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Elliott Morss | January 17th, 2018

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Taking Back the White House: The Democrats Need A New Platform and Leader

Taking Back the White House: The Democrats Need A New Platform and Leader
© Elliott R. Morss, Ph.D.


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?

Recently, Richard Rust, a Democratic political pundit said:

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.

Looking Back

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.”


  1. Pat Nagi

    Excellent. I would add the connection between single-payer health and lower medical and drug costs. The government could negotiate a much better rate than what currently exists, and no leaders are currently driving that point.

  2. Richard Rust

    Elliott is right. I am pessimistic. He is not! ……. Yet!

    I attribute our divergence to a pretty fundamental difference. He thinks things in American politics, while troubling, are basically normal. I don’t. I am not alone in that. John Kerry has stated that there is “nothing normal” about the Trump administration. He added there is “nothing American about it either.”

    It is not normal for a Republican President and Congress from the Party, which for decades railed against Democrats as “soft on Russia”, to be hardly fazed that Russian military hackers launched a direct attack on our electoral process.

    The quiet, but relentless dismantling of governmental structures that were created by elected leaders from both parties to “establish justice and promote the general welfare” over the past 100 years, is not normal. If those structures disappear, they won’t be rebuilt easily, if ever.

    Trump is not normal. The Trump cabinet is not normal. Mitch McConnell and his Congressional allies jettisoning of any sense of comity and replacing it with a brute force belief in winner-take all politics is not normal.

    The “winner-take-all” politics of today’s Republicans is what the Founding Fathers most feared and invented the system of “checks and balances” to prevent. But the “checks” are clearly out of “balance” and may get weaker as an outright assault on core voting rights seems to be on the horizon.

    I doubt that American democracy will be rescued by a new Democratic White Knight persuasively articulating a new progressive vision. That would be normal. My real fear is that by the time any Democratic White Knight or Wonder Woman appears, it may already be game over.

    Trump and his Congressional and state Republican allies are on the cusp of effectively crippling the nation’s beleaguered voting rights protections and much of it’s election machinery – even without Vlad!

    Why Trump won goes well beyond people who lost jobs voting for him. Post-election analyses find white male and female voters’ fears of an emergent multicultural nation, racial resentment and delight in Trump’s authoritarian posturing were more critical than economics, even personal economics – not to mention the personage and campaign strategy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Twenty five years of negative press and rightwing attacks, repeated ad nausea by the media, had left Hillary vulnerable. Bernie Sanders’ duplicitous attacks on her as a corporate shill and his bogus claims that the primaries were rigged took a huge toll.

    The general electorate was troubled by the never-ending Clinton email saga, which the media harped on incessantly. Doubts about her integrity were fueled by FBI Director Comey first implying wrongdoing by her, exonerating her, implying wrongdoing again and then giving her final exoneration the weekend before election day.

    Unbeknownst to the public, in both the primaries and the general, Russian internet trolls filled social media with millions of false anti-Clinton tweets, Facebook posts and emails, based on hacked and doctored communiques from the DNC. Those trolls helped Sanders and reinforced Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” claims.

    The only mystery about Hillary’s loss is why she didn’t lose worse. Perhaps the most critical factor in her loss was the nature of the entire campaign cycle made ugly by design. It left very few voters in either Party enthusiastic. In November, millions of the most left-leaning voters and the idealistic young, energized by Bernie’s ultraliberal image in the primaries and caucuses, either supported third party candidates or didn’t vote at all.

    Had voters who came out for Obama in 2008 and 2012, turned out in 2016, she would have won handily. The 20 year low voter participation rate helped Trump, as low voter turnout of any kind traditionally favors the GOP.

    Pollsters, pundits, campaign operatives, the general public and the voters didn’t see the Trump triumph coming, but the neuroscientists did. They understood that rage, not reason, drove people to put him in the White House. Many American voters felt angry, fearful, and threatened. They saw a future of increased personal uncertainty, social disruption and alienation, threats of terrorism, and a chronically dysfunctional government. They didn’t vote based on Trump’s economic policy agenda. He never had one.

