For Democrats the need is to seek out “the better angels of our nature”

In my recent post on the conservative Koch-led Americans for Prosperity, a reader wrote in a comment, “The lesson is to always keep attacking and never let them catch their breath.” Indeed the organization should be blasted for many of its positions, but not its members. Attacking them only increases polarization. The need is to seek a broader shared vision among New Jerseyans of all persuasions. We are already too polarized.

During his first presidential campaign Obama made an embarrassing but astute comment when he referred to working class people decimated by job losses: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” We see that polarization increasingly today.

Trump foments fear and the feeling that things are falling apart to his alienated base which only leads toward people turning against each other other. The reality is that what Trump is doing only benefits the wealthy and corporations so there will be more such people not less. Taking a condescending attitude toward them or just attacking them is counterproductive.

After Hillary Clinton’s primary debacle in Michigan she decided that she could not win white working-class voters and that the “rising electorate” (identity politics) would make up the difference. That did not work out so well as she lost votes from the “deplorables” in key swing states which resulted in her electoral loss.

An example to follow is another comment from President Obama – one of his constant refrains, “There’s not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” Democrats must realize that those who feel disenfranchised often share similar hopes with progressive Democrats for better jobs, better economy, more security for their families, and a more cohesive America. Listening and responding to them is the important goal.

Murphy reaching out

Governor Murphy, who will face severe fiscal restraints in the budget, made worse by the tax bill, will not soon be able to achieve all his ambitious goals. Nor will he be able to buck entirely the trend of disaffected underemployed and underpaid New Jerseyans. Nonetheless, in this weekend’s NJTV interview On the Record he appeared energized and determined to to follow through on his key proposals. What he offers is compassionate “trickle up cconomics.” In the interview he reiterated what his campaign website proclaims: “IT’S TIME FOR A STRONGER, FAIRER ECONOMY THAT WORKS FOR EVERY FAMILY — WITH GOOD JOBS, EQUAL PAY, FULLY FUNDED PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND A GROWING MIDDLE CLASS.” This approach leads us in the right direction.

We already have in our state the New Jersey chapter of the Working Families Alliance, “a grassroots independent political organization fighting for a government that represents the needs and values of working families.” They advocate for the Murphy policies mentioned above, plus, paid sick days, affordable housing, debt-free higher education, criminal justice reform, healthcare, paid family leave, and workers rights. They probably goofed in their strong support for Hillary Clinton, but their efforts on behalf of these positive policies are what many people, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, seek. Of course it will take more than just Gov. Murphy and this one group to reach the goal. Nonetheless, a continued emphasis on what unites us is what is needed.

President Abraham Lincoln who faced an extremely divided America as the Civil War grew closer remained optimistic. He said in his First Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passions may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory… will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” A worthy and beneficial aspiration for all of us.

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