Okay, so Edsall is paying attention to the role that Boasian antiracism has played in the breakdown of elite-mass relations.
Putting together a broad enough coalition [will require] dodging the broadly loathed set of prohibitions that many voters, including many Democrats, file under the phrase “political correctness.” … John Feehery, a Republican lobbyist, tackles this issue head-on. He emailed in response to my query: “What should Democrats do?”:
“I would drop the elitist attitude that currently suffuses the Democratic Party which has morphed into an insufferable army of virtue-signaling know-it-all’s who spend all of their time looking down their noses at the unwashed masses in flyover country. It has less to do with specific issues and more to do with the unbridled arrogance that is currently deeply embedded in the DNA of the once great Democratic Party.”
I think that’s precisely right. The hatred is mutual. The breakdown of elite-mass relations is now complete — that’s why, despite the pro-working class rhetoric and policy proposals, the Dems have been virtually abandoned by White working class communities.
But then Edsall takes this to a different direction. He relays a GOP strategist:
[T]hree-fourths of the electorate is within shouting distance of the center, and only one-fourth is on the extremes. That tells you much of what you need to know about the “center” vs. “progressive” debate.
This is a bad way to interpret national polls. All you are telling me is that you are sampling from a bell-shaped curve. That’s virtually tautological. How could it be otherwise? Of course, if you quantitatively measure public opinion, the responses can be expected to obey the normal distribution simply due to the Central Limit Theorem. That does not tell you anything about either the right diagnosis or the right strategy.
Even so, you say, shouldn’t the Dems want to “seize the center”?
The idea that Dems can seize the center by positioning themselves in policy space, and in their rhetoric, close to the central tendency of Americans’ opinions, relies on a simplification of electoral competition known as the Median Voter Theorem. Is that where Trump positioned himself in 2016? Where was he in relation to the “center” of the GOP in the primaries when he dispatched all his focus-group and poll-disciplined adversaries with contempt? More generally, the idea that there is a linear space of concerns, of whatever dimension, is a bad way to think about both 2016 and the present impasse. You can’t fix it unless you understand what has gone wrong. It is supremely important to zero in on the right diagnosis of our present predicament.
There is, in fact, only one way out of the present impasse. It is to reverse the breakdown of elite-mass relations — for otherwise, even if you win 2020, you’ll still be stuck. We need to change the political map. Dems should forget about so-called centers and pay attention to working class concerns — not just in rhetoric and policy, but in actual attention.
The Democratic Party, and social democracy in general, played their part on the wrong side of the one-sided class war that has devastated working class communities since the 1970s. The catastrophe of 2016, both in England and America, obtained precisely because social democracy capitulated upwards — to the so-called “center”. It is time to take responsibility for it, and articulate a path forward.
But you can’t begin to do that if you think the working classes are too stupid to be addressed seriously. The human species does not understand anything actually complicated. I am familiar with a dozen disciplines, from pure math to anthropology and history. I have yet to come across a single instance of anything complicated that is understood. It probably has to do with the structure of our minds — of the Boas-Chomsky universal — that we can only understand simple logics. Anything that elites understand, certainly anything of interest to the national conversation, can be communicated in plain English. People like Heidegger and all that fancy, continental stuff that no one understands is not high-fi theory; it is just snake oil. If you can’t speak it in plain English, you don’t actually understand what you are saying yourself.
So the first thing that elites need to let go of is their own contempt for the unwashed masses. The problem is not that they are dumb, the problem is rather that you are not smart enough to manipulate them to support the right policies. They can tell when you serve them bullshit. That’s why Trump crushed all the seasoned and disciplined political entrepreneurs with such ease.
Forget about the center. Speak honestly and plainly, and without fancy words. Tell us what went wrong and how you will fix it. You don’t need fabricated stories when reality is on your side — and you’re not smart enough to pull it off in any case.