Pagani ponders

A few weeks ago when I was visiting family in Atlanta, Georgia, the front lawns around Emory University were decorated with Hillary signs. I bumped into Bill Clinton in a local bar frequented by Democrats. But drive out of Atlanta into the rural Bible belt and it was all Trump signs.

The “smoko room” has been pulling away from the “university common room” for years.

Progressive parties know it, but either fail to understand and try to bridge the gap with gay marriage one day and racist dog whistles another (lists of Chinese sounding surnames). This sounds insincere to voters, and doesn’t work. People know the real thing when they see it, and will vote for a Trump over the copycat racists any day.

Or worse, progressive parties decide to purge the “smoko room”, either by actually excommunicating working people with unacceptable views on women (in the case of John Tamihere) or by making it uncomfortable for them to stay, in the case of Shane Jones.

The working class in New Zealand is less likely to be white than in Britain or the United States. But working class Pacific and Maori voters have similar disconnections with the metropolitan liberals who dominate social democracy across the globe: while their economic mobility has been low and falling, they are uncomfortable about social liberalism.

And amusingly, the Labour party is an uncomfortable forced marriage between unions and the academic snobs. ?Which does leave the “normal” workers feeling out in the cold without representation.

Trump won because he had a better story than Hillary, with convenient villains (Mexicans, Muslims and Wall Street bankers). His supporters were voting on identity not policy. He made them feel good. Hillary failed by doubling down on what hasn’t worked before. She co-opted some of Trump’s rhetoric but sounded insincere.

No one really believed Hilary was anti the TTP. Then her uninspiring campaign sent a message to working people – “the deplorables” – that they weren’t welcome. It was a dreary continuation of identity politics; “Vote for me, I’ll be the first female president”. Easy to see what was in that for Hillary. But the message failed to excite most women. Obama managed to get elected in 2008 without once saying “vote for me, I’ll be the first African American in the White House”.

If you believe that Bernie could have done better against Trump you have to answer the question why Trump won and Bernie didn’t. Both campaigned on a message of inequality, and railed against Wall Street.

But Bernie’s message of inequality sounded to working people like “you’re going to tax me and give it to beneficiaries”. Trump’s message was empowering; not so much “Make America Great Again” as “Make Me Great Again”.

The left needs a better story or it’ll risk losing working people to extremists for good. It needs to stop labelling anyone who questions its priorities (a capital gains tax over a sugar tax) as an enemy. It cannot be a cult that seeks to exclude, but rather a movement that goes out to win hearts and minds.

Josie’s right. ?But her ideas will fall like shrivelled seeds on a barren earth. ?Her own side considers her a rabid right winger and they have marginalised her. ?It’s exactly what the left does. ?It seems to silence, to control. ?Whereas the right tends to win hearts and minds…

Voters are tired of being treated like people who need everything done for them, including thinking.

A National-led government is all but certain for 2017, and unless Labour and the left in general get the same kind self-awareness as Josie has on display, a Labour resurgence for 2020 is far from certain.


– Josie Pagani, NZ Herald