It’s Mars vs. Venus Again

The divisive tribal partisanship so many sociologists and political pundits talk about today may, in the November midterms in 2018 and presidential election in 2020, boil down to little more than an amplification of the gender wars previously explained in John Gray’s 1992 bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. A number of recent studies suggest Trump has succeeded in creating gender gaps in political preferences unseen in the history of American politics.  The numbers are stunning and the implications affect all Americans and all issues, domestic and foreign

Gender differences in political party affiliation first occurred in the mid-1960s when men began to prefer Republicans while women preferred Democrats. The gap between preferences has widened gradually ever since, but then widened dramatically following the election of Donald Trump.  As Thomas Edsall recently pointed out in The New York Times,

The potential gender gap in congressional voting has risen from 20 and 22 points in 2014 and 2016, according to exit polls, to 33 points in a Quinnipiac Poll published earlier this month. Men of all races say they intend to vote for Republican House candidates 50-42, while women of all races say they intend to vote for Democratic candidates 58-33.  Significantly, white women, a majority of whom backed Trump in 2016, now say they intend to vote for Democratic House candidates in 2018 by a 14-point margin, 52-38, according to Quinnipiac. White men say they intend to vote for Republican House candidates 56-38 in 2018.[1]

This gap also persists not just among all races, but among all demographic age cells;  surprisingly, most pronounced among millennial males who prefer Republicans by a wider gap to their millennial female counterparts than do older age cells.  Just a few weeks ago, Pew Research published this finding, citing that

Women voters younger than 35 support the Democrat by an overwhelming margin (68% to 24%), while younger men are divided (47% favor the Democrat, 50% favor the Republican). The gender gap among voters ages 35 and older is more modest: 49% of older women favor the Democrat, as do 42% of older men.[2]

In the event you are thinking, “But wait, that’s a preference for the Republican Party, but not necessarily for Trump” you would be wrong.  Not only is Trump’s overall approval rating rock-steady (40% among all adults), a plurality of Republicans believe Trump has “changed the GOP for the better” while just 9% say he “has changed the GOP for the worse.”[3]  The Republican Party is very much the party of Trump.  Never-Trump Republicans (which I had hoped were a large and robust contingent) are, at best, outliers.

The strategic implications for this are many for both parties and for both the midterms in 2018 and the presidential elections in 2020.

  1. If you are appalled by Trump’s rhetoric and antics expect much more of it, perhaps at even greater levels than you have seen thus far. Why? Because it works well for him, politically.  Men, in particular, see Trump as their best hope to preserve patriarchy.  As Steve Pinker, a Harvard professor of psychology suggested in Edsall’s column, Trump is

almost a caricature of a contestant to be Alpha baboon: aggressive, hypersensitive to perceived threats to his dominance, boastful of his status and physical attributes (including his genitals), even the physical display of colorful big hair and a phallic red tie. Men may identify with such displays.[4]

  1. To achieve victory in the coming elections, Republicans would be wise to focus on men who have traditionally voted for Democrats and who may be—quietly or not—turned off by gender-based issues like the MeToo movement. (It is important for Democrats to remember that the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by very few serial offenders; painting all men with the same brush—as unfortunately many MeToo advocates do—is a politically risky proposition.) This especially applies to working class Democratic men who, despite much evidence Trump has failed on his promises to them, appear committed to support him, at least through the 2018 midterm elections. So far, these men are willing to buy into the idea that Trump’s failures are not his fault; that the media and various fantasy conspiracies have precluded him from serving their interests.
  2. Expect much more bashing by Trump of foreign leaders, especially Angela Merkel of Germany and Theresa May of Great Britain who are obvious targets of Trump’s machismo. Similarly, Putin of Russia, Erdogan of Turkey, and Duterte of the Philippines represent tough-guy proxies for Trump’s war on women.  And, patriarchy and nationalism are easy bedfellows since they share a common denominator: they are both exclusionary regimes that benefit the few at the expense of the many.
  3. Race-baiting also works well for Trump, and not just among white males. Curiously, and I’m not sure how to definitively understand this yet, Trump’s race-baiting, accomplished partly through his immigration cruelties, does not seem to affect Hispanic males as one might expect.  Perhaps because they appreciate more his cultural nod to machismo than his ridicule of their race, which machismo, at least historically, has been more prominent in their culture than with American Anglos.
  4. For Democrats, get-out-the-vote programs should be aimed squarely at women to take advantage of the pronounced swing of women toward the Democratic party since Trump’s election. If current preferences hold (which may even increase), the key to victory will likely be getting women to vote and, as a counter to Republican appeals to working class Democratic men, in getting disaffected Republican women to vote for Democratic women candidates.  A pink-hued blue wave may affect the tsunamic destruction of the Republican Party. Playing the gender card may also, however, alienate some men (see MeToo comment above), but I suspect those vulnerable to Trump’s chest-beating may have already flipped.
  5. Democratic women candidates have a natural advantage in this gender gap-cum-chasm. But, while they would be wise to artfully counter Trump’s antics on his gender and race baiting, doing so has the potential to also solidify his support among undecided men.  There is a fine line here. Success may come more easily by promoting thoughtful solutions to pocketbook issues like healthcare and the emerging economic consequences of Trump’s tariffs, which should make him vulnerable with both men and women.  Being anti-Trump is clearly not enough; positive policy solutions to gender-neutral issues may be the key to tipping the electoral scales.

