Getting Off Your High Horse Campaign

“Well, the American people know better than to elect Donald Trump.”

Yes, we’ve heard that one before. If I had to pick one gripe, one frustration I have with the Democratic Party establishment, it would be our tendency to high-horse campaign. This is what I call it when a candidate chooses to only campaign in urban areas, speaks only to existing Democratic voters, and assumes all voter are educated enough in the issues to toss out a cheer or an ‘amen’ whenever a piece of talking point rhetoric is delivered. Unfortunately, not enough registered Democrats vote, not enough urban constituents vote, and not enough voters are well-educated enough on the issues to understand fully what a vote for a Republican means, versus a vote for a Democrat. Hence, the very conundrum I discuss in my next chapter on the political spectrum.

Here’s the cold, hard fact: deciding you don’t need to put in the effort of campaigning to party moderates and swinging voters limits your focus group to a much smaller demographic. Yes, we will probably see much higher Democratic turnout in the 2018 election, but there’s a reason we have more registered Democrats in our nation than Republicans, yet republicans win more than half of all down ballot and national elections. Not only do we coldly avoid campaigning to those who may swing their vote, we also don’t speak the same language as the rest of the nation.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign chose not to address Trump issues in the idea that his campaign was sinking his own ship. This concept of matter-of-fact, “Well, Donald…” lecturing on how incorrect Trump’s rhetoric was only worked to paint Clinton as a cold, lecturing matriarch to those not well-versed in her, her personality, and her stance on the issues. The public chose to purchase Trump’s rhetoric, regardless of fact, and Trump’s campaign was able to successfully sell fact as rhetoric. Hillary’s image made ignoring the allegations seem wry and shallow, versus showing compassion by being truly hurt by them.

For example, when Trump brought up Clinton’s use of a private email server in one of the 2016 debates, Clinton chose not to interject, and instead painted a big smile on her face, brushing off the comments instead of directly addressing them. This left the ‘Crooked Hillary” camps continued room to argue she both refused to deny being irresponsible with top secret American intelligence, but also didn’t take her legal duties to use a public server very seriously.

In all frankness, the best possible response to Trump’s allegations could have been to publicly admit she had used a public email server (as the facts were already out there and everyone was well aware), and educate the public on how much more secure said email server was than existing government requirements for government-based email and its security. It would’ve been a fantastic opportunity to address a failure of the federal government to largely update their security protocols and modernize with hackers as their breaching technologies also gained.

This is an example of a clear failure to prioritize explanation in favor rhetoric. This did away with human connection and painted almost a robotic wide brush across the issue in question. It could have been easily addressed by talking through it, but left ambiguity and anger with millions of voters looking for a true explanation. I say this as an individual who voted for Hillary not once, but twice.

We have been presented with one of the truly most unique opportunities in Donald Trump. He has alienated his party. He has alienated his voters. He has alienated those who are disenfranchised, and most importantly, he has alienated those who thought they shared his faith. There has never been a better time for Democrats to demonstrate they too can be the party of Christianity, the party of protecting religious freedom, the party of defending democracy, and the party of patriotism.

While we’re the political party most strongly defending the rights of the poor and disenfranchised by providing social programs, we’ve done such a modest job of supporting those individuals that they’ve turned to the Republican party as an alternative. The very party that would cut healthcare from more than twenty million Americans is somehow also the party of the people. How did this happen? Language. Rhetoric. Marketing. Branding. Showmanship. Charisma.

It didn’t matter what the candidates said and when they said it, it was how sure of themselves they were when they said it and who they were talking to. A caller into a radio show a few days ago stands out in my mind at this moment. The caller discussed how him and his father are no longer talking because of the divide Trump has created in their family. The concerned individual simply wanted to know how the show host would handle such a personal divide within the family. What the show host responded with blew my mind with its simplicity and accuracy. It was crass and poignant and both demonstrated what’s wrong with our political system and what’s wrong with Democrats’ approach to it. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was somewhere along the lines of:

“Why would you let politics divide your family? Do you think Hillary Clinton personally gives a damn about you? Do you think Donald Trump personally gives a damn about your father? Do you think either of them would bend over backward to solve either of your qualms if you met them in person?”

The reality is, no. They wouldn’t. They are tailored to be personable. The demands of polling results dictates their behaviors, what they say, how they stand, what color their ties are, who they talk to, when they talk to them, and for how long they stay in the conversation. This is broad brush politics en masse. Candidates will speak to the voters they think they can win and reject those they believe could never be reached.

