Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Yes, Virginia, There Is Hope - The Invisible Majority

Of all the unfortunate results of the 2016 campaign and election, perhaps the worst is that 
the divisive identity politics pursued by both parties resulted in a loss of any feeling that we are one people, one country.  Instead, post-election there are two opposing camps at war; so many angry voices, so much vilification on both sides.  For many it destroyed any sense of hope for our country.

The Clinton campaign will refute this charge, but even with its “Stronger Together” slogan it played divisive politics by consistently demeaning those who were supporting Trump.  And Clinton supporters did not hold back in their vituperative remarks.  

The election thus seemed to show two large disparate vocal groups.  The majority (but not the winners) were vocal supporters for a fair America defined by a fistful of people’s rights, but who seemed to care little for the plight of the American factory worker and to have no use for a reading of the 2nd Amendment that included an individual right to bear arms.  

The very vocal minority (but the winners) were what has been described as anti-establishment, anti-elite.  They were for bringing back good middle-class worker jobs and against globalization.  They were against large government.  The noise of the campaign also made it seem that they were anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigration, and anti-choice (against Roe v Wade).  Some would even claim anti-women.

I say “seem” because while this describes the direction of the two campaigns … the only real game in town voters had to choose from … it does not describe the voters.  Get away from the politics of the moment, and there is in fact a large American majority that crosses party lines and looks quite different from the rhetoric of the two campaigns.  

How is this invisible majority defined?  I think that first and foremost this invisible majority wants three things:

1.  They each want for themselves, as well as for all Americans, the opportunity to partake of the American dream; it should not just be for a select few.  They want America to start building things again and create solid middle-class working jobs.  They do not want to see any group given preference over another.  All should have equal opportunity and advancement should be based on merit and no other factor.  (See discussion below and my post, “Economic Justice for All.”)

2.  They want a secure America … secure from terrorist attacks and secure from everyday violence as they go about their lives.

3.  They want a government that listens to them, that clearly hears them.

As for the other what-I-would-call side issues … abortion, a Muslim registry, undocumented Latinos, gun control … the majority of Americans don’t support Trump’s position.  My proof?

Re choice/abortion, for the last two decades, according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 56% of American adults have said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 41% have said it should be illegal.  

All Americans are against Muslim terrorists and support vetting new Muslim immigrants or travelers.  But according to a June 2016 Gallup report, only a minority, albeit a sizable one, is in favor either of banning all new Muslim immigrants (38%) or requiring Muslims U.S. citizens to carry a special ID (32%).  That is to me a disturbingly large number but still clearly far from the majority view.

As for undocumented Latinos, polls in recent years have consistently shown majority support for some path to citizenship.  As recently as September 2016, a CNN poll showed that 88% (including 80% of Trump supporters) would be in favor of a path to citizenship for all those who have a clean record, have worked and paid taxes, and speak English.

Then there is the divisive issue of gun control.  Gun owners fear, as a result of NRA fear mongering, that their guns will be taken away, but taking guns out of the hands of hunters and home owners has never even been an item of discussion among gun control advocates.  Virtually all Americans support access to appropriate guns for hunting and self-defense.  So even on the 2nd Amendment, there is broad agreement.  

That agreement extends to limitations on that right, for as with all constitutional rights, this one too is not absolute.  As shown in a 2016 Pew Research Center report, the majority of Americans are in favor of tighter control of who acquires guns and the types of guns. The vast majority favor expanded background checks for gun shows and private sales (88% D; 79% R), laws preventing the mentally ill from buying guns (79%), and a federal database to track guns sales (70% - 85% D; 55% R).  A majority also favors a ban on assault-style weapons (57% - 70% D; 48% R).  

So how come Trump won the election?  Why did all these people who don’t agree with him on so many issues vote for him?

First, as various articles have made clear, they voted for him because they believed he was the best chance for restoring good-paying middle class working jobs.  He clearly heard them and took up their cause.  Democrats have been promising this for years but have achieved little, as Trump kept on accusing Clinton during the campaign.  The jobs created during the Obama administration were not jobs that helped the former middle class worker and the post-recession upswing has not benefitted them.  

