Democrats can save Democracy

How Democrats Can Save America
(if it's not too late)

Democracy is at DEFCON-1

Well, it’s 2022 in America, and instead of leading the world in saving the planet, curing diseases, and making a better future for our children, we are instead struggling to save our Democracy, hating and killing each other, and fearful of the future we are leaving for our children. And it’s getting worse every day – Democracy is at DEFCON-1

We are a deeply divided nation and our Democracy is in peril. We know that our division was largely manufactured and we know who the provocateurs are – Conservative politicians, Conservative media, and billionaire-funded think tanks and political organizations. Their efforts have culminated into deadly serious ”homegrown” threats to our Democracy that many of us would never have dreamed of happening in America, but here we are…

  • President Trump along with many Republican officials and operatives attempted a coup, with violence if necessary
  • The majority of Republicans are continuing to fight the investigation into that coup
  • The rise of authoritarianism being driven by Republican leaders, officials, and candidates at all levels of government all across the country
  • An openly corrupt Supreme Court that acts on behalf of special interests.
  • A large portion of society that is embracing all of the above
  • A wide-reaching conservative media that validates and often drives the above

While neither party is perfect, the Democrats have been doing all they can to stabilize the country (the pandemic, climate change, the economy, etc.), save Democracy, and get America moving forward again. Meanwhile, most Republicans are doing all they can to exacerbate issues, stymie any progress from the Left, and push us toward authoritarianism. 

With all this going on, the Democrats, instead of riding a wave of patriotic support, are left scratching their heads trying to understand why the Republicans continue to poll so well and why so many Americans seem eager to abandon our Democracy. Even President Biden, who is doing a stunningly good job considering what he inherited and what has happened on his watch, is polling poorly. 

A primary cause of this is the creeping and long-lasting effects of years of Conservative policies, rhetoric, and social engineering. Conservative media and politicians have a symbiotic relationship and they work flawlessly together to drive fear and hate deep into the minds of Americans 24/7 and from all directions. Our minds have had little defense against the decades-long onslaught of lies that have grown in reach and viciousness. 

Another obvious cause is mainstream media which continues to play bothsidesism and is more interested in cultivating an ongoing battle of two equals to keep viewers coming back. They are also guilty of habitually looking at the President (any President) as a punching bag, always focusing on the failures and skimming over the successes. One ongoing example with President Biden is the focus on his “failure to unite the Left” because two Democratic Senators often vote against his working-class-focused agenda, meanwhile, the Republicans voting en masse against the working class is ignored.

There isn’t much that the Democrats can do about the above two issues in the near term. There is however another issue that they can do something about – themselves… The Democrats seem to be blissfully unaware of just how deeply Americans have been affected by the fear-mongering and rhetoric from the Right. After a while, especially for the vulnerable, this stuff sticks and it is difficult to unwind. Unfortunately, the Democrats seem to think that popping up during election season and giving Americans a monologue from behind a lectern is going to magically unravel decades of well-coordinated manipulation. Instead, through their own actions and words, the Democrats have often been unwitting partners of the Right all along. 

Every day, conservatives gift the Democrats two things: lessons on more effective messaging and a barrage of talking points that should be used against them. They have been doing this for years but the Democrats never use these gifts and instead just stand there, stuck in “piñata” mode. There’s little hope that Democrats will step up their game and correct course on their own, so what follows are some suggested actions for the Democrats – a little nudge…

Democrats: Heal Yourselves

Understand what you are up against

Politics has always been a little bit policy and a little bit emotion, but conservative rhetoric has shifted policy off to the side for their base who are now driven by a toxic combination of anxiety, anger, and in many cases, low self-esteem. These are powerful emotions that can deeply affect our subconscious and drive us to the cult-like we are seeing on the Right. 

Democrats need to become at least somewhat familiar with the psychology that explains what is driving Americans away from Democracy. They need to understand that these emotions are difficult to dislodge and how they are purposefully inflamed by the Right and unintentionally inflamed by the Left (which happens more often than the Left realizes).

