What are the lessons of the election for the future of democracy?
First, leaving part of the population far behind is dangerous. Democracy properly gives everyone the right to vote, so everybody counts. When a segment of the population feels ignored, like those who lost their factory jobs, they sometimes revolt. But it’s easier to destroy what they don’t like than to shape a better future. Many, disliking Hillary and the gridlocked Congress, knocked her and Democrats out of their way, but are likely to regret the results unless the Republicans change and start working for the workingmen they’ve ignored.
For a century, Republicans have been fighting the unions of working people, and the legal protections for working people and consumers with increasing success. Can Republicans change and actually side with those same people. That’s the claim of Trump’s empty jawboning. But his methods will do the opposite.
- He can’t bring coal back now that other forms of energy are cheaper.
- He can’t bring steel back when other countries produce it for less.
- There are opportunities in technology, science, education, research, infrastructure, the environment, and retraining but Republicans prefer to count pennies and dream about a world they can’t have back.
Progress requires investment. But Republicans only support tax relief for the wealthy with prayers they’ll do something useful, not complex and destructive financial maneuvers, mergers, buyouts and monopolization – all strategies for beggaring the rest of us.
I don’t expect Republicans to change their colors.
But political campaigns will change, effective immediately:
- Candidates will repeat slogans like “crooked Hillary” or “wicked Donald” ad nauseum, expecting people to be more affected by repetition than evidence.
- Accomplishing something will be downgraded to the level of an accidental coincidence because candidates will expect people to be more moved by rhetoric than reality.
- Appeals to people’s guns and hatreds will no longer seem self-defeating; instead, appealing to people’s basest instincts and group hatreds will be mandatory.
Is there another way?
The economic polities of FDR, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stuck for more than half a century and kept this country depression-free until the recent W years.
Roosevelt understood that policies had to be good for everyone. He designed Social Security so that everyone got it, conveniently, through the post office; our checks came in the mail, although now it’s often direct deposit.
His economic policies got everyone back to work – Roosevelt didn’t shrink from hiring people with government dollars to get them working. He didn’t rely on a private market when it obviously wasn’t working. And he took our economy out of the Great Depression and put it on a powerful footing for an economic surge that lasted the rest of the century.
It’s not about jawboning. It’s about figuring out what will actually get people to work. That’s what America got out of the New Deal. What he didn’t do was turn the rest of us into the serfs and slaves of the wealthy. He didn’t celebrate the kind of jobs done only by those too desperate to refuse endless hours for peanuts, in what we used to call sweatshops and labor camps, no matter how dirty, diseased, dangerous, disgusting, illegal or improper.
Let me end by asking what we will also be doing to reign in global warming, protect Americans, democracy, and the country we were blessed with?
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, January 17, 2017.