Recruitment is the antidote to exhaustion among the anti-Trump majority
New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait had a substantial story earlier this month on “How the coalition that defeated Donald Trump crumbled.”
And not just how it happened, but why - and why it was predictable:
Tragic though it may be, there is nothing that unique or surprising about this development. Exhaustion is a natural by-product of anti-authoritarian politics.
Authoritarianism both creates and feeds upon passion. It summons hatred and promises a decisive clash to resolve the great struggle between good and evil. Trump says things to his supporters like “Together, we’re warriors in a righteous crusade to stop the arsonists, the atheists, globalists, and the Marxists — and that’s what they are — and we will restore our Republic as one nation under God with liberty and justice for all” …
The opponents of authoritarianism may try to match this zeal … But liberals can never promise victory will be final, nor that it will usher in a heaven on earth. In the face of a determined authoritarian movement, loyal democrats can only appeal to maintaining the system with all its flaws. And if they do hang on, they will come back and ask their supporters to hang on again and again.
The whole thing is a must-read.
And it echoes a question we asked two years ago: “Are Democrats too exhausted or distracted to save democracy?”
Chait makes a comprehensive case for both exhaustion and distraction.
Back in 2019, David Brooks wrote of “politics of exhaustion” as the phenomenon by which voters stuck in between the loud, cynical, and apocalyptic movements on the far-right and far-left fringes begin to bow out of political participation in sheer exhaustion. He wrote:
“Years and years of exhaustion have… made these people weary, cynical and disgusted. Exhaustion, as always, induces a sort of pessimism, a feeling that we are living in terrible times, a sort of weariness of the soul. As Peter Stockland of the think tank Cardus put it, ‘The combined effect of fear and exhaustion’ is ‘producing a cynicism so deep and murky and toxic that it verges on the sin of bearing false witness against reality.’ But the chief feature of the voters in the exhausted group is timidity. They do not get energy from conflict, the way, say, Trump does. Their instinct is to keep their heads down and just get through this craziness.”
And that was back in 2019, before you had heard of Covid.
2019, the midpoint between today and back when Jeb Bush was leading the Republican primary polls.
Here in 2024, there’s a new typology of exhaustion and frustration. Last week, The Bulwark featured a breakdown on which groups are cranky these days, and a potential antidote.
Here’s the typology from JVL in “The Feel-Bad Story of the Year: How to be a happy warrior in a time of exhaustion and despair”:
My sense is that no one is having fun. Out in MAGA land people are frothing at the prospect of getting their retribution on the rest of the country. But they’re not having “fun” the way they did in 2016, when they felt like they had discovered what was either the new punk rock or the greatest reality show of all time.
Anti-anti-Trump conservatives are mad that no Republican has emerged to save them from Trump.
Inside Conservatism Inc. and #TeamNormal GOP politics, they now realize that they’re going to have to publicly defend Trump for another year while privately praying for him to go away—either via health event, jury verdict, or electoral defeat. That’s why they’re so cranky.
Low-information independent voters are sour because they’ve signaled—over and over—that they don’t want a Trump-Biden rematch. Now they’re starting to understand that they’re going to get a rematch, good and hard.
The progressive left is angry at Joe Biden because he didn’t deliver the big, progressive policies they wanted and also because he has been a strong and reliable ally for Israel.
The mainstream of the Democratic party is pissed that they have to beat Donald Trump, and a bunch of radical malcontents looking to play spoiler, and a bunch of rich centrist moderates …
That’s the Feel-Bad part.
But there’s also medicine from JVL: “I’ve always admired the “happy warriors” in politics. Not the shit-stirrers, who get off on conflict. I mean the folks who genuinely believed that politics was a tool for making people’s lives better and were in it because they liked people. When I think of happy warriors I think of Bill Kristol above all others.“
JVL calls on people to counter exhaustion with both attitude and action.
And it called to mind a thread from the aforementioned Bill Kristol from two years ago that included this nugget:
In my experience, today's Democrats have been friendly to future former Republicans, interested in their ideas, and actually welcoming. If you knock at the door, they greet you with hospitality. But good politics requires more than random acts of kindness.
Wouldn't it help politically if there were more of an organized, vocal, and coordinated effort to get out there and invite people in and recruit new allies, even new candidates? Democrats could look more to the model of the Salvation Army and less to that of Quaker meetings.
That thread was in response to our article on the “January 7th Democrats” who put democracy on offense after January 6th. The candidates who brought energy to winning over voters in red districts. The candidates who had fun by uniting some of those grumpy groups - the moderates fending off chaos centrists, the #TeamNormal Republicans who needed to be asked to flip, and the independent voters who needed a reason their vote matters.
The Democrats who channeled The Revenge of the Never Trumpers in the midterms, the same type of voters who got Nikki Haley to 45% in New Hampshire.
Being a happy warrior is contagious. But the model matters.