Donald Trump's frightening campaign presents an opportunity for Democrats to at least begin the long road to bringing working whites back to the party. Doing so does not require abandoning the party's key mark of liberal identity politics, but candidates must reallocate their emphasis to begin assuring the white working class that economic policies will benefit them as well as minorities. It's a big job. But the opportunity to start is now.

Confessions of a Self-Hating Liberal? Not Quite.

By James A. Kidney

Most candidates on the GOP side of this presidential campaign — at least, all of those who seem to have a realistic chance at winning the nomination — bring with them nightmarish visions of impulsive nuclear holocaust, indentured servitude to oligarchic multi-national employers, mass deportation, continued assault on government and unlimited financial rewards-for-nothing to the one percent.

Hoorah for liberals!  We are uniters.  We are lovers.  We hate no one.

But we love no one more than ourselves.  We are, after all, the most tolerant, the most kind, the most sharing. All should flock to our banners.  Our common sense and compassion are obvious.

You know who liberals are, don’t you?  They are you and me.  They are white people who are well-off, well-educated and focused on almost anyone but folks who have lost their jobs in manufacturing, mining and other industries, mostly located between the East and West Coasts.

That is the area also derisively known as “flyover country.”

Who Liberals Love — and Who They Don’t

A good liberal loves to show tolerance for anyone who is “different” from his or her own identity group, especially if the difference is an easily identified one.  Liberals want to help such groups, preferably by singling out their needs as the most pressing for the entire country and to ravish attention upon these needs by asking everyone else to concede to the rightness of the liberals’ chosen cause.

Once this call for tolerance and policies promoting inclusion was pretty much limited to groups with a history of racial oppression.  In the last 20 or 30 years, liberals have also included gender, disability (mental or physical) and other categories in their pantheon of hand-wringing concern.  Now, a good liberal (including me), wants to help the refugees of wars started by us.  Those people aren’t even Americans!

The unemployed?  The underemployed?  Those suffering most from the liberal piety of free trade?  Well, not so much liberal attention there.  Aren’t a lot of those people Republicans?  Didn’t they flee from the Democratic Party in the mid-1960s when Democrats shed their Dixiecrat roots in favor of racial equality?  Aren’t those people racists and sexists?  Plus, they are unsophisticated and — between us liberals — seem pretty dumb.

We have left them behind so that Democrats can be the liberal party of identity politics.

why can't you give my dad a jobAn overstatement?  Not really.  It is a historically common trade-off.  Franklin Roosevelt ignored the pleas from is wife, Eleanor, to stand up for black people because he knew his economic programs required the support of southern white Democrats, who might revolt at programs not principally aimed at their poor white constituents or promoted as bringing equality to African-Americans.

Roosevelt was following in Woodrow Wilson’s footsteps.  Wilson famously imposed segregation on the civil service.  Roosevelt also refused to desegregate the military, although he did create the Fair Employment Practice Committee nine into his administration and six months before Pearl Harbor.  It prohibited discriminatory hiring in the federal government, effectively overturning Wilson’s executive order.  It should have applied to the military, but Roosevelt didn’t press the issue despite requests from civil rights leaders.

By 1964, Lyndon Johnson was pressing for civil rights legislation.  At the time, he said the South would be lost for the Democrats for at least a generation.  He was far too optimistic.

I know the liberal response to the obvious fact that liberals and Democrats have abandoned the working white lower and middle class.  Technically, liberals are in favor of government programs providing a safety net for all Americans.  We are for job training. We are for greater access to higher education. Charity for all!

Then why on earth do the poor and unemployed in “flyover country” doubt our sincerity?  Could it be that they see the economic pie as shrinking in size (at least for them) and that expanding opportunity for some implies limiting it for others?

Needed:  A Reallocation of Political Capital

Where do liberals (usually also meaning Democrats) really spend their political capital?  Social issues.  The ink was hardly dry on the Supreme Court’s equal marriage decision before the more liberal media was filled with news about the transgendered.  Bruce Jenner changed his (her?) sex!  Let’s force everyone to agree that access by the transgendered to the public bathroom of his or her choice is a big issue.  Big issue?  It is estimated that 0.3 percent of the population is transgendered.  Given the obvious possibilities of under-reporting, let’s call it an even million.  According to a September 2014 poll, about 3.4 percent of American adults identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Five percent of the population is unemployed and looking for work.  That is 167 times the number of transgendered.  This probably understates the true number of unemployed, with many wanting work but still discouraged from looking for it despite slightly improved employment figures. Of course, 5 percent does not account for the many underemployed who used to operate metal presses or lathes at good wages and now struggle to sell cars or hammers to make a living on either commission or the minimum wage.