An overview can be found here which also has additional references for those who are interested in a deeper dive.

Identity Politics

Identity politics is causing the Democrats to lose ground and it must be dealt with quickly. It is a nasty trap that the Right has been springing on the Democrats for decades.

The Left is continuously scrambling to defend minorities and the vulnerable from the endless attacks from the Right. A shortened list includes: “the southern strategy”, “Welfare Queens”, an unfair criminal justice system, banning gays from the military, gay marriage battles, transgender is, dismantling voting laws, immigration, “the “wall”, CRT, white replacement theory, white supremacy groups, banning selected books, and even abortion. Each of these certainly warrants a vigorous response from the Left, but many Americans perceive this defense of everyone other than white male Christians as the only thing the Left stands for.

One of the main reasons this is so effective is that millions of rural and working-class Americans have been left behind by conservative policies such as trickledown, the global economy, a runaway and one-way free market, etc. Additionally, many of us who have not been left behind have instead been convinced by conservative media that we are about to be left behind. Conservative media is then also quick to point out that blame does not rest on conservative policies, but on “the takers” who are stepping in and taking what is “ours”.

So the failure of Identity Politics works like this:

  1. The Right tilts the playing field against the working class
  2. The Right frame minorities as scapegoats for the working class sliding down that tilted playing field.
  3. The Right further attacks minorities to maintain the festering anxiety and anger
  4. The Left spends the majority of their time defending their fellow human beings (and trying to get their vote)
  5. The Right can spend all their time talking about the woes of the rural/working class, populism, the evils of wokeness, and how the Left is “out of touch” and only helps the takers take everything from, and someday even replace hard-working, white, God-fearing, real Americans. 
  6. Repeat

The result is the Left wonders why the Right keeps voting against their own best interests while the Right, convinced by Republicans and Democrats, believes that they are voting in their best interests and their safety. This includes some minorities voting Republican because of their own biases and because Conservative manipulation is that good. 

This leads to another dangerous side effect of Identity Politics which is that the Right has used it to associate the Left with supporting “white replacement theory” – although contrived, this is an existential threat to many and it is greatly dividing the nation and will lead to violence against not only scapegoated minorities but against the Left in general.

Democrats can start unwinding this by talking more (a lot more) to rural/working-class folks about their problems and how they are going to address them. Point out what Republicans have done to them and that they are the actual enemy to rural/working-class Americans. Lastly, calling out the actions and words of folks as racist is not useful when they believe they are in a fight for their future – this will only push them further away. More information on reframing these discussions is here

Attack Republicans and the Republican/corporate alliance

Democrats need to point out 24/7 how the Republicans continually vote to keep the playing field tilted in the favor of the wealthy. Many on the Right are reveling in the takeover of the Supreme Court, but the main reason Republicans are corrupting the judicial system is so that laws will increase corporate power and decrease our protections.

Use more emotion/passion when discussing policy and especially when pointing out the damage caused by Republicans. Wrap Democratic policies and ideals in patriotism (reminder: this does not include discussions about an inclusive society – not at this point). Democrats need to (continuously) use what the GOP gives them:

  • The words of the GOP divide us while the actions of the GOP serve the 1% 
  • Voting against policies that help Americans regarding oil and gas price gouging, reducing insulin costs, veterans benefits, baby formula supply, etc.
  • Blocking progress on COVID vaccine replenishment and climate change, etc.
  • Getting rid of regulations that protect the rural/working class (such as rural hospitals)
  • GOP tax breaks favor the wealthy but result in government cuts that harm Americans. 
  • Voting against what America and its citizens desperately need for the sole purpose of trying to make the Democrats fail to help us
  • It’s not “Republicans want Democrats to fail”, it’s “Republicans want Democrats to fail at helping working Americans”
  • Democrats bring leadership, dignity, and results to our government while the Republican party has become a clown car loaded with grifters

A recent example of the above is the sudden Republican about-face and vote against the PACT Act for Veterans (along with their idiotic fist bump). The Left was relentless in shaming what the Right had done and exposed the lies used to justify their action. A few days later there was a revote and the Republicans caved. Do that again, Democrats…

