As it became clear that the Trump campaign was eager to collude with the Russians, that Republicans would be unable to repeal Obamacare and that the president’s job approval was sinking even lower, Donald Trump demonstrated how he will fight back: by waging a culture war.
In the midst of all the chaos in the White House, he tweeted that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military, talked about what “animal” illegal immigrants do to American girls at a speech in Ohio, made Sam Brownback his ambassador at large for international religious freedom and encouraged police officers to engage in abuse. All of these were more than simple dog whistles, they were fog horns announcing to his religious and nativist base that this is where the battle lines will be drawn.
Ron Brownstein noticed and described the situation this way:
In Quinnipiac University polling this year, blue-collar whites and seniors (of all races) were more likely than Americans overall to support Trump’s original travel ban on Muslim-majority nations, his plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, and deportation of undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious crime. The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute has found that, compared to the public overall, both groups were much more likely to say the police are not unfair to African-Americans, and the blue-collar whites were more likely to say transgender people should be required to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender at birth.
But with Trump still receiving very low marks from minority voters, and facing historically low ratings for a Republican president among white-collar whites, he can afford hardly any defection from the blue-collar and older whites that have been his staunchest supporters.
Just as Republicans have traditionally relied on cultural issues to create a wedge between Democrats and white working class voters for decades, Trump exploited that strategy and was able to make them more salient to voters in 2016. What we are witnessing right now is that he is doubling down on that strategy.
Alex Shephard is clear about what’s coming.
The elections in 2018 and 2020 will primarily be about one thing: Donald Trump. And by all indications so far, Trump is going to spend both of those campaigns talking about immigration and terrorism and urban crime and LGBT issues. Democrats have taken the right steps in fixing their economic message—in providing a program for the kinds of people who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for Trump in 2016. But they should also be preparing for an all-out culture war.
As I’ve suggested previously, that poses a dilemma for Democrats. Do they simply ignore the issues Trump will be making more salient to his base of support and focus on an economic message? Or do they also offer an alternative vision of America—like the one Obama talked about in his 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention and his message at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma March?
For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.
Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.
In order to combat the divisive message that will be peddled by Donald Trump of an “us against them” battle, Democrats must rally around a uniting message of “we the people.”