Democrats need to do more of what Hillary Clinton did in 2016: double down on our diverse urban economic centers and stand up, not cowtow, to rural racism.
But she lost!
It is most difficult to see the winning path in a loss. Intra-party tensions are high, and in a hurry to choose a "different direction," parties often overlook what their "losing" candidate did right. By default, everything that candidate did becomes untouchable.
Democrats need to avoid this key mistake. Right now, there is a current in the Democratic party, led by non-Democrat Bernie Sanders, that the way for Democrats to come out of the wilderness is to find a way to appease the "white working class", who conveniently live in electorally important states. Sanders and his followers say that only with populism that draws the white working class can the Democratic party rise again.
It won't work for two very simple reasons.
First, Democrats are bad liars. Make no mistake; trying to win back the "white working class" will involve lying to them the same way Donald Trump did. It will involve lying to them that their low-skill, high-paying jobs in industrial towns can somehow be brought back, that somehow they do not need to retrain for the new economy, and that somehow America can just close its doors to the rest of the world and become prosperous again.
Second, the "white working class" - which is really to say, white people - won't buy it from Democrats. If Democrats try to tell them that we too will be anti-trade and bring back their high paying jobs, Republicans will turn right around and tell them that Democrats still believe in that climate change hoax, which means Democrats will punish the white working class' favorite polluting industries (ahem, coal), thus blocking them from those awesome jobs. They will tell those rural whites that Democrats want black men to date their daughters and Mexican gays to marry their sons, while their children will be forced to learn in school that the earth revolves around the sun and that slavery was actually bad.
Democrats cannot win back the White House or regain power in Congress by pushing ourselves to be Trump-lite. People who at their core cling to ethnic superiority complex will not accept anyone who does not validate that sentiment. Instead, Democrats must look to the message - and the demographics - that delivered 65 million votes to our nominee - 2.5 million more than the supposed "winner" of the election.
The diverse coalition of voters who delivered the White House to Barack Obama twice and delivered once again the popular vote to Democrats in the House, Senate and White House this year hail mostly from America's cities. Cities are vibrant, diverse, accepting - and - economically booming. Hillary Clinton routed Trump in large urban counties even in red states, and Clinton counties represent almost two-thirds of America's economy. It's these cities and their growing draw - in blue states and in red states - that will return the Democratic party to power.
That is not conjecture. Hillary Clinton not only turned red places like Orange County blue in blue California, she lost Arizona by a mere 4 points to Barack Obama's 9-point loss in 2012. That may not have "changed the map" this year, but it's a path we can follow to soon shake it up.
It's here in the cities, and among the kind of people our cities attract, and in the message that lifts them, that the future of the Democratic party lies.
That is a message of inclusion and equality. Our problem is not the message. Our challenge is to take that message everywhere. Talk to a rural community about equal pay for equal work, and you may not earn the votes of the white misogynist, but their adult son with a secret Asian girlfriend might also be listening. Tell rural whites that black lives matter, and you may get booed, but a black kid in Charolotte, NC, and his white classmates, might be watching the video on YouTube that goes viral precisely because a Democrat develops the courage to face racism in unfriendly territory. Talk to white farmers in Arizona about their hypocrisy of hiring undocumented immigrants and then voting for them to be oppressed, and they will drown you out in insults, but the American children of those farmworkers will remember you stood up.
Rural white America (including our darling Vermont, which just elected a Republican governor) has been voting against their economic self interest for decades. They are doing so either because they continue to fall for the Republican con that the very policies designed to screw them is actually good for them, or out of racist resentment that the economic centers of America and the world depend on a diverse talent pool. Either way, it's foolhardy to believe that suddenly rural whites will start voting Democratic if only they can hear from a socialist grandpa who shares their skin color.
Let me say this again: rural and industrial rust-belt whites are not waiting to be picked by the Democratic party. Democrats must openly celebrate the diversity and vibrancy of our cities, and we must stop giving a damn if Coal country's feelings get hurt. Democrats must stand up for inclusion and civil rights in employment and in every other facet of life everywhere. Democrats must stand up for one-person-one-vote and demand the effective end of the electoral college by pointing out that it is an anti-democratic institution created to protect slave states from democracy.
Bending over backward to accommodate white resentment is unlikely to either end white resentment or gain Democrats new voters. Doing so at the expense of the urban, culturally and ethnically diverse voters - and let's face it, it is not possible to accommodate white resentment without expending people of color - is very likely to bleed the Obama coalition.
This is not just about whether losing the popular vote negates a mandate for Donald Trump. It is about whether winning the popular vote will strengthen our backbone.