Back on 30th July 2016, long before the US election took place, I wrote a piece for The Duran saying that the campaign of Putin-bashing and Russia-bashing with which Hillary Clinton was fighting the election was a serious mistake, and that it risked handing the election to Donald Trump, who was talking about the issues the American people actually cared about.
The election outcome showed that in this I was right.
In that spirit I am now going to offer the Democrats some similar though equally unsolicited advice.
If Meryl Streep’s recent public denunciation of Donald Trump is part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit Trump by recruiting Hollywood and other celebrities to denounce him – as I suspect it is – then it is completely misconceived and will backfire.
Meryl Streep is a talented and successful actress with a large fan base. It is nonetheless a fundamental error to think – as celebrities all too often do – that fans will follow a celebrity’s lead on political questions. On the very rare occasions when this happens it is because fans support the celebrity because of his or her political position – the case of the great boxer Muhammed Ali being a case in point.
In all other cases fans are fully capable of distinguishing between celebrities they like and the political positions they support. To the extent that fans know about the political opinions of celebrities they care little about them, and where celebrities are foolish enough to make a big issue of them, the celebrities are more likely to lose fans than gain support for them.
In the case of Meryl Streep and Donald Trump, the working class voters in rust-belt states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, who swung to Trump and who by doing so enabled him to win the election, will not see Meryl Streep’s public denunciation of Trump as a worthy and courageous act, as far too many neo-liberal commentators seem to think.
On the contrary, at a time when working class voters in those states voted for Trump because they feel economically hard-pressed and forgotten, they will see it as an attack on them and on the candidate they supported, by a preening member of the very same elite that in the election they voted against.
Moreover both the language Meryl Streep used, and the surroundings in which she made her comments, were in political terms dreadful.
Not only did she make her comments at an award ceremony – a televised show of the elite congratulating and rewarding each other – but it is impossible to see how working class voters will not see her comments as incredibly patronising
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modelled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. O.K., go on with it.
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What this says to working class voters is that they were taken in by a bad performance of someone is inciting them to “disrespect” and “violence”.
It should not need explaining that working class voters who voted for Trump and who are far more likely to be familiar with “disrespect” and “violence” than Meryl Streep, will not take kindly to being told by someone like her that they were taken in by a bad performance.
Democrat and liberal commentators continue to be puzzled by Donald Trump’s win. In truth there is nothing at all surprising about it. If they continue to make these basic political mistakes, they will go on losing to him.
Their response to their election defeat shows however that they have so far learnt nothing. Instead of ceasing the Putin-bashing and the Russia-bashing they have doubled down on it, even though it has failed to dent Trump’s support but has instead caused Putin’s support to rise. Though Hillary Clinton’s mobilisation of celebrities during the election failed to her win her victory, they still wheel them out, as the Meryl Streep episode has just shown. Now George Clooney is joining in.
If the Democrats want to win again they desperately need to rethink their strategy and start reconnecting with what were once their core voters. The way to do that is to stop abusing and patronising them, and to start listening to them and focusing on the economic issues which principally concern them.
In the meantime, in dealing with people like Meryl Streep, the Democrats should heed the example of Clement Attlee, Britain successful but in person terrifying post-war Labour prime minister. He once told a Labour supporter who was talking too much: “a period of silence from you would be welcome”. Democrats please note.