OK, OK – there’s no truth at all to that headline. One could even say it’s a “fake headline.”
Steve Bannon would never support anything George Soros does. And George Soros would never be associated with Steve Bannon.
But there’s a serious point I hope to make by it.
Before I do, I want to issue a few caveats. I admire people who engage in protest activity through legal and peaceful means. I was once an active protestor myself, and I support the exercise of First Amendment rights on behalf of deeply held beliefs. Further, I am not opining on the substantive merits of either side’s positions.
Rather, I merely want to explore the efficacy of certain strategies that are currently at play in American politics. The hypothesis of this short essay is grounded in the observation that we are an evenly and bitterly divided nation, in which the balance of power now resides with folks like the roughly 150,000 voters in the Midwest who swung the presidential election to Trump. Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are all states that have recently voted Democratic, yet, by narrow margins, voted Republican in this election.
Who were the voters who turned the tide? There has been some analysis of them, and there should be more. From what we know, they, essentially, appear to be today’s version of another era’s “Reagan Democrats.” They include independents and working class Democrats; people who believe they have been hurt by economic trends that have created difficulty and uncertainty for them; some who believe that cultural change has both gone too far, too fast and undermined their mores and values; and many who feel physically insecure in a world in which terrorism is ever-more threatening.
There clearly were “tremors” leading to the 2016 “earthquake” in elections during the past decade. The losses for Democrats in Congressional seats, governorships, and control of legislative chambers since 2010 have been unprecedented.
In the face of such massive defeats, the fundamental strategic question for Democrats must be: “what do we do now?”
Some suggest the party should go further to the left to excite the base. This approach was not the winning strategy in the late 1980s when the Democrats successfully responded to Reagan’s power by moving to the center, which helped bring Clinton to office. Indeed it’s not clear this strategy has ever worked anytime in the past for either party.
The principal tactic of choice for those who want to go left is the highly visible use of protests. Many such protests during the pre-election period turned violent. I think principally of Baltimore and Chicago. Since the election, there has been the Women’s March after the Inauguration, which had considerable support, but which featured the highly offensive comments of Madonna and Ashley Judd. And, after the ham-handed and poorly executed Trump Executive Order on immigration (which, by the way, was still supported 49-41% by the public, according to Reuters/Ipsos), there were more protests at airports and across the land.
As I mentioned, I once was an active protestor myself. As a student at Berkeley in the 1960s, I joined others in actively protesting Governor Reagan and the Vietnam War. My principal sense then and now about all that activity was that when the average “person on the street” saw the protests negatively, students lost ground politically. Indeed, it was a big win for Reagan when student protests were unappealing.
The only time students actually gained ground was when our means of opposition appealed to the middle, when the messaging spoke to the middle, and when the middle got exhausted by, and began to oppose, the Vietnam War.
What’s the lesson for today? Until the opposition to Trump appeals to the 150,000 voters who swayed the election and moves them away from Trump and to an alternative perspective, the left will make no progress, and, in fact, may even further alienate those who hold the balance of power. These voters most certainly didn’t care for the Alinsky-style tactics of many recent protests. The continuation of these tactics might feel good to the protestors but will work against the left’s interests.
My bet is that Steve Bannon is hoping George Soros continues to fund these tactics and that the left chooses to deploy them. He is likely counting on it to assure his man stays in power.
If Democrats are smart, they’ll turn instead to a current version of the Democratic Leadership Council to guide the opposition.