As a Democrat who speaks to Republicans on a daily basis, I can tell you right now any voter of any ideology will abandon their party in a heartbeat if they find a candidate that appeals to their greatest wants and needs. If a Democratic candidate told a struggling Republican mother they’d provide tens of thousands of dollars of annual support for childcare, that mother wouldn’t flinch in the voting booth to flip parties. As a result, when you have a candidate like the incumbent in my district creating bills only to deregulate the auto industry, the real estate industry, and the banking industries, you have the absolute most valid reason in your hand for why an individual shouldn’t be allowed back into office.

When Greg Abbot, the governor of Texas, recalls the state congress for a special session for the sake of a bathroom bill and modification of municipal tree regulation (yes, I said ‘tree regulation), you have a clear-cut example of how an incumbent is abusing power for the benefits of their donors and disregarding the benefits of their voters. Especially when tremendous issues like protection of healthcare, voting rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights should be on the docket and are on the tips of every constituent’s tongues.

What we, as Democrats, need to learn in this election cycle is how to talk about these issues and wholeheartedly confront the cowardice of the corrupt party we oppose. Here are some key tips: blatantly, belligerently, and often.

Your thought process has to be to know your audience. Listen to the question. Pause. Hear not just the question, but WHY someone is asking it. Do they understand what they’re asking? Do they understand everything you’re about to tell them in your answer? The acronyms? The program names? The history? Do they understand how your opponent feels about it? Does your opponent event care about it?

If the answer to any of those questions is negative, you better get up on every single rooftop and shout about it until your lungs are sore, and then some. If you don’t leave every venue with a trail of angry disenfranchised voters that are well educated on at least one issue where your opposition has screwed them, you’ve failed at your single most important job.

The Immediacy of Now

Some of our greatest politicians have understood and practiced the concept of the “fierce urgency of now.” Under that philosophy, there will never be any greater time to take steps in advancing a progressive, pro-social, pro-racial, pro-science, and pro-environmental agenda than there is right now.

I was first introduced to the idea during the 2008 elections, but I feel those words ring true, more now than ever. To give you an idea of the urgency, I must first give you an idea of the context. We are six months into the American tragedy that is the Donald Trump presidency.

In his first thirty days after the inauguration, Donald Trump was named in more than 50 lawsuits. He signed multiple executive orders, many of which were almost immediately overturned by the courts as illegal on the grounds of racial, religious, and social segregation. Trump was widely criticized for spending almost a quarter of his time in his Palm Beach resort home, wasted an entire 25 hours golfing and 18 hours tweeting, and yet spent only 6 hours in intelligence briefings. He’d also managed to spend more taxpayer money on travel in his first month than Obama spent per year during an eight-year administration.

Let me be clear. Those statistics are only from his first thirty days. Prior to taking office, Trump was accused in numerous sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and defamation lawsuits. We had a physical video of him talking about sexually assaulting women. He’d gone through numerous bankruptcies and had been sued for robbing millions from people seeking education from his fake university.

I recall noting during his first joint address to congress, I had witnessed some of the shortest and quietest applause breaks seen in long televised history of congressional addresses. Trump condemned threats on Jewish community centers, but wholly disregarded Hispanics, Muslims, and many other nationalities and religions, like the two Indian victims of a hate crime, shot just a few short days prior by a white extremist claiming to have saved the world from two terrorists.

In my post-address rebuttal for my Ben on Politics Webseries, I remember reiterating that we will not abandon our values of all individuals, of all races and religions, operating free of persecution in America, regardless of a close-eyed presidency.

Trump is adamant about eliminating the national deficit and openly criticizes spending abroad, but quotes building the military by almost sixty billion dollars, spending hundreds of billions on mass deportations, countless billions on a nonfunctional southern border wall, and promotes a one trillion-dollar investment in American infrastructure. Keep in mind, he does all of this in the same breath the criticizes President Obama for spending to end an economic recession by similarly stimulating the economy.

He gladly states that dying industries will come roaring back to life, like coal and steel, but with no indication of how or why a dying industry would or should come back when demand for their products are gone because the products are obsolete. He also took steps to deregulate environmental restrictions on those industries, claiming those regulations were hurting the businesses. Here’s a comparison. For the same reason, Americans are not buying cassette tapes and CDs in favor of streaming services and phones, we’re no longer buying coal and steel in favor of wind, solar, natural gas, aluminum, plastics, and carbon fiber technologies. Yet, we don’t invest billions in subsidizing the portable cassette player, nor do we tell the tea industry they can put go unregulated and put poisons in their products, just because coffee is now more competitive.

