Democrats Aren’t Focusing on the Identity that Matters Most: Class

Hillary Clinton was a poor candidate because she failed to accurately take the temperature of the country and diagnose what ailed the American economy. In fact, she rarely discussed the economy at all. Now, the same Democrats who are quick to chide Clinton’s failures are making the exact same mistake.

Josh Kraushaar writes for National Journal:

Clinton’s decision to call Trump backers deplorable was one of her campaign’s low points. But the problem runs much deeper within her party. Progressives now instinctively label pro-Trump conservatives as “white supremacists,” a slur that paints nearly half the country with a racist brush. Legitimate anxieties over the country’s national security are frequently dismissed as anti-Muslim xenophobia. Politicized sportswriters assumed that the American public supports players protesting the national anthem, even when a swell of football fans across the country—including those in the most liberal media markets—booed their own team’s players for disrespecting the flag.

Democrat elites, cloistered in their coastal communities and nestled among people who think exactly like them, look down their noses at tradional-minded, blue collar workers. In so doing, they’ve become conditioned to see the world through the fractured lens of identity rather than the comparatively unifying economic concerns of class.

Longtime Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg saw this clearly with the Clinton campaign. In a new essay for The American Prospect, he argued that Hillary Clinton was overconfident that her “identification with every group in the rainbow coalition would produce near-universal support.”

In so doing, Greenberg argues, she failed to give blue collar voters a “compelling reason to vote” and eventually decided that “she could not win white working-class voters, and that the ‘rising electorate’ would make up the difference.”

“They were explicitly privileging race and gender over class,” he concluded.

And it proved to be Clinton’s tragic flaw, one that would undo her candidacy and give rise to the leftist elements that currently dominate the party’s policy platform. Ironically, the far left flock, shepherded by Bernie Sanders, has drifted away from the populist message that breathed life into their once-staid primary. Rather than build a cohesive economic message, they’ve simply turned up the identity politics to 11 and sprinkled in a little socialist thought for good measure.

But while identity politics is a fire that while burning bright, it also sucks all of the oxygen out of the room, leaving no fuel to expend on winnable policy fights.

As Anis Shivani writes for Salon:

“[W]hen you fight for identity, you’re giving up politics in favor of culture. And that’s exactly where neoliberalism wants you, fighting for your culture (or what you can imagine is your culture), rater than the arena of policies, where the real consequences occur. You may gain some recognition of your identity, but you may also have to pay the price of losing everything else that makes life worth living.”

That may be an easy choice for the “club of egotistical, self-branding urbanites who pay lip service to identity politics,” as Shivani goes on to describe them, who have been largely untouched by the economic downturn and its aftereffects. Identity politics seems a sensible battle ground when you’re not worried about foundational economic concerns. For much of the working class, who has struggled to adapt to new economic realities, it’s also an easy choice: The dignity that comes from work, the comfort that comes from religion, and the community that comes from family and friends are what matters.

Democrats speak to none of these things. As Greenberg framed it: “Democrats can choose to think big and win back those voters who left them. Or they can play niche identity politics, and continue to embrace victimhood.”

If the party’s actions since the election are any indication, they’ve already made their choice.