Second, the recent uptick of radical Muslim terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. was understandably frightening to many and they liked Trump’s strict talk.  Clinton said almost nothing useful about this subject.  Third, many people, even white educated women, voiced a real dislike for Hillary, which is why even a majority in that cohort voted for Trump.

And finally, and perhaps most decisively, Trump was defiantly anti-establishment, both regarding the Republican Party and government.  Clinton on the other hand is usually seen as the very embodiment of the establishment/government.

So while the election results give Trump a “mandate” to move forward with his economic plans, parts of his national security plan, and his general anti-government perspective, it should not be seen as a mandate regarding human/civil rights-related matters.  Nevertheless it surely will be taken to be a mandate regarding all areas covered by the campaign.  That’s what all winning elections claim.

More importantly, though, the election should not be taken by anyone as evidence that the majority of Americans have lost their common sense, their morality, and have become a bigoted, racist mass.  Of course there are bigots and racists out there; there always have been.  But even among Trump supporters, they form only a small percentage.  I honestly don’t even believe Trump is bigoted or racist; he certainly played those cards to win, but then so have others before him, just not as blatantly.

“But.” the reader may ask, “isn’t your statement about what the invisible majority wants off the mark?  What about the fact that so many Blacks are adamant about maintaining affirmative action and so many whites, especially middle class workers, are adamantly against it?”

No.  Remember that my statement starts with what everyone wants for themselves; that’s the starting point, the reference point.  Blacks feel as they do because despite our laws on equal opportunity, there has never been anything close to equal opportunity for Blacks in this country, especially the poor.  It starts with  poorly funded and neglected inner city schools and continues with the existence of discrimination in much of the job market.  

Whites on the other hand feel as they do because affirmative action has resulted in Blacks with less qualification still getting job preference 50 years after the civil rights laws were passed.  They may be considered part of the “privileged class” because they are white, but they do not feel privileged.  Many are suffering economically and angry that they see attention being given only to others’ rights, not theirs. 

If, as I say in that statement, everyone had true equal opportunity, I think all would feel that the only consideration in education, hiring, and advancement should be merit, not color.

Recognizing that Trump supporters are not the bogeyman, everyone on the progressive/center side of politics should be not only open to, but arguing for a new Democratic politics that reaches out to and forms a bond with the average Trump voter (many of whom were formerly mainstay Democrats).  This means foregoing identity politics and recognizing that we are all in the same boat and we all either swim or sink together.  And it means recognizing the things in Trump’s agenda which we can and should support because they are good for America. 

We need to say to Trump voters, “We support Trump’s efforts to create good-paying middle-class working jobs.  We support his efforts to restore and improve the country’s infrastructure.  

We feel for workers whose lives have been shattered and who have not been listened to.  We understand that we must make government more responsive to the people.  We know you are not racists or bigots.   You are upstanding citizens and we apologize that anyone has characterized you otherwise.

But there are dark forces out there which must be countered, and so we ask you to stand up as Trump supporters and make clear that:
- You support an earned path to citizenship for undocumented Latinos who have clean records, have worked and paid taxes, and speak English, 
- You oppose a Muslim registry of U.S. citizens, 
- You support reasonable efforts to stop the sale of guns to those who have evidenced that they cannot be trusted with the power of guns, and 
-  You unequivocally disapprove of any violent acts and vandalism taken by individuals/vigilante groups against Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, LGBT people, Jews, or any other group.”  

I have not included abortion rights or other women’s rights issues in this outreach request because Trump voters’ support of these issues is not as great and I don’t think anything should distract from the large agreement on these other very important issues.

Whether white middle class worker, or black inner city dweller, or rural farmer, regardless what color, gender, faith, walk of life, ethnicity or sexual orientation, the government and the economy should be there for each and every one.  Everyone is entitled to equality and respect.  Everyone should have access to equal opportunity (whether people take advantage of it is their responsibility).  There is no inherent conflict between group interests here.  

That is the mandate of our Declaration of Independence.  And that is what we should be fighting for.