For those of us who tended to identify with the Democratic Party before being driven away by its capitulation to the post-national, multi-cultural, Martha's Vineyard left, Thomas Frank's latest book, Listen Liberal, is a passionate and even entertaining jeremiad about the party's failure. Published early this year, it is even more relevant after last month's jaw-dropping election.
Subtitled What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, the book covers much of the terrain of my dismay. "Protecting the middle-class society was the Democrats' assigned historic task," Frank writes as he maps out the vast terrain of their failure.
Frank says almost nothing about immigration. But the rising inequality that is his central social concern has been accelerated by mass immigration of low-skilled people fleeing poverty and disorder in their native countries. And rising public anxiety about illegal immigration certainly was a major factor in the election of Donald Trump.
As Frank suggests, Hillary Clinton's Democrats were expecting to ride the rising tide of what journalist Ron Brownstein called "the coalition of the ascendant", comprising "young people, minorities [and] upper middle class white professionals".
The coalition, which was large enough to elect the charismatic Barack Obama twice, could not summon enough enthusiasm to do the job for the uninspiring Clinton. But its demographic momentum is undeniable. That is so, in part, because millennials have made unconstrained inclusiveness a sacred value, and in part because the mass immigration begun half a century ago by a dramatic change in immigration policy has created a large constituency for more of the same.
But the ascendants' time has not yet come. And their confidence in demographic destiny must be shaken by the post-election panorama that was neatly summed up by Mark Shields on last Friday's "PBS News Hour". Here is accounting of what he called the Democrats' "enormous problem""
There are 12 fewer Democratic senators than there were the day that Barack Obama was sworn in. There are 16 fewer Democratic governors than there were that day. Nobody redistricts state lines than there were the day that Barack Obama was sworn in. There are 63 fewer House members. There are fewer Democratic state legislators today in the 50 states than there have been ... since 1900. I look at this and say, the Democratic Party is noncompetitive west of New Jersey, all the way to Carson City, Nevada, with the exception of the blue island of Illinois and Latino-strengthened states of New Mexico and Colorado. Other than that, it's red. And they're not competitive
Thomas Frank, who burst onto the national scene with a takedown of social conservatives titled "What's the Matter With Kansas?" this time does the trick for liberals who marinate themselves in TED Talks and their earnest conviction that the free trade and globalization that are so good for them would also be great for those who once formed the blue-collar middle class if they would only stop whining and reinvent themselves.