oppose social programs many of them would benefit from, by rallying them with antigovernment canards.
But Trump is no more honest than Reagan, the Bushes, Romney, Paul Ryan and the rest. In fact, he perpetuates the same Republican lie when he cavorts with white supremacists and proclaims, via loudspeakers or dog whistles, that African-Americans and immigrants are the cause of white male distress.
There's no reason for Clinton to leave these voters - these citizens - behind, but time is short. The Democratic convention is just eight weeks away, but even at this late date, the presumptive nominee can garner some of these votes if she moves to address white men, and to do so with renewed style and substance - both at the convention and before.
Personality and Positioning
The first step is, indeed, to speak deliberately and specifically to this constituency, just as she has to others. That means press events and careful thinking about the convention and its messaging. It seems clear that masses of straight white working class men feel ignored by Clinton, while Trump entices them with a brash, bullying, rage so familiar to many from the sports field. If Reagan was an avuncular father figure, Trump is "Daddy's come home with a belt in his hand." That kind of political sadism appeals to many - especially formerly alpha males who feel de-masculinized by unemployment or the transition to softer service-economy jobs at lower pay. The reality-star real estate mogul, as we've seen, knows well the dark art of arousing a crowd's hatred and fury. He knows how to transform citizens into soccer hooligans or worse.
So, while Clinton must specifically and deliberately turn her voice to these Americans who are hurting, she must not seek to emulate Trump's thuggish machismo. Far from it. But in an election that has become a battle of the sexes, Clinton faces an obstacle: rightly or wrongly, she is perceived by many to be both cold and untruthful.
Some of this is personality, some of it a failure of messaging; some is personal history (hers and her husbands) and some is sexism that constrains a woman's acceptable tonality to narrow octaves.
Whatever the cause, it's no use ignoring those perceptions. Instead, Clinton can counter by acknowledging her awkwardness directly (humility and self-reflection go a long way, as she herself has shown on SNL) and by explicitly addressing the truths of these voters: that automation and globalization have undermined their economic lives and society has failed them - and that changing conceptions of equality among races, genders, orientations and identities have left many of them confused, angry and without the psychological tools needed to adjust.
That latter acknowledgement doesn't mean for a minute that Clinton or we should tolerate discrimination. But it does mean that an honest accounting - which voters desperately want - must include a recognition that people, especially when under economic stress, need help shedding benighted attitudes. We do the cause of equality no favors if we forget that, and a politician who seeks to lead the country must try to lead all of its people, not solely the strands that make up her base.
Moreover, Clinton must somewhere find the joy that one hopes animates her run for the presidency. Right now, Trump is just more fun to watch, even if only as the worst sort of slow motion train wreck. Consider this: in my right hand, I offer you a ticket to the circus; in my left, an invite to a lecture at the library. Which do you choose? We live in a world of bread and circuses, and while we needn't completely surrender to hollow blandishments, we do need to see a feisty, spirited, happy and witty Clinton, one who spars with both dignity and panache, and who can begin to own at least some of the news cycles that wash over the country.
Yet, it's not just about style. Substance matters too, and simply being a good listener and a caring mom is not going to bring the white male working class around. You may fear that the country has tumbled too far down a rat hole of ignorance and vitriol for policy to matter anymore, but if we seek only the worst in people we will surely find it. Trump, who used to peddle phony diplomas, has moved on to snake oil. Clinton must offer something better. But what?
A Policy Proposal
The answer comes in understanding the phenomena. Technological displacement and foreign off-shoring are so profitable for businesses because we allow them to reap the benefits of these maneuvers without internalizing the social costs - specifically, the human toll in lost jobs - just as we once allowed factories to belch smoke into the air without businesses paying for cleanup.
All benefit and no cost is like being allowed to devour dessert without eating one's vegetables as well. No wonder businesses get fat and happy on these strategies - and since businesses are generally controlled by owners and top executives, a hefty share of the increased profits flows to the 1% and 0.1% in the form of salaries, bonuses and increased stock market valuations, at the expense of the displaced workers. How much of Uber's sky-high pre-market cap is attributable to the company's plans to replace its drivers someday soon with self-driving cars? Globalization and automation directly redistribute wealth and income from workers to those at the top of the food chain.
But there's no rule that says this has to continue completely unfettered. Capitalism is not so delicate a flower that we need suffer it to grow like a weed that chokes off the livelihood of poor unfortunates. The solution, though, is not to ban globalization or technological progress, nor to slap goods with intentionally punitive tariffs that will provoke a trade war or cripple a business in the face of its competitors.
Instead, I suggest the solution is to establish Displacement Reaction Funds, financed by business, that would be used to pay for enhanced or extended unemployment compensation, substantive retraining in basic skills and in-demand vocational trades, relocation as necessary, and early access to Social Security benefits for workers near retirement age who are without realistic prospects of significant re-employment.
The goal here is not to eliminate automation or globalization, but to end the free ride: to ensure that those who benefit from these business strategies pay a reasonable portion of the social cost they currently impose on the rest of us and, particularly, on their own displaced workers.
If this sounds novel, it's not. Over sixty years ago, various unions and management worked together and financed "automation funds" to aid displaced workers and others, as chronicled in a book by Harvard Business School professor Thomas Kennedy. The first wave of computerization was the focus, and, at the time, globalization was less of an issue: containerization of ship cargos was still nascent, FedEx didn't exist, faxes were scarce, international phone calls costly, and "Made in Japan" not yet a meme, let alone one eclipsed by "Made in China" or, sometimes, "Made in Mexico."
Today, we recognize that automation and globalization overlap: a factory south of the border or in Shenzhen may or may not be more technologically advanced than the Rust-belt site it replaces, but the offshore operation is only feasible because of computers and telecommunications, including, of course, the Internet. Without what the military calls C4I - Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence - the far-flung operation of global manufacturing would be impossible. You can't run a foreign factory if production reports arrive by steamship and surface mail. Technology enables labor market arbitrage, and both automation and globalization present displacement challenges that will only grow as AI, robotics and telepresence (such as VR) improve and as more and more nations seek to raise standards of living and join global supply chains. Displacement Reaction Funds offer a solution.
The devil is often in the details, of course. Which businesses will finance such funds? Is this to be a new national program or a revision to existing efforts such as the relatively little-known Trade Adjustment Assistance program reauthorized last year at the White House's urging, or a broader training program called WIOA? How do we define automation and globalization? (not all cases will be obvious) What benefits will be provided? In the gig economy, will workers such as Uber drivers (who fall in a grey area between employee and independent contractor) be eligible for benefits? (they ought to be) And should displacement funds be part of a larger program of wage insurance and other measures that address even larger causes of unemployment and inequality?
These are hard issues. Clinton has policy advisors who can massage these and other questions; I don't. But I do know this: the generally straight, heavily white working class males who are under economic siege need help. And if Clinton fails to offer them genuine relief, she just might elect Donald Trump.
All opinions are my own, of course, not my organizations' or clients'.
REAL LIFE. REAL NEWS. REAL VOICES.
Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard.