The materialist party: The Democrats fail to take on Trumpism

We’ve learned a few things about the Democratic Party. First, it’s still fundamentally a materialist party. The Trumpian challenge is primarily a moral and cultural challenge. But the Democrats are mostly comfortable talking about how to use federal spending to extend benefits. Some Democrats want to spend a lot more (Medicare for all, free college education), and some want to spend less, but their basic instinct is that national problems can be addressed with more federal money. Their basic political instinct is that you win votes by offering material benefits.

Second, we’ve learned that when Democrats do raise a moral argument, it tends to be of the social justice warrior variety. The core argument in this mode is that the oppressive structures of society marginalize women, minorities and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. communities.

It turns out that if your basic logic is that distinct identity groups are under threat from an oppressive society, it’s very hard to then turn around and defend that society from authoritarian attack, or to articulate any notion of what even unites that society. You can appeal to women as women and to ethnic groups as ethnic groups, but it’s very hard to make a universal appeal to Americans as Americans, or defend the basic American norms that Trump calls into question. It’s a messaging vulnerability that Democrats have imposed upon themselves.