Josie Pagani: How the left should respond to Donald Trump's elected-presidency

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"You're there for the very poor, National's there for the very rich - who's there for me?" That's what a truck driver from the small rural town of Marton said to me when I stood for Labour in 2011. Labour lost that election and the next.

In 2016, nearly everyone I went to school with in a working class part of rural England voted for Brexit. Everyone I went to university with voted to remain in Europe.

A few weeks ago when I was visiting family in Atlanta, Georgia, the front lawns around Emory University were decorated with Hillary signs. I bumped into Bill Clinton in a local bar frequented by Democrats. But drive out of Atlanta into the rural Bible belt and it was all Trump signs.

The "smoko room" has been pulling away from the "university common room" for years.

Progressive parties know it, but either fail to understand and try to bridge the gap with gay marriage one day and racist dog whistles another (lists of Chinese sounding surnames).

This sounds insincere to voters, and doesn't work. People know the real thing when they see it, and will vote for a Trump over the copycat racists any day.

Or worse, progressive parties decide to purge the "smoko room", either by actually excommunicating working people with unacceptable views on women (in the case of John Tamihere) or by making it uncomfortable for them to stay, in the case of Shane Jones.

The working class in New Zealand is less likely to be white than in Britain or the United States. But working class Pacific and Maori voters have similar disconnections with the metropolitan liberals who dominate social democracy across the globe: while their economic mobility has been low and falling, they are uncomfortable about social liberalism.

This is not an argument against liberalism, but you have to ask why Maori are much less likely to be Labour today than they were in 1980. Pacific Island voters are Labour's staunchest supporters, and also least respected within Labour's networks, where they find disdain for their church values and lifestyles. The same disdain directed at the working class truck driver in Marton.

Trump won because he had a better story than Hillary, with convenient villains (Mexicans, Muslims and Wall Street bankers). His supporters were voting on identity not policy. He made them feel good. Hillary failed by doubling down on what hasn't worked before. She co-opted some of Trump's rhetoric but sounded insincere. No one really believed Hilary was anti the TTP. Then her uninspiring campaign sent a message to working people - "the deplorables" - that they weren't welcome. It was a dreary continuation of identity politics; "Vote for me, I'll be the first female president". Easy to see what was in that for Hillary. But the message failed to excite most women. Obama managed to get elected in 2008 without once saying "vote for me, I'll be the first African American in the White House".

If you believe that Bernie could have done better against Trump you have to answer the question why Trump won and Bernie didn't. Both campaigned on a message of inequality, and railed against Wall Street.

But Bernie's message of inequality sounded to working people like "you're going to tax me and give it to beneficiaries". Trump's message was empowering; not so much "Make America Great Again" as "Make Me Great Again".

The left needs a better story or it'll risk losing working people to extremists for good. It needs to stop labelling anyone who questions its priorities (a capital gains tax over a sugar tax) as an enemy. It cannot be a cult that seeks to exclude, but rather a movement that goes out to win hearts and minds.

Bernie and Trump are both right that the gains of globalisation have not been fairly shared with the people who have paid the highest price, and the establishment has given up even trying to make gains for them. But Trump will never be able to deliver on his promises to that community because his diagnosis is wrong. Foreigners are not really stealing our wealth. The one per cent is.

Here's the crisis: if you are working for a living, and you are not in an elite middle class job, you are getting less and less likely to vote Labour or Democrat anywhere in the world. These voters are motivated by issues like law and order, immigration and wages. Trump and Brexit managed to link them all. The left hasn't developed a narrative and economics that makes a better, more obvious emotional connection with these voters. Until it does, it'll keep losing.

Josie Pagani is a centre-left political commentator and former Labour Party candidate.

- NZ Herald

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