If the Democrats want to pull voters back from the Right or engage frustrated voters then they need to show that there is a way out of this mess. Democrats need to not only say, but show, that they are willing to take on the Republican/corporate alliance – some thoughts:

  • Americans hate corruption. While corruption influences both Democrats and Republicans, voters need to be reminded that conservatives “live corruption” and their stacked Supreme Court have enabled much of it.
  • Remind voters that Republicans still push trickle-down economics and show voters that it doesn’t work. Show voters what corporate America does with those tax breaks.
  • Always use emotion and patriotism when talking about how corporate America is attacking us and exploiting our wallets, our health, and our planet.
  • Corporate America and conservative dark money promote “the big steal” and other lies – remind voters that billionaires don’t do things on behalf of the working class.
  • Hold public hearings – pull in corporate execs and lower-level corporate managers. Go after price gouging, health insurance costs, pollution, monopolies, sending jobs overseas
  • Pass legislation to go after corporatism – it doesn’t matter if won’t pass in the Senate – make the Republicans continue to vote against Americans (and make sure Americans know about it – over and over and over again).
  • We need two “moon shots” – America needs to take an obvious leadership position on fighting climate change and creating a truly biodegradable “plastic”. Don’t bury these in legislation – bring them out front and center for everyone to see.

It’s ok to stoke fear and anger, not only because this will drive voters to get out and vote, but because there really is plenty to be fearful and angry about. Especially make the fear and anger about things that purple-district voters care about and can relate to. Don’t make anything up – there’s no need to.

Speaking of fear, climate change should be discussed more often. Many red states and rural areas have been hit hard by extreme weather or droughts in recent years and there are plenty of local climate-related disasters for all people to commiserate about and hopefully vote to fix. Climate Change may not poll all that high at the moment, but that could be because it is not getting the steady drum beat from Democrats and mainstream media that it deserves. Either way, it is on the minds of most of us, whether we realize it or not…

Realize that many people don’t “get it”. 

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Benard Shaw

Democrats simply don’t communicate enough – they need to realize that many of us aren’t engaged enough to figure out what is going on in the world of politics. Democrats need to start communicating in a way that is more meaningful to Americans – this involves more effort than the Democrats seem willing to put forth.

Further, since over half of us between the ages of 16 and 74 (54%) read below a sixth-grade level (which is its own problem), the Democrats need to make their messaging more digestible. 

The bottom line is that Democrats need to understand who they are talking to, lose the innuendo and obscure references, and get to the point. Explain, but explain simply, with emotion, and without a spreadsheet. This is not implying that we need to dumb things down – only that facts and policies don’t have to be boring (or lectured)

Engage and seize the conversation

Boring policy-speak needs to be avoided because many will tune out and won’t even try to “get it”. Even the news media will tune out and not waste their valuable broadcast time showing it (because it’s boring).

The Right has a massive and well-organized media machine with Republicans showing up (On Fox News for example) for well-scripted interviews where they say whatever the hell they want without being challenged. Meanwhile, the Left has nothing – they cannot rely on mainstream media which often works against them.

Democrats must realize that mainstream media is only interested in viewership and stoking this political battle to maintain that viewership. They have no interest in saving our Democracy (even though freedom of the press will be among things to go).

Because of this, Democrats need to use the agenda of mainstream media to their advantage. They need to make themselves more attractive to mainstream media by being more engaging and even entertaining. If mainstream media wants a battle between Right and Left then the Democrats should give it to them. They need to continuously attack Republicans and take the control of the narrative away from mainstream media and Republicans. When the Republicans attack back then the Democrats need to double down. The facts, when presented correctly and repeatedly, easily favor the Democrats

Get back out there

It’s not clear why Democrats campaign less in rural America. Relying on city and suburbs is a dangerous game of chicken in an election that gives conservatives additional ammo for their divisive rhetoric which further divides America. Forget what the spreadsheets and consultants say… go back to rural America. 

