Opinion: Does D.C.’s establishment understand Middle America yet?

Daniel Berehulak / The New York Times

The political class, particularly Democrats (since they lost), continue to conduct their post-mortems of the 2016 election that threw so many for a loop. As is often the case, it’s questionable whether they are pursuing a real understanding of what they didn’t grasp before, or simply looking for snippets to restore confidence in their prior beliefs — which they can try to sell back to the same folks who rejected them earlier as reasons why their approach hadn’t been all that errant in the first place.

It’s a ritual familiar to both political parties. As we saw of the Republican Party in 2016, following its famous autopsy of 2012, the establishment’s reassurances that it knows the way forward aren’t always shared by the masses — and don’t always show us where things are actually heading. Might the Democratic establishment also be pointing in the wrong direction?

An early sign that is might be doing that is this very well done piece by Molly Ball in The Atlantic, in which she follows a group of researchers from the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, as the headline puts it, “On Safari in Trump’s America.” If that title sounds like foreshadowing about the mindset of the “explorers,” you must have aced English lit.

The piece is too long and too well done for me to summarize in a couple of snippets. Instead, I’ll give you this excerpt — after the Third Way crew visited a kind of hippie farming commune in Wisconsin — which gets at the premise of both the trip and the article, in the hope that you’ll take 10 minutes to read the whole thing:

“The trip was predicated on the optimistic notion that if Americans would only listen to each other, they would find more that united than divided them. This notion—the idea that, beyond our polarized politics, lies a middle, or third, path on which most can come together in agreement—is Third Way’s raison d’etre. It is premised on the idea that partisanship is bad, consensus is good, and that most Americans would like to meet in the middle.

“But these are not uncontested assumptions. And, three days into their safari in flyover country, the researchers were hearing some things that disturbed them greatly—sentiments that threatened their beliefs to the very core.

“The last focus group, a bunch of back-to-the-land organic farmers and artisanal small-businesspeople, was over, and the researchers had retreated to their car to debrief. There was a long pause after Hale turned off the tape recorder on which they were recording their impressions.

“‘I had a very hard time with that meeting,’ she finally said. ‘The longer the meeting went on, the more it started to feel to me like just another community that had isolated itself, and it was right and everybody else wasn’t, you know?’ The hippies should have been her kind of people, but the attitudes they’d expressed had offended her sense of the way America ought to be. She had come seeking mutual understanding, only to find that some people were not the least bit interested in meeting in the middle. And now she was at a crossroads: Would she have to revise her whole worldview to account for this troubling reality?”

It turns out, America is a pretty complicated and opinionated place. A place populated by people who do not lightly agree to sacrifice their own ideas of the good, of the happiness they are pursuing, to some gauzy notion of consensus with others about what is good for most, or agreed upon by a plurality.

Regular readers have seen me refer before to Yuval Levin’s 2016 book, “The Fractured Republic.” The Third Way researchers would have done well to read it and grapple with its arguments before setting out on their Wisconsin safari. For Levin very ably details the ways in which national political consensus is an artifact of the mid-20th century, a consensus that developed over a few short decades beforehand and had more or less dissipated a few decades afterward. In other words, consensus is not a natural status for Americans; it is the exception to the rule, an exception we have been moving away from for the better part of 50-60 years. The project of government in the 21st century, then, isn’t to make Wisconsin’s hippie organic farmers agree to compromises with, say, Atlanta’s black middle class or Texas’ oilmen that are seen as largely unsatisfying but not-quite-worthy-of-outright-revolution by all. It’s to organize government in such a way that the members of each group — and the many, many others in this vast nation — can pursue happiness in the way they see fit. And that probably means devolving as much power to as local a level as possible.

But back to Ball’s article. One reason to read it all the way to the end is to see how closely the Third Way researchers’ report of their own trip fits with her own observations. No spoilers here, but it’s probably the most important part of the article because it indicates just how close a mainstay of the Washington establishment is to figuring all this out.

