For three years now, I have been in the field working with politically conservative union members across the United States; corrections officers in Michigan; hundreds of ultra-orthodox, Mizrahi and other peripheral community leaders in Israel; investors; business leaders; and political party reformers from a range of countries. This work is part of an ongoing investigation to understand the millions of people who don’t identify as progressives, who want to make the world a better place and are too quickly misunderstood by pundits, strategists and the political elite. My aim in learning from these individuals, leaders and communities is to identify a set of “common good” values, policies and a worldview that would guide our nation toward a future where our kids are secure, opportunity is more widespread and the unique American experiment can flourish.
I was at this long before the 2016 election and I am well aware that in the more than fourteen months since Donald Trump’s election, there has been no shortage of post-mortems on what went right and what went wrong. It’s true that plenty has been said about what the Clinton campaign did wrong (how did she never go to a union hall in Michigan?) and plenty has been said about the ugliness of the Trump campaign (remember when the campaign rolled out a closing campaign ad with anti-Semitic undertones that relied on the use of the term “globalists” to attack Hillary Clinton, George Soros (Jewish financier), Janet Yellen (Jewish Fed Chair) and Lloyd Blankfein (Jewish Goldman Sachs CEO)?). We have heard from many liberals that the only thing worse than Trump’s “manipulative tactics” are the “gullible racists” he manipulated. Sadly, this has been a topic of a fair amount of discussion in liberal circles where, once again, there is plenty of judgement about those working-class conservatives who vote “against their own self-interest,” belong in a “basket of deplorables” and by now must be experiencing “buyer’s remorse” about their choice to vote for Trump. Yet, despite lots of punditry and commentary, far too little has been done by way of soul searching and even less has been done in terms of an actual change in approach.
What follows in this paper is an effort to move beyond the numbers on Election Day and ask the question: why did the numbers play out this way? By examining what is going on in America today, we can try to identify what values, attitudes and polices have come to define who is and is not in the progressive movement. Only then can we imagine what can be done to inspire us and bind us together as we build something new.