To achieve real change, Biden must change the way Democrats are perceived

On January 20th, if the world hasn’t ended, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the next President of the United States.

My man has his work cut out for him.

Coronavirus. The economy. Racial justice. The climate. And healing a nation that is so divided, it’s on the verge of cracking in half.

But there’s another item Biden must add to his to-do list: Changing the way the Democrats are perceived. Not only by Republicans, but also by those within their own ranks. Like this country, the Democratic party is split — and it’s not a good look.

They’d do well to remember what happened on the other side back in 2009, when the Tea Party was born. That was probably the first step toward the QAnon-driven conspiracy caucus we see today, and I hope no one wants to see a lefty version of that.

Even though we’re not there yet, thankfully, many on the right, from your average finance guy to the nutjobs who stormed the Capitol, still see the left as an existential threat.

In short, Democrats have an image problem.

If Biden is to have a successful term, he’s going to have to get the radical left to avoid the circular firing squad Barack Obama warned about and stop scaring Republicans who think that with Biden in office, America’s going to hell in an over-taxed, socialist, hopelessly woke hand-basket that was made in China.

Let’s break it down:

Freedom: This is the big one, isn’t it? Don’t tread on me, libs! Go back to eating kale at Yale!

According to the Tea Party Patriots’ mission statement, two of its core goals are “personal freedom” and “economic freedom”, (which, by the way, EVERYBODY in America wants.) Under Trump, these goals have morphed into raging, rabid fears.

Perhaps when the Capitol mobsters are locked in prison, it will finally hit them that Trump never gave a hoot about their freedom. He cost them their freedom by running a con job on them. Sent them to do his dirty work while he stayed home and watched TV.

Make no mistake, Trump may end up in prison, too. Avoiding the clink is the real reason he wanted to “stop the steal.” He wanted four more years of cover from the avalanche of indictments he’ll be facing once he’s out of the oval. And then there’s all that money he owes. According to Forbes, he’s in the hole for $1 billion. And with banks cutting ties with him…yikes.

But if you’ve let Trump convince you that Joe Biden, a 78-year-old moderate, represents an existential threat to the United States, I’d advise trying what I’ll call the “deprogramming challenge.” For the next few weeks, consume zero conservative media and only listen to The Brian Lehrer Show. There’s no shouting. No finger-pointing. Just smart, balanced, unbiased reporting. You’re as likely to hear Trump supporters on their air as supporters of “The Squad.” Often in the same segment.

(Those who are firmly in the White Fragility/How To Be An Anti-Racist camp, should consider broadening their horizons, too. Try a little Thomas Chatterton Williams, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes.)

And before you go saying I’m just a condescending, latte-sipping New York liberal singing the praises of highfalutin public broadcasting, according to its website, “NPR is an independent, nonprofit media organization” — meaning it’s not beholden to advertisers or shareholders. And only a pittance of its funding comes from federal, state, and local governments.

I learn from public radio every day, from so much of WNYC’s and NPR’s stellar journalism. I don’t always agree with what I hear, but I don’t listen to have my biases confirmed. I listen to have my mind opened and my understanding deepened.

Because if I can gain a better understanding of where you’re coming from, even if I don’t agree with it, we might move a little closer together, find a little common ground, and arrive in a place where instead of looking for senators to hang or police forces to defund, we can engage in peaceful, productive discussion, and maybe, just maybe, save this democracy.

Some Trump supporters are just plain bonkers. Some put their morals on a shelf and jumped on the bandwagon to protect their cash or their seat in Congress. But the majority got on board because they felt invisible, unheard, worthless, powerless. They were seeking purpose and identity. A group to belong to. Or they were just sick and tired of “elites” talking down to them.

And there came Trump, hitting all the right notes. The charismatic cult leader who said all the right things, infatuating while inflaming. Just like Osama Bin Laden. And Hitler. And every other dictator. They all know just how to work the crowd. How to fill that emptiness and provide that purpose. And Trump did it all, complete with bright red merch.

As Kevin Roose, tech columnist for The New York Times, put it on the Politics with Amy Walter radio show, “Just presenting people with better information doesn’t necessarily lead them to make different choices. I think we really have to start with understanding what’s bringing them into these conspiracy theory communities. Is it loneliness and social isolation? Is it a desire for status and standing within a community, and then we need to find other ways to meet those needs that are less dangerous.”

In other words, we need to find something else to fill that hole. We need to get at the root of what makes people embrace dictators and conspiracy theories — and that’s emotion, plain and simple. The way he or she makes their supporters feel. The reason it’s so maddening to try to argue with Trump supporters using logic or reason is that, often times, logic or reason doesn’t apply. How can you love this clown? I just do!

You’re never going to convince the MAGA crowd that they’ve been had or that Trump hasn’t gotten anything done. Maybe he has. But he’s ruined a lot more. Just Google some photos of the Capitol. It’s a green zone. You know, like they had in Baghdad. Mission accomplished!

