Beyond Resistance: The Story of 2016
This is the time of year when people try to make sense of the preceding twelve months. It’s a fool’s errand, in one sense. A year is an arbitrary division of time. We decide what it means in retrospect, and we never get it exactly right. But the meaning we give it will guide our actions in the future, in thousands of conscious and unconscious ways.
We tell ourselves stories, and before we know it our stories are telling us.
Democratic operatives got the story wrong. Too clever by half, as always, they thought victory lay in canned phrases and obsolete data models. But the political class that gave us “Microtrends” missed the macro trends all around us, the ones affecting most people’s lives.
Here’s a macro-trend: According to a recent paper by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman,
“... the bottom half of the income distribution in the United States has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s ... In contrast, income skyrocketed at the top of the income distribution, rising 121 percent for the top 10 percent, 205 percent for the top 1 percent, and 636 percent for the top 0.001 percent.” (emphases mine)
Here’s another: According to the Equality of Opportunity Project, the percentage of Americans who grow up to have a better income than their parents has fallen from roughly 90 percent for children born in 1940 to only 50 percent - a coin toss - for children born in the 1980s. The largest declines occurred for families in the middle class.
Here’s a third: The top 0.1 percent of Americans now holds as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. It hasn’t been that bad since the 1930s.
The American dream has been disappearing for 40-50 years, through periods of both Republican and Democratic dominance. Republicans have caused profound economic harm, but the corporation-friendly Democratic policies of recent decades are a big part of the problem. Now a lot of the people behind those policies, including politicians and think-tankers, are trying to jump in front of the revolt that’s surely coming. Their latest campaign centers on the anti-Trump hashtag, #Resist.
These expense-account insurrectionists don’t get it: Trump is the symptom, not the disease. Hillary Clinton’s campaign fell short because it focused too much on Trump’s negatives and not enough on a positive vision. It failed because Clinton and her party missed the deeper forces at work in the economy and in society. It failed because of their policies.
Democrats won’t save themselves with “identity politics,” either, until they understand that identity and economy are inseparable. Last year African Americans earned only 75 percent as much as whites in median hourly earnings. Women earned 83 percent as much as men. Rural white males are hurting too.
One Democrat who does get it is Keith Ellison. “We have got to reset the future of the Democratic Party on a basis of grassroots activism,” Ellison said this week at an event with Bernie Sanders in support of his bid to become DNC chair.
That’s exactly right. Democrats can’t “resist” Republicans unless they reset themselves as a movement-based party, with new ideas and new faces. That’s how Sanders mobilized a generation. It’s why he is, by some measures, the most popular politician in America.
Resistance is important, but to “resist” is only negative. Bernie’s call for “political revolution” is affirmative, evoking a world we can bring into being.
Politico reports that Democratic consultants are trying to gin up donor enthusiasm by pitching “THE meeting for getting together plans to resist Trump.” Negation again, rather than affirmation. No wonder they keep losing.
We know what you hate. Tell us what you love.
Politico also reports that big Democratic donors want an explanation for the party’s sweeping failures, answers nobody seems to be working very hard to provide. They deserve some answers; voters do, too. After all, Russians didn’t hack all those Senate, House, and state races.
Fortunately, the rest of the country isn’t waiting for someone else to figure it out. A national movement of resistance - and affirmation - is already underway. Activists are winning victories for working people at the state and local levels. Cities are becoming the front line of progressive change by implementing creative economic programs and becoming sanctuaries for immigrants, refugees, and targeted minority groups.
There’s no soft-pedaling it: Any year that gives us Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Steve Bannon - and takes David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen - is a terrible year. But the story of 2016 is not just a story of defeat. Millions of people were excited by the Sanders campaign. As the Trump era begins, millions more are starting to see that real resistance must be affirmative and real change must come from below.
During the storming of the Bastille, Louis XVI asked an aristocrat whether a revolt was underway. “It is not a revolt,” he was told, “it’s a revolution.” Resist? Maybe someday we’ll look back and say this was the year a revolution began.