Trump’s gang flunks at governing but stars at phonying up attention-grabbing culture wedges
If anything links successful runs by Reagan, Clinton, Dubya, Obama and Trump, unrelenting, effective promotion tops the list: Winners transform their wares (policy and vision plus performance) into potent campaign crusades. Modest legislative gains, all that today’s Democrats boast, won’t offset uninspired performance and a wimpy, unarticulated vision. Revealingly, the staid Bush I (and Carter, another uncharismatic, non-promoter) plus Trump (so bad a president even energetic salesmanship tanked) did not win second terms.
Sure, nearly all national politicians are needy, egocentric, approval junkies, quick to dilute promises for re-election. But the singular, system-busting Trump breakthrough, by which a pudding head became president, is leveraging promotion married to embittered negativity (only I can save nose-diving, carnage-rife America from corrupt, elected wrongdoers). Aside from treasonous, election-stunning gimcrackery, oddly pushing voters to betray their own participation, the Trump legacy involves leveraging crude propaganda (deceptive, malicious, ruthless) to compensate for zero qualifications—bereft of knowledge, character, experience, intelligence, public achievements or a testable voting record.
This systemic rupture speaks to modern times and the primitivism of voters desperate for something different (for the right, inevitably worse). The Grifter-in-chief excelled in only one political category: pitching himself (with belligerent attitude, calculated notoriety, and a mic-savvy, standup shtick) to commit a fraud he brought any national leadership skills whatsoever. The novelty of the Trump fraud not only dispatched party opponents, but the second most unpopular candidate in modern times, whose tin-ear insularity drove a bungled campaign.
Bad can drive out good
In short, who needs positive values or policies—or minimum competence—when you can talk up absurd southern walls, fear-monger on diversity and immigration, or pitch the corrosive mythic fiction that older, white, male Protestants are ordained to rule the roost? What positives, even today, are yet found in white nationalism, America First tunnel vision, paling around with autocrats, and demonizing government (the historic securer of rights, freedom and opportunity)? As a positive change agent, Trumpism is a black hole. Much pain, no gain.
However, what faltering Democrats fail to learn is the sole lesson from Trumpism, like it or not: We live in degraded times, voters are addicted to the surface, and too many worship outrageously absurd sound bites. Biden will not retrieve higher approval numbers without educating voters who blame any president for a too-long pandemic, subsequent inflation, warfare-driven gas prices, and a systemically-unresolvable immigration mess. Leadership demands addressing those centrists who still equate taxes with theft while blind to the egregious taxation that elevates the 1% while 80%+ struggle paycheck to paycheck. Further, Biden gets stung by both radical right and left for saving U.S. lives by ending the unwinnable Afghan conflict while supporting Ukraine without rushing into another losing Asian land war.
Look, there’s much not to like about the uncharismatic, overly-cautious, fossil-fuel-friendly Biden and Democratic Party, still beholden to corporate donors. And savvy promotion of achievements joins the flaws—squandering positive from the American Rescue (pandemic/disaster) and infrastructure/jobs stimulation bills. What about now delivering student loan relief plus support broadly popular policies: job training and creation, energy independence, climate change and cheaper drugs.
If Trump can sucker 74 million alienated voters, without one positive, systemic advance to his name, why can’t Democrats get this truth about modern politics: promotion via sound bites and entertaining performance is paramount? Cash-strapped voters, punished by discriminatory taxation, over-react to an inflationary spike (after years of surprising stability) and to higher (but not record) gas prices as if their rents or mortgage just doubled.
Democrats need not mirror GOP nutcases who lie every other sentence, nor create laughable conspiracy lunacy, nor substitute braggadocio for competence. But Democrats are not offsetting the blasts of negation against government so close to the right-wing heart (or heartlessness). No wonder, craven FOX TV manipulates understandable distrust of government into the indefensible rejection of pristine elections. The right feasts on what government does badly—and Democrats fail badly at showing the all-important correlations between U.S. prosperity and decent, adult government, especially on jobs, war, energy and climate. Where are the trusted voices with Obama’s oratorical skills to overcome this gap (and last week BO effectively detailed the “raw sewage” from Republican spigots)?
