Lessons Better Learned

Counter-Narratives Regarding the 2016 Election

In the wake of the recent election, people have been trying to figure out why Democrats lost what looked like a sure thing. Dan Kaufman at Electric Agora took a more or less historical approach, showing the relatively poor track record Democrats have had for winning the White House (back to Nixon). [1] He used this to construct a narrative about social forces present within the US (a silent majority) that liberals (in general) and Democrats (in specific) fail to work with, or openly antagonize and so lose. Using this concept, the recent Democratic blunder was blamed on the behavior of liberals and progressives, in particular their increased emphasis on identity-politics that acted to alienate important elements of US society and set up a counter reaction. Dan pointed to Bill Clinton as a positive role model for Democrats to consider, someone who understood the social forces they have to work with, if they want to regain the White House. My intention is to challenge much of Dan’s position, offering counter narratives and alternative take-away lessons.

But let me start by saying it’s not that Dan’s position is clearly wrong. If anything, the reason I feel the need to respond is that it is both plausible and compelling, particularly to those who were not happy with certain elements/activities emerging among the left in recent years. What’s more, others are coming up with similar narratives.[2]

The problem is that I do not see this narrative addressing any of the major factors that decided this election or perhaps any other election. We don’t need to accept the hypothesis of Bill Clinton being wise to the needs of some silent majority to reach the important, pragmatic conclusions Dan makes (which I happen to agree with). Most stand on their own merits. On the other hand, embracing this narrative potentially blinds Democrats to more important factors in play during the election. My hope is to convince readers (and Dan) that understanding and in some ways mastering these other factors are crucial for the success of future liberal campaigns (whether Democrat or third party).

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