As Edsall concluded,

Men’s commitment to protecting their status — their dominant position in the social order — cannot be counted out in 2018 or 2020. Elections have become a sexualized battlefield, and men have repeatedly demonstrated their determination to win no matter the social cost. The outcome of the next two elections will show whether women are equally determined to fight tooth and nail.[5]

Mars and Venus indeed appear to be on a new collision course.

[1] Thomas B. Edsall, “What Happens if the Gender Gap Becomes a Gender Chasm?,” The New York Times, July 12, 2018,  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/opinion/trump-midterms-gender-gap.html.
[2] Pew Research Center, “Voters More Focused on Control of Congress – and the President – than in Past Midterms,” June 20, 2018, www.pewresearch.org.
[3] Ibid, p. 11.
[4] OpCit, #1.
[5] Ibid.

By |2018-07-20T21:26:58+00:00July 12th, 2018|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Trumplandia One Year In (and the Road Out)

As a recently baptized sexagenarian, the years seem to be slipping by much faster although, thanks to Trump, the last one seems like five.  I’ll add this decelerating time-warp deception to the list of Trump swindles since that bizarre night, one year ago, when the Trump family took the stage in the Hilton Midtown Hotel in New York City.  Dazed by victory, their heads spun around the outcome no one, including them, expected allowing them to seize the American presidency and move their hoodwink-America show to the White House.  As the clock struck midnight and morning light followed, the perceived existential threat of 9/11 was transposed into the very real existential threat of 11/9: Donald Trump.  Weirdness has always been a staple of American identity, but most often is expressed as a scintillating adornment of the American condition, rather than Trump’s weirdness, which is a daily beatdown-cum-scourge imperiling the American Dream.  Alas, here we are one year hence.

The question I am asked over and over and over again is, “How and when will we be rid of this cad?”  Absent a failure of health, which is certainly foreseeable given Trump’s gluttonous behaviors and demands of the presidency, I tend to agree with Roger Cohen’s (New York Times) recent assessment that puts Trump’s reelection as more probable than any forced departure.  As for Republicans in Congress who hold the keys to impeachment, unless their own reelection is unlikely, like Senators Corker and Flake, or their own life facing an imminent end, as with Senator McCain, they have thus far been as complicit in the Trump presidential fraud as my own Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton, and Senator Cory Gardner, who undoubtedly rise every morning drinking Koch Brothers’ Kool-Aid from a faux-crystal Trump slipper.  These Republican men and women, who masquerade as standard-bearers of their party, are little more than traitors to American values and institutions.  Here’s hoping they are retired from public office at the earliest opportunity.

To be clear, there is good news on this otherwise regrettable anniversary, but before I get to that we must all accept responsibility for creating the environment that allowed Trump’s election.  Understanding the larger cultural context is necessary to change our ways to assure future Trumps do not recur.  Many have cited the Democratic Party’s failure to consider the needs of the forlorn working white segment from forgotten American zip codes, but there exist larger and more pervasive trends that allowed Trump to hijack the American presidency.  Three core principles: individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism, that truly made America great since its founding, have been flipped to their obverse fiendish rivals since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the profound expansion of wealth that followed.  Here is what I mean by these principles:

  • Individualism—We have free will and we are accountable for how we exercise it.
  • Perfectibility—We have the capacity to make things better and the obligation to leave things better than the way we found them.
  • Exceptionalism (the exemplar kind)—We set the example for others to follow.

