Democracy & Government

The Audacity of Hope and Hacks

The conventions underscore that both parties' identities are shifting rapidly.

The Audacity of Hope and Hacks

President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave to the crowd on the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 27, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

We’ve asked historian and author Eric Alterman to watch the national party conventions and share his reactions with us in a series of blog posts.

First things first. Donald Trump’s statement: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing… I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” is the most extraordinary thing I’ve witnessed in the 33 years I’ve been covering national politics in the United States. As The New York Times reported, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, wrote on Twitter, “I never thought a serious candidate for US President could be a serious threat against the security of the West. But that’s where we are.” And in The Daily Beast, Bradley Moss, a lawyer specializing in national security law offered his view that Trump may have violated the law by calling on Vladimir Putin’s nation to commit an “imminent lawless action.” He might also be found guilty under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Trump will undoubtedly laugh all this off and say he was just joking around with some loser reporters. Perhaps he was. It’s impossible to tell because Trump never seems to care about the impact of what he says on anyone or anything.

Trump will undoubtedly laugh all this off and say he was just joking around with some loser reporters. Perhaps he was. It’s impossible to tell because Trump never seems to care about the impact of what he says on anyone or anything. His great success has been to bring so much of the mainstream media — especially the cable news stations — along with him so that the actual content of the news is now subordinate to its entertainment (and therefore ratings) value. Thanks to Trump, it’s now cool to talk about rounding up immigrants and Muslims and who knows, maybe putting them in camps if the circumstances change a little bit.

It would be nice if we could have an actual discussion of America’s extensive national security commitments throughout the world, as well as our commitment to a corporate-friendly definition of “free trade,” but Trump’s crazy free-associative comments about all of these phenomena make it impossible. The bar is so low now, all you have to do is take America’s side against murderous dictators and you’ve won the argument with this mad man. A case in point is an article in today’s Washington Post: “Is there a Russian master plan to install Trump in the White House? Some intelligence officials are skeptical.” Oh great. So The Manchurian Candidate, which was, at the time it was written, (and then filmed) a barely-credible dystopian fiction, is now the bar against which Trump is being measured. OK, it’s not “treason.” We are not at war with Russia. But asking a foreign, adversarial government, known for assassinating its opponents, to undermine the cyber-security of our own government for sake of personal, political gain? This is somehow acceptable? Personally, I would like to hear from those Republicans who have held their noses — in order to hold their positions — comment on Trump’s plan to undermine our own government? Hello Paul Ryan? Mitch McConnell? John McCain?

Can you imagine the hysterics to which we would be treated if some liberal called on Cuba to do this? Fox News would come out for public lynching. The Wall Street Journal editorial page would demand Obama’s resignation, arguing that he created the “atmosphere” in which such contempt for America’s traditions, interests and yes, national security, were trampled upon. McCain’s head might actually explode.

Democrats have become the party of ‘national security’ …[and] Republicans are now the party of white voters without a college education.

Trump’s insane comments symbolize a fundamental transformation taking place between our two parties. As Michael Hirsh writes in Politico, Democrats have become the party of “national security,” thereby reversing nearly 50 years of voter perceptions. At the same time, Republicans are now the party of white voters without a college education, a reversal of even larger historical proportions, dating back to FDR and the New Deal.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. As Ron Brownstein writes in The Atlantic, save for Bill Clinton in 1996, “no Democrat has won more than 40 percent of white voters without a college education since 1980, according to media exit polls.” What Brownstein fails to note, however, is that this anti-Democratic trend has largely been a phenomenon of the South, where the Democratic Party has all but disappeared as an option among white voters. Take away the South and Obama, like John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000, was just fine with these voters. What’s different about Trump is that he is attracting support among non-college whites across the entire nation, including battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. He is positively killing Clinton in post RNC surveys among these voters by 23 percentage points in a CBS poll and 39 percentage points according to a CNN/ORC poll.

The Economic Policy Institute tells us that whites will constitute a minority of this group by 2032. In the meantime, there are plenty of such voters as Trump’s 16 competitors for the Republican nomination discovered to their dismay. If Trump has any chance to win the election and destroy our democracy, economy, standing in the world and national traditions, it will be thanks to these voters, especially men.

Ned Resnikoff notes that “By one count, more than 80 percent of the RNC’s prime-time speakers were white, and according to Politico, only seven of the speakers were blacks and just three were Latino. Trump, Resnikoff observes, “gave special mention to steel workers, coal miners and factory workers because in the public imagination those three industries continue to be associated with the white working class — and the white male working class in particular. The same applies, to a lesser extent, to his frequent invocations of police officers. The economic importance of these jobs is secondary to what they represent: the relative white affluence and privilege of the immediate post-war era.”

To counter this, Democrats need to combine their appeal with the value of “diversity” that forms the foundation of everything for which the party professes to stand — at least when its members are running for election. They cannot hope to reach the uneducated looking for a scapegoat. They can only hope to inspire turnout among those who still have hope for a government that can help them better their situation; hence the appearance of so many black and brown service workers and victims of corporate malfeasance on the Democratic platform (as well as both police officers and victims of police violence). Democrats are a party exclusively led by meritocrats but they profess to speak for those who got lost in the system. It’s not an easy act to pull off, especially given the party’s dependence on corporate and billionaire donors. Sadly, however, it’s the only way our country can be saved from its greatest internal threat since the South seceded.

 


 

Finally, when I read the extraordinary study by Mark Tessler, Michael Robbins and Amaney Jamal in The Washington Post under the headline, “What do ordinary citizens in the Arab world really think about the Islamic State?” I wondered about the phenomenon that demonstrates that support for ISIS is a decidedly minority viewpoint in almost every Arab society — its popularity is lowest in Jordan and highest next door in the Palestinian territories. But for instance in Tunisia, ISIS gets high marks from just under 15 percent of “poorly educated younger male respondents.” (Admittedly, these results are on the basis of an extremely small sample.) Those young disaffected males can keep the terrorist armies filled despite its unpopularity with the larger population around them. I suppose it’s a tribute to the United States that we only have Trump to worry about among our disaffected, increasingly nihilistic male undereducated male population, but for goodness’ sake, how about we invest in education, both here and there, pronto? It’s a cliché that the better-educated people become, the more liberal, in every sense of the word, they also become. How about we be smart and good at the same time: give people a sense of hope and save ourselves from armies of angry young people with nothing to do but threaten those around them to serve their own diminished sense of self-worth?

 


 

Oh, and wasn’t Obama great last night? For all his compromising, he has represented America’s aspirations better than any president in my lifetime and better than any national politician save the deeply flawed (but also heroic) Ted Kennedy. Tim Kaine was excellent too. He’s a good choice and all things considered, maybe the best one, though I would have chosen Al Franken if anyone had asked.

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman is CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, media columnist for The Nation, a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of nine books, including When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (2004), Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (2011) and Inequality and One City: Bill de Blasio and the New York Experiment, Year One (2015). Follow him on Twitter: @Eric_Alterman.