The results also put the Donald Trump phenomenon in a new perspective. Trump was necessary to smash the old G.O.P. and to turn the party into a vanguard of anti-elite resistance. But by 2020, with his moral degradation and all the rest, he was also holding back Republicans. If Republicans can find candidates who oppose the blue oligarchy but without too much Trumpian baggage, they can win over some former Biden voters in places like Virginia and New Jersey.
Democrats would be wise to accept the fact that they have immense social and cultural power, and accept the responsibilities that entails by adopting what I’d call a Whole Nation Progressivism.
America is ferociously divided on economic, regional, racial and creedal lines. The job of leaders is to stand above these divides and seek to heal them. The job of leaders is not to impose their values on everyone else; it is to defend a pluralistic order in which different communities can work out their own values.
From F.D.R. and L.B.J. on down, Democrats have been good at healing economic divides. The watered-down spending bill struggling its way through Congress would be an important step to redistribute resources to people and places that have been left behind.
But Democrats are not good at thinking about culture, even though cultural issues drive our politics. You can’t win a culture war by raising the minimum wage. In fact, if politics are going to be all culture war — as Republicans have tried to make them — I suspect Democrats can’t win it at all.
Democrats need a positive moral vision that would start by rejecting the idea that we are locked into incessant conflict along class, cultural, racial and ideological lines. It would reject all the appurtenances of the culture warrior pose — the us/them thinking, exaggerating the malevolence of the other half of the country, relying on crude essentialist stereotypes to categorize yourself and others.
It would instead offer a vision of unity, unity, unity. That unity is based on a recognition of the complex humanity of each person — that each person is in the act of creating a meaningful life. It would reject racism, the ultimate dehumanizing force, but also reject any act that seeks to control the marketplace of ideas or intimidate those with opposing views. It would reject ideas and movements that seek to reduce complex humans to their group identities. It would stand for racial, economic and ideological integration, and against separatism, criticizing, for example, the way conservatives are often shut out from elite cultural institutions.