E. J. Dionne ponders the future in this Washington Post op-ed, Even if Trump loses big, the anger will remain. Here’s how the left can address it.
The urgent task of progressives in this election is to defeat Donald Trump. But even if we succeed, we have a long-term responsibility: to understand why Trump happened and to face up to how failures on the left and center-left have contributed to the flourishing of a new far right, not only in the United States but also across Europe.
The left, you might fairly protest, has enough problems without being blamed for the rise of a dangerous figure who is, first and foremost, a creation of the conservative movement’s radicalization and the Republican leadership’s pandering to extreme views over many years. When I watch GOP leaders bemoaning their party’s fate under Trump (or belatedly jumping off his ship), I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s warning that “those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”
But progressives should resist complacency bred by the idea that the anger on display in this election will soon subside as older voters uneasy with change decline in numbers. Throughout the West, social-democratic and left-liberal parties are facing defections, divisions and decline. Their economic model — combining a market orientation with welfare states, strong unions and regulations — is no longer delivering the broadly shared prosperity that was once its hallmark. Yes, part of the problem, particularly in the United States, comes from a weakening of social protections thanks to conservative policy victories and the resistance of congressional Republicans to social reform. Nonetheless, even if Trump loses big, the left and center-left have a lot of work and rethinking to do.
The grievances of Trump supporters have been well-covered this year (although it should not have taken both the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns to bring them to the fore). Many voters fear that the social and economic world that has defined their lives is irretrievably passing away.
The left is in trouble precisely because it has not responded adequately to this fear or managed to tame the forces that produced it. This is not just a political mistake but also a moral failing.
What I have been writing about for several years is the dismaying fact that income inequality has deepened regardless of which party is in the White House and regardless of which party controls Congress. So, in my opinion, Dionne is correct in citing the political left for its share of responsibility for the anger that fueled Trump's explosion on the political scene.
The nation faces, at a minimum, (1) severe economic inequality, (2) employment and wages depressed by automation, and (3) jobs lost to globalization. I don't have the answers but come November 9th we'd better start the conversation. To get that started, here is Dionne again.
It is tempting to discount the Trump movement as primarily a backward-looking reaction among less-well-off white voters who can abide neither the cultural changes of the past half-century nor the increasingly diverse country that has come into being since we changed our immigration laws in the mid-1960s. And it’s true that racism and nativism have taken particularly vicious forms in this campaign — remember, Trumpism was born in birtherism.
But we can condemn prejudice and still understand the adversity afflicting Trump supporters. And we should acknowledge that those who are angry about what’s happened to their lives are not all delusional bigots.
Defeating Trump is the first step. Giving an ear and a heart to the legitimate concerns of his supporters is the next.