The Cold, Cold Math We’ll Need To Survive The Next Twenty Years

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So when Republicans lost in 2012, I wrote an essay asking them to soul-search, because I genuinely believe our country needs two functioning parties to work.

We Democrats got shellacked last night.  We lost everything.  We lost the Presidency, we lost the House, we lost the Senate, we lost the Supreme Court.  And we have no hope in 2018, either; most of the available seats in Congress are in deep red states.

The cold facts are that we’re going to spend the next twenty years getting back into power.  And in the meantime, Mike Pence has confirmed he’s going to roll back LGBT rights.  Ugly anti-Muslim sentiment is going to be made into policy.  That whole Black Lives Matter thing is no longer going to have quiet Presidential backing.  (If you thought there was no fundamental difference between Hillary and Trump, I am now in the quiet position of genuinely, faithfully hoping you were right.)

That said, I’m going to show you a chart that will show us how to survive.  And it’s this:

Cold math.

See that chart?  There’s one vital lesson we need to take away from that, and that is Cold Math Lesson #1:

Minority voters are not going to save America.

They came out.  Blacks and Latinos tried to stop Trump.

Despite their best efforts, white voters came out in droves and annihilated them.

You may argue that’s because of voter suppression laws that took away polls in minority neighborhood, restricted hours, purged largely minority voters from the rolls.  (My wife, who had volunteered at the polls, saw some of that personally last night in Ohio, and I wonder how much that affected Trump’s win here.)

But that’s gonna be the future.  There’s only gonna be more voter suppression, now that the team that tried to do it before have the power.  If you’re relying on the sole power of minority voters to rescue America, we are going to lose forever.

(Though if you look at the Latino voters, Trump actually won more of them than Romney did in 2012.  We’ll get to that.)

Which leaves us with this chart, and Cold Math Lesson #2:


We’re going to have to find ways to reach uneducated white voters.

Which largely means “rural white voters.”  Look at the map county by county, and it looks like dots of citified blue drowning in a sea of red.  We as Democrats have lost that sea of red, and it’s costing us more each year.

David Wong wrote an excellent article on how shitty and hopeless rural life is these days, and J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy describes the collapsed culture of the red states in heartbreaking detail.

And when I read about that alien and foreign culture – for really, we are two Americas – I see people who are quietly abandoned.  And yet when I’ve seen progressive calls that we need to “understand” and “sympathize” with Trump voters in rural states, you know what I’ve heard personally on numerous times:

Fuck those people. 

They’re racists and sexists. 

They hate gays and trans people and people I love. 

Why should I give a fuck about people who literally want to legislate my body? 

Which leads us to Cold Math Lesson #3:

We’re going to have to find ways to understand the concerns of people who hate us, or get used to losing more.   

I’m not saying that’s pleasant, man.  But the coldest math is this:

As long as we’re willing to write off the people in dying towns with no economic future and doubled suicide rates because they’re anti-gay or sexist or racist or whatever repellent thing they are, we are going to be at their mercy.

The rural areas are dying, and Obama won in 2008 and 2012 partially because he managed to speak to them on some level.  This time, Trump spoke to them better, and you can argue that he lied to them better and he’s a con man and he’s a failed businessman…

But when he spoke, they felt heard.

And yeah.  You can argue, with some level of correctness, that poor white voters tended to break for Hillary slightly more, it was the middle-class people who voted Trump in.  You know what?

Whoever the people who voted for Trump were this time, you still have to find a way to make enough of them vote for our next President.

And what I’m seeing today across my Twitter feeds is “Trump won because America is racist” and “Trump won because America is sexist,” as if that’s the end of the goddamned discussion.  And some days I wonder whether we love calling people out as sexist or racist is because it’s so goddamned satisfying, insulting is so goddamned satisfying, and it’s a reductive call that makes it so you can go “RACIST” and walk away as if you don’t have to bother with one of those stupid idiots.

So America is racist.

The big question is, “How do we appeal to a racist America so we don’t get our clocks cleaned?”

Because we have to.  As noted, the minorities alone will not save the Democratic party.  And for all the talk of racism, Hillary did significantly less well in Midwest areas that Obama rocked.

Is that racism?  Maybe it’s sexism, because Hillary also did less well among black and Latino voters than Obama.  And if that’s true, maybe we have to figure out a way to find these racist and/or sexist motherfuckers and understand what gets their goddamned vote, and if we just shrug “America’s a sexist racist tarpit, whatcha gonna do?” then let’s hand the fucking keys over and be done with it.

Or maybe it’s more complex than that.  Because yeah, there’s KKK-hood-wearing suckers, and they were happy to come out to play.  But maybe some other voters have elements of unconscious racism or sexism or homophobia in them, but enough of them can be appealed to by promising them… something.  I don’t know what that is.

