Marilyn Katz :
Trump won because Democrats have lost touch with the working class

We must go beyond the borders of our cities and beyond the easy coalitions we’ve relied on.

trump-in-reno

Donald Trump in Reno, January 2016. Photo by Darron Birgenheier / Flickr.

By Marilyn Katz | The Rag Blog | November 10, 2016

Like all progressives, I take no joy in the rise to power of a man who traded on xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and fear to pave a path to the White House. But I was not surprised by his victory. Attacked by my friends for being a “nabob of negativity,” I have long believed that Donald Trump could win.

More than a year ago, I wrote about how Oreo cookie maker Mondolez International planned to ship jobs from Chicago to Mexico, ostensibly, to save money. I called for a boycott. I appealed to elected officials, friends, other Democrats, unions, and others. None responded.

But hundreds of thousands of ordinary people did and, to my horror and surprise, so did Trump. It was more than troubling that only Trump saw the shutdown of an iconic American company as an issue that merited attention. It was in that moment I knew he could win.

Globalization has eaten away at the core of the nation’s working class.

How could both the Democratic Party and the self-appointed left ignore an issue that not only deprived Hispanic and African-American workers of well-paying jobs that supported their families and communities, but was also a vivid indicator of a process — globalization — that has eaten away at the core of the nation’s working class?

Trump’s chances grew even more apparent to me during the primary season, as it became clear just how out of touch the Democratic Party was from the working class. Could Bernie Sanders have bested Trump? I’m not certain but I do think, as do many others, that he was far more in touch with the anger, pain, and fear that motivated voters this election. Too many people feel left behind — by the economy, Washington, and by broad changes in the culture.

How did this happen? One factor in particular stands out to me: Both the Democratic Party and the left have given up/ abandoned/ lost touch with the working class.

It was easy to do. As demographics changed, Democrats and the left were able to cobble together coalitions of urbanites, women, African-Americans, and Latinos that won elections with slim pluralities. While I have always been a critic of Todd Gitlin’s and others’ critique of identity politics, it may be true that the left abandoned the fundamentals of class politics and drifted into the comfort of identity politics, mistaking the ability to mobilize a slim plurality for real power, at its peril.

Today’s campaigns are built on identifying and targeting a much more narrow band of voters.

Ironically, this tendency to reach out and talk to only those with whom we are most comfortable has been exacerbated by the vote-targeting tools developed during Barack Obama’s electoral victories and lauded by the technocrats who now control campaigns. Rather than strategies that focus on new constituencies and persuasion, today’s campaigns are built on identifying and targeting a much more narrow band of voters already most likely to vote for a particular candidate — providing a short-term win perhaps, but one with dire long-term consequences.

We are in for a difficult period.

Our cities are diverse and will remain bastions of progressive politics. But right-wing Republicans will now control all branches of the federal government and the majority of states. We must go beyond the borders of our cities and beyond the easy coalitions we’ve relied on if we want to build the kind of mass politics that we know are best for our families, our nation and the fate of the earth.


This article was published at In These Times and was cross-posted by the author to The Rag Blog.

Read more articles by Marilyn Katz on The Rag Blog.


[Long-time activist Marilyn Katz has founded and led groups like the Chicago Women’s Union, Reproductive Rights National Network, and Chicago Women Organized for Reproductive Choice in the 1960s and 1970s, and Chicagoans Against War in Iraq in 2002. The founder and president of Chicago-based MK Communications, Katz is also a partner in Democracy Partners and a founder and co-chair of the newly formed Chicago Women Take Action. She can be contacted at mkatz@mkcpr.com.]

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5 Responses to Marilyn Katz :
Trump won because Democrats have lost touch with the working class

  1. While I think there is a lot more to be understood about the sociodynamics of the so-called “Trump base,” I think you have nailed it in describing some of our “blind spots.” I mean, how did we fail to provide any kind of counter-narrative — effective or otherwise — to such a large segment of people profoundly affected by income inequality and thus lose them to a crass uber-capitalist con man who sits on a gold toilet to take a shit.

    Yes, I think Bernie would have been a better candidate. His message was simple, authentic, and made sense to the people who have been left behind by the “global” economy.

  2. anonymous says:

    Except just try to talk about unions, billionaires, equality, etc on a loading dock, on a building site, etc and you will get replies from these right populists about Mexicans, lazy n*****s, welfare, etc.

    They don’t get it. Construction trades are among the worst for harboring retrograde attitudes

    We need to instead actually get our people out to vote, b/c we are/were the real majority. This includes broad majorities of women, blacks, gays, Latinos, unionized labor (for the most part), the professional middle class.

    Except now we have to wonder if this might be the last free federal election for a while.

    • Arn says:

      Yes, we really are the real majority. What’s especially galling is that Democrats are being blamed for not being friendly enough to the working class, while Republicans continue to be completely antagonistic to the working class and yet reap the votes of people made desperate by a system made hostile to the working class by unanimous Republican assent and split Democratic support. Both sides do not do it equally and the difference is real and distinctive enough to abandon GOP candidates altogether. And yes the Dems need to go forward to their former New Deal roots.

  3. phil sigmund says:

    “Right populists”. Another phrase for National
    Socialists ?

    • anonymous says:

      Unfortunately there does seem to be a rather similar appeal, yes. The pattern’s been there for a long time — with Nixon, growing under Reagan, receding a bit under the Bushes, now full toxic glory with Trump.

      I don’t think we can get their votes back except in extraordinary circumstances.

      The good news is this demographic are somewhat indifferent voters. If they endure disappointments b/c President Koresh doesn’t deliver what they want, their votes may drop off in 2018 and 2020. They would stay home rather than voting for a Dem.

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