How to Democrat in the Age of Trump, by Mike Lux (Paperback, 182 pages |Strong Arm Press )

You always ought to be wary of any point of view you con­sume at length where you find your­self agree­ing with it com­plete­ly, where it antic­i­pates every ques­tion that pops in your head and answers it, to the point that at the end you can iden­ti­fy no day­light between your thoughts and its own.

The effect is some­thing like rid­ing to the air­port after you’ve dou­ble-checked every­thing you meant to pack and find­ing it was actu­al­ly all already there. There’s no ratio­nal rea­son for you to be unset­tled rather than com­fort­ed, but some­how you are.

Mike Lux has a writ­ten just such a book: How to Demo­c­rat in the Age of Trump, and it’s wor­thy of being rec­om­mend­ed to any­one on the Left try­ing to find a way forward.

A Bill Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion staffer and founder of the nation­al con­sult­ing firm Democ­ra­cy Part­ners, Lux describes him­self simul­ta­ne­ous­ly as a D.C. insid­er and grass­roots orga­niz­er — with the impli­ca­tion that any crit­ic who wants to can attack him for being the wrong one.

How­ev­er, the argu­ment he makes should be just as com­pelling to the vast pool of cyn­i­cal cam­paign vet­er­ans as it is to com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers con­cerned about inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty and pronoun-validation.

The left needs both sorts of peo­ple to be suc­cess­ful right now, and, reas­sur­ing­ly, peo­ple on the Left are increas­ing­ly both sorts.

“Broad­en­ing appeal” ver­sus “unapolo­getic pro­gres­sivism” is a false bina­ry. Rather, the lat­ter accom­plish­es the former.

Mark Twain accretes quote attri­bu­tions like an ocean pier does bar­na­cles, and one of the bet­ter of these to encrust on him is, “If you have to eat a frog, do it first thing in the morn­ing. If you have to eat more than one, eat the biggest one first.”

In the con­text of polit­i­cal activism, it turns out that ignor­ing a sub­ject you don’t want to talk about does­n’t mean it’ll be ignored, just that some­one else will be con­trol­ling the con­ver­sa­tion instead. Lux gives the spe­cif­ic exam­ple of Al Gore in 2000, let­ting the NRA be the ones defin­ing his posi­tion on gun safe­ty for him across the South, which they did not do sympathetically.

He argues it applies more gen­er­al­ly, too.

In the pro­logue, Lux dis­cuss­es a study that exam­ined how to counter a stan­dard dog-whis­tle racist mes­sage with a race-agnos­tic, class-focused mes­sage in con­trast with one that’s explic­it about the need for ensur­ing every­day folks “whether white black or brown, whether 5th gen­er­a­tion or new­com­er” stick togeth­er against the cor­rupt politi­cians and rich donors who bought them.

Turns out, it’s more effec­tive to lay all your cards on the table and talk about issues instead of hid­ing what you think will make some­one uncom­fort­able even among whites. We need to con­vince our peo­ple that we’re worth show­ing up for, but it’s con­vinc­ing also to per­suad­able swing vot­ers that we aren’t mealy-mouthed or try­ing to get one over on them.

A lot of the peo­ple who sup­port Don­ald Trump do so because they are enrap­tured by naked big­otry and authoritarianism.

But Ted Cruz was also in the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry, and part of Trump’s pop­u­lar­i­ty-above-replace­ment was that he was def­i­nite­ly not mealy-mouthed. Peo­ple don’t have to agree with a can­di­date about every­thing if they agree with and believe in a can­di­date on what’s most impor­tant to them.

Some late Bush-era apol­o­gists in favor of inter­ven­tion­ism abroad tried to argue we should fight them over there so we don’t have to over here, which is a bad strat­e­gy for lit­er­al war, but a good one for rhetor­i­cal positioning.

We’re accus­tomed to con­ser­v­a­tives doing this in bad faith, using ter­mi­nol­o­gy we agree with like “pro­tect­ing wom­en’s health” as a strat­e­gy to restrict repro­duc­tive auton­o­my. But we aren’t will­ing to accu­rate­ly frame our own pri­or­i­ties in, for exam­ple, the lan­guage of free­dom. We’ve ced­ed that ide­al entire­ly to Repub­li­cans who have re-defined that to be the “free­dom to be jerk”, in Lux’s words, some­thing only tru­ly open to cis white men with money.

If you’ve ever seen a Lib­er­tar­i­an meet­up in per­son, this cor­re­la­tion is very clear.

The left has allowed con­ser­v­a­tives unchal­lenged dom­i­nance over con­cepts like “free­dom” and “lib­er­ty” instead of talk­ing about the much more direct eman­ci­pa­tion of being able to change jobs with­out los­ing your health cov­er­age or the free­dom of send­ing your kids off to ele­men­tary school with­out wor­ry­ing they’ll be gunned down by a com­plete­ly legal bat­tle­field-appro­pri­ate weapon pur­chased by a domes­tic abuser with­out any back­ground check.

Again, we turn out more vot­ers when we give them plat­forms worth car­ing about and fight­ing for rather than just remind­ing them how bad the alter­na­tive is. “Once upon a time” is a more effec­tive tool than “thou shalt not”.

So an impor­tant part of that, Lux says, is remind­ing peo­ple how the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has come through for them in the past.