Unfortunately, one of the effects of becoming the world’s lone superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union was the absence of a willing and able contender to keep U.S. power in check.  Indeed, winning the Cold War was a victory, but also left us vulnerable to the impulse of hubristic overreach including the temptation to violate the sovereignty of other states militarily, economically, and culturally.  In addition, in the last three decades the U.S. has enjoyed an historical expansion of wealth due, in part, to the “peace dividend” (political and economic) created by prevailing over the Soviet Union and, more so, by the transformation of the economy—led by U.S. companies—from analog to digital.  Notwithstanding the concentration of this wealth among fewer people as this transformation played out, a cultural malaise set in marked by a number of developments including hyper-consumerism, increasing obesity, anti-intellectualism, and a general inclination toward self-absorption, which created a wave of apathy and nihilism that swamped the spirit of America from coast to coast. The result is that these core principles morphed as follows:

  • Individualism became Narcissism.
  • Perfectibility became Entitlement.
  • Exceptionalism became Hubris.

Ironically, victory and affluence turned a vibrant and compassionate American society into a real-time display of Dante’s seven deadly sins: envy, wrath, lust, greed, gluttony, pride, and sloth.  People behaving badly, from Wall Street to Hollywood to Washington D.C. to Main Street, has become the norm.  And no, the evidence does not suggest greater piety would have saved us.  The fact is the destructive transformation of these principles occurred during—correlates with—the highest period of religiosity in the history of America.  Morality and righteousness may not be symbiotic after all.  Add this to the propensity, enabled by social media, to become siloed into our own self-affirming worlds and a perfect storm of intellectual and moral decline produced an electorate vulnerable—even receptive—to manipulation and fraud.  The petri dish that is the American experiment became a viable host for the cancer that is Trump. The good news is, we can lift ourselves out of this morass.  Trump did not create these conditions; he simply exploited them as any con man might.  We can be disgusted by his behavior, but we remain in control of, and responsible for, our own.

In spite of the damage done by Trump’s cadre of kleptocrats and incompetents—traditionally known as a president’s cabinet—the broader population appears to be emerging from denial, fear and despair, and organizing to reestablish the values and institutions that underpin the American Dream and American leadership throughout the world.  Unified and inspired people are the antidote to Trump.  Six thousand Indivisible chapters across the country did not exist one year ago and they are now evolving from reactive resistance to proactive agents of change at all levels of government.  Personally, I can credit the festering lesion Trump has inflicted on the American presidency for compelling me to engage anew with many Republicans, Democrats and Independents who are unwilling to stand by and watch Trump’s shit-show of avarice and deceit. “Repeal and replace”—like that touted by Republicans in the healthcare debates—is now being scrawled with Sharpies on the headshots of congressional Trumpsters who have learned how uncomfortable town halls can be, and who correctly fear the ballot box in 2018.  And while too many aggrieved citizens still sit idly by wringing their hands over Trump without getting out of their chairs to act, or opening their wallets to support, I am hopeful they will at least show up at the polls at their next opportunity to vote the bastards out.  This is no time to be a bystander in the battle for America.

The challenge now is to move from anti-Trump to pro-American Dream; to reestablish American values and exert those now-quaint norms of honesty, humility, and service such that individualism, perfectibility, and exceptionalism once again supplant narcissism, entitlement, and hubris.  This means shifting from defense to offense; to become proponents rather than just opponents.  As true patriots, we must rally around the flag of the American Dream and put forward declarative and realistic proposals that clearly illustrate the benefits of our candidates and policies to a vast majority of Americans, not just those who share our ideological silos.  This is hard and honest work, which is kryptonite to people like Trump and his pathetic sycophants.

As my former fellow Texan, Barbara Jordan, wrote:

Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavor; or will we become a divided nation?  For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.

One year later, we know what we are dealing with in Trump.  This is no time for fear; this is no time for indifference.  We must challenge ourselves and our leaders to become, once again, ardent advocates of the American Dream.

By |2017-12-30T19:45:14+00:00November 7th, 2017|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Who Will Save the American Dream?

