Part 1 of 2, and this will be relatively short:
Post-election, a meme quickly sprang up saying Hillary Clinton lost because she did not have a strong, clear message for America’s working class. The subtext was, “We told you so! You should have nominated Bernie!” Bernie himself said:
“The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”
Responding to an audience member who asked how she could become the second Latina U.S. Senator, he went on to say:
“I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country and is going to take on big money interests. It is not good enough for somebody to say, I’m a woman, vote for me. No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.
“In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African-American CEO of some major corporation. But you know what, if that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country, and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot whether he’s black or white or Latino.”
That middle quote was pretty clearly a shot at Clinton, and, to my mind, a cheap one.
Now, as I will point out in Part 2, Donald Trump did not win “because the working class of this country is being decimated.” I will also say I agree that Dems in general need to be more direct and clear about how they’re going to help average Americans. But the lack of that message isn’t why Clinton lost the electoral vote. There were other reasons.
Here, I will remind readers that Hillary Clinton won more than 2 million more votes than Donald Trump and may well end up receiving one of the highest popular vote totals in history. So it’s not like he mopped the floor with her. True, the distribution of those votes did not put her over 270, so, in practical terms, unless the Electoral College does something truly historic, it’s not going to matter. But it should matter in terms of how we view these results and how we plan for future elections. I would also note that two of the states she lost were narrow losses: Michigan by something like 10,000 votes and Wisconsin about just over 22,000, though there’s a recount apparently happening. Pennsylvania was a more lopsided loss.
It should not go unnoticed that Hillary Clinton also won a majority of voters with incomes under $50,000 a year. There’s a growing body of evidence, in fact, that education and race, not income or income inequality, were major drivers of Trump voters. Check Nate Silver, for example. What I still have to figure out is why minority turnout, especially Hispanics, wasn’t stronger for Clinton.
As far as “identity politics,” since I worked for him, I know Berne’s basically a 30s socialist/progressive, for whom everything pretty much reduces to class. I’m familiar with that thinking; I’ve read Marx and Marcuse and the others. But I also know it’s wrong. Ask Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. if his class protected him from being arrested by a white Cambridge police officer. Class doesn’t explain how women and minorities make less money than white males. Class doesn’t explain why union members would vote for an anti-union candidate for president. Class didn’t have anything to do with a 62-year-old white man gunning down a 15-year-old black man and referring to him as “another piece of trash.”
I would add that one of the weaknesses of Sanders’ own campaign was a lack of effective outreach to minorities. Cornel West, speaking to the NY Times for a piece that appeared in April:
“Cornel West, one of Mr. Sanders’s most visible African-American surrogates, said that he thought that Mr. Sanders could win the nomination but that the senator should have fought to be “well-known quicker and much earlier” among voters, especially blacks.”
People sometimes vote their race (you don’t think Trump wasn’t whipping up “identity politics”?) and their gender, and we have to account for that.
I think, as he often does, The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein has a thoughtful piece we should read carefully. Clinton’s electoral vote loss may have a lot more to do with faulty campaign mechanics than any messages she may or may not have sent. Tara Golshan, on VOX, has has her own piece on how Clinton might have been undone by lousy information. Ponder all this before jumping on the class warfare wagon.