Give folks choices and new narratives to hear. Don’t tell them they were wrong. Instead, help them – show them what the GOP has done to them. Discuss new opportunities that are specific to their communities. Opportunities generate hope and a vision for a better future. This lessens anxiety which will increase their capacity for reason, reduce their biases, and hopefully will pull them back to the table. Likewise, avoid the triggers that will push them away and cause them to ignore every positive Democratic message and action. Some thoughts:

  • Many on the Right were led down the wrong path, they need to be shown a path back
  • Don’t push them further away with insults – give them an out for the position they have been tricked into
  • Focus on the actual and immediate needs of the audience, not on greater ideas such as transformative or sweeping changes – conservatives are sensitive to change
  • Don’t tell them about an inclusive society – many on the Right feel excluded from an inclusive society
  • Find and develop new mechanisms to push through the barriers of information that conservative media has created (billboards can be strategically placed and are not impacted by social media filtering algorithms – just make sure they avoid identity politics)

Democrats must move right now to motivate voters in those states that are toying with election laws and disenfranchising voters. Pour energy and money into purple districts and purple states. It is critical to organize at the local level and get the vote out.

Young voters seriously need to vote. 

Every election cycle we hear about Democrats relying on young voters and how those young voters so often disappoint. This is not entirely on young people – this is also on adults. We have to understand that young people have always been late to political involvement – their interests and concerns are simply elsewhere. We were no different. Even for those who are engaged there is still the issue of patience and frustration with the lack of movement in Washington. With all the technology distractions, a still-developing brain, and an increasingly dysfunctional government, it’s easy to see how they would check out of politics. 

If we expect young voters to save our Democracy then we must help them. Don’t just tell your young adult children/relatives/neighbors to vote, physically help them register to vote and then actually vote.

Parents and the Democratic Party need to remind young voters that Republicans have consistently kept minimum wage low, decreased gun control, and weakened climate protections. Remind young voters that guns are the number cause of death of children.

If their only political concern is college loan forgiveness then you need to address why it is not straightforward and how it can be used against Democrats, and that it will happen eventually. Explain the dangers of one-issue voting. 

It wouldn’t hurt to tell our young voters that they literally are the ones that will save American Democracy. Tell them what they will lose if we lose Democracy.

Repeat all the above

The Democrats are at a huge disadvantage here since they don’t have the reach and compliance of conservative cable news programs and conservative radio (another lesson not learned by the Democrats many many years ago). Conservative media is filling our heads with disinformation from many angles every day and they repeat their dishonest themes over and over again until it sticks. To complement the rhetoric, conservative think tanks and political organizations pour money into astroturfing and social engineering activities (CRT, book banning, school committee protests, fake studies/research, and even orchestrating the Tea Party years ago) to provide manufactured and very artificial on-the-ground confirmation.

 The Democrats need to find mechanisms to repeat their messaging:

  • Make yourself more available and/or appealing to cable/local news to increase your visibility
  • Use more emotion/passion or stronger words when discussing policy and especially when pointing out the damage caused by Republicans
    • This does not mean whining about being owned by the Right, talking about an inclusive society, etc.
    • This means making your message about patriotism, heritage, keeping America strong, protecting Americans, etc.
  • As mentioned earlier, aggressive billboards plastered all over purple districts in purple districts could be highly effective

Perfection is the enemy of Democracy

In terms of Presidential elections – Democrats (even those in elected positions) need to stop looking for *their* perfect president. No one on either side could have dealt with all the crap that President Biden has had to deal with, inherited or otherwise. Before the 2022 midterms, we are already hearing rumblings from the Left on President Biden’s age and how some promises weren’t kept (as if that’s something new). We are also hearing about some Democrats who are interested in a run for the White House in 2024. Perfection is already the enemy of very good, don’t make it the enemy of Democracy. If President Biden runs again then let him and put all your attention on the local, district, and state level elections – that is where Democracy will live or die…

If you are a single-issue voter then make your one issue the protection of Democracy. If you don’t then you will never have the opportunity to be a single-issue voter again – never.

