It’s possible the Trump presidency will implode while congressional Republicans fan the flames of public outrage by their handling of healthcare, the budget and taxes.
Midterm Democratic victories may only require us to stand and watch.
We’d be foolish to count on such an eventuality, however.
While an improved economic message is part of the equation, it will not be sufficient by itself. Much of Trump’s support came from voters who were reacting to value-laden cultural themes.
Democrats should not, and need not, compromise our values to bring back some of these voters, but we do need to be conscious of what we say and how we say it.
Understanding how to respond requires careful analysis of Trump’s achievement, which included igniting and uniting three distinct strands of conservative psychology, each identified with an aversion:
• Aversion to government
• Aversion to change
• Aversion to difference
Attacks on Democrats as the party of big government have been standard Republican fare for decades.
Last year’s presidential election was no exception. According to the exit poll, those who believed government was doing “too much” (50 percent of the electorate) gave Trump a 50-point margin, while voters who wanted government to “do more” (45 percent) gave Clinton almost the exact same advantage.
Classic Burkean conservatism is predicated on respect for tradition and distaste for change. As Edmund Burke wrote: “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment, we have no compass to govern us, nor can we know distinctly to what port to steer.”
It may seem odd to speak of Trump as an enemy of change when he campaigned as precisely the opposite — the candidate of “change.” But perhaps the most important word in his slogan was “again”—“Make America Great Again.”
Trump was not advocating change to something new and different, but change back to something older, traditional and historical, to “ancient opinions and rules of life” that Democrats had “taken away.” He promised a return to an America that may have never been, but one he and his supporters believed once was.
Trump’s desire to make America great again reflected a sense that changes already afoot in our country were deleterious and needed to be rolled back.
Trump scooped up voters averse to change.
In a poll we conducted days before the election, 53 percent agreed, “Our country is changing too fast, undermining traditional American values.” Just 37 percent disagreed.
The majority that found the pace of change too quick voted for Trump by a 38-point margin, while those who disagreed with this proposition gave Clinton a 63-point advantage.
An even clearer sign of public antipathy to the cultural transformations wrought in this country came in response to a question asking voters to evaluate the changes in “American culture and way of life” since the 1950s.
Recall, as some of our respondents may not have, that the 1950s was before the civil rights era, before digital technology, before Medicare, and even before the advent of nationally broadcast color television. Less than 10 percent of Americans had college degrees then and only about 40 percent had high school diplomas.
Yet, just 38 percent thought the changes wrought since the 1950s have been for the better, while a solid 55 percent said our culture and way of life mostly changed for the worse. Eight percent, apparently still playing with hula hoops, listening to monaural record players and sipping from racially segregated water fountains, were somehow unable to discern much change at all.
Among the 38 percent who believe America’s culture changed for the better over the last 50 years, 74 percent supported Clinton, while among the 55 percent who said it had gotten worse, two-thirds voted Trump. Nearly two-thirds of the 8 percent who saw little change also supported Clinton.
Trump scored heavily with those averse to change.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as a pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years.