By Carl Carter, APR
If Democrats are going to score some wins this year and next, it’ll be about the money.
Chuck Schumer and friends pretty much told us that June 24 when they came out with a new Democratic platform that focused entirely on economics — a $15 national minimum wage, a crackdown on monopolies, more affordable job training, tax incentives for employers to provide more training to employees, and a sprinkling of other good (if not new) ideas.
It’s a good message for Alabama, where — despite a decent 4.9 percent unemployment rate — the average income is a miserable $41,400 — 46th in the country. It’s a state where nearly one in five live below the poverty line. A state where people are working two and three jobs for peanuts and looking at Mountain Brook, where the median household income is more than $126,000.
These desperate, underpaid people bought Donald Trump’s message because he gave them the things desperate people are always looking for — scapegoats and easy, magical solutions.
Now people are seeing that there is no magic. Nearly all of them know someone who’s buried hopelessly beneath medical debt. They know the humiliation of going to the store and having to pay in quarters and pennies. They know they deserve a better deal than they’re getting.
They know a $15 minimum wage would be a godsend, and when they see the boss drive up in his Audi, they know it won’t hurt him. They know they want their kids to have a chance at a better life, but they can’t imagine right now how that’s going to happen.
When there’s an extreme gap between rich and poor, people are ready for a change. Democrats offer changes that actually make sense and don’t involve magic.
But here’s a little dose of medicine we’re not going to like: We have to be willing to subordinate our identity politics and some of our favorite social issues like LGBTQ+ and abortion rights. Our old way of doing things — having numerous groups under a big tent — won’t work in this environment.
This clashes with Democrats’ roots in “identity politics.” By tradition, we have celebrated our big tent, welcoming the numerous groups that identify with us. We have fought for their rights, and we still must. But our identity politics worked for us in part because of the strength of the powerful labor unions — the steelworkers, coal miners, electricians, plumbers and hard hats who were reliably blue.
But we’ve lost much of our organized labor base. There were numerous reasons. Union-busting tactics by the Republicans. Robots. Offshore manufacturing (which Trump exploited shamelessly).
But the biggest reason for this loss may be the surge in American fundamentalism. In fundamentalist churches (including many Baptist churches as well as many of the “community” churches that either hide or disavow any denomination), pews are are filled with the same demographic that traditionally makes up the labor unions. But where they were once hearing firebrands fighting in union halls for their rights as workers, they now hear that Christians are under siege, surrounded by a society that seeks to strip them of their religious freedom, force them to cater gay weddings, take away Christmas and condone practices they deem sinful.
A Gallup poll earlier this year found that Alabama was the second most religious state, with 56% classified as “very religious.” In a different Gallup poll in 2016, only 33% of Protestants found abortion “morally acceptable.” There was more tolerance on gay-lesbian relations, with 41% finding them morally acceptable, but still a minority.
Make no mistake: These are the issues that pastors are hammering week after week in the evangelical and fundamentalist churches.
Try talking to a fundamentalist construction worker about training tax credits when he’s convinced you’re an enemy of God. It’ll probably be a short conversation.
I’ll be honest: I don’t like this. I’ve been fighting for civil rights for for years, and it upsets me to downplay it in favor of an economic message. But I also realize that we can’t protect anybody’s rights if we’re locked out of power. And I want to make it clear that I won’t back down from defending the rights of my LGBTQ+ friends in any way. This isn’t a matter of what we believe, but what we can sell.
Presbyterians don’t go looking for converts by talking about predestination. Baptists don’t lead with the importance of giving them 10% of your income. They believe in those things, and once they win you over, they’ll certainly get there, but that’s not their lead sales pitch.
As I’ve said before (to the annoyance of some friends), we can’t elect Democrats without converting some people who voted for Donald Trump. We have messages that appeal to them, and policies that will make their lives better. But we have to start there. In due time, once they see that we don’t have horns, we’ll bring them around on the social issues.