Taking Back the White House: The Democrats Need A New Platform and Leader
It is not a mystery why Trump won. Over the last few decades, many Americans lost well-paying middle class jobs, primarily because of labor saving automation. And they did not get them back during Obama’s eight year reign. Trump said he would bring jobs back by clamping down on China for illegal export subsidies and currency manipulation. So, dissatisfied and desperate, those who lost jobs voted for Trump.
But Trump’s solution will not work: as a recent McKinsey Global Institute study concluded:
“Trade and outsourcing explain only about 20 percent of the 5.8 million manufacturing jobs lost during the 2000-10 period; more than two-thirds of job losses can be attributed to continued productivity growth, which has been outpacing demand growth for the past decade.”
Just as Boston Celtics Coach Rick Pitino said after a disappointing season, “Larry Bird is not walking through that door….” the jobs being lost to productivity increases in manufacturing are not coming back. And that is not all: the well-paying jobs being lost in other production sectors, retail sales and professional services are not coming back either.
Did Sanders or Clinton offer any way to deal with this problem? Not really. Sanders talked about growing income inequalities and heavier taxes on the wealthy but never addressed the labor-saving automation challenge facing the nation (and the world).
What Should the Democrats Do?
The 2016 results show the Democrats’ base is hardly reliable. The Obama coalition needed Obama to hold together. Blacks are not fully invested in the system. The same with Hispanics. Women are not the progressive bulwark some thought. And young voters lack the discipline to vote strategically. All the political forecasts predicting immutable demographic changes would move the nation leftward missed the countervailing force of white Americans who resent those left-leaning women, minorities and young folk. The ugliness that Trump unleashed won’t be bottled up anytime soon. Republican candidates will embrace it, as it clearly motivates their voters.
This sounds quite grim. And sadly, significant numbers of whites are concerned about growing “minority” power. But there is reason to be more optimistic than Rust. Over the next four years, the disaffected voters who supported Trump will come to realize that the President’s programs neither get them what they want nor favor them. In large part, this is because Trump is not a “details” person. He leaves the details to his staffers, most of whom are traditional Republicans. And they have no interest in cowing to the poorly educated, lower income disaffected voters that have constituted Trump’s base.
In these circumstances, what should the Democrats do? They should just wait and provide a running critique on what Trump is doing and how it works against the interests of his less educated, lower income support base. The health care bills the Republicans keep putting forth make this point in spades. These should serve as a real wakeup call to many of his supporters who depend on Medicaid for their health care.
The Jobs Issue
The Democrats need to face up to this issue in a straightforward manner. And yes, more training is needed to qualify Americans for better paying jobs. But there are not nearly enough jobs for better-trained Americans to make up for those that are being lost through labor-saving automation and digitalization now moving forward at a rapid pace. The Democrats should start a national dialogue on why “good” jobs are being lost and what should be done about it.
And it is not that high income people are scheming to take away jobs from workers. It is in the nature of the automation/digitalization process that most of the benefits go to the investors and not workers – the investors see that they can make more money by investing in technologies rather than workers.
Now, at least for the immediate future, pressuring Trump into launching a needed nationwide infrastructure program will help with jobs. And while Trump will get most of the credit, this is something the Democrats should support. And Democrats should argue to pay for it via taxes on the rich.
Towards a New Democratic Platform
To be more concrete about what a new Democratic platform should look like, I start with what Bernie Sanders ran on last year. Keep in mind here that the primary objective is to win back disaffected white Americans who resent left-leaning women, minorities and young folk. In the following table, what I label “Good” are sensible items for the new platform. The “Not as Good” are certainly acceptable as longer term goals. Those listed “No” are anathema to the whites the Democrats need to win back who are uneasy over the growing power of minorities. I have added three items that should appeal to a majority of voters on guns, ending gerrymandering, and bringing back the draft.
The New Platform
The Need for a New Leader
Of course, the party also needs a new leader. And young/attractive candidates are yet to appear. But with a platform pretty well established along with what Trump is not doing for his base, attractive leaders are likely to emerge.
How both the times and the manner of commentary have changed. In closing, I quote from Nelson Rockefeller’s 1968 campaign brochure:
“In matters of human concern, I am a liberal. In matters of economic and fiscal concern, I am a conservative.”
“Our concern for freedom in South Vietnam must relate to our concern for justice in South Chicago. An attack on the dollar in Paris can ultimately plague the life of the wage-earner in Pittsburgh.”
“We somehow have contrived to be, at one and the same time, the Affluent Society and the Afflicted Society…The crisis of the American city is a crisis of the American conscience…We can choose a life of the jungle — or a life of justice…I believe the time of wounding — and of hate — must pass. The time for healing — and for hope — has come.”
“[The Federal Government] must become not the great monolith — but the great catalyst. It must inspire rather than impose. And it must find its highest concern to be not supervision — but vision…this means an investment of faith in the freedom and responsibility of state and local government.”