Back to racial issues, Trump is always excited to discuss his ban on Muslim countries as a defense against attacks such as those on the World Trade Center almost 20 years ago. If his fear is that these attacks were caused by immigrants, I remind him his ban misses the largest contributor to those attacks in 2000: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The same nation he signed a hundred-million-dollar arms deal with and chose to prioritize above our warming relationship with a non-nuclear Iran.

Trump loves to cite Alexander Graham Bell as an American pioneer of technology, but forgets Bell was a Scottish immigrant in a time when Irish and Scottish immigrants were facing some very similar public criticisms to those of Hispanic and middle eastern nationalities being attacked and persecuted by the acts of, and hatred from, modern day white nationalist and conservative political groups.

It is because of these embarrassing acts tarnishing America’s morals and standards that I can also report the resistance to Trump’s rhetoric is strong. Every single Democrat in this nation, and every single Republican wise enough to recognize the torrent of tyrannical behaviors, is rising up to meet and eventually overpower this tidal wave of white extremism and aristocratic bias.

Looking once again at marches and protests, Trump’s rainy inauguration of only 160,000 attendees was overshadowed by not only Obama’s 1.8 million attendees in 2009, but also a record-setting peaceful demonstration of 500,000 Women’s March attendees in DC, 408 domestic marches attended by 3-4 million from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and 673 marches worldwide, totaling approximate attendance of 5 million protestors, in all. Marches ranged across all seven continents, including Antarctica. If you’ll excuse the millennial phraseology, America is woke.

These have not been our only marches. We’ve hatched inauguration protests, airport protests against Trump’s targeted Muslim ban, protests against both of his immigration enforcement orders, Not My President’s Day rallies, vigils for immigrant families, days of immigrant and refugee rights, marches for his tax returns, marches for science, and marches for climate change awareness have stormed capitol buildings, court houses, city, and town halls from coast to coast.

Across the country, voters are turning out in record numbers to congressional town halls to let our elected officials know we won’t stand up for this sort of behavior from them or our president. Our voices were heard so loud and so clear, a number of congressmen and women cancelled their rallies, no-showed, or held last-minute conference calls to avoid being held accountable to their behavior.

In fact, my home congressional district – the Texas 25th – hosts town hall events for our corrupt Congressman, Roger Williams, who hasn’t held his own town hall in nearly a decade. These aren’t the wild and heated overtures Republicans and Fox News would have you believe. A panel of policy experts is gathered, questions are asked by the audience, and answers are provided to the best of the ability of the panelists. In lieu of our always absent Congressman, a local volunteer collects binders full (Mitt Romney joke) of statements from Williams, and reads them when they’re pertinent to the question.

On the possibility of millions losing healthcare coverage, public outcry over the repeal of the affordable care act has caused yet-surmounted obstacles to republicans taking swift action to do so. They managed to barely force a Republican victory in the House, but the possibility of any success being found in the senate remains to be seen.

Our question remains how to continue to channel that strength. Almost 600 new Israeli settlements are now threatening the balance of peace and imposing potential turmoil in the Middle East. Trump’s administration has fully disavowed some of the most prestigious and accurate news agencies of our time, even banning them from closed-door sessions. Their attacks on truth and fact can be interpreted in no way other than as disinformation to fuel their own ambitions. Promises to release his tax returns leading up to the election and post-election have now been walked-back, especially in conjunction with new allegations about the administration’s ties to foreign leaders and intelligence agencies. To that same point, after only thirty days in office, we’d seen a resignation of two cabinet members, one for collusion, and another for a history of domestic violence before he could even be confirmed.

The nation has shown an aversion to the Trump presidency, with over 2,000 appointed positions yet unfilled. This temporary reprieve leaves his administration without the arms and legs needed for him to carry out his shameful seminal policies and prevent his promises for the dissolution of guaranteed social equalities like basic human, gender, and racial rights in this nation.

We, as the resistance, have some words for Donald Trump. When you STAND in favor of racial intolerance. And you STAND in favor of religious intolerance. When you don’t STAND in the way of racial and religious turmoil in America, AMERICA does not STAND with you.

We stand against you, against the violence and hatred you fail to adequately condemn. We will build the bridges you fail to build, and we will re-build the bridges you’ve chosen to burn. When you stand, in smugness, in the hallowed halls of the white house, you stand bearing the torch with which you’ve burned our bridges of peace and unity. We will not let you lead us down those dark hallways of hatred, bigotry, fear, and classism. We are the resistance. Hear our roar.

Ben Garves