There wasn’t a Trump-based realignment after 2012. I don’t think this would come as a big surprise to anyone who’s paying attention, who knows American history, or has read a poll—ever. Americans, and people in general, agree with progressive stances. Polls show this, and they show it consistently, and have shown it across time. But a new study confirms what everything else in the universe is already whispering to us.
Sachs is referring to a paper titled “An analysis of the changing social bases of America’s political parties: Group support in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections,” by Joshua Zingher.
In his paper, Zingher looked at the group bases of the electoral coalitions that won in 2012 and 2016. Briefly, how did Obama win and then Trump win? Zingher also looked back at elections dating to 1972.
Zingher writes about the most notable phenomenon:
defection of college educated whites from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party was the most pronounced change from 2012 to 2016, but the Democratic Party’s steadily increasing reliance on ethnic and racial minority groups remains the most important long-term trend.
The coalitions in 2012 and 2016 were “relatively stable,” and most changes were “continuations of decades long trends, despite perceptions there has been a sudden realignment.”
The simple truth of this, and the repetition of this truth, is vitally important for our society and our political culture. As Sachs writes:
Seriously, it’s incredible how many questions, research programs, and policy recommendations turn on this assumption. In a world where Trump’s election is understood as the continuation of a decades-long trend, every op-ed page in the country looks completely different.
Every lazy centrist thinkpiece of the past three years has been repeating the same hackneyed phrases they’ve been mouthing since McGovern went down in 1972: you can’t be progressive. You can’t have economic justice. You can’t have social justice. Stop, grovel to centrism, and vote for whatever middle-road candidate we foist on you. Obey.
Even after centrism lost, and lost bad in 2016—even after progressivism recaptured the House in 2018—even after model upon model upon model showed that the centrist catechism was in error—the centrists stuck to their guns. It’s Trump! they said. This is no time to believe in things! We have to get more reactionary, they told themselves. The wave of Trumpism is upon us!
Those of us in the adult world know that Trump, and Trump’s movement, only have power because of centrism. Because centrism is a kind of conservatism, and forty years of centrism have produced a more unequal America and a drowning world. We know that the only way out is through, and the only possibility for salvation lies with standing for justice, believing in justice, campaigning for justice. And sticking by justice, even when the mainstream media tells you that believing in causes is dumb.
What’s more, this is only the case if the mass voters don’t show up. The year 2016 was a year of relatively low turnout. If there are political platforms that speak to the material concerns of Americans, if there are actual programs to vote for, then that changes the game entirely.
As a marketer once wrote, “it’s not a problem if you prepare for it.” That’s not a deep or universal truth. But for such a banal and obvious statement, it’s accurate. California and Tokyo are prepared for earthquakes. That doesn’t mean that they’re perfectly ready, but that they’re savvy. They have foreseen some evil that has come, and are on guard against it. I grew up in Tornado Alley in Texas.
Tornado drills were a regular occurrence in my childhood. I can remember eight separate occasions where we waited to see if the wind would take off the roof of the school. However, about four years ago, my hometown had a record snow, which the city was not at all prepared for. Same problem: nature’s power. Different levels of preparedness. What is preparedness? It’s seeing the world, and understanding what will come of the situation. The prep-work is not the hard part. You can assemble goods, plans, and people with just a little effort. Nor is it hard work designing plans, any plan at all. Even a bad plan can, in time, lead to a better plan. Plans have a kind of cumulative effect, like avalanches or television commercials: they build as they build.
The principle obstacle to preparation is lack of awareness. Lack of clarity, and lack of understanding. Lack of awareness is not principally a matter of ignorance; it’s a matter of believing a wrong story, and believing it so hard that you stumble over the truth and ignore it, even when it’s staring you in the face. The story of the Trump surge is the story centrism tells itself. It’s an incorrect story, and needs to be disposed of.
In truth, none of our political problems are mysterious. Or, seen from above, that complicated. You can list them standing on one leg: inequality, climate change, white supremacy, sexism, imperialism, Trump. The solutions can be catalogued while you’re standing on the other leg: progressive economics, international cooperation, multi-ethnic democracy, feminism, end our wars, The Election. Preparing for these solutions is not difficult. What checks us is delusion. We are limited by the story we are telling ourselves, and one of those stories is the Center is Good. It’s not. We have to undo the stories that say that this state of affairs is acceptable, or that returning to 2015 is totally okay. We can prepare for what is to come; we can change the story. The past doesn’t dictate the future; it’s merely prologue.