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Election lessons: To attract natural allies, progressives must appeal not to logic or shame but to hope

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Trump is a symptom of our inability to live and our desire for immediate escape and relief.

A large portion of America feels humiliated and unvalued.

Jordan Hansen

That’s the lesson I took from the election. As easy as it is to blame the results on racism, ignorance, James Comey, the DNC, Hillary’s shortcomings, or whatever else you’d like to add to the list (and trust me, I like to add to the list), the underlying theme that I am settling on was that there is a large portion of America that feels left out. And, looking at our culture, I can’t blame them.

I can’t blame anyone who works in a service industry for feeling that they aren’t valued in our economy. I can’t blame anyone who has religious inclinations for feeling that a sizable portion of the country thinks they are a laughingstock. I can’t blame anyone who is sickened by reports of massive profits for companies that show blatant disregard for their workers. For those who don’t have a college or high school education, I can imagine that the sneering contempt they perceive certain segments of the population looking at them with isn’t paranoia. I can imagine that for a person raised on the idea that success is the result of hard work, the feeling of working hard and remaining unsuccessful is soul destroying. An entire generation raised with the goal of self-sufficiency now feels humiliated in having to ask for help. And we couldn’t reach them.

An inauthentic, rigidly delivered, focus-grouped approach based on articulating policy is no match for the empty promise of a return to greatness. Trump was the answer many people chose this election cycle, despite the likelihood that it was all smoke. It reminds me of playing the lottery. And, it reminds me of the promise I would make to myself each day when I was drinking alcoholically, “Well, drinking hasn’t really worked, but maybe today will be different?” Like the heroin epidemic and the mental health crisis affecting our country, Trump is a symptom of our inability to live and our desire for immediate escape and relief. For little sacrifice on the front end, if you don’t mind.

Heroin kills more people than guns in America. And guns kill a ton of people in America. We are obese. We are unhealthy, mentally and physically. We are divided into tribes. We are atomized, despite being constantly connected to devices with people on the other end of them. The institutions that used to be at the heart of American life are, at best, irrelevant, and at worst, loathed. If you think of the places that used to provide community in early America — the church, media, educational institutions — they all seem broken. And in response to the pain that is being felt by segments of our population, instead of offering mercy, I offer derision and judgment.

I think to myself, “YOU GOT US HERE!” It was the Walmarts and deregulation and unfettered greed that allowed jobs to go elsewhere. It is the dogmatic and judgmental church that proved itself irrelevant and worth destroying. It was the politics of racism that divided poor white people from poor minorities and kept us all ineffective and fighting. It’s the death of the union that prevented a living wage. It’s a series of wars fought in the name of who knows what that bankrupted us morally and spiritually. And, I go on …

The scolding is useless, much like in addiction. I wouldn’t listen to anybody who had a beef with my chosen way of life, how it was my fault, or what I should do differently. Appeals to logic were worse than useless. Appeals to shame were effective only in driving me back to chemicals and deeper into disconnection. The answer was appealing to hope. Only by appealing to hope and setting aside our desire to punish can we attract these natural allies.

Our hope is in a communitarian vision born out of distinctly American spiritual movements. This is the vision of America that can defeat the divisive, hateful, entitled individualism that lives in the halls of power. Our vision is the one preached by the Rev. William Barber and the Moral Monday leaders in North Carolina. It is for every American with a great-grandmother who spoke German, Italian, Yiddish or a classmate that speaks Hmong, Somali, Spanish. This was the vision practiced in Minnesotans United for All Families’ campaign against a discriminatory marriage amendment. This is the vision of America present in every small-town Catholic Church with a late Spanish-speaking Mass. This is the America that loves the Sermon on the Mount, but isn’t too sure what that has to do with modern Christianity. This vision is shared by the retail workers, students, poultry butchers, farmers, contractors, cooks, universally considered disposable. This is for everyone who paid attention to the kids’ books they read, who know what it means to stand up to bullies, and how much kindness it takes to really “be a man.” This humanistic vision of America, claiming an imperfect spiritual history, is the hope and the future of the progressive movement.

Jordan Hansen is a therapist, musician and writer from St. Paul. Find his writings at


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 12/20/2016 - 10:36 am.

    How about the constant vilification?

    The average person has been sick and tired of being insulted and marginalized. This has been going on for a long time and people would rather see a straight forward talker that wants to promote Americans even if he can be vulgar and says crazy things at times. The last 8 years has seen the top1% get even richer and the middle class diminishing because of crony government. More regulation, constant racial segregation, lack of transparency, hand picking winners and losers, and having the smallest employment participation rate in decades has been the norm. Very few have seen the recovery and all they got was promises of the same by the Democrats, yet are insulted continually for supporting others. The Democrats tried to rig it for Hilary and have done nothing but blame everyone else. So a seriously flawed candidate was far the better choice for many. And crazy to see that the reaction of those that supported the losing side are angry at others instead of looking at what to do better. But they’d rather continue the insults. If the GOP had a better candidate, how lop sided would the vote have been?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/20/2016 - 12:21 pm.

      Labor participation rate

      The labor participation rate stat has become the go-to response to the fact that unemployment has been cut in half under Obama and economic growth (as with nearly all economic indicators) far exceeds the Bush years. Of course, it’s totally misleading. The drop in the labor participation rate (which has been trending down for decades) is almost entirely due to changing demographics and more people retiring.

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