The Repub­li­cans are going to be out there swing­ing the stick, but we have to talk about the car­rots of our move­men­t’s accom­plish­ments, too.

There was a gen­er­a­tion for which Social Secu­ri­ty, Medicare, rur­al elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, the GI Bill, and the Civ­il Rights Act were syn­ony­mous with Democrats.

Why did­n’t we tell that story?

We haven’t both­ered to remind peo­ple what good Democ­rats can do once we get in office, or been brave about pur­su­ing our ideals at the state and munic­i­pal lev­el the way con­ser­v­a­tives have every time they’ve got­ten a state gov­ern­ment tri­fec­ta. That’s part of why, right now, Repub­li­cans have 26 of them and we have 8.

There’s no rea­son that the par­ty’s full-throat­ed embrace of the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act (the sig­na­ture achieve­ment of the Oba­ma era) should have required Repub­li­cans threat­en­ing to take it away for Democ­rats to care about it and stand up for it, but that’s par­tial­ly on Democ­rats for not being will­ing to tell its sto­ry with more pride.

As Lux says, we have to be will­ing to go into rur­al areas so that we can con­nect with our peo­ple, inspire our peo­ple to show up. Low qual­i­ty, expen­sive health­care and under­fund­ed pub­lic edu­ca­tion are issues for rur­al white peo­ple, too.

Yaki­ma Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton, is a Repub­li­can strong­hold and also plu­ral­i­ty Lat­inx. Out­side the oil booms of North Dako­ta and West Texas, women are half the pop­u­la­tion every­where. Can­di­dates have to iden­ti­fy with their con­stituents, whether that’s Brook­lyn or Kansas, but they ought to be doing it proud­ly everywhere.

It’s worth mak­ing the oth­er side have to show up even if you only have a 10 per­cent chance of win­ning because if you do that 10 times, you ought to get one of them. Fight­ing is worth­while even when we don’t win if it ensures we don’t ever lose.

Lux’s rad­i­cal prag­ma­tism is supreme­ly moti­vat­ing because he acknowl­edges the chal­lenges in front of us are real but still surmountable.

That is, yes, clear­ly the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment attacked the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and Hillary Clin­ton cam­paign in the 2016 election.

Yes, Repub­li­cans were com­plic­it in that attack and took the Roberts Court’s gut­ting of the Vot­ing Rights Act as the go-ahead to dis­en­fran­chise as many minori­ties and like­ly-Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers as possible.

Yes, ger­ry­man­der­ing and small-state, rur­al bias mean the GOP as cur­rent­ly con­sti­tut­ed has an inher­ent advan­tage lead­ing to overrepresentation.

Yes, the game is rigged, but it’s the only game in town, and even with all this, Democ­rats ought to be win­ning or press­ing our issues so effec­tive­ly there’s not even a fight to be had, like Nixon being the one to cre­ate the EPA.

I would like to find some­thing to crit­i­cize about the book, and I may have to make do with dis­agree­ing with the valid­i­ty of trac­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s roots and cen­tral prin­ci­ples back to Thomas Jef­fer­son­’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic-Repub­li­cans.

I don’t think that holds up as his­toric­i­ty or is worth­while as mythol­o­gy. The pro­logue also ends up being about a fifth of the total, which is a bit much. And Lux is a Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren stan in a very notice­able way. But that’s lit­er­al­ly all, so despite my para­noia at some­thing being sus­pi­cious­ly this lauda­to­ry, this is def­i­nite­ly one of those “get a few copies to hand out to friends” sort of recommendations.

How­ev­er, I want to loop back around to false bina­ries because Lux’s avoids anoth­er in an espe­cial­ly refresh­ing way, and it sur­prised me.

He acknowl­edges the legit­i­mate sources of white griev­ance with­out legit­imiz­ing or excus­ing their choice of expres­sion in xeno­pho­bia and oth­er racism. Lux makes a point of talk­ing about “the work­ing class” holis­ti­cal­ly rather than as code.

One of the most frus­trat­ing aspects of the Bernie Sanders-iden­ti­fied fac­tion of the left is the ten­den­cy to see racism or repro­duc­tive auton­o­my as mere dis­trac­tions from the real eco­nom­ic and class issues rather than wed­ded to them.

In pure, eco­nom­ic terms, noth­ing has a greater effect inter­gen­er­a­tional­ly than racism. The capac­i­ty for preg­nan­cy is a pre-exist­ing con­di­tion that affects a per­son­’s abil­i­ty to pur­sue a career, man­age their health, or keep a fam­i­ly at a size they can finan­cial­ly sup­port. No one should have to choose between hav­ing health cov­er­age and going some­where every day where their boss sex­u­al­ly harass­es them.

If you’re a stereo­typ­i­cal Bernie Bro, sure, the stuff that can’t affect you cer­tain­ly is a dis­trac­tion from stuff that does. But I think a nec­es­sary con­di­tion of being a Demo­c­rat — as opposed to an inde­pen­dent who cau­cus­es with them — has to be empa­thy for peo­ple whose suf­fer­ing you won’t expe­ri­ence, either.

Moral­ly, as well as strate­gi­cal­ly, it’s good to care about the well-being of oth­ers, and we have a lot of work still to do all across the coun­try to make sure some more of our bet­ter angels rule can the day than are just now.

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