Egypt's stocks close in red on Monday as benchmark EGX 30 dips 0.07%    Egypt's stocks start week higher, benchmark EGX 30 gains 0.48%    Fitch affirms Egypt's long-term foreign currency issuer default rating at B+    The unvaccinated prohibited from entry to Egypt state institutions starting December 1    Russia to lift COVID restrictions on flights to Egypt's Red Sea resorts on Nov. 9    Egypt, Greece ink deal for first subsea power link between Europe and Africa    Egypt hosts regional conference of EU refugee agency EASO    SCOHRE sparks discussion on harm reduction, tobacco control    Egypt to receive first of six high-trains from Spain's Talgo in mid-November    Egypt's iron and steel exports jump 197% in 8 months    Ethiopia halts work at its embassy in Egypt for 'economic reasons'    It's a bit frustrating to draw at home: Real Madrid keeper after Villarreal game    Russia says it's in sync with US, China, Pakistan on Taliban    Shoukry reviews with Guterres Egypt's efforts to achieve SDGs, promote human rights    Sudan says countries must cooperate on vaccines    Over 100 officials resign from Tunisia's main Islamist party    Johnson & Johnson: Second shot boosts antibodies and protection against COVID-19    Egypt to tax bloggers, YouTubers    Egyptian court bans use of mosques for political purposes    Brazil calls up 8 EPL players for World Cup qualifying    Refugees in fear as sentiment turns against them in Turkey    We mustn't lose touch: Muller after Bayern win in Bundesliga    Egypt records 36 new deaths from Covid-19, highest since mid June    Egypt sells $3 bln US-dollar dominated eurobonds    Sisi calls on House, Senate to commence second legislative sessions on 3, 5 October    Huawei Technologies has invested $10 mln over 5 years in innovation centres in Egypt    Gamal Hanafy's ceramic exhibition at Gezira Arts Centre is a must go    Italian Institute Director Davide Scalmani presents activities of the Cairo Institute for ITALIANA.IT platform    Qa'a play showing at Lycee El Horreya Theatre, Alexandria is a must go    Orange Egypt Introduces Amazon Prime Video    Tokyo Olympics: Cautious opening ceremony, shy start for Egyptians in competitions    Mallawi Museum in Upper Egypt holds recycling workshop for children during Eid Al-Adha    Egypt keen on stable tax policies to attract more investors: Finance Minister    Sudan declares state of emergency as water goes beyond Merowe Dam capacity    Niagara Falls illuminated in Egyptian flag to mark 23 July Revolution anniversary    Capital flows into EM keep recovering after March 2020 slump: Central Bank of Egypt    1 child orphaned every 12 seconds due to COVID-19-associated death: World Bank    Egypt, Japanese Olympic Committee discuss boosting sports cooperation    US emphasises AU's role in mediating Ethiopian damdispute    Ethiopia ready to resume dam talks with no legally binding agreements: Ethiopian official    Sunken city of Thônis-Heracleion in Egypt's Abu Qir bay yields new archaeological treasures    New films, concerts, and destinations for Eid Al-Adha holidays    Egypt, Oman discuss enhancing bilateral economic, investment relations    Al Ahly v Kaizer Chiefs: Cairo giants eye 10th CAF Champions League title    Tunisia hopes to have a UN role in resolving Egypt-Ethiopia dam dispute    APO Group enters new exclusive agreement with Getty Images on African press releases and images    On International Museum Day, Egypt opens two new museums at Cairo Airport    Old Cairo's Al-Fustat will be revamped on Egyptian President's directives    

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The Challenge we face
Published in Ahram Online on 28 - 04 - 2020

