Oct. 9, 2017
Lee Drutman wrote about how the Democratic Party should re-examine identity politics The New Republic.
What drove the vote in 2016 was not income, but identity. Trump won by appealing directly to the cultural anxieties of downscale whites: He told them he’d do something about the immigrants who were stealing their jobs and the Muslims who were plotting to blow us up. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, appeared to dismiss working-class whites as“deplorables,”and put on a convention that was a paean to multiculturalism. As both parties made appeals based more on race and culture than on class and economic inequality, almost 10 percent of voters who cast their ballots for Barack Obama in 2012 decided to abandon the Democrats. The famed blue wall that ran through the Rust Belt came crashing down, and Trump walked over the rubble straight into the Oval Office.
Since the election, Clinton has often been blamed for focusing too much on “identity politics.” But the suggestion that Democrats return to the populist economic rhetoric that made them heroes of the working class ignores the current political reality. The cultural forces that swayed the election in favor of Trump are likely to remain. What doomed Clinton, in the end, was not that she appealed to racial and ethnic minorities, but that she paid them little more than lip service. As Democrats attempt to move forward, they must come to grips with the fact that many of the working-class whites who abandoned the party are likely gone for good. The sooner they accept that reality, the sooner they can win with the coalition they have.