I’d already planned my last post when I woke up to this video of Nancy Pelosi’s response to the Capitol Hill riot, sent to me by a friend:
Now I was horrified by the scenes at the Capitol, and I think it’s obvious that the President, and his consiglieri Rudy Giuliani, caused it. I don’t think Trump had the imagination to understand what he was unleashing, but he unleashed it. But this video made me extremely angry. Trump’s words were the words of an unbalanced narcissist who feeds off the energy of the crowds. Pelosi’s words are the carefully chosen words of a woman who does not think she has to speak to anyone but the people in her bubble. And as much as I criticized the press yesterday for talking about “them” versus “us,” it’s even more imperative for our leaders to understand, as opposed to just paying lip service to the idea, that they represent all the people, and that includes the 74 million who voted for Donald Trump. This doesn’t mean that they should change their positions on issues they were elected to champion, but it does mean that they can’t dismiss half the country as racist “deplorables.”
No, you say, she was talking about the people in the crowd. Well, she wasn’t; she made it more general: “There are people in this country, led by this president—for the moment—who have chosen their whiteness over democracy.” But even if she was talking about the crowd, reducing it to a race question is a way of saying you don’t have to think about it anymore, you don’t have to try to figure out what your role may have been in dividing the country, and you don’t have to figure out how to win these people back. It’s also inaccurate. While the crowd was made up overwhelmingly of white males, and I’m sure there were plenty of white racists in the crowd, with the Confederate flags and Nazi paraphernalia being pretty good indicators, there were black and brown men in the crowd cheering Trump on. As a matter of fact, I saw more black men than I saw women of any ethnic group. (Although the crowd that actually stormed the Capitol seems to have been almost all white.) But I don’t think Pelosi was even looking at the specifics of the crowd. Instead, she was playing to the stereotype and taking the “moral high ground” to score points against Trump. Again. And in doing that, she was ensuring that the divisions would continue.
If the crowd had been confronting a Black Lives Matter protest, there would have been some justification for the charge, although even then, it would have been simplistic. But the crowd, egged on by their President, believed that they really won the election and some elite group on the other side was disenfranchising them to install a career politician who was well past his sell-by date. I don’t agree with them, I didn’t vote for their candidate, but that doesn’t mean that I get to call them racists and dismiss them. The Democratic party needs to do a lot of soul searching, and not the kind done by their queen in exile, Hillary Clinton. I caught a few of Clinton’s interviews when she and Chelsea did their book-promotion tour in the UK. When asked if she’d done any self-reflection about her 2016 loss, Clinton said absolutely she had. Her conclusion? She’d underestimated how awful the other side was and how easily fooled some people are—or some variation of that. And no one challenged her and said, “That’s not self-reflection, that’s self-justification.” Maybe she should have considered the fact that she’s always thought she was smarter than everyone else, so she could decide which rules to follow and which rules to break, like using her personal email to discuss business when she was Secretary of State. It was just easier, she said. Or maybe it was calling fully half of the opposition deplorables. If they don’t vote for Clinton, they’re likely “racist, sexist, homophobic.” At the very least, Clinton’s self-reflection should include a little ponder on why the people who think they’re the smartest people around are always surprised when they say or do something in a group or in public and it gets recorded. A lot of people need to be pondering this right now, including Governor of California Gavin Newsom, who instituted strict lockdown rules and then broke them by going to a party for a lobbyist at a hugely expensive restaurant, all the while lecturing people who had to leave their houses to make money so they could eat on the importance of following the rules. Or maybe Nancy Pelosi should think about rightly shaming Republicans for refusing to wear masks and then flouting mask rules at a hair salon. What was Pelosi’s response? “My hairdresser set me up.” Democrats in general should ask themselves why the party that was once the party of the normal, working-class voter is now widely perceived as the party of the elites.
There are, of course, still conservative true believers who would never vote Democrat. There are also a lot of blue-chip Republicans, well off and highly educated, who vote Republican because they think Republicans are better for their taxes and the stock market. I doubt either of these groups are the ones in Hillary Clinton’s basket of deplorables. The other group, working class people who feel they’ve been left behind by a bunch of politicians who are in politics to enrich themselves, are more interesting. This chart from the Financial Times shows the percentage of voters in a variety of categories, and their shift left or right from 2016 to 2020:
The intriguing thing to me is where these people were in 2016. Republicans had more than a 40% advantage among white, non-college-educated men, for example, while people who made over $100,000 were split more or less 50-50. All the ethnic groups listed toward the bottom of the chart started out heavily in the Democratic camp, where they stayed, overall, but with less comfortable margins. I’m guessing the move of white, non-college-educated people to the left in 2020 was a result mostly of their distaste for Trump, although it might also have been a realization that Republicans might cut their health-care coverage or were not handling the pandemic well. But all those groups that are taken for granted by the Democratic party have continued to move slowly toward the right.
And even after the 2020 attrition, the Republican party had a comfortable edge with non-college-educated men and women. Before the pandemic, these people disproportionately benefited from Donald Trump’s tax cuts. They were also the people less likely to have jobs that could easily move to an online environment. So while the reporters at the New York Times (and people like me) could, or already did, work from home, these were the people who saw their pay checks stop—and they are also the people who have less of a cushion to fall back on. Yet, for the three years before the pandemic, they saw the President who’d helped them with tax cuts and a booming economy “picked on for everything.” They saw people like Nancy Pelosi suggest things like student loan forgiveness, that wouldn’t help them but would likely raise their taxes. Their old jobs may have become obsolete, but they didn’t see anyone talking about how to help them shift careers until Ivanka Trump started barnstorming for the National Skills Coalition, an apprenticeship program that’s been around since George Bush was president, but was highlighted by the Trump administration. And now they’re being characterized as racists for being skeptical about the most unusual election in our nation’s history.
