Last Spring during the primaries, when I argued with people who liked Bernie but thought he couldn't win, I would say that Hillary was going to be the Martha Coakley of 2016. I think the comparison holds. Liberals who think the country rejected her because she was a woman don't get it. Had Elizabeth Warren run, I guarantee you she would have won. Hillary was/is broadly perceived as a smug, liberal establishment elite who is clueless about ordinary Americans' concerns. She used the language of inclusion, but white working class folks heard that as excluding them (deplorables--she talkin' 'bout me?). Until the Dems figure out how to fix this, our democracy is likely to continue in its death spiral. There is no changing the minds of the hardcore Right, but the Dems are pushing too many otherwise decent non-ideologues into their arms because they feel they have nowhere else to go. Mark Lilla gets it:
One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.
The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.
But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. . . .
National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. He seized the Democratic Party away from its identity-conscious wing, concentrated his energies on domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance) and defined America’s role in the post-1989 world. By remaining in office for two terms, he was then able to accomplish much for different groups in the Democratic coalition. Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.
Whoever tells the best story wins, and that's why Bernie would have won had he been nominated. He has little patience for cultural Left tribalism. And that's why he appeared blindsided by BLM. His civil rights credentials are unimpeachable, but he came across as oblivious of the identity politics rules of the game, a game he doesn't want to play, and the narrative developed that he was clueless about the concerns of Black Americans. No. IMO, he just didn't want to waste his time and energy on a cultural Left story that undermines the real objectives of the political Left. His focus was and is on justice for everybody. He sees the big picture.
"Difference" is the trendy French thing that even the French don't take seriously anymore. It's something second-rate American intellectuals in high schools, universities, and the media focus on because they are bored, and it's a "thing". But it is not a serious thing; it never was. It's time to focus on building a political coalition that respects the differences but is energized by the humanity that we share. Such a coalition would be savvy about how the "difference" narrative plays right into the divide-and-conquer game plan laid out by Ameica's oligarchs.
In another paragraph Lilla makes this point trenchantly:
...the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.
We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)
Trump’s victory was a rude awakening for Democrats who have become all too complacent within the Washington power structure, and who mistakenly assumed that changing demographics, identity politics and sheer celebrity would be enough to stop the right-wing populism of Trump. Trump didn’t win the election because of a Republican insurgency; he won because of a Democratic collapse. He won because neoliberalism failed.
...The Clinton campaign tried to make this election all about Trump’s hatefulness (“Love Trumps Hate”) and his “basket of deplorables,” while offering no real vision of progressive and populist change. And when those on the left raised legitimate concerns about Clinton’s uninspiring message or her political baggage during and after the primaries, they were ridiculously labeled sexist or racist “bros” by establishment figures (even though some of Clinton’s harshest progressive critics were in fact women and people of color). In a February essay, former Salon writer Daniel Denvir described this cynical political strategy in Salon as “peak neoliberalism, where a distorted version of identity politics is used to defend an oligarchy and a national security state, celebrating diversity in the management of exploitation and warfare.”...
If Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment accomplished anything, it was to push away irritated or bitter voters who are tired of being called Islamophobic when they criticize radical Islam or racist when they contemplate voting Republican. Consider a reader over at the Atlantic, who started in the “NeverTrump” camp and claims to still “deplore” the president-elect, yet ended up voting for him anyway. His reason? What he views as left-wing identity politics run amok. “Accusations of racism are being thrown about as political weapons (mostly by white liberals) in a way that belittles the seriousness of bigotry,” writes the reader, who is white but married to a Mexican-American. “When everything is about identity politics, is the left really surprised that on Tuesday millions of white Americans, for the first time ever, voted as ‘white’? If you want identity politics, identity politics is what you will get.”