    Hillary’s specific and Trump’s vague promises on economic issues weren’t all that critical to the outcome. A noted psychologist who studies elections states – and I concur – “Most of the electorate would not pass a test on what anybody’s positions are on anything, Nobody cares.” Tribalism, prejudice, perceptions of which candidate is on one’s side and emotions are what voters care about when they enter the voting booth.

    As for Elliott’s New Platform, his suggestion that Democrats soft-pedal racial justice and women’s rights seems short-sighted. History has shown when a political party distances itself from it’s base in order to broaden it’s appeal, it invariably ends up worse off. Also, keep in mind, the “good” items Elliott listed were almost all reflected in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform adopted in Philadelphia. The exception was free college. Not that it mattered.

    In 2020, just like in 2016, candidate stances on specific issues will likely be less significant than who is motivated to show up on election day, how and who is allowed to cast their ballots.

    For over 200 years, expansion of the voting franchise, although slow, was relentless. The Naturalization Act of 1790 set the stage for expanding voting rights beyond property owners. In fits and starts, non-white males, freed slaves, women, Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, blacks and minorities won the right to vote. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965, again slowly, but steadily, election rules were changed to make voter registration and voting itself easier. But, that long history ended in 2010.

    The shortest route to one-party rule in faux-democracies is keeping opponents from access to the ballot. Restrictions on registration and roadblocks to voting for segments of the population who vote Democratic have become the norm in states ruled by Republicans. As a result one-party rule is at hand in a majority of states and many now can be considered faux-democracies.

    If voters disposed to vote for a certain party are denied the opportunity, even the most appealing candidates and all the best messaging in the world will be for naught.

    As we know, HRC won the popular vote by a huge margin, yet her electoral college loss was razor-thin. Of the more than 120 million votes cast in the 2016 election, 107,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania effectively decided the election. There is credible evidence to attribute those specific losses to successful voter suppression efforts in Democratic precincts by Republican election officials. Estimates of the number of voters impacted by new restrictions on registration and voting exceeded the Trump victory margin.

    In addition, reports from intelligence sources indicate that Russian hackers directly targeted election systems in at least 21 and as many as 39 states. None of the hackers was trying to help Hillary!

    The 2016 Republican voter suppression tactics went beyond what had been the prior norm. They were quite ingenious, employing subterfuge and expensive advanced technology to deny ballot access, to intimidate would-be voters and to discourage voter participation. Their success has set the stage for Trump and the national Republicans to double and triple down.

    With a firm grip on the presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court, two thirds of the nation’s governors’ offices and state legislatures, Republicans have more political power since at least 1928. With that power comes the chance to permanently restructure the election laws in ways that cement their advantages. Over the next two cycles, voter suppression will be a top national and state Republican priority.

    In a signal of what’s to come, Republicans in Congress are working to eliminate the federal agency responsible for assuring the physical integrity of the nation’s election machinery. That’s the equivalent of eliminating video replay and referees from professional sports. It practically invites Russia to try and hack our elections again. This from a President who believed the 2016 was rigged …. until he won!

    Steve Bannon, Trump’s key strategist, will be a driving force to change the national electoral system to advantage Republicans and white voters. A former Hollywood partner of his, when he was a film-maker, tells of Bannon musing about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners and the genetic superiority of whites. When told a property-owning requirement would exclude lots of African-Americans.” Bannon’s response was, “That’s not such a bad thing.”

    The newly created and intentionally misnamed “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity” co-chaired by Vice President Pence will be the spearhead of the attempt to permanently tilt the election laws. The first volley in the coming battle was launched this week, when the Pence Commission instructed every state to provide detailed information on every voter in the country, including personal, confidential data. On first blush, it appears the Commission over-reached and sparked bipartisan pushback. But it was only a first volley.

