Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Upstaging Donald Trump?

How classic can you get? A litany of serious and challenging issues – ready for the main stage according to leaders in the Democratic Party – were rather totally ignored by the press in favor of false controversy between Donald Trump and Meryl Steep. You’d think this little story, from the January 10th Washington Post, would be the BIG STORY: “A classified report delivered to President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump last week included a section summarizing allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising material and information on Trump’s personal life and finances, U.S. officials said… If true, [such] damaging information — known in espionage circles by the Russian term ‘kompromat’ — … conceivably could be used to coerce the next occupant of the White House.” Really serious stuff.
Or maybe the BIG STORY should have been the roiling conflicts of interest in Trump cabinet appointees being rushed through committee before their ethics checks are completed. But all of these are still the little stories, simply deprioritized by the press and pretty much ignored by the Trump faithful who just don’t care. As all that hard news was coming online, the BIG STORY remained the Streep controversy, which only intensified as the days passed. Even the Obamacare “repeal and replace” debate slid down to “page two.”
You might say these new converts to Trumpism – that former stalwart of Democratic power, working class white voters – seem to double down (hmmm, it’s the new way!) to prove their newfound faith… ignoring anything in the way of their passionate belief that The Donald will fix it all. Hopefully, he will not shoot someone on Fifth Avenue to prove he is invulnerable to the traditional assaults by flustered Democrats trying to convince the world that they still have the answers and that Trump is the anti-Christ. Trump’s followers totally approved his counter to Streep’s message and seemed to gloss over the stories that would impact them the most.
The Dems, instead of embracing solutions to those rather deep-seated white worker fears of economic decimation, are instead looking for their aging leadership to find blame, arguments why those same voters have made a mistake (think that’s easy?) and why the tired old message of Democratic liberalism is still relevant – a rather abstract platform of social justice without much resonance with the common man the Dems used to represent. They think they are defending the high ground and will not move to a different battleground where “most of us” reside.
It’s not that Meryl Streep was wrong; it’s just that who she is and what she was surrounded by that Trump saw as an opportunity.  Trump just seized on the obvious. Even as Streep tried to focus on that working class, that constituency was, down and dirty, angry that the message came from what they believe is a very unsympathetic liberal elite who have hijacked the Democratic Party. The new “vilified” class as Streep pointed out. Trump just knows how to shift public attention away from what he doesn’t want them to see and play the press like a puppet.
We all know Streep is definitely not an overrated actress, but it’s hard to see a gilded cage with tens of millions of dollars-worth of designer gowns as the platform to reach the common man. In the world of post-truth, it’s never the actual message that matters; it’s the “feeling” behind it that resonates. Dems just don’t get that. The world of personal attacks vs dealing with the issues has become the new normal, and the new toolkit of successful modern politicians includes fomenting continuous controversy that steers headlines away from what really matters and what probably will only get worse, find blame in others and use social media constantly to divert attention rather successfully. I feel like we are watching the Spanish Armada defending against the Sixth Fleet.
“Democrats — and some Republicans — continue to wrestle with the president-elect’s ability to command and reshape news cycles to his liking. His use of Twitter and strategic call-ins to reporters and TV shows, which bear no resemblance to past presidents’ communication strategy, have hardly changed since the election.
“The traditional Washington ways of messaging have not changed either. Members of Congress speak from the floor to largely empty press galleries. They gather in TV studios, where few networks cut in to cover them. They respond to tweets with wordy press releases, columns, or open letters, each one staff-edited down to the last period after the last talking point.
“And they hold press stunts that worked before Trump came to town. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday [1/9], for instance, that Democrats would ‘hold the floor late into the night’ to protest the Obamacare repeal push with cameras rolling. Less clear was whether anyone would be watching.” Washington Post, January 10th. They aren’t and probably won’t. While this consternation is misunderstood by old world politicos, Republicans and Democrats alike, there is one huge difference between those parties. The Republicans control most state legislatures, governorships, Congress and the Presidency. The Dems are on the outside looking in; they seem rather unwilling to reconfigure their message and their approach to reflect today. They have to deploy a new strategy of outsiders who want back in… a very different approach from Republicans who have the power.
