The Liberals Didn’t Listen: The Immense Cost of Ignoring Tom Frank’s Warnings

By William K. Black
November 8, 2016     Kansas City, MO

I am writing this article late on election night in my office at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, about a mile from the home in which Tom Frank grew up just over the state line in Kansas.  Beginning with his famous book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, first published in 2004, Tom Frank has been warning the Democratic Party of the increasing cost it was paying by abandoning and even attacking the working class, particularly the white working class.  Some political scientists tried to savage his work, pointing to Bill Clinton’s electoral success and arguing that the disaffected members of the working class were also less likely to vote.  Frank returned to the theme just in time for this election with a new book – Listen, Liberal – that documents in damning, lively narrative the New Democrats’ war on the New Deal, their disdain for organized labor, and their antipathy for what they viewed as retrograde white working class attitudes.

Frank kept showing the enormous price the working class were paying as a result of the economic policies of the Republicans and the New Democrats, and the indifference to their plight by the leaders of the New Democrats.  Senator Bernie Sanders consciously took up the cause of reducing surging inequality and became a hero to a broad coalition of voters, many of them fiercely opposed to the New Democrats’ embrace of Wall Street cash, policies, and arrogance.  Sanders set records for small donor fundraising and generated enormous enthusiasm.  Sanders knew he would face the opposition of the New Democrats, but he also found that progressive congressional Democrats would rarely support him publicly in the contest for the Party’s nomination and even union leaders sided overwhelmingly with Secretary Hillary Clinton, the New Democrats’ strongly preferred candidate.

Hillary did not simply fail to reach out to the working class voters that the New Democrats had turned their backs on for decades, she infamously attacked them as “deplorables.”  This was exactly the group of potential voters that was enraged because it believed, correctly as Tom Frank keeps showing us, that the New Democrats looked down on them and adopted policies that rigged the system against the working class.  Hillary’s insult confirmed their most powerful bases for their rage against her.  Her insult was an early Christmas present to Trump.  Her attempt to walk the insult back was doomed.

Hillary Clinton handled things so miserably that she allowed a plutocrat whose career is based on rigging the system against the working class to become the hero of the working class.  That is world-class incompetence.  Had she followed Tom Frank’s advice she would today be the President-elect.  The real cost, however, of her failure will be enormous damage to our democracy, the safety of the world, and the damage that President Trump will do to the working class as he systematically betrays their interests.

The first test of whether the Wall Street-wing of the Democratic Party has learned any of the lessons Tom Frank tried to teach them is whether President Obama will continue with his threat to try to have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) approved by the lame duck session of Congress.  Obama, who was elected on the promise that he would stop TPP, should listen to Senators Sanders and Warren and honor his promise to the voters to stop TPP.  He must begin the process of the Democrats winning back the support of the working class.

The leaders of the democratic-wing of the Democratic Party need to move forward assertively to retake control of their Party.  The current head of the DNC has been exposed as part of the effort to prevent Senator Sanders from winning the nomination.  She should resign tomorrow.  The Clintons should cease acting as Party leaders.

A period of enormous corruption and elite fraud is coming soon as the Trump administration brings its signature characteristic – crony capitalism – to bear to control all three branches of government.  Trump promises to deregulate Wall Street, appoint top supervisors chosen for their unwillingness to supervise, and appoint judges who will allow CEOs to loot with impunity.  Trump promises to outdo even the savage anti-media and anti-whistleblower policies of the Obama administration.  The House and Senate committee chairs will intensify their blatantly partisan use of investigations while refusing to conduct real oversight hearings revealing the elite fraud and corruption.

The progressive Senate Democrats will have to be innovative and stalwart in these circumstances to find ways to blow the whistle repeatedly on the mounting corruption.  Their challenge will be to lead despite having no real institutional power.  Democrats should start by doing what they should have done in 2004 – take Tom Frank’s warnings deadly seriously.

12 responses to “The Liberals Didn’t Listen: The Immense Cost of Ignoring Tom Frank’s Warnings

  1. madame de farge

    The ‘Deplorable’ comment was Hillarys ‘Let them eat cake’ comment. If only she had selected Bernie for her running mate. Oh well, HUBRIS wins again.

  2. congrats trump.. I guess animal like trump can only win in animal kingdom like America. same can be said about George w Bush. America you are not learning..

  3. John Zelnicker

    Not gonna happen. These New Dems are going to double down and blame everyone but themselves. I can’t remember his name (I’m getting old), but there was a pundit who talked about retribution against the Sanders supporters once Clinton had won her deserved place in the White House (Ha!). This is exactly what we can expect. I also think the blame cannons will be aimed at those “deplorables” who just didn’t “get it”. Lessons will not be learned, the bubble is impenetrable.

  4. Looks like we dodged a bullet — nuclear war — the Democrats and liberals shot themselves in the foot. Now there is a bit more political space in the chaos which will likely follow. Tried neocons — didn’t work. Tried neoliberals — didn’t work. Tried paleo-conservatism, imperialism and endless wars, and US exceptionalism — didn’t work.

    Now is the time for something new, anarcho-socialism: a non-authoritarian transcendence of simple right-left one dimensional thinking, with economic as well as political democracy. First stage was getting Trump and his camp of aristocrats in; second stage is getting them out again, or transforming those who are susceptible and able. It’s still class war but the tide is turning.

