by Kellen Squire
Our national path forward in the short term is pretty clear- we have to put out all the fires the Trump administration set (and is still setting) – and start to “right the ship.” But we have to keep looking forward, to the future, because the dangers of Trumpism are not going away. If anything, the stakes have only gotten more dire. This virulent strain of populism will only get more pronounced, and the next people to come around may actually be competent the next time.
Someone will “win” populism. By that, I mean that someone will harness it for electoral success over the next few years. And we’d better hope to Christ it’s us, because if it’s not? We just might look back on the last four years, as terrible as they’ve been, as the “good old days.”
Let’s give credit where it’s due, though. We beat an incumbent President- no small task on its own. But beyond that, we beat someone who had no compunction about breaking any rule or law he pleased – including to use federal resources to benefit him or suppress his political enemies – with an unshakeable base (even Dubya only kept a core 28% of supporters in the waning days of his administration), plus a billion dollars, and with our hands tied behind our back in innumerous ways because of the pandemic.
But it was way too damn close in too many states – Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Lose those three, that kicks you down to 270 electoral votes right there, and man, I don’t want to imagine what happens with this soft coup at exactly 270. Even this incompetent group of grifters might’ve been able to get enough done if they only had to concentrate on one state.
I shudder to think of the consequences of that.
It’s what we saw in Virginia all the way back in 2017- increasing turnout has unpredictable results, and it’s not one-sided. Conventional wisdom says increased turnout is better for Democrats (“when we vote, we win!”) – and, yeah, our turnout that year on the Democratic side was bonkers. But that made a lot of people miss that Republican turnout was also significantly increased in 2017. It’s just that Democratic turnout was so disproportionately more, so it pushed a huge wave of Democratic candidates into office.
Nobody should be surprised we lost seats in the U.S. House and in state legislatures this year. Remember, these are still Operation Red Map-drawn districts! They were drawn for Democrats to lose. But these losses are a clear warning sign that if Democratic turnout falters even a little bit… well, we’re in for a really bad time.
That means we need to figure out what went right, what went wrong, and how to go forward from here without delay.
And from a redneck ER nurse from rural Virginia, who sadly will never get interviewed in a diner by the New York Times because I voted for Joe Biden, here are my thoughts on the matter:
Everyone Loves Socialism
I’ve been saying this for five years now about Donald Trump, and even longer about the Republican party in general- in fact, on this very site in the runup to the 2006 midterm elections. It’s a fact: everyone loves socialism. Oh, sure, the word “socialism” is a big boogeyman for a lot of folks, but actual people who aren’t billionaires love socialist policies and everything about ’em. You wordsmith Bernie’s and Warren’s platforms to evade any phrases or terms that would trigger the OANN/Newsmax crowd, and you have a solid 80%+ buy-in from most of the country.
I have lots of fun discussing this with people in rural Virginia, watching the cognitive dissonance when you show them their politics are actually a helluva lot closer to AOC’s than to Donald Trump’s- and the creeping realization on their faces as their eyes start to open to the truth.
Honestly, Donald Trump could have come out and said he wanted to nationalize the means of production to protect the proletariat from the bourgeoise, and the Republican Party and right-wing media ouroboros would have instantly rushed to laud him for his forward thinking and insist it had been their idea all along. Hell, he almost did just that– Steve Bannon wanted Trump to effectively translate that phrase into “alt-right” and have Trump run on that kind of platform. Unfortunately for Steve, but fortunately (as loosely as one can say that) for the rest of us, Donald Trump has the attention span of a gnat, and didn’t really care about power in that sense. He only cared about it as it specifically benefited him alone; not so much fascism as kakistocracy.
I firmly believe that if Trump had listened to Bannon, we’d have crossed the Rubicon, and this would be all over. But he didn’t. And now we need to take this opportunity to ensure that never happens again.
My favorite plank to win people over on this? Oh, you gotta know it’s Medicare For All. Obviously, this makes sense to me as an ER nurse, and seeing how that would actually save our country a helluva lot of money in aggregate and impact the health of every single citizen in a positive way. Beyond that, it also beneficially hits people directly in the pocketbook, on a core kitchen table issue, in a way that’s impossible to ignore.
How many people do you know who have said, geez, I would love to stay home with my kids. Or go back to school. Or travel the country. Or quit this dead end job. Or open my own business. But I don’t dare lose my health insurance.
Listen to me -that would be everyone. Everyone. Everyone in this country knows someone who has said those words. Period. End of story.
If we lose our chance to seize on these issues to the benefit of every America, we deserve everything that will come to us.
God, Guns, and Abortion
An obvious atheist (the only god Donald Trump believes in is himself) who paid mistresses to have abortions, who used a lifesaving treatment produced from aborted stem cells, and who has no compunction about lying, cheating, or stealing, Donald Trump has laid bare that the supposed moral high ground the Republican Party loved to claimed to have was, and always has been, “vaporware.” Again, this is something a lot of folks called long ago; it’s just nice to have such public evidence of people beclowning themselves, especially on behalf of someone as horrible as Donald Trump.
There is no depth behind the Republican Party’s position on these topics. None. It’s all rhetoric spewed for the price of winning, because the Republicans have known for a long time that there are a LOT of folks out there who’d check off every single box on a Democratic position list- except for that one wedge issue. If we separate people from those wedge issues, or make them understand the Republicans don’t actually give a shit, we could win nationally in a wave bigger than ’06 or ’08. Conversely, if the Republican Party ever figures out how to banish the racists and nativists (or teach them how to say the quiet parts quiet again), the opposite could happen.