As Trump tramples the American Dream in favor of his despotic nightmare, no one party or candidate has emerged as its savior.  The Democrats best effort at fashioning a new narrative has given us the limp ‘n lame “A Better Deal” while the progressive icon, Senator Elizabeth Warren, decries a “rigged system,” both weirdly attempting to sound more Trumpy than the other (see my recent post “Democrats, It’s Time to Wise Up,” August 15, 2017).  Whoever develops a narrative wrapped around the tenets of the American Dream—under attack since the rise of the Tea Party and under siege during the Trump presidency—will likely do very well in 2018 and beyond.  However, to date, Trump’s opposition has become so disoriented with the horrors of his presidency it is either strangely emulating him as in the case of the Democratic Party leadership, or so narrowly focused on particular issues and interests as to be blinded to the strategic imperative of crafting a more powerful narrative to capture the support and enthusiasm of enough Americans to seize power and affect change.

The American Dream is a very simple proposition, first put forward in 1931 during the Great Depression by historian James Truslow Adams in his essay, “Epic in America.”  Adams wrote,

[The American Dream is] that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. [It is] a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Perhaps the American Dream is being ignored as a rallying cry because it is too obvious.  Perhaps Trump’s opponents are taking it for granted.  But, it is exactly what Trump is attempting to destroy in his pursuit of fascist power, and it is precisely what needs to be employed to unify Americans against the hackneyed recklessness of Trump’s Republican Party.  “Make America Great Again”—Trump’s fraudulent appeal to the American voter—can and should be defeated by the simple elegance of “Caretakers of the American Dream.”

While Trump advocates exclusion, uniformity, regression, supremacy, stasis, exploitation, indifference, dominance, authoritarianism, segregation, fear, division, and hate; the opposition is eerily silent about inclusion, diversity, progress, equality, development, empathy, democracy, integration, courage, unity, and love—the characteristics that underpin the American Dream.  The opposition is so appalled it appears confused, or at least distracted, which is, of course, exactly what Trump wants.  And, each and every progressive issue and interest fits nicely under the umbrella of the American Dream as it embraces fundamental American ambitions, including “the pursuit of happiness.”  Fairness, equity, and justice are at the Dream’s heart as civil and human rights, healthcare, immigration, and respect for science and the environment fit comfortably in its shadow.

The British scholar, Lawrence Freedman, argues in his epic study, Strategy: a History (2013) that strategy is “the art of creating power.”  Trump and his Republican Party have waived the flag in support of white economic nationalism to create theirs.  It is time someone or some party started waiving the flag to save the American Dream, where our power as a nation truly resides.

 

By |2017-09-27T22:03:40+00:00September 5th, 2017|American Identity, Donald Trump, General, Leadership|0 Comments

Democrats, It’s Time to Wise Up

As we move into the second half of Donald Trump’s first year as president, the lists of unprecedented things—from Trump’s seemingly limitless lies, to the tally of bizarre actions by his cabinet members, to the volume of leaks from the White House that appear to require the tensile strength of a fire hose—the greater and more curious development may be the Democratic Party’s abject failure to seize the moment and bring anti-Trump energy to bear on consolidating power.  Not since anti-Viet Nam War movement and Watergate in the late 1960s and early 1970s have so many Americans been apoplectic about our national leadership.  And yet, the Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, Berniecrats, or whatever name is claimed, seem bereft of a compelling plan to exploit the craziness that has metastasized throughout the lymphatic system of the Republican Party.

Earlier this month the Democrats, led by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, attempted to brand a new plan with the slogan “A Better Deal.”  The announcement was so lame—so painfully weak and inauthentic—it reminded me of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’ fateful 1988 ride on top of a tank wearing a helmet meant for a much larger man.  Further, it mirrors Trump’s transactional disposition in an attempt to suggest the Democrats can out-Trump Trump.  The ultimate irony may be that the Democrats need look no further than the Republicans to learn how to win; yet they are so addled by their inability to look beyond narrow self-interest in favor of a big inclusive narrative, so reluctant to work within the political system to harness its power, and so intoxicated by years of throwing back shots of nihilism that they may squander this generational opportunity Trump has so assiduously delivered.

The lack of a tight, compelling, and over-arching narrative that provides a large tent to attract enough people to truly affect change is the first and probably the most egregious failure of the Democratic Party today.  Democrats are adept at listing all the things they want, but weirdly deficient in their capacity to articulate those needs within a belief system—a narrative based in why (as opposed to what, how, where, and who).[1]  Their many attempts to bring like-minded people together often quickly devolve into a resource competition between particular interest groups concerned with economic inequality, healthcare, environment, immigration, women’s rights, etc. The Republicans on the other hand have, for decades now, wrapped themselves in ideas and beliefs rather than dialing too far down into the detail of policy until, of course, they assemble enough power to implement change.  This strategic disposition has served the Republicans very well: they control the majority of state houses throughout the country, and all three branches of our Federal government.  Their narrative has the American flag as its central symbol—they own patriotism even while many of them barely qualify as more than lapel-pin patriots.  They speak of beliefs, not wants or desires; of a limited role for government, of fundamental values that emanate from the Constitution (and the Bible), of a country that sets the example for the world as opposed to the Democrats who compile lists of grievances in search of “a better deal.”