Biden can bring over many of the Trumpers if he understands that his job is not only to supercharge the vaccine rollout and enact sensible (a.k.a. not socialist) policies on everything from taxes to the environment and offer them the same emotional gratification Trump did with the added benefit of actually being sincere.

Racial Justice: I’ve written a ton on this subject, so I won’t go on here. But I will issue a strong reminder that if the far left doesn’t wake up to the woefully misguided path of wokeness, it’s going to drive every moderate among it directly into Trumpland. And I’m not just talking about white people.

This is a problem not of cause, but of approach. Everyone should be fighting for racial justice and equality, standing up to stop the killing of innocent black people by the police. But there are some serious issues with messaging.

And I’m not — repeat, not — saying social justice movements need to make themselves palatable to white people in order to succeed. I’m talking about how people — of ALL skin colors — are likely to be turned off by and eventually bail on a movement with an image problem.

In December, Politico ran a piece by Maya King with the headline Black Lives Matter Power Grab Sets Off Internal Revolt. King writes, “The operations of Black Lives Matter have always been opaque, with thousands of members and dozens of affiliates. Two of its three co-founders are no longer affiliated with the movement — even as they continue to represent Black Lives Matter on TV. Local Black Lives Matter activists say national leaders cut them off from funding and decision-making, leaving them broke and taking the movement in a direction with which they fundamentally disagree.”

I’d also argue it’s pretty darn biased to assume that all people of color are on board with BLM’s approach or think the protests that occurred over the summer will add up to anything. According to the Gallup Center on Black Voices, “The vast majority of Black Americans feel connected to the protests’ cause, but still, a sizable one in five do not believe these events will result in any meaningful change.”

In 2015, Barbara Reynolds, a Black journalist who was an editorial board member and columnist for USA Today for more than a dozen years and an activist who helped register blacks to vote in 1965, wrote a piece for The Washington Post called, I was a civil rights activist in the 1960s. But it’s hard for me to get behind Black Lives Matter.

Further, I am about as far as you can get from a Clarence Thomas fan, but Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal does make a valid point about not assuming that the majority of black people are aligned with the most radical among them. In fact, most people — of all races — are in favor of moderation. And moderation doesn’t mean selling out. It means meeting in the middle, which, like it or not, is the only way we can start moving the ball down the field. Because right now, I think we can all agree, it ain’t moving nowhere.

It’s easy to denounce the Capitol insurrectionists and the mobs who rioted and set fires last summer. It’s trickier and more risky to take issue, for example, with the protesters who shouted down Minneapolis mayor (and civil rights attorney) Jacob Frey and suggest that perhaps that move isn’t one the majority of Black people are on board with. In fact, Riley writes, to assume this is “belittling black people who dare to think for themselves.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could take a lesson on approach as well. In 2019, Politico reported on how her fellow Democrats had quickly grown “exasperated” by her. According to the piece, “She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio-Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.”

Did you catch the part where it says this is someone in “lockstep” with AOC’s ideology? In other words, dude, you’re alienating your own — including, apparently, Nancy Pelosi. I’m all for speaking truth to power, but if a woman who raised five children and then became Speaker of the House calls for a tad more humility and respect, you might want to heed that call. Not everything is an out-of-touch racially biased attack. Sometimes it’s just good advice.

Speaking of good advice, two years ago, former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams wrote a playbook laying out recommendations on how Democrats could win Georgia and the country in 2020. It’s clear, concise, and practical. Race runs through the entire document as it relates to strategy. There’s no space wasted on emotional diatribes. It’s all about showing candidates the path to victory using data and research. And guess what? Democrats won Georgia and the country in 2020.

Taxes: Guys, do you remember what Biden said back in June to a gathering of wealthy donors, which reportedly included including former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, and Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Stephen Scherr?

Biden said he doesn’t want to “demonize” rich people. Further, he promised, “No one’s standard of living will change.”

So breathe easy, Wall Streeters.

According to Biden’s web site he will “not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. Period. But he will ask wealthy Americans and big corporations to pay their fair share.”

What does that mean?

Well, according to Americans for Tax Fairness, the collective wealth of America’s 651 billionaires has jumped by more than $1 trillion since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to $4 trillion at market close on Monday, December 7, 2020. If you want to feel totally nauseated, check out this chart.

This is happening while more than 390,000 people have died of Covid in the United States and the unemployment rate is 6.7%.

That doesn’t seem fair.

And here’s the thing: NO ONE WANTS TO PAY HIGHER TAXES.

I get it, Bernie’s railing about “the richest one percent” for the past few years didn’t do Biden any favors. But Bernie was so very right about income inequality. An issue Martin Luther King III urges us to think about on this day when we honor and celebrate his father. It’s just that Bernie’s approach scared the daylights out of a lot of people, who, as a result, held their noses and pulled the lever for Trump. (Wake up, woke people!)

