To-Do List for Democrats

Saving Democracy
(A To-Do List for Democrats)

“…those who support democracy are not as prepared or as focused as those who seek to subvert it. But, I hope I am wrong. Now is the time to act.”  Marc Elias

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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 against 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 and hand Congress over to Authoritarians in 2022. 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 has been 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 has 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 the Democrats can do about the above two issues in the near term. There is however a third 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. 

It seems that the Democrats’ only plan to save Democracy is to “outvote” voter suppression, election subversion, and a corrupted judicial system. While this approach is an absolute must, it could also be argued that it is inefficient. Increasing voter turnout is accomplished by praising your side while ridiculing the other side. The problem is that in today’s environment of manipulation, the Right won’t say “well, these are the reasons we think our policies are better” – instead they say “look what they are saying about you“.

It is well known that insulting people or attacking their beliefs is a good way to make them dig in their heels and stand firm in their position. Yes, we will gain voters on the Left but we will also scare away potential borderline/conservative voters this way.  Always remember that the news will only show us the worse of MAGA and it is a huge mistake to judge them all by this generalization – many can be brought back to the table. The math might work a bit more in the favor of saving Democracy if the Left tweaks this strategy a bit.

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 “political 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. The following is a To-Do List for Democrats…

First, a little introspection

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. It provides additional references for those who are interested in a deeper dive.

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, drop 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 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.

A recent example is the sudden Republican about-face to vote against the PACT Act for Veterans (along with their idiotic fist bump). The Left, led by comedian Jon Stewart, 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. That thing that Mr. Stewart did…do that again, Democrats…

Get back out there

It’s not clear why Democrats campaign less in rural America. Relying on cities and suburbs is a dangerous game of chicken in an election – this also 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 reduce their biases, increase their capacity for reason, 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:

  • 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 in “purple” districts and are not impacted by social media filtering algorithms)
  • Correctly worded “Opinion” articles sent into local papers can help, but only if they are worded correctly and not insulting or threatening. Again, these are needed in “purple” districts.

It goes without saying that Democrats must move right now to motivate voters in those states that are toying with election laws, state electors, 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.

Some Basic Stuff

Identity Politics

Identity politics is causing the Democrats to lose ground and it must be dealt with quickly. It is a nasty trap where the Right continually attacks minorities or vulnerable groups, forcing Democrats to continually run to their defense. This gives the Right a continuous supply of disingenuous talking points about the Left not caring about “real Americans” and supporting “white replacement theory”, etc.

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 of rural/working-class Americans. Keep in mind that 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. None of this is meant to imply that the Left should stop protecting the powerless. More information on reframing these discussions is here.

Attack the 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. There are countless examples of how corporate America and conservative policies are attacking us and exploiting our wallets, our health, and our planet – use them. Meanwhile wrap the Democrats’ policies and ideals in patriotism (reminder: this does not include discussions about an inclusive society – not at this point). Some thoughts:

  • Drive home the fact that despite their rhetoric, Republican tax breaks for the wealthy don’t protect our liberties
  • Point out that under Republicans, the wealthy get a low tax rate while we get a low minimum wage – that says it all…
  • Remind voters that Republicans created and continue to push trickle-down economics. Show voters that it doesn’t work and what corporate America does with those tax breaks.
  • Don’t let us forget that Republicans voted against insulin price controls, our Veterans, oil & gas price gouging, etc. Drill these into our heads regularly.
  • Point out that Conservatives dislike the idea of people controlling their government because that keeps their corporate cronies from harming and exploiting us and our environment.
  • Billionaires and corporate America are the ones funding voting law changes and toying with anti-democracy electors. If folks think the playing field is tilted now, just wait…
  • Show the Republican base that they are being lied to every day. Claims such as “Biden’s burger ban” and the January 6th attack being “just another tour” are laughably false. Ask voters why conservative voices feel the need to do that and why they feel they can get away with it. The answer is that they have no respect for their followers.

Take action – voters are all done with words and need action. Show voters that the Democrats are willing to take on corporate America and return power to the people. 

  • Work on legislation to go after dark money and corruption – make the Republicans continue to vote against Americans (and make sure Americans know about it – over and over and over again).
  • Hold public hearings – pull in corporate execs and lower-level corporate managers. Go after price gouging, health insurance costs, pollution, and sending jobs overseas
  • Make busting up abusive monopolies a thing again
  • We need “moon shots” – America needs to take an obvious leadership position in fighting climate change, curing deadly diseases, and creating a truly biodegradable “plastic”. Don’t bury these in legislation and move on – bring them out front and center for everyone to see – like the space program in the 1960s.

Don’t Let Voters take our Democracy for Granted

Too many of us don’t care about the growing number of laws that restrict voting or that will allow the flipping of election results. These folks feel that those laws won’t impact them and in many cases, they are happy with the motivation behind those laws. They need to be reminded that once elections can be so easily manipulated that eventually they will absolutely be impacted and they won’t be so happy about the motivations behind those flipped elections – and it will be too late to do anything about it. It will be easy for the billionaires and corporate America to influence a handful of state electors in order to get their hand-picked candidates.

Republicans rigged the economy in favor of the wealthy and now they are doing the same thing to elections. Once some of us lose voting power, everyone eventually will. If folks think the system is rigged now… just wait. Drive that home

The above goes for any law – the selective application of the law is as about as far away from Democracy as it gets. This may not impact some folks now, but it will eventually reach all of us. Nobody escapes authoritarianism – not even the leaders…

Things are tough for many people and the Republicans and conservatives are exploiting them with fear-mongering, lies, and scapegoating – all things that will quickly destroy our Democracy. Let voters know that Democrats want to return America back to what it was – before Republicans handed our government over to corporate America. Democrats want to give people the tools they need to empower themselves.

Spell out the many services that our government provides. These include the safety of food supply drugs, cars, airlines, infrastructure, toys, jobs, etc., Other protections include banking, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, clean air and water, climate change, critical research, etc. The list goes on and on…but none of it will exist when the authoritarian-leaning Republicans gut our government.

Show the path out

Biden recently, and justifiably singled out MAGA Republicans as a threat to Democracy as they march us to Authoritarianism. Some of them don’t care but others do and they are quietly looking for an exit from the path they chose – we need to give that to them. Now that America has formally identified them as a threat, don’t push them further away with more insults – give them an out for the position they have been tricked into.

It needs to be emphasized that many good, hard-working Americans were left behind, suffered some kind of loss, or were simply convinced that they are about to lose everything. This took its toll on many of them and they were vulnerable and the Right exploited them – as what happened in pre-Nazi Germany.

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. Every year is getting tougher for farmers and for those who make a living off the land. Climate Change may not poll all that high at the moment, but that could be because it is not getting the steady drumbeat 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…

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. 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 highly disingenuous 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

Young voters seriously need to vote – help them

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. Importantly, 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.

Learn from mistakes

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 were 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.

Please, please, please stop gifting the Right

There have been some obvious and very unintentional gaffes from Democrats over the years. They are the gaffes that keep on giving for conservatives who will exploit them 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 – to many Americans, they are 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. We saw some effort by Democrats to go after the Republicans’ attack on the FBI and the DOJ but it was a weak attack that, just like all the rest, petered out.
  • 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 from the Left 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 is 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…