A very diverse panel of three representing three races, three religions and both political parties met at Temple Israel last night to discuss the current incumbent in the White House, but none of them could find anything remotely favorable to say about Donald Trump.
Democrat Van Jones and Republican Ana Navarro, both former political operatives now often seen as commentators on CNN, shared a stage at Temple Israel in Minneapolis with former Ambassador and DFLer Sam Kaplan. Kaplan served as host and moderator. It was a rousing discussion, which I expected to include at least some sympathy from Navarro for a president of her own party. But I must not watch CNN enough, because I didn’t realize how much she despises Trump. She was by far the harshest in her view of the Republican president.
Kaplan, a long-time DFL activist and major party donor (who became a rare, but not the first, Jew to represent the United States in an Arab Muslim nation when he was ambassador to Morocco under President Obama), didn’t join in the Trump-bashing, since he was the moderator.
Rather than go issue by issue (Navarro and Jones differ on many issues, often across partisan/ideological lines, but neither agrees with Trump on anything that was mentioned last night), I’ll use my space today to give you a long excerpt from the last exchange of remarks, capturing the tone of each and their views. The remarks below were set up by Kaplan by asking whether it was the case, as polls suggest, that 35 percent of the country will vote for Trump no matter what, and 45 percent will vote for whomever the Democrats nominate against him, and the balance will be decided by perceptions of the state of the economy in 2020. But the answers got closer to why each of them thinks Trump won in 2016.
Jones went first:
“Let me say, I was just in Ohio over the weekend. I was talking to a family that had voted for Obama twice, and then voted for Trump. I definitely wanted to talk to that family because from the liberal point of view, that’s hard to understand.
“They were a beautiful family. They had had multiple factory closings. In fact, during the last 12 weeks before the election they had had like three more factories close. And Hillary Clinton never went there. And Trump did. And that had a huge impact. This county had voted blue since 1972. But then it went huge for Trump because they had an economy up there that just wasn’t working.
“It wasn’t about race, it was just about ‘well somebody has to do something about bringing some jobs.’ So I went back up there this past weekend. I went back to the exact same porch, walked up to the porch with the exact same tray of muffins, bought from the exact same diner three blocks away, and sat down at the exact same table with the exact same family.
“And I said, ‘Well, here we are. You voted for Trump. The economy is booming. Lowest unemployment. He’s fighting China for you. Making all these trade deals. Do you think you made the right decision?’ They said ‘absolutely not.’
“I said: ‘Say more.’ (Audience laughs.) They said, ‘Those numbers don’t mean anything in this county at all. We’ve had two more plant closings. He came up here and said, ‘Don’t sell your houses. Stick it out.’ And he’s done nothing for us. One of those plants closed because the federal government reneged on a contract that Trump could have easily signed.’
“They talked about suicides that had happened. They talked about real pain. These were people who had gone on television to say how proud they were to have voted for Trump. And this guy said: ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice and …’ and then he wasn’t gonna say how that ended on television.
“He had tears in his eyes. Because he had had hope that somebody was gonna help, and didn’t.
“But then I asked the other question. Do you now wish that you had voted for Hillary Clinton? Neither he nor his three friends said yes. They said ‘No, I just wish I hadn’t voted.’
“This is something I don’t think people understand. There is, in our party, speaking as a Democrat, an elitism. A distance. It’s hard to describe how this can be resolved.
Our party is supposed to be the party of working-class people. Regular, ordinary working-class people. The party of FDR. The party of Shirley Chisolm. The party of those folks who take a shower after work. The party of people who take the bus. The party of people who really have to worry about how much they’re spending on milk. That’s supposed to be our party. I love that about our party.
“But if you’re someone who didn’t go to college, if you don’t eat a bunch of kale, if you don’t know what ‘intersectionality’ means, you’re gonna be made to feel uncomfortable by too many of us.
“There’s a colonial mindset that’s starting to set in in those big blue cities, especially on the coasts, but not just on the coasts. It looks at the red parts of our country, and the red counties in our country, as these humid backwaters, full of ignorant people, these unwashed ignorant bigots that just frankly need to be converted to the Ishtar religion, brought out of the darkness, brought out of their lulled state of stupidity, force-fed some kale, y’know. ‘Put down that cheeseburger. Get out of the wrong party and join us.’
“And that level of contempt and disrespect and disregard, it’s powerful. The argument that Democrats are making in the era of Trump is essentially: ‘You suck. Vote for us. You’re an ignorant bigot. Vote for us,’ y’know? It just doesn’t work. ‘You’re a stupid person who’s been tricked, vote for me’ is not a good bumper sticker. It doesn’t work.
“We’re gonna have to find where we’re at fault for some of this stuff.
“We’ve got to stop some of these guys with the NRA baseball caps and say, ‘I’m mad at you, because I need you. I can’t have the country I want without you. I can’t get these prisons closed. I can’t help these kids. I can’t do a single thing that I want to do without you. I need you. I’m not mad ’cause you suck. I’m mad ’cause you’re great, and you’re not showing up. I’ve got kids who never see their dads. You’re a good person and you’re not showing up. I need you to be what we need, to help.’
“And when you speak to the nobility of people and the honor, that’s different. Say ‘Vote against me, that’s fine. But show up. And I’ll show up for you.’
“If we talk that way, we might get somewhere. But I’m telling you, as long as liberals and progressives think the problem is all them — we’re great and they suck — we are part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
“I think Van is much further evolved than I am. I don’t think you’ve ever fallen off a horse.
“But I think the Democrats are gonna have to walk and chew gum at the same time. I think they need to figure out how to inspire. How to get people engaged and improved at the same time that they’re trying to take on Trump. I don’t think you beat Trump with (word I couldn’t get).
“I think the problem Democrats had (in 2016) is that you nominated the only candidate who could not attack Trump as a serial, philandering sexual harasser, a candidate whose hands were tied, unfortunately. But that is not going to happen this time.
“Think of the timing of that, the timing of the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape [on which Trump was heard bragging about how, as a celebrity, he could get away with grabbing women by the pussy]. Think about that second debate, and Hillary having to ignore it all because of the circumstances [meaning because her husband was a sexual predator]. That was very, very hard for her.
“I do think that the Democrats need someone who’s a fighter, someone who can get people’s hearts pumping, feeling that they’re part of a movement. But the poll numbers, when you talk about the 35 percent that’s going to vote for Trump no matter what, the 45 percent that’s going to vote against him, the 20 percent in the middle, I hope that the lesson of 2016 is that not voting is not an option.
“There are a lot of things in life these days that are not like primary choices [referring to the Democrats’ huge field], where If you can’t eat ice cream, you can go have that soy milk thing.
“Elections these days, people, are binary choices. If you’re not voting for whoever has a chance to beat Trump, you’re voting for Trump. If you’re voting for Jill Stein [the Green Party nominee in the 2016], you’re voting for Trump. If you’re voting for – what was the name of that pothead, for Gary Johnson [the Libertarian nominee, who advocated legalization of marijuana], you’re voting for Trump.
“And you’ll wake up with voter’s remorse the next morning and have a hell of a hangover for four years. So I hope that that’s the lesson of 2016.”
P.S.: Temple Israel put on a similar bipartisan event last year, featuring Democrat David Axelrod and Republican Ari Fleischer. I looked up my piece from that event to see whether the same thing happened.
Not so much. Axelrod criticized and Fleischer defended Trump’s Mideast policies, which were the main topic. But when asked whether he had voted for Trump, Fleischer said no, but not on policy grounds, rather on grounds of character.