Whereas Trump remains addicted to negativity (everything stinks since the rigged 2020 ballot, including his own party leadership), where is the Democratic outreach that emphasizes the positives—fighting voter suppression, curbing police abuses, stimulating the economy, and investigating seditious law-breakers (albeit weakly)? Financial experts cite the recent revival of industrial prominence in cleaner energy technology, electric cars, medical and farm equipment, vaccines and drugs, basic goods and food production, and infrastructure projects under way. Biden is dedicated to reviving domestic computer chip making. It’s as if Democrats assume that enough key state voters are smart enough to understand that America works far better today, across the boards, than under spiteful, dysfunctional and reactionary Trumpism. Polling says the opposite.
Democrats must treat voters as consumers who view politics (rightly) as “another marketable product.” Today’s voters ignore the contradiction of wanting it all without paying for it, thus GOP Senator Scott got scorched for wanting to tax those Biden won’t (under $400,000 income). Where was the national Democratic outrage? Can’t Democrats secure good advertising, pushing high value, affordable positive gains for the majority? What voters demand is what they want from soap suds, autos, or TVs: High value performance for dollar. Where’s the savvy campaign that respects reality: the pandemic (however still annoying) is ending, inflation is not a permanent, structural inevitability, the U.S. is not entering another unwinnable Asian war, and fully taxing the rich advances, not reduces wider economic development?
Still crazy after all these years?
Biden errs by not often enough comparing today with the crazed misery of the Trump years. He need not jump into the Trump gutter to emphasize stability vs. never-ending, theatrical crisis mode. In fact, the U.S. is regaining lost global prestige, even leadership, Biden and Democrats are defending law and reason, majority rule and fair, decisive elections. If these don’t sell, then end this frustrating farce. Eschewing miracles, rational leadership defines challenges, makes proposals, listens to the impacted, figures the costs, then gets bills passed (and if that means firmly arm-twisting the two DINO senators, so be it). What justified penalties have either Manchin or Sinema paid for siding with the right?
If a party can’t work together at moments critical to the overall success of the enterprise, then it’s a pathetic model of a functional team dreaming of holding power. If two senators can veto the Build Back Better bill, despite 48 yes votes, they should face the music—especially by inviting wretched GOP House control. If the vision of the Democratic Party, the greatest good for the greatest number, is not on everyone’s lips, time to rejigger the players, even threaten DINOs with primary challenges. No party agrees all the time, but a coherent party must deliver big, core, election-winning achievements—if only to avoid a mid-term bloodbath. That jeopardizes the second half of a Democratic presidency, spurring a right-wing House juggernaut to “investigate” Biden with every bizarro mendacity their ruthless minds can manufacture.
Democrats only succeed when they expand their appeal, with direct messaging to working class whites, then follow through with the most effective outreach that convinces the majority Dems deserve to be trusted—vs. the anti-democratic, autocratic right, clueless about governance, which definitively does not. If positives don’t overwhelm negatives, then we go down hill again. Leave “the carnage” to the aggrieved marks.
A personal note: When in 1980 my innovative electronics company, SOTA Industries (for State-of-the-Art), reinvented the analog turntable in America, I thought product excellence and competent management surpassed promotion, one-sided reviewers, and outreach as key success drivers. I was wrong. Over the next twelve years (until we sold the company, and still 20 years later is stronger than ever), I found to my shock: marketing was arguably equal to product quality, leadership and servicing. Even brilliant designs that change the world do not sell themselves. Whenever I was later handed a business plan, I’d skip to its promotional plan before inspecting the latest, greatest, “must have” idea. I need assurance that innovators understand the necessity of full-throated public relations to spread the word—before deciding whether that particular word is worth funding. Listen up, stumbling Democrats.