Why do liberals vote for demagogues?

 

So, why do liberals vote for demagogues? Well, here’s a quote from the past that will give you a clue:

Photo credit: AZ Quotes

 

This quote is telling. In the lead up to the November 2016 U.S. election, this appeared to be the exact same sentiment many traditionally Democratic voters had about the Democratic Party . Reliably blue states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania went red during the last Presidential election. Why did this happen?

  1. Colloquially speaking, mainstream Americans thought that Democrats had gone so far to the left on Social Justice issues that they went off the deep end and had gone to Atlantis.
  2. But more importantly — the Democrats abandoned mainstream America on Economic Justice issues such as the widening economic divide between the working class and the professional class (generally speaking, the working class do not resent the rich and don’t compare themselves to them; they compare themselves to and resent the professional class).

Why did the Democratic Party abandon Economic Justice?

Photo by Matt Collamer

Since the Clinton administration in the 1990s, the leadership of the Democratic Party decided that they wanted to become wealthy like the Republicans did during the Reagan years of the 1980s.

How did the Democrats accomplish this? They mimicked Reagan’s method of employing Identity Politics to get their base to vote against their own economic interests. During the 1980s, the Republicans appealed to the Christian right by platforming on social issues, the most prominent being abortion. Republican politicians campaigned on this by promising Christian fundamentalists in the American South and Midwest that they would outlaw abortion if they’re were elected to office (left unsaid was that they’d give huge tax cuts for the wealthy).

Similarly, since the 1990s, Democratic politicians campaigned on pro-LGBT, pro-choice, and pro-minority platforms. They undertook to act in the interests of the marginalized if they were elected to office. What was left unsaid however was that they’d first prioritize the deregulation of the financial industry (which directly led to the 2008 Financial Crisis), the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the entry of China into the World Trade Organization. These events led to both the economic decimation of the American working class and the enrichment of the American professional class and economic elite.

Center-left political parties which adopted the position of social liberalism and economic conservatism coined this position the Third Way. It was adopted not just by the American Democratic party but also by Tony Blair’s “New Labour” in Britain.

By adopting the Third Way, the Democratic party had abandoned the American working class in favour of the professional class (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the media industry). And the Democratic leadership became rich after leaving office as a result. For example, speaking tours alone (mainly to the financial sector) have netted the Clintons and the Obamas millions of dollars since they’ve left office.

So in summary, both the Republican and Democratic parties had employed Identity Politics to get their respective bases to vote against their own economic interests.

Traditionally liberal voters undergoing economic anxiety (mainly in the American Rust Belt) saw both parties as being corrupt and had effectively voted for a third party candidate running as a Republican — the demagogic Donald Trump who promised them jobs and economic security.

The Canadian proto-Trump: the case of Rob Ford

 

To the shock of many on the Canadian Left, the late Rob Ford (May 28, 1969 — March 22, 2016) was elected Mayor of the City of Toronto on October 28, 2010. Prior to his election, he was a right-leaning city councilor. Ford served as mayor until September 12, 2014 when he withdrew his candidacy for re-election after being diagnosed with cancer.

Rob Ford was the proto-Trump. If you’re reading this and haven’t heard of him, here’s a sample:

Feels familiar doesn’t it?

Both men had similarities. Trump is the scion of a real estate mogul who grew up in affluence. However, he also grew up around his father’s construction sites and mingled with working class hardhats in Queens, NY. So although Trump isn’t of the working class himself, he speaks their vernacular and gives the “real” working class the impression that he’s one of them.

Rob Ford was the son of a co-founder of Deco Labels, a Canadian label company with an estimated $100 million in annual sales. He too grew up in relative affluence. However, Ford also grew up in a suburb outside the core of Toronto called Etobicoke, which consisted mainly of working class Whites and a range of visible minorities, mainly Black and South Asian. These were people who felt frustration when their local roads weren’t repaired on a timely basis, their social housing units were left in disrepair and the playground equipment in their local parks needed replacement. All of these tasks were the responsibility of Toronto City Hall, and their pleas for attention and service would have fell upon deaf ears if it weren’t for Rob Ford. Rob would get things done for the ‘hood and he would attend to each task personally. City Hall didn’t seem to care, but Ford cared (or at least he pretended that he did).

Is it any wonder then that the denizens of Toronto’s suburbs, feeling alienated by the downtown elite (consisting of a left-leaning and mostly White professional elite) went to the ballot for Ford in droves when he appealed to them for their vote? After all he was one of them. Although Ford wasn’t from a working class or minority background himself, like Trump, he spoke their vernacular .

It’s important to understand that Toronto is the most left-leaning city in Canada. It’s also the most multicultural city in the world, boasting 200 ethnic groups speaking 160 languages. It is a clean, safe and prosperous city and epitomises the liberal ideal of what a major urban centre in the West should look like.

Yet despite this, Toronto elected Ford for the same reasons why Americans elected Trump:

  1. Like Trump, Ford focused on economic issues. To put this into context, Ford’s predecessor was David Miller, a left-leaning socialist. Miller was considered by many in the city to be a spendthrift who left Toronto’s net debt more than a billion dollars greater than it was in 2004 when he first took office. Much of the spending was on salaries and benefits for the city’s unionized workers.
  2. And much like Trump (like all demagogues really), Ford focused on simple campaign slogans: “Respect for the Taxpayer” and “Stopping the Gravy Train”. He won handily with a plurality of the vote against the other candidates in the mayoral race.

It was a shock to the city’s Left that Ford had considerable support for his agenda from Toronto’s various minority communities, most notably Toronto’s Black community notwithstanding his liberal use of racial slurs. It was shock because of the presumption that these communities would reliably vote for the left-leaning mayoral candidate. In other words, these are people that the Left took for granted.

Similarly, despite his infamous speech about illegal Mexican migrants bringing drugs and crime into the United States, Trump won approximately 30% of the Latino vote, shocking the self-appointed leadership of the Latino community.

The election of Rob Ford and his enduring popularity among Toronto’s disenfranchised citizens (despite the racial slurs and crack smoking) should have been the canary in the coal mine for the Left worldwide. After all, if a crack-smoking demagogue could be elected in one of the most liberal and multicultural cities in the world with almost universal support from those who traditionally voted Left, the rise of demagoguery can happen anywhere in the world.

WHERE DOES THE LEFT GO FROM HERE?

The Democratic Party must return to its pre-Clintonian roots before it sold itself out to Silicon Valley and Wall Street. That is, it must focus on developing, promoting and (if they regain power) executing policies that address Economic Justice and Economic Inclusion for all Americans.

This was in fact the campaign theme of Senator Bernie Sanders during the last Presidential election cycle. However, his candidacy was undermined by the Democratic apparatchik in favour of Hillary Clinton, much to the delight of Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

Progressives also need to abandon the canard that Trump’s victory was due to the fact that America is still fundamentally racist. It’s a lazy line of thinking and allows those who assert it to avoid the hard work of re-examining their view of the world. It also allows them to avoid the uncomfortable task of asking themselves if they know how the world actually works.

Finally, on an individual level, Progressives need to start talking and listening to those who they previously maligned — those deplorable Trump voters. To quote University of Toronto professor (and celebrity psychologist) Jordan Peterson:

Assume that the person you are listening to might know something that you don’t.

So invite your deplorable friend out for coffee and chat with an open mind. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a prerequisite for your success at becoming a better citizen and human being.

 

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