Sunday, July 21, 2019

Trump Sets the Terms; Democrats Are Clueless

At NYT, FWIW, "Trump Sets the Terms on Racial Division. Do Democrats Know What to Do?":

GREENVILLE, N.C. — President Trump waited for 13 seconds, as the chants from the crowd of thousands grew louder.

“Send her home!” the North Carolina audience yelled, mimicking Mr. Trump’s recent tweet attacking a Somali-born Democratic congresswoman.

“Treason!” one man screamed.

“Traitor!” shouted another.

The moment Wednesday night, a microcosm of the angry tribalism that often emanates from Mr. Trump’s campaign rallies, immediately caused ripple effects for the president and his party. Some Republican members of Congress denounced the chant as racist and xenophobic. Mr. Trump tepidly disavowed his supporters’ words, only to praise them the following day. For Democrats, especially the candidates seeking to defeat Mr. Trump, the impact of the rally was clear: This will be a general election focused on race, identity and Mr. Trump’s brand of white grievance politics.

Until this past week, the 2020 field has generally tried to ignore the president’s incendiary language — talking about it, the thinking goes, only gives him more power. Instead, candidates have preferred to discuss policies, making the case for themselves by advocating changes in the criminal justice system or maternal health, or ways to eliminate the racial wealth gap.

Now some feel an urgency to take a different approach.

“This election will be a referendum, not on Donald Trump, but a referendum on who we are and who we must be to each other,” Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said. “But this is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Senator Kamala Harris of California, the most viable woman of color to run for president, said that the scenes from Mr. Trump’s rally, while personally upsetting, were not surprising.

“When we’re on that stage together in the general, I know he’ll try to pull the same thing with me,” Ms. Harris said. “But I’m fully prepared for that. I’m up for it. Because he is small. He is wrong. He is a bully.”

And at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles on Friday, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told supporters that Mr. Trump is “tearing at the social fabric of this country.”

“This is not hyperbole,” Mr. Biden said. “The fact of the matter is this president is more George Wallace than George Washington.”

But even as Democratic candidates universally denounced Mr. Trump’s comments, they did not agree on how the eventual presidential nominee should combat the racial division embedded in those words. Do you, on the campaign trail, talk directly about the president’s inflammatory language, racism and discrimination in this country? Or do you talk about jobs and the economy?

Democratic Party leaders, particularly establishment figures with ties to Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, have largely followed a strategy of careful avoidance: responding to the president’s most inflammatory moments, while attempting to redirect the political debate to what is often described as “kitchen table” issues, such as health care and wages.

However, an increasingly vocal group of Democratic grass-roots organizers and pollsters believe that Mr. Trump’s words and legislative actions amount to a cohesive playbook of white identity politics, meant to court white voters of all economic tiers around the idea that their fates are linked, and are under threat by an increasingly diversifying America. They argue that racism and the public performance of it is a “kitchen table” issue for many voters — black and white — that must be dealt with head-on.

“Just as much time and resources as the nominee spends on targeting and messaging around health care and wages and climate change, they should spend an equal amount of resources around an alternative racial vision for the country,” said Cornell Belcher, a prominent pollster who worked with Mr. Obama. “This isn’t a goddamn distraction.”

Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of the progressive group Center for Popular Democracy, said Democrats must embrace this moment as an opportunity.

“You have to be able to speak powerfully about our willingness to belong together,” Ms. Archila said. “Don’t just condemn the racism and the language but use it as an opportunity to argue for a vision of the country in which we can all be included.”

To some progressives, the stakes are not just winning in 2020...
Still more.

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