In last week's column, I cautioned that in the face of the severe economic dislocation currently experienced by so many families across the United States, we could expect to see the emergence of a number of political and social movements. Shocks to the system always result in such reactions. Sometimes these will be spontaneous, while in other instances they are fomented. And sometimes they are inspired by what Abraham Lincoln called “our better angels,” while others are led by those who prey on the fear and anxiety created by the dislocation.
We may have seen the beginning of one type of response this past week as right-wing media figures and organizations called for demonstrations in state capitals. They were demanding an end to the emergency lockdown measures that had been ordered to control the spread of the Coronavirus. The protesters carried signs decrying the lockdowns, playing on themes of freedom and individual rights: “You can't quarantine the Constitution;” “My rights don't end where your fear starts;” “My rights Trump your fear.” Signs supporting President Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again” were also prevalent.
For his part, President Donald Trump encouraged these protests issuing, in rapid succession, a number of tweets reading “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Michigan,” and then, ominously “Liberate Virginia, and save your great second Amendment. It is under siege” — targeting only states led by governors who are Democrats.
This was a classic Trump and Republican tactic — shifting the blame to the “establishment” and decrying lost freedoms at the hands of those in government. In this instance, however, such an approach seemed ironic since Trump now heads the federal government, and he, himself, has issued orders promoting lockdowns.
The President also took another page from his tried and true playbook by preying on his supporters' fears and resentments. In just the past week, he incited against China (which he holds singularly responsible for the virus), Muslims (whom he suggested were being accorded special consideration not given to Christians and Jews), immigrants (whom he charged were taking jobs from Americans) and, of course, Democrats (who were accused of threatening individual freedoms).
It appears, in all of this, that the president and his party want to repurpose the tactics they used with some success after the great recession of 2008-2009. Back then, they also incited against foreigners (focusing on immigrants, who the party claimed brought crime and stole jobs from citizens); Arabs and Muslims (who were said to be threatening American values and security); Blacks and Latinos (whom the GOP claimed were receiving unfair advantages) and the Democrats' efforts to expand health care coverage (which they charged would place health care in the hands of big government bureaucrats).
These tactics worked, creating the mass movement that ultimately gave rise to Trumpism. In the process, Republicans were able to turn many white middle-class voters, who felt ignored, betrayed, and anxious about their futures, into a base of support for economic policies that went against their own self-interest.
During the last decade, while Republicans were spreading this divisive message of fear, Democrats failed to find an effective response. They did project high-minded slogans — “We're Stronger Together.” They advocated complicated policy goals — immigration reform focusing largely on the undocumented, and a trillion-dollar, job-creating infrastructure program. And they intensified and updated their fundraising and social media strategies. In all of this, they succeeded in energizing what had become the Democrats' support base of minority, young, and educated women voters. But they failed to erode the support for Trump and Trumpism. In fact, the way Democrats went about approaching these issues may have served to exacerbate the national divide.
Three examples are worth noting:
During the entire debate over immigration reform, I pressed the White House and Democrats to expand the discussion to include immigrants from other regions of the world. For example, official tallies show that there are tens of thousands of Irish, Polish, and other Europeans who are undocumented. Why are they not, I asked, included in our discussion? My appeal fell on deaf ears and the issue continued to be presented as if only Latinos had a stake in addressing this concern.
In 2014, following the Democratic Party's devastating losses in the November mid-term elections, the party's pollster made a presentation to a DNC executive committee meeting. His upbeat message was that, despite the losses, there was good news in that election because we maintained the support of the party's base — minority, young, and educated women voters — we just didn't win enough of them. The solution he proposed was to expend more resources to expand turnout amongst these “critical base vote groups.” When I asked what were we doing to reach white middle-class voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin — where we had lost significant support — he responded: “We aren't going to throw money away going after folks who aren't ever going to support us.” I replied that if that was to be our approach we were being as divisive as the Republicans.
Reflecting this same mindset, recall Hilary Clinton's dismissive comment in which she referred to Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” That expression provided Republicans with a hammer with which to pound home what they said was Clinton's elitism and contempt for the white middle class.
We can see in the protests against the Coronavirus lockdowns the unfolding of a strategy that once again preys on the same fear and resentment. Those who are organizing these rallies know exactly what they are doing. And many of those who are demonstrating are most likely hardcore haters — the waving of Confederate flags and some of the signs and paraphernalia being distributed at these events make that clear. But they are only the vanguard — the messengers of a strategy designed to reach a larger audience of Americans who feel threatened by economic ruin, ignored by elites, and are frightened for their future.
What is required is a counter-strategy that speaks to the “better angels” of all voters. It should be a message that is inclusive and respectful and speaks to every component group in society that is hurting. It should reflect an understanding of their hurt and even their anger at losing their jobs and the resentment they feel at living isolated from their families and friends. It should be as value-based and as challenging as Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression or Winston Churchill during World War II. It should be both explanatory and visionary, continuing to explain why the burdensome closures are needed and coupling this with a positive vision of the future, contrasting it with the dystopia that awaits us if these precautionary measures aren't sustained. And finally, this response should be both personal, and universal, identifying a victim or hero whose personal story can be elevated to a larger-than-life narrative that inspires hope, promotes empathy, and renews confidence in government.
I firmly believe that those who are being preyed on with anger, fear, and resentment will respond to a message that speaks to them with concern for their families, empathy for others in need, and concern for the common good. But to win their support, they must be addressed with respect by messengers they can trust.
It's a tall order to be sure — but the crisis in which we find ourselves and the expected reactionary response we see already unfolding before us demand more than just business as usual. While we can't set a timetable for when a vaccine and/or cure will be found, given the work of medical researchers, I feel certain that this will be done. What's not certain is the type of society and government we will have when this crisis is over. That is the challenge we face.

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