I’m merely telling you we have to figure out what we need to promise them, and alter the party so that we look like we can deliver it.

I say “looking” because I don’t think Trump will deliver it, but the sad truth is he spoke their language better this time around.  And are we comfortable reducing that language to only racist dogwhistles?

Because let’s talk real: I’ve had white liberal friends living on food stamps, holed up in a friend’s closet for space, unable to get the medications they need to survive, and they’ve occasionally gotten lectures on the grand White Privilege they have.

And White Privilege?  It is a thing.  Don’t you dare misquote me as saying it’s not a fucking thing.

But for some people, particularly the folks trapped in The Town Where The Factory Shut Down Ten Years Ago, White Privilege is not enough.

I’ve had some poor white friends who’ve had to step away from discussions, and they were on our side.

How do we talk to the ones who aren’t on our side so they feel heard, and respected, and give them solutions that not only do work, but are seen to work?

(Because you ask people whether they get government subsidies, no, no, they don’t – but they get plenty of them all the time. They just don’t call them that, so they’re not seeing themselves as the government cutting them a break.)

And you know what?  I don’t know how to give them what they need in order to get their vote.  It’s going to be complex.  It’s going to require we change our culture, and yes, yes, that fucking sucks moose butt that we’re the ones who have to change to appeal to a bunch of people who are fine with literally jailing our loved ones for going to the wrong bathroom.

We don’t need to change all their minds.  We change 10% of them, we’re a superpower.  We change 5% of their minds, we win in a landslide.

A 1% shift in the right counties last night, and Hillary would have won.

But that is the math.  It’s cold.  It’s really fucking frigid here in America today.

Maybe it is all down to racism, in which case we’ve got to figure out how to get those racist white voters on our side.  Or maybe it’s more complex than simple racism or sexism or stupidity, and it’s that we’re not meeting the actual concerns of undecided voters because we’re so furious these stupid rednecks would want to stop my gay friends from marrying that we’ve just decided not to give a crap about those people.

But we have to.  That is the math.  We need to figure out what gets those people, unfair as it is, and change our culture to appeal to them.  And that’s gonna be hard, because the danger in that is that we change our culture so much to move to the middle that we compromise our morality.  What good would it do to win the Presidency with a President who wouldn’t fight for the rights of gays and minorities?

(Some would say that they didn’t think Hillary would do that.  I know she lost votes because of that.  And we need to listen to those concerns, too, without writing them off as exclusively sexist.)

And a third time: I don’t know what they need.  I’m a city boy.  I don’t speak their language.  But I do know this is a time for complexity, not oversimplification.  It’s easy to take that drug of “AMERICA IS RACIST” and walk away.  Because honestly, minorities, you’ve spent your entire lives learning how to suck up to these people who do not give a damn about your bodies hitting the floor and now, yes, I’m telling you we need to do it more.  That’s fucking exhausting, and I do not for one moment take that lightly.

I’m not saying it’s easy.  But that has to be our priority: figuring out how to appeal to those voters who broke for Trump today, without compromising our core values.

That is frigid math.  Our path to victory involves reaching out to people who despise who we are.

Yet we do that, or it’s going to get even colder.

And I don’t want arguing in the comments about who is to blame right now, because we’re just going to get into angry flourishes of whether should have elected Bernie or how Hillary was a horrid candidate or the media didn’t do enough to combat Trump or any of that.   That’s not the point.

What I want you to do is to recognize that one central fact:

We gotta get people who hate us to like us.

That’s never been easy.  But it’s even easier to give into satisfying anger at the expense of effectiveness.

And now, I’m going to take a break from political blogging for a while. Because Trump is in power. And now I’m in the position I was when we disastrously invaded Iraq: believing with all my heart that this is going to end terribly, hoping with all my heart that he’s going to be the centrist, reasonable President some of my friends believed he would be.

Because if he’s not, well, it’s gonna be a long time until 2020.


  1. Stacy
    Nov 9, 2016

    This is by far the best analysis I’ve seen so far, as I’ve nearly beat my head against a wall trying to figure out both “What happened?” and “What now?”

  2. Ember
    Nov 9, 2016

    I think there are three crucial things, and one of them isn’t going to happen.

    1: Get Obama’s SCOTUS recommendation in quick, while we still can. (Not likely)

    2: Take back as much other stuff as we can, local state, etc. and USE the power to fix things for as much of the poor as possible.

    3: Make damned sure our next presidential lineup is good people working together. Maybe a Bernie/Hilary pairing would help, I don’t know.


  3. Cheryl Kasson
    Nov 9, 2016

    I understand what you are saying, but I see a real problem in your suggestions. To people who are straight, cis, and white, changing the culture to appeal to rural white people might be a matter of compromising values. However, to those who are gay, trans, or nonwhite, it might be a matter of life and death.

