A new excuse for Democrats?
Misinterpreting election cycles is a pretty consistent theme in the Democratic party over the last decade, and it seems to be starting early this cycle.
It seems like Democrats are preemptively embracing a new bogeyman in anticipation of midterm losses they've already resigned themselves to.
Last week, President Obama spoke at a three-day gathering at University of Chicago co-hosted by The Atlantic focused on disinformation and democracy. And while our former President's comments (you can see here: https://news.uchicago.edu/story/uchicago-barack-obama-warns-disinformation-threatens-foundations-democracy) we're more nuanced and balanced than reported, there was a troubling general frame to the broader conversation.
There is (and always has been) disinformation in the world, and our information systems are profoundly unhealthy and historically dysfunctional. AND disinformation remains a relatively minor part of most Americans' daily media diets. Does that minor part erode trust in the rest? Absolutely. Are trustworthy voices harder and harder to discern? Yes. Are certain communities target of election-specific disinformation during elections? Yes. Do we need platforms and publishers to take the responsibility for a health public sphere seriously? Yes.
AND Democrats are also seemingly preparing to blame disinformation for an ongoing lack of clarity and imagination, for an unwillingness to see their culpability in losing hearts and minds and failing to win them back, for an inconsistent ability to deliver for people. Failure of leadership is never the answer. The Russians, Trump, McConnell. And now disinformation. Never a lack of imagination, vision, organizing, effective long-term investment, being valuable to people, empathy.
There is more to explore on the connections between disinformation, trust, and populism to come, but for now, as we start to interpret these pre-takes on the upcoming election cycle, we need to look beyond easy and disproportionate scapegoating and search for the heart and complexity of what people are really choosing when they vote and why.
Really smart! I do think that the thuggish uprising that we are experiencing, though, is clearly aimed at both parties, and more generally at a political system and social order that has been significantly skewed toward privileging a small elite of Americans for over four decades. DIsinformation is less significant than the literal disenfranchisement of the middle class from effective representation in our governing societal priorities. The resulting resentment and widespread sense of anomie and mistrust gave Trump room to present another approach, including a plague on both their houses.
The extreme right wing is making the most noise in response to Trump’s opening, with performance politics designed to “Own the Libs.” They have then been further and dangerously catalyzed towards outright authoritarian thuggery by Trump’s resort to strong-arm politics when he failed miserably at actual politics and governing.
The silence and seeming capitulation of the more “moderate” silent majority of Republican leaders, including capitulation in impeding normalcy in governing -- and thereby stoking political, economic, and health care stalemate and chaos -- simply confirms and reinforces the overall disaffected middle class sense that our political system is unresponsive to them and functions for only a small elite who are protected by wealth and privilege. AT the moment, all of this provides the Republican Party with more than the share one might otherwise expect of middle class support because the Party has either embraced or accommodated the Trumpian turn.
Democrats don’t get this overall sense of extreme disaffection any more than Republicans do. They somehow think that being “anti-Trump” is the answer. Well, it’s not. Trump represents the first inkling that many in the middle class have had for more than a generation of the viability of a different path with different priorities. Unfortunately, that path is the path of thuggery and corruption, on the way towards outright authoritarianism.
The answer to Trumpism not “anti-Trumpism,” but, to coin a phrase, something like “para-Trumpism.” The answer is to embrace the Trumpian insight that some fires need to be lit under a lot of people and institutions, and bold new priorities need to be set, and that many reforms need to be made to make government and public policy accessible to and focused on the wellbeing of our “average” citizens.
Leadership is what matters here. We need leadership that is all-in for the middle class, for America as the opportunity society. As FDR wisely prophesied:
“If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.”