Reader Comments 0

145 comments
Doomy
Doomy

@SGTGrit


Aw, man that is funny. Maybe they can go to a college "safe space" to do their collective scream. They'll be safe there from having to hear dissenting opinions. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SGTGrit 


No, I'm not a lib.  I'm just not a bigoted racist uneducated white southerner like so much of the Trump base.

The idea that Trump and his punk buddy Bannon are conservatives is laughable.  And Jeff Flake? One of the most conservative voting records in the US Congress.  But because he called Trump the worthless sack of crap that he is - because he was honest - the stupid losers that are the Trump base don't like him. Well boo freaking hoo.

bu22
bu22

@breckenridge @SGTGrit  Flake does not have that a conservative a voting record in the Senate.  Saw one group only rated him 53%.  And your second sentence is prima facie evidence of your bigotry.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@SGTGrit Sarge, I am sorry for your condition. Do not despair, a good shrink can help you.

Doomy
Doomy

"When will white Americans face reality? "Middle America" is America's homegrown terrorist group(s) - kkk, neo-nazi's, white nationalist, white supremacist and the assortment of deplorable racist and bigots all across the USA have been "targeted" by Russia."


Stupid beyond belief.

bu22
bu22

"Safari," "Anthropologists."  That tells you all you need to know.  Its arrogant and condescending along the same line as Hillary's "deplorables."  Perhaps we should get UGA to send some "anthropologists" to study the insular native culture on Manhattan Island and inside the Beltway!

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

@bu22  Among her numerous mistakes (which she seems unwilling to acknowledge) the "deplorables" remark was probably the one that cost her the election. Old gal forgot that deplorables vote.

bu22
bu22

@stogiefogey @bu22  I think it was when she bragged about throwing a lot of coal miners out of work.  That was pretty much a middle finger to blue collar workers everywhere.  They all know what happens when your plant or mine closes.  Deplorables was her second worst mistake.

Robert1959
Robert1959

"It turns out, America is a pretty complicated and opinionated place. A place populated by people who do not lightly agree to sacrifice their own ideas of the good, of the happiness they are pursuing, to some gauzy notion of consensus with others about what is good for most, or agreed upon by a plurality."

Kyle,

When will white Americans face reality? "Middle America" is America's homegrown terrorist group(s) - kkk, neo-nazi's, white nationalist, white supremacist and the assortment of deplorable racist and bigots all across the USA have been "targeted" by Russia. Trump's voters/base (39%). Russia has "weaponized" America's biggest Sin - hatred, fear and bigotry against the USA and the world (UK , Germany, France etc.) as a weapon of mass destruction. No other weapon would have achieved the desired results worldwide without firing a single bullet.  

The good news is the American People will once again rise up and show the rest of the world how to defeat hatred, fear and bigotry. What will it take to remove Donald "birther" Trump, 1st white nationalist/alt-right POTUS from the White House? Burning a cross on the White House lawn with the TV camera's on?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The Democrat left is dumbfounded now that not only the collusion allegation is going nowhere but now Hillary Clinton, Obama along with his DOJ are the subjects of an investigation involving the Russians. They're now hoping that the flap with Corker, Flake and McCain might be the influence to turn the Trump base against him. Of course Flake and Corker are unpopular in their respective states and they would not survive the primaries against their opponents. That's the real reason they're bowing out at the end of their current term. McCain, is probably dealing with terminal brain cancer and won't be in the Senate much longer.


Regardless of whatever anyone thinks about Trump, he's likely going to change the Republican party in significant ways. Probably becoming more of a populist party with more of a traditionalist or Reganesque philosophy of America first, strong military and economy. The Democrats are doing everything they can to block his agenda but if he succeeds in getting his tax reform and replacement of Obamacare through in his first term he'll probably get a second term. Already he can take credit for a greatly improved economy, illegal immigration control and regaining American respect among many world leaders that Obama lost.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit


Ridiculous to think the economy going up and success against ISIS started when Trump became president. This all started under Obama. The retaking of Mosul and the stock market going up started before Trump became president.


