Opinion: Liberal enthusiasm, working-class policies needed to bridge the political divide
At the State Capitol post-election protest on Nov. 7. Photo by Benjamin Burton.
On Oct. 17, a group of supporters for President Donald Trump gathered in Salem’s Bush Pasture Park. Among this crowd and the leaders that organized it were members of a far-right group, the Proud Boys. Fresh from making national news after inciting violence in Portland and Salem, the designated hate group openly carried weapons around, dressed in full tactical gear, and openly drank across the street from family neighborhoods while speakers called for further support for the incumbent president. While there were no reported acts of violence on that day, a little over a month before the Bush Park gathering, counter protesters at a Labor Day rally were attacked by Proud Boys at the Oregon State capitol. At times it seems like a daunting task to prevent violence like this, but with an understanding of what fuels neo-fascist movements and how to prevent them from gaining more power both by encouraging and empowering those against them, as well as placing in safety nets to keep others from falling into hate groups, stopping the alarming rise of bigotry in America will become a much more straightforward task.
What would cause a seemingly large number of people from all across the Northwest to drive to Portland or Salem in search of trouble in cities they don’t even live in? A lot of people might correctly argue that this kind of behavior is encouraged by the man who has the highest position of power in the United States, but this kind of right-wing resentment has been around in Oregon for a lot longer than Donald Trump has been in office. Now that Joe Biden has defeated Trump in the 2020 election, some people might become apathetic towards anti-bigotry causes, creating the perfect storm for groups like the Proud Boys to further cement their place in Oregon’s political scene.
Even though Trump alone isn’t the main cause in the rise of neo-fascist groups, his rhetoric and campaign certainly opened the door for them to step out into public view. Ever since he announced his run for the presidency in 2015, Donald Trump has used the anger and frustration of his mostly white working class followers to scapegoat people of color, immigrants and liberals for all of the economic troubles that have plagued working class and lower middle class families since the 2008 recession. This pushed him to win in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan where there are large white working class populations. But Oregon isn’t anything like those three states; in fact, it was one of the heaviest supporters for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and for Joe Biden in 2020. So how has Oregon become an unwilling poster child for right-wing activism in the past few years?
To answer this question, it’s important to look at Oregon’s election results in 2020. According to the New York Times election results, 56.5 percent of Oregonians voted for Biden (up from 50.1 percent for Clinton in 2016), 40.4 percent voted for Trump (up from 39.1 percent for Trump in 2016), and only 3.1 percent voted for third party candidates or write-ins (down from 10.8 percent in 2016). Looking at the county by county results, Biden support topped out at 79.2 percent support in Multnomah County yet failed to reach 70 percent in any other county in Oregon. Trump, on the other hand, passed the 70 percent mark in 9 different counties. Now it’s incredibly important to note that the majority of counties that heavily voted for Trump had far fewer total votes cast than the counties that had even a weak majority for Biden. Biden’s closest victory was in Marion County with only a one percent difference between him and Trump, yet the 80,138 people who voted for Biden in Marion County surpassed the total number of voters in all nine of the counties that heavily favored Trump combined.
But 40.4 percent of voters in Oregon still accounts for 949,646 people, and while all 949,646 people had their different reasons for voting for Trump, there are still some common themes amongst them. According to the Pew Research Center, two particularly heated subjects, racial injustice and general distrust of government, separated most Biden supporters from most Trump supporters. Taking all of these pieces into account and after a summer full of protesting and racial tension influencing an increase in general distrust on both sides of long-standing institutions, it's no surprise the reaction from the right has been so intense, and sometimes even bordering on violent.
This is why anyone who stands for equity in society and stands against bigotry in all forms must not get complacent during the Biden administration. It can be argued that complacency amongst liberal voters pre-2016 is a big reason why Donald Trump was able to get into office, and why so many people still support him to no end even after he lost the election. While Trump himself will leave the presidency, he opened the door for more like him to come, and there’s a strong possibility that whoever will come through that open door will do more harm to this country than Trump did. But this damage is preventable. The two main ways that we can prevent this from happening is to ensure enthusiasm amongst left and liberal leaning people in this country keeps growing as the years go by, as well as supporting policies that would benefit working class communities across the nation.
Historically, enthusiasm amongst voters is relatively easy to come by, but extremely hard to keep. We saw this during Barack Obama’s administration when he won 53 percent of the popular vote in 2008 and 51 percent of the popular vote in 2012. While this drop in the popular vote could be attributed to an overall drop in total voter participation (131,313,820 total votes were cast in 2008 compared to 129,085,410 in 2012,) it could also be contributed to a disappointing mid-term election in 2010 in which Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives as well as losing key seats in the Senate. This drop in enthusiasm opened the door for an electoral Trump victory in 2016 and sent the Democratic party into a search for a new identity and a new cause.
Some of the enthusiasm that was seen during the 2008 election came back to the Democratic voters in the 2020 election, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that enthusiasm persists. While continuously winning elections both national and local is a major key to this, policy implementations will be the boost that Democrats need. If the Democrats embrace a single payer healthcare option, if they embrace a green new deal, or promise to alleviate college tuitions, then the party support will be there for them. The trouble comes when you look at the popularity of some of these policies among Trump voters. In almost all of those examples above the majority of Republican voters did not support the proposed policy; 34 percent were for healthcare, 28 percent for green new deal and 39 percent for tuition free college. But there is room for change. In all three of those cases, young Republicans favored all three policies far more than older Republicans did and support in general amongst conservatives for a healthcare option has been steadily growing the past few years.
Most of these policies are made to support working class people of all backgrounds, it doesn't matter if it’s the white working class that voted Trump in Eastern Oregon or the multicultural “new working class” that voted for Biden in Portland, they will be supported by a lot of these changes. While both parts of the solution, they can and will have long lasting positive effects for people of all demographics. A government-run healthcare system that puts people’s needs over the need for profit, accountability for big corporations and the people that run them and equal access to higher education are all policies that will not only boost confidence amongst liberal to left leaning voters, but will be a major first step in fixing some of the bridges burnt during the Trump administration.