Putting forward real plans and programs to deal with unemployment, underemployment, inequality and other economic issues is hard for liberals today.  Social issues are so much easier.  We can push for equality in all things non-economic and feel good about ourselves.

Addressing economic problems raises the risk of conflict and discomfort.

Liberals say laws must be passed that impose requirements on employers to equalize pay! It’s easy. Most liberals are on salaries — the burden doesn’t fall on them.  They can take the high ground without personal cost.

To which some respond: Sure pay should be equal.  But with pay at such low levels for many, does that really make a difference?  Isn’t “equal pay for equal work” now more of a problem for the well-off than for burger flippers and CVS clerks?

Well, maybe, liberals respond, but it’s a good cause and my daughter is discriminated against at Goldman Sachs because, she says, she is a woman.  The glass ceiling must be broken!  That the “glass ceiling” usually refers to jobs in finance, law, medicine and similar fields irrelevant to most Americans doesn’t matter.

When liberals, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, address economic issues, the ardor and serious proposals present when defending the racially oppressed is missing.  Clinton identifies anyone making a quarter million dollars or less as immune from income tax increases.  That leaves only about 2.25 percent of the population to fund the many needs this country has, including infrastructure repair and expansion (which would employ many skilled workers left underemployed now).  Clinton’s definition of “middle class” immune from tax increases also, not accidentally, includes most of the liberal class that is likely to vote for her.

Liberal: Yes, tax the rich, but also be serious about the need for sacrifice by more, including you.

Clinton’s website identifies “7 of Hillary Clinton’s biggest accomplishments.”  They are feel-good topics, but several are a bit light on the specifics of Clinton’s contributions.  With one exception (a truce between Hamas and Israel as secretary of state), all are about LGBT rights or health care programs for children and New York first responders.  None of them speak of the overall economy, financial regulation or trade.

Sanders’ website contains a more detailed list of accomplishments, heavily peppered with his opposition to House and Senate passed bills such as that supporting war in Iraq.  The affirmative actions in his mayoral and congressional career are nearly always addressed to economic issues.

Serious economic change is hard precisely because both expanding the pie and re-dividing it is contentious and can even put liberal against liberal.  It is much easier to leave the pie alone and just tut tut when some low income white guys or girls, frustrated by their own poor decisions in life making them unable to score goals with constantly moving goalposts, voice suspicion that Democrats and liberals don’t care much about them.

As a liberal myself, I am not self-hating.  But liberal thinking needs an adjustment, including more tolerance.

Will Democrats Boot an Opportunity?

Liberalism’s noblesse oblige about working class whites has been highlighted by Donald Trump’s campaign.  His supporters and sympathizers are clearly unhappy with Republican policies.  As many have noted, Republicans used dog whistles — and sometimes fog horns — to play on white prejudice to distract attention from the fact GOP national policies favored the wealthy, with little practical concern for the poor and middle class.

But Trump’s support also shows that the working white are unwilling to consider the Democratic Party afor a new deal home.  If Democrats could persuade the working poor and middle class that government can help with their problems and is not the cause of them, without also surrendering a genuine, but balanced, appreciation for promoting racial and gender equality, the 2016 campaign could be an opportunity for at least a start in recapturing those who left the party beginning in 1968.

Remember, Barry Goldwater planted seeds for a more conservative takeover of the Republican Party in 1964.  Those seeds bore fruit 16 years later.  Let’s at least plant a welcoming seed for the working whites in 2016.

Liberal hearts really are in the right place, but the compassion of liberalism must extend to those who are economically troubled, without also requiring those same people to first prove full acceptance of racial minorities and gender differences.  If liberals do not make acceptance of identity politics a condition of genuinely fighting for liberal government programs and distancing themselves from the financial and corporate oligarchy, perhaps the newcomers will not demand as a condition of membership that liberals drop their concern for others who feel they, too, are denied a respected voice in society.

Give up your condescension for flyover country and those dwelling in it, liberals.  Have empathy for those of your race who were not born into prosperous lives or were not fortunate to have mentors pulling them up or have failed to overcome bad decisions made when young.

Give up the pretense of care for all not sharing in the American Dream.  Be a liberal in your heart.  Be serious about it in your actions.  Fight hard for all who do not have a seat at our country’s bounteous table.  Be purposeful and dedicated.  This is the great Democratic/liberal opportunity.

Don’t blow it.

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