I am curious to see how the country looks in 2020. Wouldn't surprise me if the whole world is laughing at us.

Robert1959
Robert1959

@SGTGrit Please take your medicine.  You are acting like a crazy racist and bigot.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle


So Iraqi forces weren't launching attack to retake ISIS occupied Mosul last year? The stock market wasn't going up last year? If you can deny those facts well then I can't help you.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit 

Oh please the battle for Mosul was mostly on Trumps watch and Mosul fell July 09. 017. Raqqa just fell. The Iraqi forces were making meager progress during the Obama administration and in fact Mosul fell to ISIS on Obama's watch in 014. As for the stock market it mostly did climb during Obama's presidency due to the Fed's Q.E. monetary policy to keep the economy from going under. The markets climb since Trump's taken office has been climbing far beyond what occurred during Obama's two terms in office. The difference being the renewed confidence in the private sector. Your facts aren't anywhere near reality. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle


Alright. If you think such massive change can happen within months because of Trump. You are just as delusional as the ones who blame Trump for everything.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit 

Have you been reviewing corporate profits, expansion and hiring plans? It's all out there and nothing like this has occurred during Obama's 8 years in office. It isn't what I think it's what's happening.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle


I am not arguing about business expansion. I am arguing whether you can correlate it to Trump admin/policies. I argue the time line doesn't match up. Nevertheless, Trump has achieved this can do no wrong status which I think is dangerous for the country.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit


Consumer and business confidence matter. They matter a lot. 


Trump didn't come in and wave a magic wand and suddenly make the economy better. But there's no question that the confidence instilled in business and in the investing public has soared due to his election and more specifically due to his business friendly climate and his war on regulation and bureaucratic red tape. 

Doomy
Doomy

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle


No doubt. Apparently, the left wing media thinks the guy can do no right and is after him on the smallest things. The controversy with the widow is the latest fabricated controversy. The biggest is the completely fabricated Russian collusion nonsense which is not only looking more and more ridiculous every day but which is actually finding real collusion, bribery, etc. between the Podesta group, the Clintons, and the Russians going back years. 

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit Pretty much as it does now and even more so after the House has gerrymandered itself into nice safe districts after the census is completed.

breckenridge
breckenridge

They might as well be Democrats if they're not going to represent R values of a more limited central govt and a return to constitutional principles. 

Trump's - who is not a conservative - values ? He's a lying gutless little punk and a coward. And if he and the radical extremist  Trump base are the future of the party then it's lights out.

Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and John McCain's views are those of the majority in Congress.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

It's okay for a fellow Republican to publicly disagree with Trump but the manner in which Corker and Flake did so was an insult to the voters in their respective states who voted for Trump. It should be about policy and that is why Trump was elected. I don't agree with all of Trump's off the hip tweets but I voted for him based on his policy positions.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit


So where has Flake or Corker disagreed with Trump policy wise? Seems to me they are upset at Trump's erratic behavior. When is he going to start acting presidential?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit 

IMO acting presidential is far less important than performing presidential. Trump, has been performing presidential in pursuing his policy positions.. Corker and Flake attacked Trump personally and did so publicly. Corker's accusation that Trump's behavior was heading us toward war was outrageous. Conversely, his behavior towards Kim Jung Un's misbehavior is producing far more results than did his three predecessors.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle


Trump also attacked them publicly. But lets not fall into the trap of saying Flake and Corker are not Republican. They are. They are out of the party because they were being big meanies to Trump. Frankly, I think Repub party crossing the Rubicon here. Trump gets to decide whats conservative and what is not. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit 

Corker, Flake and McCain are establishment Republicans who're globalists and who lean more liberal than they do conservative on many issues. We haven't fared particularly well in the globalist new world order experiment. Trump is a non-politician, non_establishment president that we haven't seen before and it goes against the grain of some Republicans who call themselves conservative. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle


Can we get a list of who these establishment globalist Republicans are. Pretty sure it will change depending on whether they have a negative opinion of Trump.