  4. Yendis
    Nov 10, 2016

    Insightful & Inciting, such an impressive/extensive/comprehensive writing. Cannot thank you enough for sharing so much information and invested effort.

  5. Sam Vimes
    Nov 10, 2016

    This was very well written – and is engendering a good discussion on the “Awkward Arguments” channel at Disqus

  6. Sarah in Boston
    Nov 10, 2016

    This post was really good for me. I wanted to share this Cracked article I just read that is a start (for me at least) in reaching that understanding.

  7. Horse
    Nov 11, 2016

    The Democratic party needs to appoint an ambassador to each state. Their job will be to live in rural areas and make friends only with Republicans.

    I’m in rural Pennsylvania. I have no idea whether my neighbors are racist, because there aren’t enough non-whites around to tell. But I’m sure they didn’t vote for Trump because of racism. Race isn’t a political concern here. People here aren’t worried about black crime, or afraid Hispanics will take “their jobs”, because no blacks or Hispanics are interested in coming to our quietly fading town with $15/hr jobs, that shuts down every day at 5pm.

    And as to “sexism”, city folks can’t seem to agree on what it means, or define it in any way that makes sense, that doesn’t make it sexist to tell women it’s okay to be women or men that it’s okay to be men, or to expect a rooster to behave differently than a hen. So asking whether rural folk are sexist isn’t even a coherent question.

  8. Alexis
    Nov 14, 2016

    I also think we need to bring out the non-voters. Tons of people didn’t vote at all in the election, and we have to reach those people. We have to register Everyone the second they graduate high scoop if not before. When only 50% of the electorate turns out, we don’t even have a truly representative democracy.

    • Horse
      Nov 15, 2016

      Alexis, I don’t think the right response to Trump’s election is to try to get even more poorly educated and indifferent people to vote.

  9. Joshua
    Nov 16, 2016

    Consider (and I want to emphasize how much I’m not a Trump supporter, apologist, etc) his ‘first 100 days’ document:

    You look at that list, and hey … there’s a lot of things on there that are crazy or stupid or both. Sure.

    But there’s also:

    * FOURTH, a 5 year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service;

    * FIFTH, a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government;

    * SIXTH, a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.

    So … okay. He wants to close (well … narrow) the business/government revolving door (and yeah, we can argue about whether he ‘really’ wants that or not, but whichever). Here’s my question: WHY WAS THAT NOT IN OUR PLATFORM? Why on earth would we cede this ground to him?

    On the same day, I will begin taking the following 7 actions to protect American workers:

    Most of these are awful – withdrawing from NAFTA and the TPP are a bad idea for a bunch of reasons … but, you know … while they were being negotiated, there were huge groups of activists on the left protesting that they didn’t do enough (or really fucking anything) to protect workers. HEY! Turns out that we were right and that a bunch of the country agrees.

    …yay us?

    The thing is, I think what’s underlying this, actually, something that’s good for us. It’s the realization that untrammeled capitalism may be pretty fucked for the average worker. Those white-non-college-educated voters are pissed off because the factory jobs that supported their parents don’t pay enough to support a family now, and that there won’t even be enough of those shitty, low wage jobs left to employ their kids.

    And that’s a real thing.

    And it’s a real thing that won’t be solved by, “let’s send everyone to college,” (and have to leave your hometown, amass a mountain of student loan debt and maybe end up with a useless degree).

    Trump’s right. Bernie’s right. The system is rigged. Capitalism is rigged. Our political system is rigged. None of the bankers who destroyed the global economy in 2008 got punished for it, and we have no reason to expect they will.

    Neither party has a good solution to this, really. But at least Trump pretends to. And at least he acts like This Problem is the biggest problem in America.

    I don’t agree with 80% of what he says. But that 20%, man, he fucking nails it. Not the solutions, of course (you think what we need is MORE deregulation?!?), but at least he correctly describes the problem. At least he’s angry (or apes anger) about how poor people are getting screwed. At least he cares (or pretends to care).

    And if you’re someone who cares A LOT about that 20%, but you don’t know any black people, or gay people (that you know of), or trans people (that you know of), then yeah, I can see how you might weigh that 20% of him talking about things that are VITAL to you that NOBODY ELSE seems to care about way over the 80% of his rhetoric that is pure hate speech peppered by the occasional personal threat or admission of sexual assault.

    • TheFerrett
      Nov 16, 2016

      Pretty much. I mean, I looked at that list and went, “Well, if THOSE went through and we didn’t shred the Constitution, that’s… actually some things I agree with.”

      And your final two paragraphs are correct. So very, sadly, correct.


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