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The Democrats stunning win in Alabama might be historic, but it certainly does not represent any sort of blow to the Republicans, or a turning of the tide.
A vote against a Republican incumbent does not translate into a Democratic Party victory.
Alabama’s Democratic victory for Senator Doug Jones over Republican incumbent Roy Moore was an astonishing moment for a historically Republican-voting state. But a protest vote in the name of decency will not be enough to defeat the Republicans nationally. Instead, it should serve as the impetus for the Democratic Party to put forward its political vision for a country that has been shaken to the core of its foundational principles.
Roy Moore is a smaller, paler version of today’s president, a racist, sexual predator. But Democrats will have to convert voters on their own terms. Their inability to do this was evident when they lost to an unqualified chancer in last year’s presidential election.
Now that political opportunity is knocking once again at their door, they must seize the moment by presenting an alternative narrative. Today this remains vague and inchoate. Endlessly repeating their commitment to democratic principles and the need for fairer governance will not be enough to defeat the party in power today.
In doing so, Democrats need to steer clear of their focus on identity politics, which can hold them hostage to defending the rights of pregnant ethnic-minority women, illegals, the gay community and trans-gender campaigners. In this light, Trump can continue to portray himself to his country’s heartland as the defender of family values and God-fearing decency. Eight out of ten white evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, and it was conservative women largely abstaining that allowed the minority African-American vote to play a crucial role in a marginal but important victory.
Democrats need to occupy a larger space of relevance, not just a rhetorical corner of condemnation. They need to communicate their message ASAP to the whole country, proposing innovative ways to create new, well-paid jobs by expanding the geographic spread of technology-based industries, affordable ways to educate their young, and equitable provision of healthcare programmes to help those caught in the no-man’s land of medical insurance and opioid addiction.
What will work for cynical, tired and angry voters is someone who is experienced, committed and unbiased in their determination to deliver results to American communities.
The 2018 mid-term congressional elections will be about politicians telling real-life stories in real time. In this age of social media echo chambers and fake news, people unite around their rejection of others, and Democrats’ pleas for a diverse and caring world to rally against the dark forces of polarisation will fall on deaf ears.
Sound economic policies that offer the hope of better lives will be the only salve to the deep wounds of polarisation, personal resentment and judgemental railing that today’s president has successfully weaponised.
The challenge for Democrats is also to portray themselves as the arbiters of honest governance. They could do so by following the example of Democrat Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, who, like a human rights lawyer energised by human injustice, grinds down on the minutiae of proposed legislation. Day after day, she irritates, pesters and bores committee hearings in her determination to ensure that government is not conquered by private interests.
What has to penetrate into the hearts as well as the minds of Americans is the role of democratic legislators as relentless and devoted advocates, not because one has to believe always in their politics, but rather in their commitment to fighting for ordinary people’s needs. Think Erin Brockovich, not a germ-phobic billionaire.
The Democrats’ narrative should publicly show examples of holding accountable those who circumvent the under-served, while pricking the conscience of the privileged by trawling through the details of proposed legislation in order to flag up the double-standards of advocacy. Even the most pragmatic or elitist voter can hear the ripping of society’s fabric by a disparity of wealth that threatens to unleash greater social instability.
The Democrats must occupy this space, reform and own it, so that Trump voters’ previous demands to blow up the country’s political system can see how this system is now working for them.
Today’s Democrats need to reinvent themselves as whistleblowers; not exclusively of sexual impropriety, but also of political conflicts of interest that undermine economic opportunity. Lecturing voters about how the Trump administration and its acolytes are running the country as a family business will not regain them public trust. Every Democrat must also be willing to stare into the light of their own party’s political and partisan dishonesty.
So long as Trump can continue to manipulate the systemic failings of past administrations, Americans will continue to tune out the ideas of his opponents.
What will work for cynical, tired and angry voters is proof of someone who is experienced, committed and unbiased in their determination to deliver results to American communities.
Today’s voters should not be voting Democrat out of self-preservation of their ethnicity, gender or sexuality, but because they see themselves belonging to the prosperity of innovative policies and government investment. The Democrats must occupy this space, reform and own it, so that Trump voters’ previous demands to blow up the country’s political system can see how this system is now working for them.
Hillary Clinton’s book title, “What Happened”, explaining how the November 2016 election result went so disastrously wrong, should have come with a question mark. What unites critics and supporters of Trump alike is the belief that America has failed and that the arrogance of a Democratic party was partly to blame. Democrats must leave their dissenters proudly shaking their heads that they were wrong