Democrats have lost over a thousand political seats in the last decade from dog-catcher to statehouses and beyond.This losing isn’t in the money or organizing, it’s in the heads of the people calling the shots. Heads that are either terrible at listening, are willfully ignorant, or just have no idea what year it is.
We are not in the 90s anymore where a more neoliberal and colonial worldview ruled. The enlightenment had won its declaration that everything was solid and could be codified and quantified. The world made or could make perfect sense. Governance happened by the numbers, so Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons, Biden, and others ushered the Democrats into the hard-nosed, fact-driven middle. The truth was the truth, and as long as you could give the voters that “truth,” then you could win your seats. Be honest with yourself, does this sound like the world we are living in today?
Thirty years later, we have learned the truth was never simple, and numbers often fail us. It is this misunderstanding that is killing the Democratic Party. The world is no longer about the concrete, the rational, or even the factual. It is no longer a place of the head, rather it a place of how something looks or feels when it’s shattered into a million tiny pieces. The world is much more a place of the heart now. This isn’t a call for anti-intellectualism but for moderation. Empiricism is important, but in a world where we feel lost, most don’t care to know our coordinates but rather that we are where we belong.
The Democratic establishment holds a worldview born of a privileged, college-educated, and over secularized upbringing (think suburbs to Harvard). They learned from a pantheon of old, dead, white, male, enlightenment-era liberal philosophers — a very specific perspective. They understand people as robots who work off a linear, western logic. It’s no surprise this worldview doesn’t carry weight in a country with faith in its bones, color in its skin, and a mind that has either been failed by the education system or is thankfully swept past 80’s scholarship.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the election because she underestimated the deep anger of Americans, particularly in Rust Belt states. She went around stumping about how ‘correct’ things were, but never stopped to determine if they were ‘right’ in any moral sense. She took the numbers to heart but never inquired about hearts because she didn’t care. If people were frustrated, it wasn’t the statistics on the economy or equality that were wrong but the people who were wrong. Who’s heard this narrative? Hysterical crowds of uneducated people allowed themselves to be manipulated by political brutes appealing to emotions.
Read that back to yourself and hear the elitism. Democrats wouldn’t trust the working class to accurately describe their reality. If you’re Black trying to describe racism, you’ll understand the predicament. The Democratic Party allowed itself to believe a racist, classist lie. The secret to understanding a person’s life was locked away in tomes of statistics at the Bureau of Labor or the Department of Agriculture or the Treasury instead of existing unabashedly at dinner tables and bus stops. Numbers told the whole story, and repeating those numbers would make people love you. The elitism of the Democratic Party has become so powerful that it is preferable to acknowledging the emotions and realities of the working class.
After 2016, you’d think Democrats had learned, but the wonks are still running party strategy. Democrats stan Nancy Pelosi while calling firebrands of the party divisive and far-fetched. Pragmatism is hailed, but what has it gotten through Congress? Democrats commit to dryly championing ‘correct’ policy while ignoring that it matters to be ‘right’ in a moral and emotional sense in front of cameras. Politics now is a theatrical arena built for the cameras and the internet — and not wonks.
Look at the Republicans’ inversion of the Democratic playbook. Firebrands to the front, kingmakers to the back. Donald Trump on Fox while Mitch McConnell gets to make sausage in the dark. They don’t care about facts and they don’t have to because it’s about feelings, buzzwords, and branded messaging. It doesn’t matter that migration is lower than it was in the 90s because voters know America is going to be a non-white country. People are actually very aware of what’s going on even if the elite don’t think they’re smart enough to be trusted telling their own stories. The Democrats’ “pragmatic” political strategy is child’s play compared to these politics of the people. .
The Democrats’ losses come from their misunderstanding of a new era. They lose because they think fighting is just a contest of dryly presented elitist ideas. American citizens deserve more than a ‘correct’ world. They deserve a world that is ‘right.’ Fighting for that world will mean turning away from outdated ideology and embracing a new one and with it a new generation of political leadership. Faces like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. Leaders that are willing to engage working-class emotions and who are prepared to channel them into legislation. Leaders of the modern world must understand that being correct is far less powerful than being right.