Democrats Respond to Trump’s Tribalism

There is a hot take coming out of yesterday’s midterm elections. Here is how it was described by the folks at NBC’s First Read:

as we wrote yesterday, we are living in extremely volatile and divided times. And what we are seeing is a further realignment of our politics — with urban/suburban going Democratic, and with rural and red areas going more Republican.

It is worth digging a little deeper and asking questions about what is creating the divide between urban/suburban and rural America. There can be no doubt that, for Trump and most GOP candidates, appealing to the tribalism of their supporters was their platform in these midterms. But as Adam Serwer points out, it is a mistake to assume that tribalism is animating both sides of this divide.

In the fallout from Tuesday’s midterm elections, many political analysts have concluded that blue America and red America are ever more divided, ever more at each other’s throats. But calling this “tribalism” is misleading, because only one side of this divide remotely resembles a coalition based on ethnic and religious lines, and only one side has committed itself to a political strategy that relies on stoking hatred and fear of the other. By diagnosing America’s problem as tribalism, chin-stroking pundits and their sorrowful semi-Trumpist counterparts in Congress have hidden the actual problem in American politics behind a weird euphemism.

Serwer is describing what might be the most pernicious form of bothsidesism. After documenting all of the ways that Republicans used racism in their campaigns, he makes a powerful point:

The Democratic Party, reliant as it is on a diverse coalition of voters, cannot afford to engage in this kind of politics. There are no blue states where Democrats have sought to make it harder for white men without a college education to vote, even though that demographic typically votes Republican. Democratic candidates did not attack their white male opponents as dangerous because four white men carried out deadly acts of right-wing terrorism in the two weeks prior to the election. Democratic candidates for statewide office did not appeal to voters in blue states by trashing other parts of the country considered to be conservative. Democratic candidates who ran for office did not advertise their willingness to use state violence against groups associated with Republican constituencies.

As a matter of fact, Democratic candidates went out of their way to be inclusive and campaigned on the idea of making sure that everyone is heard and has a seat at the table. For example, here is Andrew Gillum’s closing ad:

But the Democratic response went way beyond that kind of message. Historical records were shattered.

  1. More than 100 women elected to Congress.
  2. The first two Native American women elected to Congress: Kansas’s Sharice Davids, a Daily Kos endorsee, and New Mexico’s Deb Haaland.
  3. The first two Muslim women elected to Congress: Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar.
  4. The first black women elected to Congress from Massachusetts nor Connecticut: Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes.
  5. Rep. Jared Polis elected as the first openly gay governor in the nation, and will be Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
  6. Texas elected its first Latina candidate to the House … and there are two: Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia.
  7. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be the youngest woman ever elected to the House, at 29. Daily Kos endorsee Lauren Underwood is not a whole lot older, at 31.
  8. In New York, Letitia James became the first black woman elected statewide and the first black attorney general.
  9. Elected four black men to Congress, including Antonio Delgado, Colin Allred, Steven Horsford and Joe Neguse.
  10. New Mexico elected its first Latina Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham.

If tribalism is all about divisions based on ethnic and/or religious lines, Democrats just demonstrated the opposite of tribalism.

But let’s not kid ourselves. What Democrats just accomplished on Tuesday is exactly what Trump and his enablers fear the most. So yesterday’s accomplishments will only deepen the divide. That is simply the historical moment in which we find ourselves. To deny that is to stick our heads in the sand and ignore what is happening all around us.

Donald Trump and the GOP have become the party of tribalism in response to the fact that women and people of color are gaining a seat at the table, a change that Democrats are not only welcoming with open arms, but promoting.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .