Democrats Must Challenge Inequality In All Its Forms

Today Stephanie McCrummen tells the story about what happened in the small town of Dahlonega, Georgia when a sign went up declaring a building the “Historic Klu Klux Klan Meeting Hall” complete with both a Confederate and KKK flag. She puts it in context with these events:

…what happened next would become one more pocket of America dealing with a disturbing incident at a time when hate crimes have been on the rise and new brands of white nationalism have been making a comeback across the country.

In Upstate New York, the home of a Jewish man was spray-painted with swastikas. In Virginia, fliers were distributed in several neighborhoods with the words, “Make America WHITE again-and greatness will follow.” In Colorado, two typewritten notes that read “WERE GONNA BLOW UP ALL OF YOU REFUGEES,” were left at a community center serving mainly Muslim immigrants. Now whatever was happening in other parts of the country seemed to have arrived in Dahlonega.

It isn’t just liberals who are connecting these events to the presidency of Donald Trump. Here’s what a local Klan leader said about what happened in Dahlonega:

“It’s been a long time coming.” He said he had recently raised his own flag for the first time in years — the American one, because he finally feels pleased with the direction of the country.

“In the last 50 years, I didn’t think we had the votes to elect a governor, much less a president,” Doles said. “And yet here we are today.”

Rep. Steve King has been saying racist things for a long time now. But yesterday he went so far as to publicly embrace white supremacy.

Just as the Georgia KKK leader hailed the situation in Dahlonega, King’s tweet was praised by David Duke.

All of this speaks to an unleashing of white supremacy in the Trump era. On the positive side, it’s clear these tendencies have existed all along and are merely seeing the light of day. There is a certain “permission giving” that seems to have enabled them to be voiced and acted upon.

The question this all raises is “how do we respond?” Zach Beauchamp says that a “left wing populism” (à la Bernie Sanders) is not necessarily the answer. Beauchamp begins by looking at the social democratic projects in Europe, where we find the 10 countries in the world with the lowest poverty rates.

The problem is that a lot of data suggests that countries with more robust welfare states tend to have stronger far-right movements. Providing white voters with higher levels of economic security does not tamp down their anxieties about race and immigration — or, more precisely, it doesn’t do it powerfully enough. For some, it frees them to worry less about what it’s in their wallet and more about who may be moving into their neighborhoods or competing with them for jobs.

After noting that the welfare state is even weaker in the U.S., he points to a study which “found that the higher the percentage of black residents in a state, the less its government spent on welfare payments.”

Beauchamp concludes:

People are only willing to support redistribution if they believe their tax dollars are going to people they can sympathize with. White voters, in other words, don’t want to spend their tax dollars on programs that they think will benefit black or Hispanic people.

There is historical evidence for this. New Deal programs (which largely excluded women and minorities) were embraced by white working class men all over the country (including the South) before the Republican’s Southern Strategy aligned the safety net with black and brown people. That is precisely what anti-racism activist Tim Wise describes to Laura Flanders in this video:

Here is Beauchamp’s conclusion:

The upshot is that a significant shift to the left on economic policy issues might fail to attract white Trump supporters, even in the working class. It could even plausibly hurt the Democrats politically by reminding whites just how little they want their dollars to go to “those people.”

The problem is that he doesn’t really offer an alternative solution.

The twin messages the Republicans have been selling for over 40 years now are that, (1) government is not the solution, it is the problem, and (2) the problem with government is that its programs help “those people.” Barack Obama spent eight years working to combat those messages (as Jesse Lee pointed out so thoroughly). I would posit that one of the main reasons he was unsuccessful is that he did so while being Black—we all witnessed how that was exploited to undermine his presidency.

The idea that there is a silver bullet that can erase 40 years worth of messaging from the Republicans discounts the decades of history in this country. That doesn’t mean that Democrats should abandon their attempts to combat inequality, economic or racial. The two are inextricably tied together. It simply means that they have to do both simultaneously. To ignore either is not only the path to defeat, but also would be immoral.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.