Let me be clear. To the disappointment of my conservative friends, I did not vote for Donald Trump in either election and I think he’s done a great deal of harm to the country with his rhetoric. But I do think there were some good things, too, and some things that other people actually did but he highlighted and took credit for. Try to imagine being a middle-aged blue-collar white male right now. You’ve done everything you were supposed to do, you’ve always worked hard, and you’ve paid your taxes. Increasingly, you’re seen as the enemy, and even though you can barely make ends meet, you’re never mentioned in any of the speeches on either side unless it’s to be castigated as being a racist, sexist dinosaur who won’t even use gender neutral pronouns. And then Donald Trump comes along and cuts through all that malarkey, and by gosh, after he’s elected, your pay check is bigger and the person in power may be rough around the edges, but he’s not talking down to you.
Do I think Donald Trump has any less contempt for that group than Hillary Clinton does? Of course not. The fact that he’s stiffed a lot of the people who have done work for him, and had no problem making business decisions that resulted in mass layoffs at his casinos (pre-COVID), suggest quite the reverse. But I think they were willing to give him a chance, and many still believe him, because he at least recognized that they exist and have valid reasons to feel let down by the status quo.
The biggest problem with Donald Trump is that he’s so awful, he masks all the other problems that were already there and are now magnified, on both sides. A conservative friend who’d already left the Republican party before Donald Trump because of what she perceived as their move away from the conservative ideals of small government and personal freedom believes that establishment Republicans have colluded with establishment Democrats to throw Trump under the bus. I’d actually thought at the beginning of his first term that since Pence thought more the way the establishment did, they might actually abandon Trump for Pence in an impeachment fight. I was wrong—they seemed to go overboard for far too long in supporting Trump and impeding any kind of transparent investigation into wrong-doing on either side. Now, after the Capitol Hill siege, they’ve disappointed people on both sides. The good thing for the Republican party is that in losing both houses of congress and the presidency, they will be forced to reflect.
Democrats, on the other hand, are still basking in their success and have refused to acknowledge that maybe they, too, were responsible for some of the mess. We’ve all seen it on Facebook and Twitter—people make horrible comments about the intelligence or moral depravity of anyone who has voted for Trump and then post something like this:
We’re all guilty of it a little bit. I’ve shared anti-Trump Randy Rainbow parodies because I thought they were funny and I’m a sucker for musicals, and then I’ve thought, hmm, in the current environment, I shouldn’t be doing this. Why? Because too many people have crossed over into mean-spiritedness. I am in a Facebook group that is overwhelming liberal but has one member who never says anything bad about another person, but throughout both elections, he was a huge Trump supporter. People say terribly insulting things to him, even though he is kind to everyone, and several of them have blocked him, ensuring that their liberal bubble is intact.
An even better example, on a national level, is George Conway. I am a fan of the Lincoln Project, an organization of Republicans of which Conway is a founding member. Some of the group were integral in Donald Trump’s first election campaign but were disturbed enough by what had happened since his election that they formed to defeat him. So far, so good. But Conway is also the husband of Kellyanne Conway, who was the campaign manager to Donald Trump in 2016 and has until recently served as his Senior Counselor. Kellyanne has an impressive political résumé, from both before and during the Trump presidency. But George was not content to stay in the background at the Lincoln Project. Instead, he became its public face, constantly trolling his wife’s boss on Twitter. Eventually, their daughter Claudia, now 16, got into the act, releasing disrespectful and cringe-worthy TikTok videos. When Kellyanne got COVID-19, Claudia mockingly recorded her mother looking sick and tired and discouraged. Eventually, Kellyanne Conway stepped down from her job to take care of her family. You’d think the #metoo followers would be horrified at this example of a man, eclipsed by his wife’s job, undermining her publicly to the extent that their daughter felt empowered to join in, right? No. Because Trump. Instead, people who would be horrified if Kamala Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff were publicly critical of Joe Biden, or if a senior Biden appointee ended up stepping down from her job because her husband and teenager publicly hounded her, laugh right along with George and Claudia. All of this is separate from the real political differences that exist, but it’s precisely why I don’t see the right and the left coming together any time soon. It seems we’re stuck at the right not trusting (or understanding) the left and the left using the language of compromise when what they mean is, “We’ll work with you as long as you submit to all our dictates.”
People have equated what’s happening in the UK with what’s happening in the US, but having lived through Brexit and COVID in the UK, I still see a difference. The British electorate generally likes to complain about everyone in power, and this isn’t necessarily bad. No one is saying their elections are rigged, and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, was rightly blamed, at least partially, for Labour’s losses in the last election. There are decent, well-researched conservative news outlets and decent, well-researched liberal news outlets. It’s telling that people on both sides criticize the BBC pretty equally for favoring the other side. And no one is above the satirist’s pen. I was thrilled when I heard Spitting Image, the 1980s satirical news show (with puppets), was coming back this year. I was even happier when I heard it would be carried in the US on NBC so my American friends could see it. Then, just before it was released, NBC pulled out of the deal because they were afraid of upsetting “powerful people.” Since Donald Trump and his followers are quite regularly satirized on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and other US shows, it seems that they were not referring to the show’s attacks on Trump but were concerned about how their broad attacks on the left would be received. And that’s too bad. Luckily, someone posted this Nancy Pelosi sketch from the show on YouTube, and it seems a fitting ending for this post. The Brits still think both sides are worthy of satirizing: