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What Democrats Can Learn From Europe

In 2016, a variety of factors combined to provide Donald Trump a victory. Among these were a political message from Donald Trump to (mostly white) voters who felt they’d been left behind by the system, both political and cultural, that has been running things, a fear of immigration and the cultural, economic, and safety issues it represents, and fractionation within Democratic ranks between Clinton and Sanders supporters as well as Stein supporters and those who boycotted the election because they felt that no one represented them.

Democrats must address the issues that led to their loss in 2016.

A feeling of being disenfranchised by a system run by the rich and powerful, fear of immigration, and fractionation within Democratic ranks are still major issues for Democrats to deal with if the expect to reverse their fortunes. Europe has something to teach about some of these issues.

The fear of immigrants and that they bring with them crime and an upending of traditional cultural values is still present within many people in our country, although not as strongly as in much of Europe (particularly, Italy, Poland, Hungary, but also other countries, including France and Germany). Our immigrants are mostly from Asia, Mexico and Central America rather than Africa and the Middle East and their numbers, relative to our population, are miniscule compared to many of the European nations. Religious differences between immigrants and residents are less than in Europe, as are other cultural differences. Nevertheless, strident voices on each side of the immigration issue can propel it to the front of the election debates.

The immigration issue is the dominant issue in European politics. In general, it is an issue that strengthens the right wing elements in European countries, even to the point of electing right wing leaders and parties. Donald Trump attempted, and partially succeeded, in making it a central issue in our last election and there is no reason to think that won’t happen again. Democrats need to mount a significant and sustained platform to address immigration without resorting to calling those who favor greater restrictions bigots and calling all of their arguments, fears, and proposals racist or prejudiced. Doing so will only alienate voters who might agree with Democratic Party principles on other issues. The reality is that Americans need to feel secure that their borders are protected, but they also need to be convinced that the addition of immigrants strengthens our country, maintains its tradition as a new home for people from all over the world, and poses little or no threat to our way of life, while at the same time enriching it. These truths are not self-evident and Democrats can’t preach them at reluctant voters, they must work with them to see how much of this message can be made to resonate with those voters’ values.

The fractionation of the Democratic Party among its actual or potential supporters is probably the greatest danger the party faces.  In Europe, it has been the young who have been most reluctant to work with those with whom they disagree. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union secured a coalition with the more left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD), but the coalition was opposed by the Young Socialists in the SPD, who have given up on the “business as usual” lack of progress on socialist and progressive issues of previous coalition governments. But the Young Socialists remained within the SPD and stayed true to their pledge to uphold the majority vote of their larger party. The coalition itself represents a merging of sometimes radically different visions of what Germany should be like, but they have united for the sake of achieving a victory over more conservative major parties and an ever-strengthening reactionary right-wing subgroup, who mostly are alarmed by immigration and cultural issues.

A parliamentarian government can merge opposing factions into a government more easily than a government led by a president and, especially one with only two parties. Parliamentary governments dole out ministerial positions to members of the opposing parties within their coalition. We don’t do that in the U.S., so it is the spirit of coalition and compromise that we have to learn from the Europeans and apply to our own system. A presidential candidate from one faction of the party and a vice presidential candidate from another is one way to do this. A party platform that includes planks from all factions (perhaps in proportion to their representation within the party) is another. Vocal agreements and compromise and less demonization and name-calling by the candidates and party leaders can bring people together. At the foundation of maintaining a unified party are the grass-roots leaders and supporters who have to be committed to not only achieving their own goals, but just as importantly, preventing their real opponents from achieving theirs. This always means that, in some circumstances, one must choose to support the lesser of two evils in order to avoid being subjected to rule by the greater of the two evils, as we find ourselves right now.

As in every other region of the world, the Internet  (and in the U.S., the television and radio media) magnifies our divisions and the voices of people on the extremes. The result is that the middle divides and moves toward those extremes. People form into groups that attack any of their members who articulate opposing viewpoints. (The Russians have taken advantage of this and promoted such divisions in order to make our nation’s politics even less functional). As a nation and as a Democratic Party, we are becoming dysfunctional in terms of either solving national problems or maintaining civility. The end result will be a democracy that ceases to work. All of us play a role in this dysfunction and we need to change what we’re doing or we will lose our country.



Reader Comments (3)

If democrats want to learn something about 2016, they need to stop mischaracterizing the reasons people voted for President Trump. There isn't an inherent fear of immigration- it's simply that many people don't see an obvious economic and social benefit to mass immigration. So democrats need to make a practical case for immigration as opposed to a false argument based on a sense of moral superiority. As for candidate Trump's campaign message, it was a populist appeal meant to hearken to all people who felt left behind. The assertion that it appealed mostly to white people is a pointless observation since most people in the country are white.

As far as concerns over introducing cultures resistant to synthesizing with the established culture of an adopted country, that is an entirely legitimate and reasonable concern. Let's be honest. The concept of cultural relativism is nonsense. Some cultures are provably worse than others. Many cultures are girded with beliefs and traditions that are the epitome of human rights violations. That's not to say that there aren't select individuals from within that cultural framework with the desire to adopt a new culture. I'm sure there are. But this is a complicated issue, certainly not best achieved through streaming immigration simply for the sake of some sense of global duty. Much of Europe is a cultural wasteland due to this ritualistic suicide by treason.

As to Americans needing to be convinced of the merits of immigration- while factually true, it remains statistically improbable. The vast majority of immigrants are poorly educated, low skilled workers who will work for subpar wages and have a negative impact on the current citizens working entry level and low skill jobs. At the same time, this country also continues to induce a fractionization of culture far worse than anything experienced with the Democratic Party. California is already attempting to secede from the cultural union of the greater United States. It's allegedly progressive policies have destroyed what was once a truly peerless state.

Furthermore, Democrats cannot continue to be the party in favor of racism and identity politics as it has historically always been since the time of Lincoln: The Black Vote, The Latino Vote, The LGBT vote, etc. as if there is a unanimity of thought based on race or sexual preference. How about you just say "The American vote?" That would go a long way to uniting not just the Democratic Party, but the country itself.

March 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

I agree with Mark, “The assertion that it appealed mostly to white people is a pointless observation since most people in the country are white.”

Trump’s “mostly white people” vote is a red herring. Either we pull together as one people, the American people, regardless of ethnicity and gender, or race, or we divide as a splintered people, which puts our democracy as risk. For the progressive Democratic party to bring the nation together, representing all people in their diverse differences (rather than in divisiveness, which can be treasonous) they need to address our nation as One Nation, color blind and inclusive for all equally. Anything less is to devolve into identity politics. We are seeing this pulling together in recent European elections, where the people are voting to preserve their national cultural identity. The upshot of this new awareness is that immigrants must assimilate into their national culture if they are to be accepted as fellow citizens, or else Europe and its Union get divided and splintered into intolerant warring factions. This new sense of inclusive national European identity is the lesson learned for the United States.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Alexander

Whenever I have started a business or any kind of venture I have always started with an inventory of where I stand...in this case where does the nation stand?
Not just looking at the people of the country and at the true current sources of power but also looking at each political party I think it might be interesting to take a census of ...What are our shared cultural values?... and then look empirically at how those values are being fulfilled.
If democracy is a value... data and studies show that we are not.
If equality is a value...oops, not us either.
If caring for one another is important...we would have health care and over 40% of our society would not be economically insecure.
We might find that the system is actually servicing the needs of some of the population at the cost of the broader mass...that it is not broken at all but actually well servicing it's design.
As both political parties have been complicit in that design for most of a century it might well be best to let them implode...Although each party has the support of it's part of the ruling elite neither of them can exist without the consent and co-operation of the people. Over 50 nonviolent revolutions in the last 30 years have demonstrated this.
Personally I trust Americans. I trust democracy...I only wish we had it.
...Quite honestly I cannot see that making the quotidian choice between which party is the greatest evil will ever give us anything other than evil. I prefer to work for meaningful change.

March 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

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