Doomy
Doomy

Fats domino died. Aint that a shame. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Poor Wingfield. He is turning into the last of the Mohicans. Eventually all congressmen will either kiss Trumps hand or get kicked out the party. No room for classical conservatives anymore. This is the last call. All aboard. 3:10 to Yuma. No country for old men.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle


What on Earth are you even talking about? It sounds like you just want to complain about Trump for no apparent reason other than to complain about Trump. 


As for Congressman who need to get kicked out of the R party I think they have themselves to blame. These are the same R Congressman who voted numerous times to repeal Obamacare and then backed out like sniveling little cowards. The problem is with them- not Trump. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle


Last I checked Flake and Corker voted for Obamacare repeal. They are getting kicked out the party because they dare stand up to the mighty Trump. That is what I am talking about. No accountability or personal responsibility. A pinnacle of conservatism has exited through the gift shop.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy


No. They are getting kicked out for unnecessarily slamming the president who leads their party. Good riddance. As for accountability it seems to me that they are being held to account for the unnecessary slamming of an R president. 


McCain- you're next you embarrassing Rino. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Doomy @McGarnagle

McCain should resign now and go out with some dignity.

He is the issue Kyle details personified.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle


What a laugh riot. Repub senators are being held accountable to not hold the president accountable. Seems this has nothing to do with policy or principles. Just don't say bad stuff about our president. Dag-nabit.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy


Don't kid yourself. Had Dems come out so vociferously against Obama and trashed him publicly they woulda been run outta the D party in a nanosecond. 


Besides, why are progs like yourself concerned about what happens in the R party? If you don't vote R and you don't support R policies then it seems to me that you're just complaining and whining about something internal to the R party that's none of your business. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle


If you check back at my original post I am actually lamenting for Wingfield. He has no party to call home. Maybe there will a resurgence of the Whig party. I miss them.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy


I can't speak for Kyle but what I sense is that a lot of people who typically vote R are sick and tired of phony Rs who are more R Lite than anything else. They might as well be Democrats if they're not going to represent R values of a more limited central govt and a return to constitutional principles. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @McGarnagle


The question at hand is whether Flake and Corker are those "phony" R because they support bad policies or because they said sad nasty stuff about Trump. Seems to me its the latter. I don't recall anyone having a problem with those senators until Trump use the power of twitter.

BTC
BTC

@Doomy @McGarnagle They are criticizing Trump because ---   He is unfit for the duties of the office that he holds!!!!    Jeez!

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Compromise, working across the aisle was popular when the two parties were openly not that far apart.  It is now long-gone uttered by relics such as John McCain who often is more Dem than Repub.

Why did it disappear?

Because it yielded a mostly Liberal Progressive outcome that has not worked plus social programs and a government stirred culture that are repulsive.

Voters have rejected it and we are in the throes of Republicans cleaning house as Democrats desperately search for anything to stay relevant.

This is not a time for the weak kneed.  Cleaning the swamp/house is not pretty and the methods questioned and ridiculed.  Don't overlook that Trump has put two RINO senators out to pasture without spending money in a primary to do so.

Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell must recognize there is no going back, yesterday is gone.  Cease the moment, do away with the 60 vote senate requirement, and pass legislation to right the ship and make progressives irrelevant.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@JohnnyReb


#2018

#ThumpingForTheAges

#StoppingPresidentMoronCold


Coming soon to a theater near you!

Doomy
Doomy

@JohnnyReb


 "Don't overlook that Trump has put two RINO senators out to pasture without spending money in a primary to do so."


No doubt. If they don't represent the will of the R base that elected them then they need to go. Good riddance.