So if you were to look to the Democratic leadership, how do you think it looks when a 76-year-old mega-millionaire House representative (first elected to the House in 1987) from one of the richest congressional districts in the United States defeats a middle class, 43-year-old Congressman from the Ohio Rust Belt for House Minority Leader? Nancy Pelosi vs Tim Ryan. Pelosi is as old word and traditional as you can get, the poster-politician for the mega-rich, liberal elite. And it’s less her age that matters – Bernie Sanders is 75, Trump is 70 – it’s tired “oldness” of her message.
Daily Show host, Trevor Noah agreed with Streep’s message – especially the message of mutual respect – but he called her speech a gilded moment as he saw it: “tone-deaf.” It’s a term that can easily be applied to the entire Democratic Party, upstaged at every turn and still clinging to policies and platforms they don’t seem to be able to sell anymore. They lost. The “popular vote” issue is already yesterday’s news. Get over it. Get relevant!
The Dems can’t even get that “liberal press” to listen to their political messages; it’s just not ratings-grabbing like stupid, reality-TV-like fake-controversies. If the Dems don’t get their message straight, reflecting changes to recapture an obvious constituency, and change both their leadership and their approach to selling their platform, the 2018 mid-terms will only reinforce the GOP grip on Congress and those states that continue to be dominated by the GOP. They are heading for “Crash II.”
So what to do? Aside from reconfiguring their leadership to a younger, more relevant tide of rising Democrats and address directly how to help those being left behind by globalization and automation, they only have to look at the unexpected surge and resonance of Bernie Sanders’ with the rising X and Y generations. Their issues? Student loans, high cost of education and a seeming exclusion, particularly in the job-rich major urban markets, from affordable housing. Mobilizing the young is probably the most important priority for an aging, out-of-touch party, seeking to regain relevance. Older Americans are fading out. Younger generations are taking over. Hint! Oh, and “it’s the economy, stupid!”
As Sanders himself pointed out in his CNN “town hall” meeting on January 9th, how many voters really want to give the richest Americans billions and billions of dollars of tax breaks while figuring out how to cut healthcare and Social Security for the masses? How many of us want to pull back on environmental regulations that would allow fossil-fuel extractors a license to pollute our waterways, ground water and air without legal consequences? Seriously. Flint, Michigan is OK?
The majority of millennials and younger have at least some college, unlike older generations. They are scared about what they have seen, with or without Trump, but are still young enough to have hope for their futures. For poorer, under-educated communities, they see violence and heavy addiction rates as their fate. These poorer communities are feeling so completely ignored that they have reciprocated… by ignoring the election process in droves.
So, what to do? Address these issues through new, tech/social media-savvy Democrat-warriors. It’s not about blame or engaging in stupid Twitter-wars with Donald Trump. It’s about creating easy-to-digest headlines and answers delivered by people who will appear sympathetic to those necessary constituents. Stop looking to liberal elites and celebrities to carry the message; find those who will look at feel more like the relevant voters the Dems need to capture or recapture. Fight a modern political war with modern approaches and tools.
For those who are included in that segment of liberal elites – dearly seeking social justice, tolerance and diversity – learn to sit back a bit and provide the financial support and backroom expertise in new media needed to turn the tide. You’re not helping by proselytizing from positions of seemingly-endless wealth. Or Dems can sit back and watch an equally irrelevant and  out-of-touch, old world body of social conservatives reshape America for decades to come… simply because they are on the inside watching the Democrats scrambling somewhere “outside.”
I’m Peter Dekom, and I always wonder why common sense and dealing with the world as it actually is are so incredibility difficult to accept for so many embedded incumbent politicians.

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