    Trump calls the Pence entity his “voter fraud” commission. The key appointees are the leading voices who over the past few years have claimed voter fraud is widespread nationally and therefore official election results are suspect. Those claims have been proven baseless time and again by election experts from both parties, academia and in-depth research studies, but they persist.

    There is no doubt that the Pence Commission’s aim is, as the saying goes, to “by what ever means necessary” make the “voter fraud crisis” case. Pence has a model for the effort – the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known unofficially as the Warren Commission. It was created by Lyndon Johnson with one objective – to make it “official” that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Evidence that supported that conclusion, including much that was highly questionable, was used to make the case. Evidence to the contrary was ignored or rejected.

    The Pence Commission will follow the Warren model. The Warren Commission embraced the dubious “single bullet theory” that was used to explain Oswald acting alone, because otherwise he didn’t. The “voter fraud” counterpart will be alleged systemic flaws in “voter rolls”. Those flaws will be said to prove fraud, when they do no such thing.

    The “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program” – the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, now the Pence Commission co-chair – was used in 2016 by Republican election officials in more than two dozen states, ostensibly to assure voter integrity. Kobach compiled lists of over 1 million citizens in those states whom were allegedly registered in more than one state and potentially able to cast multiple ballots. Those identified voters became targets to be purged from the voter rolls, although the lists merely showed people with common names registered to vote in different places. Tens of thousands of legitimately entitled voters ended up unable to vote or had to cast provisional ballots that were likely never counted.

    Not surprisingly, common-name matching, à la the Crosscheck Program, produces a higher percentage of minorities for a simple reason. Minorities, far more than whites, share common last names, as U.S. Census data shows. Someone named Washington has an 89 percent chance of being African-American. Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez have a 94 percent of being a Hispanic. The Kims have a 95 percent chance of being Asian.

    Is Crosscheck a form of racial profiling to be used in minority voter repression? Hell yes! Just the thing for a national approach to electoral integrity!

    The Pence Commission will collect as much registration and voting information as they can acquire for data mining. That mining will “discover” registration lists include lots of dead people; people who moved but remained on voter registration rolls of their old districts; people with the same names as felons; even a small number of non-citizens who are registered to vote.

    None of this will prove fraud. No matter. Like the “single bullet” proved Oswald was the lone assassin, “bloated voter rolls” will prove that we need new national election laws.

    Evidence that people who are dead actually vote will be non-existent! Evidence will show that at most a handful of people who moved from one place to another on election day, voted twice. Close analysis of the common name phenomenon will prove two people with the same name are almost never the same person and someone with the name of felon is most certainly not that felon. Noncitizen voters will be few and far between. None of that will matter.

    Rather than target the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Pence Commission will attack the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to offer voter registration at public service agencies. “Bloated voter rolls” will “prove” the Act has failed to protect the integrity of elections.

    Recommended reforms will likely be (1) on a national basis, require people to produce “documentary evidence” of citizenship before registering to vote; (2) require the states, before each congressional election, to purge people who appear to be registered in more than one location from registration rolls and (3) discourage efforts to make voter registration and actual voting easier and more convenient on the basis that they increase the potential for fraud. In combination with gerrymandered districts, this mix could put victory for Democratic candidates out of reach for many offices across the nation. That’s the point!

    Republicans in both Houses will be happy to pass such laws. 45 will be giddy as he signs them. SCOTUS will give them a final blessing.

    Going forward, the victors on election day will not reflect the will of the people, never mind the will of the voters. New “Platforms” like the ones Elliott outlines will be exercises in theater. On the ground the casualties will all be wearing blue uniforms.

    It will be the ultimate victory for the conservatives, religious fundamentalist and oligarchal forces, who, for more than 40 years, have been engaged in pulling off a brilliant strategic hostile takeover of U.S. democracy.

    Yep …. I’m pessimistic!

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