But let’s be real. Biden ain’t Bernie. So all you nervous Republicans, take a chill and give the new Prez a chance. Don’t decide he’s going to cramp your style before he’s even in office. I’m guessing you’ll still be driving that Benz in four years.

You can read Biden’s tax proposals here. But among the highlights:

  • Will not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000.
  • Raise the corporate rate from 21% to 28%.
  • Raise the top individual income rate back to 39.6% from 37%.
  • Ask those making more than $1 million to pay the same rate on investment income that they do on their wages.

That last item is probably the one that has traditional Republicans steamed. You know, the ones who want the government out of their pocket, still believe in trickle-down, think money will be much more efficiently and productively used if left in the hands of private enterprise, and insist that everyone benefits from tax cuts on the rich.

A new paper, published by London School of Economics’ International Inequalities Institute, examines 18 developed countries over a 50-year period from 1965 to 2015. The study, conducted by Dr. David Hope and Dr. Julian Limberg, compared countries that passed tax cuts in a specific year, such as the U.S. in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan slashed taxes on the wealthy, with those that didn’t, and then examined their economic outcomes.

Dr. Hope said, “Our research shows that the economic case for keeping taxes on the rich low is weak. Major tax cuts for the rich since the 1980s have increased income inequality, with all the problems that brings, without any offsetting gains in economic performance.”

Dr Limberg reports, “Our results might be welcome news for governments as they seek to repair the public finances after the COVID-19 crisis, as they imply that they should not be unduly concerned about the economic consequences of higher taxes on the rich.”

So can we finally dispense with the myths surrounding tax cuts for the rich? Just admit there’s no altruistic reason you want to keep your dough, you just want to keep it. And then pay your fair share.

Business innovation: I’m still puzzling out exactly what a person means when they say they vote Republican because they’re in favor of business innovation. Is the implication that Democrats are not?

Or are you saying you’re in favor of a lower corporate tax rate because that benefits all Americans? If so, I don’t think it does. But it sure benefits wealthy Americans.

In 2019, Trump and his cohort in Congress cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The Trump administration claimed these cuts would translate into higher wages for workers and induce corporations to investment big in factories, equipment, and R&D. In other words: boost innovation.

As it turns out, that didn’t happen.

According a 2019 piece by Galen Hendricks, Seth Hanlon, and Michael Madowitz of the The Center for American Progress, an independent nonpartisan policy institute, two years into Trump’s term his cuts had failed to translate into gains for the average American household, failed to lead to a boom in business investment, and failed to raise corporate revenue (in fact, it dropped precipitously).

In conclusion, the writers say, “the 2017 tax cuts have largely served to line the pockets of already wealthy investors — further increasing inequality — with little to show for it.”

Given all that, I still don’t see all Republicans as money-grubbing, selfish pigs. And I hope all Republicans don’t see Democrats as lazy losers with their hands out.

But we should all agree that good ideas, imagination, and enterprise don’t belong to any one political party. And perpetuating the idea that they do, that those who, say, support a progressive tax rate are anti-innovation, hurts all of us. So why don’t we dispense with that myth, too. How’s that for an innovative idea?

Immigration: You may not remember, but when Trump began campaigning for President back in December 2015, he was all about terrorism. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken at the time, Americans were “more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, a gnawing sense of dread that has helped lift [Trump] to a new high among Republican primary voters.”

But when was the last time you checked whether the terrorism-advisory level was at yellow or orange? Or you looked twice at who was sitting next to you on an airplane (pre-Covid, obvi)? The answer is: So long ago, you don’t even remember.

Thanks to Trump, fear of immigrants has moved front and center. All those Mexican drug-dealers and rapists who are pouring across the border to take our jobs. The “invasion”, as Trump has called it, of “killers”, “predators” and “animals”. Ironic, given what happened at the Capitol.

Oh, I see. It’s the “illegals” that are the problem.

To be clear: I do not think people who’ve committed violent crimes should be allowed into this country. Period. But imagine you’re living in Mexico and a gang leader has promised to decapitate your 12-year-old unless he starts muling for his cartel. Can we find some compassion in our hearts for them?

Let’s also conside the person who commited a non-violent crime years ago in Mexico. Just like the thousands upon thousands of Americans who’ve done the same here. (What up, white-collar crooks!) Yes, they have a criminal record, but provided they did their time, can’t we welcome them here? Wouldn’t we want that second chance? Isn’t that what America’s all about?

And let’s ask ourselves who really has the potential to do more damage: The immigrant who dealt a dimebag a decade ago or the Dr. Feel Good who’s doling out the Oxy generously supplied to him by Big Pharma?

Here’s hoping the Dems polish up that image and quell fears so we can emerge from the nightmare of the last four years more united and with real hope for a better future for all of us.

Writer, athlete, mom, sports fan. New York City native. Probably the only person on earth who has interviewed Derek Jeter and written dialogue for Susan Lucci.

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