This Democratic penchant for issues rather than ideas is deeply ingrained in the DNA of the Party and on display recently by one of their standard bearers, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, at the meeting of Netroots Nation progressives in Atlanta on August 12th.  She ticked off her list of popular progressive issues then struggled (and failed) to place them within an inclusive over-arching narrative, or vision, astonishingly borrowing Trump’s tired trope that “the system is rigged!” as her preferred punch line.  She railed against a common target of Democrats—the evil of corporate power—even while a more abhorrent evil, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, were marching and killing in Charlottesville, Virginia.  She managed to touch every special interest in the room while fundamentally failing to provide them with a reason to come together under a transcendent value system that might unite them in something more than hating Trump, power, and wealth.  She may have improved her own political prospects for 2020, but she did nothing to move the Party onto stronger footing.  She and Senator Schumer are squandering the opportunity provided by Trump.

The second strategic failure of the Democrats has also reached legacy status: the propensity to fight a system from the outside rather than penetrating it and accessing its power to achieve transformative objectives.  Michael Tomasky, columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of Democracy: a Journal of Ideas summarized this condition best recently in The New York Times where he argued,

One key difference between the right and the left in this country has been that the right has worked an inside game while the left has mostly remained outside the system.  That’s how it has been since the late 1950s, when the modern conservative movement was first organizing itself and its leaders made the conscious decision to work within the Republican Party.  The Republicans of that time were full of centrists and liberals.  It wasn’t a club die-hard conservatives wanted to join, but they did.  They decided rather than fight the power, they wanted to become the power.  And, of course, they have.

Meanwhile, Democrats are not only unsure of what to call themselves today, they easily succumb to the simplicity of factions—of self-identifying with what they want in the moment rather than a larger ideal—unable and often unwilling to find common ground within their own party, by and between their many myopic, and frankly selfish, leaders.  This is exacerbated by another anti-system sentiment that perpetually keeps power beyond their grasp: low voter turnout among 18-44 year-olds.  This modality is highly unlikely to provide a path to power within a system that will endure well beyond the life of their current concerns and desires.

The third strategic impediment to the success of the Democratic Party is its penchant for nihilism.  While the Republicans proudly espouse an exemplar strain of exceptionalism—that America is the chosen land for people who themselves have been chosen to lead the world to a better place—the Democrats tend to wallow in a nihilistic broth of self-pity.  Jimmy Carter became (in)famous for his “national malaise” jeremiads, and was subsequently easily defeated by the sunny disposition of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” that offered Americans absolution from the sins that concerned Carter.  Occupy Wall Street may have been the movement that established the residency of this condition in the modern Democratic Party.  Begun as a leaderless movement with no particular objective other than raising awareness of economic inequality and revealing that Wall Street is governed by (surprise!) greed, their followers accomplished nothing in terms of change but painted the Party as a home for downtrodden Millennials who believe they have no chance of success in a game that is—wait for it, of course—rigged!  Perhaps this is a revelation for some, but people are not generally attracted to negativity and cynicism.  Rather, people want to be associated with winning teams; they want to be for something—proponents—rather than against everything—opponents.  It’s much more fun to have the ball and play offense than it is to look at others playing with the ball and hoping someday to join in the fun.  Republicans understand this, while Democrats, to their great peril, find bewildering comfort in whipping themselves with the repudiation that accompanies failure.

The nearly six thousand Indivisible groups around the country, representing the new progressive core of the Democratic Party, took their initial organizing framework from the playbook of the Tea Party.  That proved to be a wise adaptation from a group that has become a stronghold within the Republican Party.  Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, and Berniecrats would do well to revisit other strategic aspects of Republican success to capitalize on what Trump hath wrought for the GOP.  Tactics follow strategy, not the other way around.  Ignoring these lessons may produce the unthinkable: Trump’s second inauguration.

[1] For more on this type of narrative building, see my essays in the “American Identity” collection at https://ameritecture.com/category/american-identity/.
By |2017-08-18T15:13:56+00:00August 15th, 2017|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments