by Daniel A. Kaufman
Though I voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election, I predicted that Donald Trump would win. Indeed, I was predicting his victory months before, when everyone was convinced he would lose. I even capitalized on this overconfidence, winning $160, on a $20 bet in which my challenger gave me 8-1 odds. After the election was over, I identified the most right wing county that I could find in the rural South and made him donate the money to a local charity there. The frisson was better than cocaine.
I feel sort of like James Caan in Thief or Al Pacino in The Godfather 3, but in reverse. Rather than people from my old gang trying to drag me back, after I’ve decided to leave, the people in the new gang I’ve joined are doing everything they can to shove me back into the arms of my old one. I left the conservative movement because I couldn’t stomach the Moral Majority and their cretinous offspring, the Christian Coalition. Now I’m finding I can’t stomach the left’s new Moral Minority, with their lampoonable pronoun crusades and safe spaces and other pitiful crap. But even worse is the way we’ve collectively reacted to our devastating and revealing loss to the Republicans and to Donald Trump.
With regard to the young people involved, to whose education I’ve devoted more than half of my life, it’s more sad than anything else. You can see that they desperately want to have some cause to rally around; to man the barricades; to play 1968, with protests and sit-ins, and megaphones and whatnot. The trouble is that the issues just aren’t there. They’re not facing being shipped off to Vietnam. They’re not getting shot to death by soldiers at Kent State. They’re not living at a time when the only women in offices were secretaries; or when violent crime rates were so high, you couldn’t walk down streets in big cities without getting mugged or worse; or when there was legal segregation; or when even super-rich, mega pop stars had to hide their homosexuality for fear of their careers being ruined. Most of these battles have been won or mostly won, to the point that what’s left are moral and legal crumbs, important to be sure, but for which loud agitprop of the sort we’re seeing at Yale and Middlebury and Evergreen just comes off as histrionic and stupid. The one thing that they should be really outraged about, namely, that their economic futures have been fucked (largely by the Baby Boomers) and that their wildly expensive educations are going to turn out to be useless, yielded nothing but the stillbirth that was the “Occupy” movement. But it’s not really their fault. They’re entirely ignorant of recent history – I’ve been saying for years that we should teach students history since the Second World War and then the rest, going backwards from there, as time permits – and lack any sort of grit or fortitude, their parents and teachers having been busy filling their heads with save-the-world bullshit, a saccharine ethos, and an “all must have prizes” mentality that has turned them into a bunch of pious, triggered twits.
The adults, however, have no excuse. None. Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that I can’t even stand talking about politics with the grownups in my own party anymore. We lost an election in a way that demonstrates not just the rottenness of our party’s hierarchy, but that our political coalition, as it stands, is not politically viable. In a Federal system like ours, what matters is not how many people support you, in a numerical sense, but how well-supported you are across the various regions of the country, and what we’ve discovered is that while our platform is appealing to a lot of people, numerically speaking, it is only to people living in a handful of high-population, cosmopolitan areas, essentially the Boston-NY-DC corridor, LA county, the Bay Area, and the Pacific Northwest. This shouldn’t surprise us, given our current most visible raft of issues – environmentalism, identity politics, and globalization – but it should be immediately obvious that it’s far too narrow and elitist to successfully win elections in and govern an enormous and diverse country like the United States. When the party of FDR loses Labor to the party of Nelson Rockefeller – when you lose Michigan and Wisconsin to the goddamned Republicans – and when the best candidate you can cough up is the sclerotic Hillary Clinton, you should realize you have a serious problem; one that requires a thorough re-conceptualization of your party and a rebuilding of it from the ground up. The McGovernite coalition, with a sprinkling of global capitalists and technocrats added on top, just isn’t going to cut it – it never did, which is why Bill Clinton is the only really successful president the Democrats have had since FDR – and we should know that.
And yet, what are all my fellow adult Democrats talking about? Impeaching Trump. Arresting Trump. Driving Trump from office. Praying that Trump dies before he finishes his term. Someway, somehow, somewhere fucking that fucking Trump. And beyond that? Doubling down on identity politics. Marching. Joining cringe-inducing groups like “Pantsuit Nation,” whose optics are precisely the sort of thing that made Hillary Clinton so viscerally unappealing to voters living anywhere that wasn’t New York or California. Oh and busily knifing one another. They’re doing that with great efficiency and glee. Trans activists going after feminists. BLM supporters going after white progressives. Global warming obsessives going after anyone who isn’t absolutely convinced that Florida will be underwater next week. In short, doing everything that lost us the damned election in the first place, but even more so, and doing none of the things we desperately must do if we are to win the next one. Indeed, doing everything they can think of to make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to do so.
Of course, this isn’t entirely surprising. Party-building is brutally difficult, divisive, risky work. One may have to compromise on some of one’s most cherished issues for the sake of the party’s long-term success. One may have to form partnerships with those whom one really dislikes, because on five or six out of ten issues, you have common interests. In short, it’s the sort of thing that requires one to be and to act like a fucking adult. And the trouble is that our adults don’t want to be or act like adults. (Which, by the way, should be the subject of an entire essay of its own.) After all, it’s much easier to shout and march and shake your fist and join hashtag campaigns and have Comey-hearing-watching parties and plaster your car with stickers, than it is to do the work necessary to beat your opponent in an open contest, and you get cheap, easy kudos from your peeps to boot. Put another way, what most of the (chronological) adults in my party seem to be doing most of the time in the days that have passed since the election is pose, posture, and signal to one another, with a periodic, ritual purging of the insufficiently pure to top it all off. And while that’s something I expect sixteen year olds to do, when forty, fifty, and sixty year olds do it, it’s not just regressive, but grotesque, as well as being completely, utterly, totally counterproductive. Not to mention infuriating. So much so, that it almost makes me almost want to become a Republican again, just to spite them.
Fortunately, I have enough control over myself not to do that.