“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” ― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

(And learn to treasure people you disagree with, so long as they are honest.  Witness Justice Ginsburg’s famous friendship with Justice Scalia.)

Both things easier said than done — but definitely possible.

I hope Joe Biden, should he be elected, will find ways to get most Americans to accept the same kinds of broadly beneficial things that past progressive leaders have, most of them against fierce resistance: Medicare, Social Security, federally insured bank accounts, the right of women to vote, an end to slavery, environmental protections, marriage equality, rural electrification, weekends.  Stuff like that.

Going forward: a program to revitalize our crumbling infrastructure, putting people to work at a living wage . . . programs to create clean energy jobs, a “smart grid,” rural high-speed broadband . . . expansion of the Affordable Care act to include a public option and negotiated prescription drug prices.  There’s so much that needs doing to rebuild the middle class . . . (one small one I love: this voluntary corporate tax surcharge) . . . and to restore a sense of shared purpose, even as Putin has thousands of psy-ops agents masquerading as Americans working so effectively to tear us apart.

Can anyone think now, with hindsight, it was a mistake to allow women to vote?  To allow women on the Supreme Court?  To celebrate the friendship Justices Ginsburg and Scalia enjoyed?

R.I.P., R.B.G.

If it were Romney or McCain, Dole or H.W. Bush, or Ford that Biden were running against it would be easy, in the main, to remain friends with his detractors.

But Trump is not like the worthy opponents whom Obama, Clinton, and Carter faced.

Trump sees those who serve in the military as “losers” and “suckers.”

Sees his supporters as “disgusting.”

“To Trump” — we learn in Michael Cohen’s Disloyal — “his voters are his audience, his chumps, his patsies, his base.”

Not wanting to believe that they’ve been played, Trump’s base dismisses all this as fake.

They won’t read Disloyal.  

But that’s a shame, because while most of the events are familiar — the escalator descent, Stormy Daniels, and all that — here we learn how it all looked from behind the curtain, as told by the man who engineered so much of it.

One chapter that was all new to me describes Trump’s delight in rigging an “election” of sorts — a 2014 CNBC on-line poll to identify America’s 25 most influential business people.

Viewers were given 200 choices, and when the poll came to Trump’s attention, he was ranked 187th.  So he called Cohen into his office and told him to fix it.  Cohen found a guy from Liberty University who was able to do it at a cost of $15,000 (to buy 200,000 IP addresses) and Trump approved the expense.  He wanted to be #1.  No, Cohen counseled, that could bring too much scrutiny.  Just be in the top ten.  He should be #9, they decided.  So, sure enough, when the voting ended, Trump was #9.  He was thrilled, telling everyone he spoke to that he had been voted the 9th most influential living business person in America.  He seemed truly proud of it.

But the story didn’t end there, because in the fine print, CNBC had reserved the right to remove anyone they wished without explanation.

They removed Trump (and T. Boone Pickens), presumably as not setting the kind of positive example they wanted CNBC’s 25th Anniversary to be associated with.  (They had not found out about the doctored poll.)

Trump was outraged!  How could CNBC question the status he had won fair and square?!

He threatened to sue if CNBC failed to restore him to his rightful place on the list.

CNBC did not back down.

And because the fraud had ultimately failed, Trump stiffed Cohen’s Liberty University friend for the $15,000.

Still, writes Cohen, “the important thing, for Trump, was the printout he had of the poll showing him at number nine.  He had hundreds of copies made and added to the pile of newspaper clippings and magazine profiles on his desk he would give to visitors.”

“In some ways,” Cohen writes early on in his memoir, “I knew [Trump] better than even his family did, because I bore witness to the real man: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”

Whom Carl and Tom — and Lindsey Graham — support for reelection.

So how do we offer them an off-ramp?

(Well, not Lindsey Graham, who is beyond hope,  but tens of millions of others who may secretly harbor doubts or disappointment.)

One approach is to share the simple, honest feelings of real Americans:

Thirty seconds from a Wisconsin voter in Green Bay.

Thirty more from a Wisconsin voter in Wauwatosa.

But in a really important column, Tom Friedman argues that the candidate himself needs to help Trump supporters know that he hears them, and respects them, and wants to be their president, too:

. . .  the success of Joe Biden’s campaign against Donald Trump may ride on his ability to speak to the sense of humiliation and quest for dignity of many Trump supporters, which Hillary Clinton failed to do. . . .

