Winning by Losing

The world seems topsy-turvy these days: America’s leader is too “nationalistic” for even Germany, your TV is now watching you, and the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. The time has come to discuss something even more bizarre, especially in a world where words do not mean what we always thought they meant.

Just like how we as an American culture are starting to come to grips with failure not necessarily being a bad thing, we also need to understand how you can win by losing. Now, unlike the demagogues currently in the White House who insist a ban isn’t a ban except when it is, I’m looking to argue the devil in the details and the nuance that often gets overlooked in a crippled media culture of tweets, hot takes, and gut emotions.

On the surface, the idea is this: Republicans win when they lose, and Democrats lose when they win. This has to do with the central climate and personality that each party has staked out for itself more or less since the 1960s. As I stated earlier, today’s Democratic establishment is in the middle of a fetish for professionalism, qualifications, and data, leaving behind their winning strategy of appealing to the down-in-the-dirt working man. This has left the door open for the Republicans to appeal to the working class, but in doing the near impossible task of appealing to both the workers and their brutally exploitative billionaire CEOs, the party has taken the path of least resistance and doubled down on emotional appeals. So we see the bout before us, with the the party that wants to be thought of as the smart people in charge of everything vs. the party of the forgotten man, the common man who is angry he can’t make ends meet, and wants to topple the ivory tower even if that entails voting for a buffoon as President.

This immediately sets up a power dynamic. The DLC-style Democrats, full of tech CEOs, innovators, disruptors, and other buzzwords that grate on rural nerves like a SkilSaw, are seen as the rich elite in power. The brilliance of marketing and messaging on the Republican side has now got that party telling the poor people that they should instead vote for the party of tax cuts for billionaires on a false promise that they can be a billionaire too someday, although they never will. When you set up a power dynamic like this, you’ll immediately find that one side is actually more effective as a loser, and the other as a winner.

How? As we’re seeing with the shambling, slipshod approach of the Trump administration, it’s hard to govern when all you know how to do is protest. It’s hard to run the house when all you know how to do, and all you’ve told people to do, is burn it down.  Republicans function best, as they did through the Obama administration, as the people looking to unseat the out-of-touch eggheads in office. But to be in that position of non-governance relies entirely on not winning enough people to your side to be the ones in charge. As we’ve seen, once these maniacal, far-right dreams are put onto paper, you have people in the streets. The core of Republican theory since Bill Clinton has been that you can get more done by bullying the liberal nerds from a rabid minority position than actually owning up to your own ideas from the majority. They know their policies are no good for the vast majority of the American people, but as long as they can’t win enough to pass them, they’ll always have a bonkers base of support (and money, of course) to feather their beds well into their old age.

On the flip side, you have the group so used to being sanguine and in control suddenly not sure how to be the protestors. They were supposed to win, Vox told us, and possibly win big. They were the ones with the data, with the know-how, with the Ivy League bona-fides and supposedly superior “ground game.” They were to be swept into office by a populous who was “woke” and understood that an austere, charmless and almost medically sterile approach to government is the only true choice. Now, when the sparkling white pantsuit is in tatters, the Democrats find themselves either flabbergasted, shell-shocked, or finding anyone and everyone to blame other than themselves for their failure. After all, they had every advantage, every good grade, every credential box ticked… they weren’t just supposed to win, it was a complete refutation of reality as they saw it if they didn’t win.

Well, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and the Electoral College feels fine. I’m reminded of Rob Schneider’s character in the popcorn punch-fest Demolition Man:

So we find ourselves in a strange place where the Republicans are losing because they won, with leaks and scandals threatening the legitimacy of the President within a month of taking office, and where the Democrats are confused at how exactly they can win by losing. As we learned from the DNC emails and from DNC strategy for nearly decades, winning is the only thing that was important to them, even if it meant selling workers down the river, privatizing Social Security or pursuing the destructive yet elusive “Grand Bargain.” Now, in a world where winning doesn’t mean winning, the Democratic leadership is hopelessly lost, trying to keep order as their own voters are now the ones threatening to burn the house down. While I’m sure those in power currently wring their hands and worry for their own political skins in the future, this return to rabble-rousing liberal politics is already paying dividends as millions march and a 74-year-old Socialist Jew with bad hair overcame a nearly 60 point deficit and won 22 states and 84% of the youth primary vote.

But what happens when those DLC-style establishment Democrats do win? Do they follow through on liberal causes? Not as often as the public wants. Following Barack Obama’s election as a rabble-rouser & change candidate in 2009, most of the country was hungry for proper punishment on the unscrupulous and fraudulent bankers who crashed the economy. Instead, the rabble-rouser chided big finance, saying his administration “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” What followed was a program of aid to the big banks instead of splitting them up, and they are now larger than they were before the crash. As a final sting to the people hungry for justice, not one big-time banker spent a minute in jail in America. Add to that Bill “I Feel Your Pain” Clinton’s commitment to NAFTA or privatizing Social Security, and you set up a system where Democrats do Republican things in office, further emboldening the cuckoo Republican minority to further fight back and further obstruct, painting them as the defender of the little guy.

So even when Democrats win in the past 30 years, they lose. And even when Republicans lose in the past 30 years, they win. Reagan’s policies were such utter failures even he had to soak the rich a little, and by 1992 the people were begging for progressive change. After two damp squibs of Clinton and Obama failed to bring about the bold systemic change that the bottom half of Americans knew had to happen to keep food on the table, or a table in their house, or even keeping their house, the crushed working class decided to throw an orange, toxic Molotov cocktail through the window of the establishment.

So, the choice in clear: the Democrats, now in historic minorities not seen since 1928, need to learn how to win by losing. The core of the old-school Democratic party is that strong, downtrodden, broke-but-not-broken working class who put Progressives in power, only to then complain years later when Progressive reforms make their lives so much better that they have to pay more in taxes. But when that happens (and it will, and that’s okay), the solution isn’t to try to ape the big-business balderdash of the other side, it’s to stick to your guns as the tax-cut & deregulation fairies lead us down a primrose path to destruction, only to be rescued by Progressivism again. Progressives are a group who win only to lose, and then win by losing. Seize this moment to bring about a Roosevelt Revolution in this country, and start backing the only approach that has been proven to win both coming and going.

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