Three lessons from election season

Posted on November 4, 2020

Let’s make this short because it certainly can’t be sweet. Based on the recent election, it’s clear that progressives need to do a much better job in three areas: framing an economic message, clearing away barriers to voting, and attacking the kind of structural racism that empowers the extreme right.

1. Communicate a basic economic philosophy linked to progressive values

Even though the economy is a wreck, White Americans thought that Trump would be better than Biden on economic policy. That’s astonishing and disgraceful. We should always beat them on this issue; it is fundamental to progressivism.

The right-wing is simply better at synthesizing their economic outlook. Even though it is based on a pack of lies, it’s obviously an effective message. Progressives need to construct a simple, focused case that our economic policies represent the people while the other guys represent the rich. Then we need to try to persuade progressives far and wide to come together and repeat that message relentlessly.

This economic framing is necessary in order to provide an alternative story to explain who are the economic good guys and bad guys. Non-college educated white Americans feel they have lost economic and social power, and they are absolutely right. Thanks to the right-wing echo chamber, they believe that it’s people of color who are hurting them by using up their tax dollars and keeping them out of good jobs. They need a truthful story to substitute for the racist one: that the rich have spent the last 40 years crushing the American Dream.

2. Clear away all the barriers to voting

Conservatives have launched an all-out war on voting. Among other things, they have erected too many barriers to voter registration, voting by mail and voting in-person. These are all Jim Crow-style segregationist tactics.

Of course, those who are against the freedom to vote have been screaming “voter fraud” for decades. But, in truth, virtually nobody votes by impersonating another or by falsely claiming s/he is eligible. In fact, no extra mechanisms like voter ID are needed to protect the integrity of the vote because such an impersonation is punishable by five years in prison. In order for any person, campaign or third party group to use voter impersonation to win an election, the criminal has to falsely cast ballots on behalf of hundreds or thousands of citizens, a scheme which is far too easy to detect. Such a crime would have so great a potential penalty with so little likelihood of success that it simply doesn’t happen.

In 2020, CA, CO, HI, NV, NJ, OR, UT, VT, WA and the District of Columbia all very successfully employed vote by mail. And our model Vote by Mail Act minimizes the many ways that the vote has been suppressed from the Jim Crow era to the present.

3. Attack structural, systemic racism

In today’s America, racism is a festering sore. And it is supported by a flood of misinformation from right-wing broadcast and social media outlets, making conservative voters believe that their racist feelings and policies are justifiable. The right-wing fantasy world of blatant, irrational, obvious lies must be counterattacked. If we leave things as they are, politics will remain a battle between progressive reality and conservative imaginings for years to come.

That is why our side should embrace tougher tactics. Here are just three examples:

a) Go all-out to maximize the benefits of redistricting. Sure, let us be fair. Where there is a Democratic-controlled state, let the legislators approach a similarly-sized Republican-controlled state and offer to create a bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting commission if they do the same. But let us not engage in unilateral disarmament.

b) Investigate and boycott those who finance extremism. Progressives have not even scratched the surface of using social media to promote boycotts against those who fund the extreme right-wing and its racist lies. For example, the Kochs own the toilet paper brands Angel Soft and Quilted Northern, as well as the Dixie Cups brand (how appropriate). Our side doesn’t even know it!

c) Use the courts. Since February, the right-wing broadcast and Internet media have knowingly and intentionally lied about COVID-19. This has caused the deaths or serious disabilities of hundreds of thousands – not just the MAGA-types who heard and believed these lies but innocent Americans who physically came in contact with them. How is this different from the lawsuits against tobacco companies? It’s not just state Attorney Generals who can make a difference in court.