Learn from mistakes

There have been some obvious and very unintentional gaffes from Democrats over the years. They are the gaffes that keep on giving for conservatives and they will exploit these for months and years as part of their continual fear-mongering campaigns. It is important to know that these are more than just gifted “talking points” for the right – for many Americans, they are seen as existential threats. The following, as everyone already knows, are recent examples of what not to say along with some alternative language:

  • “Basket of Deplorables” – you can’t take that back, you can only move on from it.
  • Allowing non-citizens to vote – there has never been a greater gift from Democrats to Republicans. For every one vote gained in local New York elections, Democrats lost thousands of votes in swing states – well done…
  • Quickly, robustly, and continuously reverse course on “defunding the police”. For most Americans, the police provide safety and the idea of defunding them has been reframed by the Right into damaging talking points such as leading us to a chaotic crime-filled society. The message is to refund organizations and new positions that will reduce and distribute the burdens on police.
  • Don’t take down the NRA, just take down those that committed the crimes at the top. The NRA has millions of responsible and long-standing members who want some sort of gun control. NRA members are proud Americans and we should turn to them for help – make them part of the solution.
  • As good as tearing those Confederate statues down may make you feel, leave them alone. Things were better before these symbols were not being ripped down – actions like these do more damage than good when conservatives own the narrative. Pick your battles – the appropriate time will come.
  • If you can opt-out then it is not a mandate – why unnecessarily give people something to fear while giving talking points to the Right? Call them something else if they aren’t actual mandates. How about calling them “guidance” or “precautions” while providing simple background information?
  • “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” – The message should be something like: “We will not give you false hope – that will only prevent you from taking action to get your financial freedom back. We will help coal country by restoring regulations that protect you and by boosting the POWER Initiative, the RECLAIM Act, and other programs to help you establish new industries and jobs that make sense for you”.
  • Unfortunately, “democratic socialist” and “socialism” are carelessly tossed around by the Left almost as much as the Right. Since our Democracy and capitalism used to work well together and “socialism” is a trigger, then maybe something like “more fairly shared capitalism” is a discussion we should consider.
  • Drop the mantras of “free healthcare for all” and “free tuition for all!!!!”. They are an exaggeration, they won’t happen, and they are seen as favoritism and more costly, elitist vote-getting handouts to the takers. Why alienate people over something that won’t happen?

It is not reasonable to think that swooping in during election season will bring many people to their senses after decades of non-stop anxiety-inducing rhetoric from the Right. Scolding and the use of condescending tones are even worse. If the Democrats plan on winning people over then they need to know how to talk to them, how to pull on their heartstrings, and how to not unintentionally push more of them away as Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI) did:

“On the issue of gas prices, I drove my electric vehicle from Michigan to here last weekend and went by every gas station and it didn’t matter how high it was.”

It is hoped that any Democrat looking at this can see that is out of touch with many Americans and a slap in the face of those who have no hope of buying an EV. Messaging such as this has a cumulative impact; it validates conservative “elitist Left” rhetoric, sticks in the subconscious of those who feel “attacked”, and drives folks to find comfort from conservative messaging. 

Summary

The current trajectories of Conservatives, conservative media, mainstream media, and Democrats are pushing us further apart. Each election will be more critical, more contentious, and more dangerous. Conservatives will continue to take any and all opportunities to disenfranchise voters and rig elections and Democracy will die. 

Psychology drives everything we do and politics is no exception – in fact, it’s the shining example. Too many of us have been manipulated into a cult that is willing to throw American Democracy away on behalf of their provocateurs. Now is the time to start unwinding the mess before it gets further out of control.

This article was an attempt to point out some things that Democrats (politicians, officials, pundits, consultants, and voters) can do to start easing some folks back to the table and reduce our Divide. Hopefully, there are some tidbits here that are useful…

Conservatives aren’t going to change.

Conservative media isn’t going to change.

Mainstream media isn’t going to change (it might after it’s too late)

So Democrats must change…