Post-election world: autopsy of a loss

I haven’t written since the election, and it’s more due to not getting around to it and being busy with travel and work rather than mourning. The mourning period lasted maybe a day and a half until a cathartic post on my personal Facebook, which I posted earlier.

A lot of political journalists have been delving into the reasons why Hillary Clinton and Democrats at large lost big on November 8. Uninspiring candidates, focusing on the wrong issues, failure to connect with rural voters and/or working-class whites, and so on. I want to focus on a small slice of one possible factor in Donald Trump’s victory: the disconnect between Democrats–narrowly defined here as liberal intellectuals, which of course ignores the millions of non-liberal intellectual Democrat voters–and most of the country. There have been dozens of articles about the vast gulfs between coastal, city-dwelling professionals and voters in Wisconsin and Michigan. That isn’t quite what I’m getting at here.

I was prompted to write this after reading “Too Much Stigma, Not Enough Persuasion” in The Atlantic over lunch just now. Conor Friedersdorf, a great writer, explores a back-and-forth exchange over a seemingly innocuous statement that Bernie Sanders made, suggesting that successful candidates need an agenda (one aligning with his, naturally) beyond “I’m a member of X demographic, vote for me.” Is Sanders’s suggestion there an example of white supremacy?

Perhaps in academic debates over the terms white supremacy and racism, but not in any common usage of the word. This shows a broader problem, in my view, with the political left in the United States. Labels like white supremacist and racist are thrown around with abandon, and the more these words are used, the more meaningless they become. If those words are to maintain any ability to shame, they need to be reserved for unequivocal embodiments of them, not for offhand, insensitive remarks that get lumped under the usually idiotic umbrella term of “micro-aggression.”

Identity politics and games of “who’s the bigger victim” or “who’s racist” don’t win over people, they alienate them. I’m not suggesting that any of this played a role in Clinton’s loss, even a tiny one, but that it’s a troubling trend in the left in this country. Remarkably, the left in many other countries seem to be less plagued by it, although that’s hardly universal.


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