The media feed Trump’s supporters a daily diet of how outrageous this or that Trump action is — but none of it diminishes their support. Because many Trump supporters are not attracted to his policies. They’re attracted to his attitude — his willingness and evident delight in skewering the people they hate and who they feel look down on them.

Humiliation, in my view, is the most underestimated force in politics and international relations. The poverty of dignity explains so much more behavior than the poverty of money.

People will absorb hardship, hunger and pain. They will be grateful for jobs, cars and benefits. But if you make people feel humiliated, they will respond with a ferocity unlike any other emotion, or just refuse to lift a finger for you. As Nelson Mandela once observed, “There is nobody more dangerous than one who has been humiliated.”

By contrast, if you show people respect, if you affirm their dignity, it is amazing what they will let you say to them or ask of them. Sometimes it just takes listening to them, but deep listening — not just waiting for them to stop talking. Because listening is the ultimate sign of respect. What you say when you listen speaks more than any words.

I’ve seen firsthand the power of humiliation in foreign policy: Vladimir Putin’s macho act after Russia’s humiliation at losing the Cold War; Iraqi Sunnis who felt humiliated by a U.S. invasion force that pushed them out of Iraq’s army and government, stripping them of rank and status; Israeli Sephardic Jews who felt humiliated by Ashkenazi Jewish elites, something Bibi Netanyahu has long manipulated; Palestinians feeling humiliated at Israeli checkpoints; Muslim youth in Europe feeling humiliated by the Christian majority; and China questing to become the world’s dominant power, after what Chinese themselves call their “century of humiliation” at the hands of foreign powers.

When George Floyd was being held down by three policemen, one with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded for his mother and onlookers filmed on their phones, he was not just being restrained — he was being humiliated. Resistance to the daily humiliations of racism has fueled the Black civil rights movement from its inception to Black Lives Matter.

In a much talked-about new book, “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?” Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel (disclosure: he is a close friend) says “the politics of humiliation” is also at the heart of Trump’s appeal.

“Trump was elected by tapping a wellspring of anxieties, frustrations and legitimate grievances to which the mainstream parties had no compelling answer,” Sandel notes. These grievances “are not only economic but also moral and cultural; they are not only about wages and jobs but also about social esteem.”

Unless Biden finds a way to speak to the sense of humiliation felt by many working-class voters, Sandel warns, even Trump’s failure to deal with the pandemic may not be enough to turn these voters against him. The reason? “Resentment borne of humiliation is the most potent political sentiment of all,” Sandel explains.

Sandel argues that the polarized politics of our time, and the resentments that fuel it, arise, paradoxically, from a seemingly attractive ideal — the meritocratic promise that if you work hard and go to college, you will rise. But this ideal sends a double message.

“It congratulates the winners but denigrates the losers,” he writes . . .

“Elites have so valorized a college degree — both as an avenue for advancement and as the basis for social esteem — that they have difficulty understanding the hubris a meritocracy can generate, and the harsh judgment it imposes on those who have not gone to college,” Sandel says. . . .

“Biden is right that Trump botched the pandemic, violated constitutional norms and inflamed racial tensions — all good grounds for throwing him out of office,” argues Sandel. “But Biden could win this argument and still lose the election.” He must find a way to show that he understands those who feel disrespected and are drawn to Trump for that reason — even though most of his policies don’t help them.

How? Sandel and I put our heads together and thought, well, maybe Biden should go on a tour of Trump country, focusing on rural counties and towns in the Midwest, and just listen to Trump’s base, both to learn and as a sign of respect.

Then, at the first presidential debate, Biden should ignore Trump and his buffoonery and speak about what he had learned by talking to likely Trump voters.

Biden could talk about where he agrees with them and where he disagrees with them and why — the ultimate sign of respect. That is how Biden can get at least some Trump devotees to see that “working-class Joe from Scranton” — not “Billionaire Don, born with a silver spoon in his mouth”— is the one who really hails from their side of the tracks and can be trusted (a very important word) to look out for them.

When it comes to politics, a lot of people don’t listen through their ears. They listen through their gut, and Biden, more than any other Democratic leader today, has the ability to connect there.

Trump’s goal in this campaign is to separate Biden from Biden voters by making it as difficult as possible for Biden voters to vote. Biden’s goal should be to separate Trump from Trump voters by showing that he respects them and their fears — even if he does not respect Trump.


What an inspiring pitch from Jaime Harrison, the guy running to defeat Lindsey Graham.  Compare those two links.  In a sense, they are much like the choice between Biden and Trump.  Which one would you rather your son or daughter take as a role model?


Comments are closed.