Winning Over the 74 Million
By Doug Dworkin
As I write this, our country is still in the middle of the crisis created by the invasion of the U.S Capitol, and Congress is preparing to impeach Donald J. Trump a second time to ensure our safety during his final days. As Simon Schama wrote in the Financial Times, “the stain on his time in office is deep and indelible.” History will render the ultimate verdict, but after the stench of tear gas dissipates from the Capitol and the crocodile tears of his enablers dry up, our democracy will still be in grave danger. We must not let the relief and euphoria engendered by his departure blind us to the problems we face.
Whether or not Trump is a viable political figure after this debacle, there are still 74 million people who voted for him, and Trumpism will likely continue to exist. Clearly, his supporters are not all violent thugs, and many are probably repelled by what they saw. But the actors who gave rise to his brand of politics will persist in stoking the resentments and grievances of his followers into a toxic brew. Even in these early days after the D.C chaos, this is happening on certain news channels and web sites. And we must remember that the history of tyranny shows that it often has its genesis in a violent minority. Unless we act, it’s only a matter of time until other autocratic figures will co-opt his movement and exploit it to their own ends. What can we do?
It is not possible in a short space to discuss the many policies needed to address the issues that gave rise to this movement, such as income inequality and duress, the propagation of bogus conspiracy theories and fake news, the susceptibility of many people to the age-old “Big Lie” propaganda technique, the failure to understand the continued impact of racism in our society, tribalism and fears that continue to plague our country in contrast to our ideal of a vast “melting pot,” the mistrust and misunderstanding of expertise, and the deep polarization of our dialogue.
What I would suggest is that our political and social discourse—and the policies we propose—endeavor to adhere to the attitudes and approaches of some of the great leaders we admire, like Lincoln, Mandela, King, Gandhi or Malala Yousafzai.
Some might say this is Pollyanna and Kumbaya kind of stuff, and that the principles espoused by these leaders are not tough enough to deal with the likes of Trump and his minions. But Lincoln presided over four of the bloodiest years in American history. He sent men into battle to kill and be killed. Yet, in the end, he was still able to utter these words in his Second Inaugural. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Likewise, Mandela spent 26 years in prison, but forgave his captors and won in the end. Martin Luther King Jr. has been lionized for his “I Have a Dream” speech, but many have forgotten how militant he was. He and Gandhi believed in nonviolent civil disobedience. Those who have seen films of King having bottles and stones thrown at him in Cicero or John Lewis being beaten in Selma know how tough you have to be to adhere to that philosophy.
Malala, who was shot by the Taliban and recovered, was asked by TV host Jon Stewart how she reacted when she learned that the Taliban still wanted her dead. Her response:
“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do Malala?' then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.' But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well.' And I will tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.' ”
You can’t ask for more courage and toughness than that.
What does all this have to do with Trump, his followers, and the nuts and bolts of policy? The people I cited demonstrated toughness, but they also demonstrated something equally important: empathy. The only way to counter the polarizing forces that are driving us apart is to implement policies that bring in Trump voters, or at least bring them into a constructive dialogue. Trump voters were convinced that he was helping them economically, even though he did nothing to help low-wage workers or workers in changing industries.
Democrats have not done enough either. Implementing policies that show empathy with all workers, black and white, can go a long way towards bringing disaffected white workers back into the fold and reducing some racial animus. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s March was intended to be just that—a poor people’s march, not just poor black people. This is just one example of policies that can serve constituencies that overlap party and race. Getting big corporate money out of politics is another. Low-income workers of all races are victims of policies that have kept wages from significantly growing in the last 20+ years, widening the income gap.
Some may say this approach is naïve. I know that politics is about power, but in this country votes are power. Ask Stacey Abrams.
Racism is one of the most difficult problems to address, but perhaps we can work on that too, by trying the reverse of the “Big Lie.” How about the “Big Truth”? Certainly we can make some progress by more widely promulgating and repeating the stories of post-Civil War policies that institutionalized Jim Crow and terrorized blacks with more than 4,000 lynchings. And we should try to minimize stories that have an accusatory tone, since so many whites ask why they are responsible now for what happened then. Rather, stories should be focused on arousing empathy.
We need new strategies and policies based on toughness (especially never tolerating violence or cruelty) and empathy if we want to expand the rolls of like-minded voters and diminish those of now and future Trumpists.
Doug Dworkin is a former junior high school teacher, encyclopedia editor, and IT executive at IBM. Now retired, he Is beginning a new career as a professional dabbler and dilettante.