Strategy Memo

OK, Meryl Streep is a wonderful actress, a very smart and eloquent lady. But I think her Golden Globes statement, while striking and eloquent, was a strategic mistake. And here’s why – because it puts style over substance, and not everybody agrees with putting down Trump’s style.

Trump is gauche. He’s crass. Trump sounds like and often acts like he’s from the construction yard, from Queens. Despite his wealth, he seems to act in a way we could see a working class person acting. He’s not dumb, but he’s not nuanced. He’s gruff. He doesn’t have the manners one associates with wealth or come across the way, say, Romney acted and sounded.

But think of the people who voted for him, the “undereducated.” Many are just repelled by the pretension we see in the classes with money. And I mean, repelled. The Sheryl Sandberg’s speak to a certain, privileged class. How to relate to the nanny and keep her away from your husband can be a major concern.

I don’t know where the populism comes from in Trump. People are often loyal to their origins. He himself comes from wealth, but he also comes from Queens, and he has liked to hang out in the construction yards. Could Trump’s populist attachment be sincere? Maybe, or more probably he just found it in his search for fame and adulation and improvised. Maybe he grew up somehow hearing the Borsht Belt and that’s where he got his shtick. Trump is actually faux risen. He acts as though he is giving it back to The Man, as he cheats and bullies his contractors. Then he acts like the avatar of roots.

But the fact that he is an imposter isn’t the point right now; I just got diverted. The point is, he has carried it off. In his manners and his social defiance and his strong id, he has made many of that oppressed class identify with him. That’s the point. He channels resentment, and when Meryl and Hillary and the pathetic Jenn Palmieri try to point out his grossness, the oppressed class responds – up yours! You who have it made, you the ladies who lunch, we’re going to listen to you? Crotch grabbing and poor taste is your concern – we’re concerned about our jobs and getting paid and our husbands’ lack of prospects. Don’t complain to us about how you might feel disrespected, thank you very much.

This fight over manners is self-defeating. The more the fight is over manners, the more separation of classes there will be, and the more perception of hypocrisy.

I think one just has to accept the Jacksonian swill. Concentrate, instead, on policies. Trump’s and Ryan’s and Republican policies are atrocious. Don’t think people are so dumb they can’t see that. It just has to be laid out and explained. And it would be best if it were explained by someone with a working class sound. Bernie Sanders’ background isn’t working class, but his gruff manner has a sound that resonates for many. It’s direct, it’s low-pitched, it’s intentionally simplifying to make the point. (It’s an open question how simple Sanders actually thinks it is – Barney Frank told me he thinks Sanders isn’t very smart, but Frank is so partisan…) I’m not suggesting that Bernie be the spokesman, but plainspokenness is essential.

In telling the truth as simply as possible, it can be personified in Trump and the hateful Ryan and then the billionaires who turn out to be hateful. Here’s how they are hypocritical and screwing you! Have someone use the word “fucking” and be caught by a “secret open mike”: “Those fucking bastards are screwing the people – how the hell are we going to make that case so Americans hear and understand it?”

Find the messenger – and it’s not Meryl Streep, and it’s not Elizabeth Warren. Warren is eloquent and sharp, she even has that humble background, but she’s from Harvard and it shows. We need someone like Harold Hughes – trucker-turned-governor and senator from Iowa back in the 60s and 70s. Or patrician FDR, who knew how to relate, because he really was a man of the people in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he invited everyone into the water with him, to help each other with their polio.

To say it plain: Stick to the issues, man. And find a voice of the people. Obama was pretty close; it’s too bad he didn’t after-sell. Find someone who can, now.