In his 1878 novel, “Return of the Native,” Thomas Hardy wrote: “Successful propagandists have succeeded because the doctrine they bring into form is that which their listeners have for some time felt without being able to shape.”
But aren’t Democrats the party of the poor, of empathy for the vulnerable?
During the Great Depression, it was the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt who, in a time of crisis, introduced Social Security and other programs that staved off what might have been widespread social unrest. Later, under Democratic administrations, Medicare helped alleviate the health crisis faced by millions of aging Americans. More recently, Obamacare has attempted to address the plight of those lacking affordable health care.
Can Democrats do it again?
Under the current circumstances, I think it unlikely. Sen. Bernie Sanders has touched the hearts of many who feel disenfranchised. At a Sanders rally in Greensboro some months back, I was struck by the fervor of the thousands in attendance, most of them young. Their enthusiasm showed that it isn’t just middle-aged Rust Belt workers displaced by NAFTA and other trade deals who hunger for change. It includes the young who are entering adulthood burdened with debt and encountering limited opportunities.
Clinton, like most of us I suspect, never enters the world of the alienated. Perhaps she should take a break from campaigning and spend a week with a group of Trump supporters, not telling them what she will do for them but letting them tell her who they are, why they are angry, why they have lost faith in the American dream. Then there would be hope.
A more likely outcome is that, come November, Hillary Clinton will be elected president and little will change. Trump’s moment in the spotlight will end, but the pain and resentment of the invisible millions will continue. They will be on the lookout for another savior, someone else to give form to their discontent.
William Powers, a retired professor of sociology, lives in Chapel Hill.