  5. But the big problem is that the so-called progressives in America ARE the corrupt ones. That’s the heart of thus problem. They showed their true colors and screwed the working class. This so-called progressive president governed to the right of Richard Nixon.
    Obama protected the banksters as you well know, Bill. He didn’t do it once. He did it 3 times and bribed the states like California to stop them from continuing their cases in the courts.
    The Clinton Foundation sure looks like a money laundry to me – a money laundry for peddling influence to anyone, anywhere in the world, who will pay.
    The Clinton machine may have stolen the Democratic primary, and smugly corrupted the debates. If that was the only, thing, maybe I could deal with it. But it’s not.
    I voted for Hillary, but this morning I feel very relieved that Trump won because he will dial down the tension with Russia. Hillary made it clear that she would continue the policy that got us the Ukraine coup that we immediately backed as the government. Ukraine is the historical invasion route into Russia, and we gave them a civil war on their border and blamed them for it. And Hunter Biden, our vice president’s son, has traded on his White House connections to make $4 billion since that coup. Hillary made clear that she would seek regime change in Syria still, a policy that created the refugee crisis, and Trump wants to change that. So that’s all great relief.

    Other things worry me with Trump. Social issues. Racism. Abortion. Supreme Court. Worsening inequality.

    • Yeah those are the rather minuscule silver linings to this catastrophe: the possible lessening of tension with Russia & Assad.
      Aside from that, we’re all pretty screwed.
      And the kicker is, Bernie would’ve clobbered trump. Thanks, DNC. Wasserman-Schultz should be strung up.

  6. It took the Italians 22 years to throw off the yoke of fascist crony capitalism. We have suffered through 48 years of it already. Will someone please sharpen the meat hooks?

  7. Bill, you are so right about Frank. But the New Democrats seem to be incapable of learning, not unlike neoclassical economists. Here is a link to Frank’s article in the UK Guardian on Trump’s election victory. — ‘Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there’.

    I am not shocked by Trump’s victory, as Clinton was a terrible candidate, but I am worried. We can only hope that he doesn’t prove to be as bad as some people think he might be. Chakrabortty of the UK Guardian thinks that, in the macroeconomic arena, Trump will basically follow Reaganomic ideas.

    The author of The Art of the Deal believes Trump to be a psychopath. He was very close to Trump for over a year, shadowed him more or less. Although we don’t know what Trump would score on the Hare Psychopathy CheckList Revised, the best psychological instrument for assessing psychopathy, from what I have seen, he exhibits many of the traits of this personality disorder.

  8. In order for the Democratic Party to heed Frank’s warnings, its leaders would need to repudiate their core values and beliefs. One look at the candidates backed by the DNC, DSCC, and DCCC – and the progressives they fought to exclude – is proof of that.

    What are the odds that just a few, much less hundreds of New Democrats in national offices, appointed positions, and party leaders will have a simultaneous “Road to Damascus” moment? More likely, we are about to witness a tooth-and-claw struggle to retain what power remains to them, with all of the fabrication, denial, prevarication, and temporizing that implies.

  9. Professor Mark Crispin Miller discusses election theft,
    Professor Miller discusses case of Bernie Sanders just after 5:00 min mark, ~ 5:18.
    Sanders could have been president elect.

  10. Fine. But do you really want a criminal, a pathological liar, a war monger, a total Wall St. stooge, as President? She is part and parcel of the immense corruption of the system–a corruption which you’ve taken the trouble to elucidate in part. She would hold zero hope of fixing that. This is the problem with liberals: ideological tunnel vision and “molesse intellectuelle.” Not that the “conservatives” are any better, for different reasons. Intellectual life in the US and in the West generally is in a shambles. You can thank the counterculture for most of it, and more fundamentally the likes of their mentor generally, the disgusting Frankfurt School, so well elucidated by Ralph Toledano. The likes of him or of a Richard Weaver can scarcely be found today.

  11. I have a feeling that this election is going to soon result neat trick where suddenly the president is fighting half his own party in congress since in reality Trump did not win by much (to the point of actually losing the popular vote despite winning the electoral college on very very thin margins in states at that) and did not really bring much along for the ride with regard to the legislature. Even given the control of both houses and the president, it’s only just so on both ends, one seat in the Senate (may change to 2 seats pending a runnoff in Louisania) and approximately 40 seats in the house. There could easily be enough infighting between “normal” republicans and Trump supportive Tea Party/Freedom caucus sorts to stall legislation.

    This is especially troublesome in the house if Paul Ryan and Trump end up fighting one another over some policy issues. I find this extremely likely given the whole TPP thing which is a darling of Ryan and that would be used as a sledgehammer against Trump as a fraud and the party in general if he goes back on his word to try and kill it. Ryan could also not be elected speaker of the house. This would probably be a less likely outcome but more crippling to any legislative agendas. If a compromise is made between the sides of the Republican party I would expect the same result as the Paul Ryan Speakership and could open a revolving door of House Speaker elections. The very rarest outcome, one that will probably not happen but that would be still even more crippling to Trump, would be the “normal” Republicans joining with Democrats to select a Democratic party leader or someone more in line with normal policy. Best case for Trump, the house again ends up deadlocked. Worst case, the Democratic party adopts and pummels the senate and Trump with passed economic policy bills aimed squarely to help those people he said turned out for him that would actually give net economic gains. These would be items such as the Jobs Guarantee Program, real infrastructure projects such as road, public schools, improved rail, electric, and communication lines, forgiven student load debt, and free tech school/college/university tuition. Basically policies that again force him to either put his political money where his mouth is and campaign for them while fighting his own party or be caught as someone unwilling, unable, or who flat out lied and defrauded voters with regards to his governmental policy.

    If the House and Trump somehow get along, on the Senate side, I highly doubt there is sufficient political capitol or eagerness to alter Senate rules as they currently stand with regards to the filibuster. It’s way too powerful of a political tool to completely do away with in its current form while having a currently single seat lead. If it is removed and they then lose control of the senate it will be the political equivalent of having handed over a big stick with a nail through the end to the Democratic Party, giving them two since they would already have one ready to swing themselves by having control of the Senate.