The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.
As we approach the 2020 election, people are still reflecting on the events of 2016 and how we got to be where we are currently. Aside from calls to abolish the electoral college, which is not out of the question by any means, there are a myriad of opinions about what needs to change for future elections.
Now, before the next election is as good a time to question what the parties stand for as well as what they seem to stand for. It may not seem to liberals as though they are elitist, especially since many of them see themselves as fighting for equity and justice. But the confusing responses to these claims give credit to the critiques and warrants some investigation.
Members of the Democratic party need to change their image and, on a deeper level, their rhetoric and policy. When liberals or democrats are called ‘elitists,’ it is easy to dismiss such claims as ridiculous. However, getting hand-wavy about peoples’ critiques is not only bad politics but a bad practice.
Democratic politicians should be asking “Why would someone perceive liberals as elite?” The answers might also provide insight on how to change that perception if it is possible.
One of the possible reasons for the aforementioned perception hits on a theory developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of human motivation that dissects different motivators for people into categories of a pyramid.
The most basic needs are the physiological. Food and water make up the base, while self-actualization crowns the top. This theory is also applicable to what progressives choose to fight for. While some liberals focus on climate change, addressing racial inequality or reforming the education system, some people are wondering how they are going to feed their families.
All of the aforementioned issues are important and worthwhile battles, but it can be hard to get people to focus on things beyond their immediate perceived reality, and their most basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid. Addressing these social issues before the nation’s economic issues can be seen as elitist and privileged.
During the last presidential election, there were a few factors that brought the sitting president to power, and one was that, to some people, he seemed to identify a problem in the United States: immigrants.
Was the rhetoric and ideology he used during the 2016 campaign the epitome of scapegoating? Absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that if someone, for example, saw problems with unemployment in the United States, the current president gave them an explanation and a proposed solution.
The solution was horrible in theory. In practice, it is much worse, but some people listened to what President Trump had to say initially because he was addressing their frustration and their desires.
The Democratic candidates don’t necessarily have great chances of capturing a large percentage of the people who voted for Trump in the last election, but what they could have a much better chance of doing is capturing the ‘center’ of the United States or capturing the attention of the people who didn’t vote at all during the 2016 election.
In my observation, during a campaign, politicians have a tendency to speak to those who they think will already agree with them, in a way that is catered to them. If the Democratic candidates can break free of that habit and try to consider how to address a wider range of needs with their professed policy goals, their chances of winning the next election will improve significantly.