Democratic Populism: A Vote-Catcher or The Right Thing To Do?

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Ever since the tragic election of Donald Trump, I’ve been touting a realignment of Democratic Party thinking I call ‘Democratic Populism.’

I like to think I recognize a feeling among those I believe should be the Democratic Party’s core voting base (ordinary working folk) that they have been left behind by their Democratic Party these past thirty years, as said Party feasted on a smorgasbord of globalism, deregulation, privatization, cost-cutting, fiscal ‘prudence,’ identity politics, muscular militarism and international nation-building, rather than placing at the top of their wish list the immediate economic and social concerns of ordinary American working people.

I think the evidence suggests I recognized this trend during the past US Presidential Election, and predicted (correctly) that it might well play havoc with the final result.

Since then, I have been doing two things:

1) Attempting to dampen what I regard as the misplaced enthusiasm of those in the Democratic Party, who think that ‘staying the course’ on existing Democratic policy, with the existing message to potential voters, and the existing candidates on offer, will, of themselves, combined with a higher turnout of existing Democratic voters, magically lead to a new surge of Democratic victory, up and down the political ladder. Even though all the evidence is that Democrats have increasingly been losing state and national elections these past thirty years, not least due to the Democratic neglect I referenced earlier.

2) Trying to offer a platform of new Democratic policies and approach, which I believe might stand a chance of winning over swing Trump/Republican voters, and thereby enlarging the likely Democratic voting pool.

The primary point of this post is that, until now, my main objective has been to convince folks, hopefully fellow Democrats, that we need to do more than just hope in order to increase the number of Democratic voters. But, today, who knows, maybe because it’s the day after April Fools Day, I’m thinking maybe I should be talking about changing Democratic policies, simply because it is, in my opinion, the right thing to do, for ordinary working Americans?

I don’t have the policies and approach all fleshed out. I’ve been saying that since November. And that is still the case. This is all a work in progress. I’m thinking. Observing. Talking to folks. Especially here, in Seneca, SC – the very definition of disadvantaged rural America. The sort of place. Along with, frankly and equally, any part of America that is disadvantaged, be if defined by geographical location or demographic type. The sort of place, with the sort of people, who should be turning out and voting Democrat, without even thinking about it.

So. I may not have the policies and approach all thought out. But I do have a start. It’s a blog. I’ve referenced it before. You can read it. To get some idea of where my thinking is going:

But maybe the basics aren’t too difficult to summarize:

First. We stop sneering at ordinary American working people. They are the essence of our patriotism and our strength. They keep our companies, our workplaces and our country running. From shopfloors to farming communities. From hospitals to the military. The grunts. The muscle. The folks who serve. Who cash us out. Who sweep our floors. Who empty our bedpans.

Who feel they have no control over their lives. Are not their own bosses. Do not have the time to campaign for better conditions. At work. Or at home. Whose only opportunity to contribute to the design of their children’s destiny and their own is when they vote. Which often they cannot do, if the work schedule does not allow.

Who may not have been to college. May not spend their time, when not busting ass, reading the latest book on social welfare or international politics. But who are still capable of working out what is best for them. Who wait to be asked. Because they have had it ingrained in them that they should not raise their hand and make a fuss.

Who may not figure among those we call the intellectual elite. But are the ones who pay the price for all the ‘clever’ ideas those elite reconfigure every four years. Who wonder at the margins of error said elite allow in their calculations, fully in the knowledge that there is no corresponding margin of error in the cost of weekly groceries for an ordinary working American, or in the interest rate your average American pays on their monthly mortgage.

These are the people the Democratic Party was formed to represent. And these are the folk the Democratic Party of today have chosen to forget. So. Step One. Stop sneering at them. If you don’t like them. Find another Party.

Step Two. Start talking to them. Actually ask what they want. And ask them why. And then begin to fashion policies that meet those wishes. All the while remembering to design the policies, and consider the manner of their implementation, in communion with those being prescribed for.

Case in point. And I find almost no-one else talking about this. How difficult would it be to design a bureaucratic system that allows ordinary working Americans to fill in one simple form, once a year, that sets out what they earn, and serves as both report of actual earnings and application for available benefit, at any and every level? Do intellectuals actually have any notion of how difficult it is, not to mention the stigma attached, for working people to take the time to visit all the offices, fill in all the forms, at all the different levels, and with all the different agencies which, at any given time, they might be entitled to be communicating with? All of which could be replaced with one online form? Who ever designed a process of benefit application that actually benefited the applicant?

Step Three. The policies themselves. Your average working stiff is primarily interested in the following: a job for themselves; jobs for their family members; a roof over their head; transportation; a decent education for their kids; and the opportunity for their kids to grow up healthy. It really is only after these considerations that ordinary working Americans give a flying crap about neighbors, country, nations abroad, immigrants, identity, the environment, free college education, er, just go through Bernie Sanders’s wish list (apologies to Sanders’s new Revolution).

We can ignore this reality. Or we can take the view that it should be the primary consideration if our intention is honestly to come up with a platform that speaks to ordinary working Americans, and is likely to get them away from Donald Trump.

What would a new Democratic platform that appeals to such Americans look like? Again. Work in progress. But my short-hand answer. And one many Democrats will not like. Is. Trumpism. Without the ugly.

Enough of globalism. At least for the moment. Protection is the word. Policies which bring jobs home. And temper the inflow of cheap imports, including foodstuffs. Globalism is not bad of itself. But the rush towards it was. It was too much, too soon, too fast. And protection includes, at least for a while, protecting at home jobs which might otherwise be ‘uneconomic.’ To allow working people to design their own transition.

It is entirely possible that, with an aging population, and less younger people on the way, the overall equation is one in which social spending necessarily outstrips available taxable income. And Americans have to face a reality of increased taxation. More public spending. And a guaranteed individual income.

What is required in such a circumstance is time, education, a better message and communication about the fact that it would take an across-the-board tax rise of only 1% on America’s $16.77 trillion GDP to raise a further $200 billion per annum in tax revenue (um, my math sucks; did I get that calculation right?). 1%. $200 billion in extra public spending. We really are not talking a whole load of major pain here.

Add to this a dramatic reduction in all public spending associated with nation-building abroad. The primary responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens. I think your average ordinary working American stiff would happily interpret US borders as the place to start doing the protecting. Not Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Saudi Arabia. Not even Germany, Japan or, heaven forbid, Jerusalem.

Personally, I would propose a further policy idea. That, to make all of the above more palatable, we have a major review, at every level of government, of all budget items, truly to determine if ordinary people really want that budget item included in their taxes. Maybe allow folks to vote on budget items, directly? On budgets, directly?

After that, since we are keeping this generalized at the moment. Why not set out, as the primary plank of our future approach, what we in the UK used to call the Clapham Omnibus Test. If it didn’t make sense to the bloke sitting at the back of the public bus, traveling to and from Clapham, in London, then it likely didn’t make sense at all, and should be tossed out the window.

Intellectuals have their place. Politicians have their place. Bureaucrats have their place. Think tanks have their place. Washington has its place. The mistake the Democratic Party has been making these past thirty years is thinking that their place was to be driving the bus. Their place is to be building the road. Erecting the signpost. Lighting the path.

Ordinary Americans have no place at the back of any bus. Their place should be at the front. Making the decisions. Designing the policies. Issuing the directives. Which the Democratic Party, and all its intellectuals, politicians, think tanks and Washington elite, should then be implementing. With gratitude. And with respect.

So. Maybe a little less talk from me about winning votes. And a little more about what I just think is the right thing to do?

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