What Now? (Part One: Get Over Appearing Elitist

The Big Con on America worked. A perfect storm of many failings (pick your favorite whipping boy) allowed the candidate who won almost two million more votes to lose to a bigoted, offensive, failed businessman.
    Because consistency isn’t characteristic of this president-elect, we can’t know what’s in store. Whatever it is, it’ll fatten his pocketbook and ego - his pathological narcissism means the next four years look insecure.
    Because right-wing Republicans control Congress, their radical agenda with that of their Koch-brother-class owners will likely move forward. Without robust Democratic opposition, given the history of mainstream elite Democratic attempts to make nice, we could witness a major reactionary rightward shift.
    If those who object shun the 2018 election, as is their habit, these four years look like hell for America’s most vulnerable. Oh, the privileged, especially well-off white males, will do just fine.
    So, it’s time to do everything it takes to correct a repetition of failures this re-exposes to engineer a better future. However, many of the establishment institutions involved don’t appear ready to make the necessary changes that will move America out of this mess.
    Many are stuck listening to old advisors who told them what they wanted to hear, counseling that demographics would never allow this to happen. This series of columns won’t do that.
    So, here’s step one: admit there’s an insular nature about recommendations reiterated in organizations run by people who aren’t in touch with working-class Americans. It’s a result of listening to isolated advisors who believe they know better just because they’re praised by the insulated.
    Don’t get me wrong, working class Americans have been conned for decades. But when throughout the country they don’t resonate with the advice of the insulated but feel that they’re liberal elites looking down on them as stupid rubes doomed to their prejudices, there‘s little those elites can say or do that will counter the sense that “liberals” see their burden to be correcting poor, unfortunate “middle” Americans.
    People in this country are, in fact, hurting unless they’re a part of the elites on the left and right. Michael Moore and Bernie Sanders, neither coming across as an elite insider, get it, even if the “Democrat” label they’ve taken on causes their marginalization too.
    But this sense that working-class people everywhere, but especially west of the Appalachians and east of the Sierra Nevadas, are a problem to be solved by coastal strategists without even listening to progressive activists who live and work among working people in that middle - because liberal elites know better - enforces the image that “liberals” are out of touch.
    If anything, this election has taught us that if we don’t pay attention to that “middle” that is mocked and spoken of in derogatory terms, its anger and ideas will rule America along with those of the similarly maligned middle south.
    Don’t get me wrong - many coastal activist allies know this. But it’s time to ask, for example, why all the national progressive organizations that dominate the agenda aren’t located in Middle America? That’s a Democratic Party problem shared by many progressive organizations that visit the Middle, it seems, only with advice and hands out.
    Maybe in the past they needed to locate near national seats of power, but the Internet and air travel have made that unnecessary. And when new leaders do arrive on a coast from the Midwest and middle south, it’s interesting how quickly many are caught up in a culture of elites with expectations that are no longer in touch with back home. They’ve often actually fled it.
    Do we need these organizations today to make Connecticut, Boston or New York City bluer? Or is it time to be among people who are moveable but left out?
    I’ve been a progressive activist working with working people in “middle” America for over 30 years, and, with others out here, I’ve seen progressive organizations and activists preference coastal strategists. What do we know, being in the middle of nowhere? We’re supposed to learn from them, not vice versa, just because they’re in blue territory.
    Decades ago I led workshops for a local organization that was successfully working with religious leaders on LGBT issues here in middle America. It’s vitality and progress were measured by the facts that it was self-funded and that beginning workshops on “How Homophobia Hurts Us All” were soon enhanced with advanced follow-up.
    The local organization became merged into a major national LGBT organization that praised the local group’s successful program and said that it intended to use what the local organization was doing as a national model. It made sense out here.
    It was hardly more than a year before the coastal elites of the national organization, who believed they knew better than people in Middle America, announced that they weren’t going to follow up on those promises. They decided to focus on making coastal connections with other elites there and dissolved the local chapter.
    The answer is not to start some “outreach” to Middle America. That approach implies that it’s being looked down on with pity, and thought of the way Christian missionaries treated natives.
    Giving up stereotypes and ending putdowns about working people or flyover country is a beginning. The key is working as equals with the many activists throughout the working-class middle who’ve been advocating for every progressive cause there is - from preventing climate change, to LGBT issues, to ending racism, to workers’ rights, to Democratic policies.
    I’m not sure if established elites are ready to do this. It means that many would need to surrender some of their power and prestige. They might have to affirm that there are good ideas out here in flyover country that work better.
    But if we first don’t move out of the insularity of elites, working people - especially in the middle and the South - will continue to react negatively to what they  perceive to be those liberals on the coasts whom, they think, couldn’t care less about them except when they need to use those unfortunates.
    Next in “What Now?” Part Two: It’s Not Either/Or – Let’s Talk Race.” l

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Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.

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