Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Finding a Strategy, and Why Streep Isn't It

OK, Meryl Streep is a wonderful actress, a very smart and eloquent lady. But I think her Golden Globes statement, while striking and eloquent, was a strategic mistake. And here's why – because it puts style over substance, and not everybody agrees with putting down Trump's style.

Trump is gauche. He's crass. Trump sounds like and often acts like he's from the construction yard, from Queens. Despite his wealth, he seems to act in a way we could see a working class person acting. He's not dumb, but he's not nuanced. He's gruff. He doesn't have the manners one associates with wealth, let's put it that way – the way Romney acted and sounded.

But think of the people who voted for him, the “undereducated.” Many of these people are just repelled by the pretension we see in the classes with money. And I mean, repelled. The Sheryl Sandberg's speak to a certain, privileged class. How to relate to the nanny and keep her away from your husband can be a major concern.

I don't know where the populism comes from in Trump. People are often loyal to their origins. Sports stars “give back” to their home towns -- Damian Lillard comes back to Oakland High and dedicates a gym; Dramond Green goes back to Saginaw . My wife's ex-husband isn't an athlete, but his loyalty to his family origins led him to establish a non-profit that gives computers to poor families in Oakland.
Others are quiet about their loyalty. The Millionaire Next Door kind of person just keeps on living his or her life and piles up the money and then gives it away at the end. Why change a winning game, they figure, I guess. They're happy as they are.
Could Trump's populist attachment be sincere? He himself comes from wealth, but he also comes from Queens, and he has liked to hang out in the construction yards. Maybe, or more probably he just found it in his search for fame and adulation and improvised. Maybe he grew up somehow hearing the Borsht Belt and that's where he got his shtick. Trump is actually faux risen. He acts as though he is giving it back to The Man, as he cheats and bullies his contractors. Then he acts like the avatar of getting back to his roots.

But the fact that he is an imposter isn't the point right now; I just got diverted. The point is, he has carried it off. In his manners and his social defiance and his strong id, he has made many of that oppressed class identify with him. That's the point. He channels resentment, and when Meryl and Hillary and the pathetic Jenn Palmieri try to point out his grossness, the oppressed class responds – up yours! You who have it made, you the ladies who lunch, we're going to listen to you? Crotch grabbing and poor taste is your concern – we're concerned about our jobs and getting paid and our husbands lack of prospects. Don't complain to us about how you might feel disrespected, thank you very much.

This fight over manners is self-defeating. The more the fight is over manners, the more separation of classes there will be, and the more perception of hypocrisy.

Instead, I think one just has to accept the Jacksonian manners. Let the reaction be what it will be. Instead, one has to concentrate on policies. Trump's and Ryan's and Republican policies are atrocious. Don't think people are so dumb they can't see that. It just has to be laid out and explained. And it would be best if it were explained by someone with a working class sound. Bernie Sanders' background isn't working class, but his gruff manner has a sound that resonates to many. It's direct, it's low-pitched, it's intentionally simplifying to make the point. (It's an open question how simple Sanders actually thinks it is – Barney Frank told me he thinks Sanders isn't very smart, but Frank is so partisan....) I'm not suggesting that Bernie be the spokesman, but plainspokenness is essential.

In telling the truth as simply as possible, it can be personified in Trump and the hateful Ryan and then the billionaires who turn out to be hateful. Here's how they are hypocritical and screwing you! Have someone use the word “fucking” and be caught by a “secret open mike.” “Those fucking bastards are screwing the people – how the hell are we going to make that case so that people hear and understand it?”

Find the messenger – and it's not Meryl Streep, and it's not Elizabeth Warren. Warren is eloquent and smart, she even has that humble background, but she's from Harvard and it shows. It needs to be someone like Harold Hughes from Iowa used to be. Or patrician FDR, who knew how to relate, because he really was a man of the people in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he invited everyone into the water with him, to help each other with their polio.

To be simple: Stick to the issues, man. And find a voice of the people. Obama was pretty close; it's too bad he didn't after-sell. Find someone who can, now.

Budd Shenkin


  1. Thank you for your post. I agree with a lot of your points, but as to who the Democrats might want to run in 2020, I think we need a candidate with celebrity status. One person I keep thinking about is George Clooney. Unfortunately the electorate seem to want someone with 'star' appeal. I am not even sure he would run, he seems intelligent, and the fact that he speaks his mind makes him appealing to those who wanted to elect an "outsider" . Clooney's wife is quite accomplished and would be an interesting First Lady too. I remember when Reagan was elected, somehow voters felt he would be 'different' due to the fact that he was outside of the political realm. Arnold Schwarzenegger benefited from this same (bizarre) theory when he was elected Governor of California. I hope we democrats can find someone who appeals to those voters AND has the intelligence and the energy to seek good guidance and counseling to bring he or she up to speed quickly for the job.

    1. Interesting point. Get an actor (or actress) who can politic, or a politician who can act (or with comedic chops, like Obama.) I think it's possible that Obama will be central, given his cerebral capacity and huge approval numbers -- he can chart a course and help find some candidates, perhaps.