Realizing that is one thing. Acting on it? Well, that’s a bit harder. For instance, when I ran for the Virginia legislature, I initially decided to do so by labeling myself as a “pro-life” candidate. I wanted to go for the GOP’s jugular, intent on subverting this very dynamic and goading them into engaging me on that so I could make that very point, since I’m an abortion provider thanks to my job as an ER Nurse. In the ruby-red district I was running in, I figured that was my only chance to pull enough votes to win. Unsurprisingly, though, I ran into predictable problems from using this frame, forcing me to try and explain the trap I was attempting to set, rendering it useless as I found myself in it instead.
But all three of those wedge issues are winning ones for us – if we can expose the hypocrisy of the GOP and show them their concerns will never be addressed by Republicans… just manipulated. We need to break through that echo chamber and show as many folks as we can that things aren’t the way they hear about in rightwing propaganda circles – a more global version of what I do when I volunteer as a poll greeter in ruby red precincts here in Virginia.
We have a pious, moral, churchgoing President-elect. When Democrats are in charge, abortion rates plummet; when Republicans are in charge, the opposite happens. We think the government needs to keep its nose out of EVERYONE’s bedrooms. We don’t think you have to choose between the Constitution and mass shootings. Etc, etc. We have to break into the relentless messaging onslaught the GOP has gotten down to a science over the last 40 years on those issues so we can show people that’s true. Because if we can’t start to shake their use of wedge issues on this after the party sold its soul to Donald Trump, we’re never going to be able to do it.
I still believe we ought to go directly for their jugular on this issue; I don’t think there’s a better time than now. But the one thing we cannot do is leave the other folks time to regroup and rearm.
Speaking of running for the legislature, the person I ran against in 2017 is now a two-decade-long incumbent, which has given him plenty of time to learn how important retail politics are.
Every year without fail, a letter arrives for every kindergartner in my district, addressed “To Future Delegate so and so.” The contents are boilerplate schmaltz, and are clearly aimed at the parents instead of the kids. But then again, the man has been doing this every year since Bill Clinton was the president. People who got those letters when they were kids now have kids who are getting those letters, for Christ’s sake.
Not only that, if your name shows up in the newspaper? You get a letter. I was the assistant coach of my daughter’s bumblebee soccer team – which basically amounted to standing around clapping while occasionally saying “Good hustle!” However, this got my name in the paper, and sure enough, I got a letter from this guy thanking me for volunteering.
And while the guy is a huge way-out-there partisan, he’s smart enough to know when to keep his mouth shut about that when he’s not in Richmond. Ergo, to people who don’t pay attention to politics (as in, most normal people), they don’t go “Oh, wow, even a Trump administration official said this guy is too far right on criminal justice issues” or “this guy was the one who maliciously gerrymandered the entire Commonwealth of Virginia!” They go, “oh, hey- that’s the guy who sent me a letter! I guess I should vote for him.”
We could whinge and complain about it – this delegate, for instance, somehow getting lists of public school kids using his government (not campaign) persona to send those kindergarten letters. He has to pay for someone to find all of these examples (every mention in the newspaper, every high school award, etc), figure out the person’s address, and send them an appropriate form letter- one reason he raises hundred of thousands of dollars even when running unopposed, I’d wager, to have the staff to be able to do that all year long in a part-time legislature. I’m sure he’s at least bending some rules to get all that done, beyond a broken political fundraising system that lets one take unlimited donations from unlimited sources.
Beyond that, take a look at Trump. He demanded his name be on the checks that people got for the stimulus, and lo and behold – people who aren’t inundated in the political world take that to mean he actually cares about them. You, me, we all know that’s a crock. But as I’ve said many times, if you’re reading this site, you’re already “weird”; more aware of the political process and its goings-on than 95% of our fellow citizens.
We could whine about how that’s “just not fair”- or we could just do it ourselves. Teach our people how to do it. Show candidates where and how to engage authentically, to go out there and show up for people in their everyday lives in a way they will recognize, no matter how mundane it may seem.
Remember, the only thing that matters is what people think they can see. If they can’t tell what you’re doing to make their lives better, then you’re not doing anything at all.
A Sense of Community
This last one is particularly important to me. I’ve seen the responses to what my fellow frontline healthcare workers and I have written here, and I cherish them immensely. I just wish more of our fellow Americans felt the same way.
I don’t think it’s malice.
I feel like we have become a decadent and unserious country; I mean, Donald Trump was elected our President. The folks with power in this country – from politicians to corporations – have done everything they can to split us apart, isolate us, try to tell us that we are all an island unto ourselves and we don’t need help from anyone else. The more divided we are, the more they profit, literally and figuratively, and they have no desire to help us find our national sense of worth again.
This is why people can scream “COVID is a hoax” until they get it; why they can be okay with emergency services providers wrecking themselves and not feeling like they need to make any sacrifices to prevent it. Why chickenhawks have no problem sending troops off to die in countries they’d never step foot in to benefit donor interests. Why so many Christians profess to be a fan of Jesus Christ’s teaching, but have no desire to follow in His example. Et cetera, et cetera.
This is, perhaps, the most systemic problem we’re facing as a country. If we don’t find an answer here, I’m skeptical we’ll have much of a country left in the next couple decades. We have so many giant problems on the horizon – from climate change to biowarfare to automation to social media disconnect. Any one of those crises alone could derail society, even civilization, as we know it, and without a common sense of purpose, we stand no chance at surviving it, much less thriving in the aftermath.
I wish I had a hopeful end to this missive. I don’t. We have a pretty stark future ahead of us, that’s going to take a lot of work to put on track. We absolutely can do it. But the odds are stacked against us.
For me, I know I’m not going to stop trying. We might go down, but I’ll be damned if it’s going to be without a fight. There are too many people hurting, too many people counting on someone to stand up for them, to do anything less.