Tell us a Happily-Ever-After Story

Courtesy Scissorhead @AndyIsbell on Twitter

Courtesy Scissorhead @AndyIsbell on Twitter

I want to highlight something we’ve talked about on and off, mostly in the comments, about the power of narrative. There’s a great post up over at Washington Monthly by David Atkins called The White Working Class Deserved A Better Villain:

Post-election debates about class and identity in the Democratic Party have frequently focused on “economic populism” as a tonic salve the frustrations of economic anxiety, particularly in the white working class. But it’s rarely clear what that actually means in practice–and that in turn obscures the debates over whether a stronger dose of populism would have blunted Trump’s appeal to racist nationalism in the presidential race…

… Economic populism requires a villain, and the white working class needs a villain to blame for its predicament. Trump gave them one, and Clinton did not.

As any decent screenwriter knows, a memorable story requires a great villain more than it does a good hero. It’s essential to a compelling narrative. The Clinton campaign never really had one: its slogans “stronger together,” “love trumps hate” and “America is already great” redounded with inclusivity and compassion, but provided no one to blame for those who felt angry and cheated by the modern economy.

One of the great archetypes of literature and film is the little guy triumphing over evil. From David and Goliath to Frodo vs. Mordor, the best heroes are the everyday, average people, who find themselves in an extraordinary situation and somehow or other win. This is Alfred Hitchcock’s genius. You see, the audience can picture themselves in the hero’s shoes. You feel their fear, you invest in their story. When the hero triumphs over evil, you feel a rush.  Jimmy Stewart’s career is based upon this everyday man story that he played over and over again.

We on the left don’t tell stories, we recite facts. We believe (correctly) that the facts matter, but we don’t know how to give them context.  So instead of telling a story, we implore our audience to listen to and study our earnest 200-slide Powerpoint presentation, and learn from their betters… and we end up wondering why we lost?

We need to tell stories more.

And good stories we could have told are based on facts, and the villains are real. The villains in our story are truly from the Right:

When Donald Trump named his Treasury secretary, Teena Colebrook felt her heart sink.

She had voted for the president-elect on the belief that he would knock the moneyed elites from their perch in Washington. And she knew Trump’s pick for Treasury — Steven Mnuchin — all too well.

OneWest, a bank formerly owned by a group of investors headed by Mnuchin, had foreclosed on her Los Angeles-area home in the aftermath of the Great Recession, stripping her of the two units she rented as a primary source of income.

She had voted for the president-elect on the belief that he would knock the moneyed elites from their perch in Washington. And she knew Trump’s pick for Treasury — Steven Mnuchin — all too well.

OneWest, a bank formerly owned by a group of investors headed by Mnuchin, had foreclosed on her Los Angeles-area home in the aftermath of the Great Recession, stripping her of the two units she rented as a primary source of income.

“I just wish that I had not voted,” said Colebrook, 59. “I have no faith in our government anymore at all. They all promise you the world at the end of a stick and take it away once they get in.”

This story breaks my heart: this lady was looking someone to tell America her own story. She was looking for someone to tell her that we know that the 1% are the villains. (“She had voted for the president-elect on the belief that he would knock the moneyed elites from their perch in Washington.”)

Instead, we tried to convince here that all was well:

There’s no doubt in my mind that the villains the populists were looking for do exist in the boardrooms all across America. The populists know something is wrong, and they know that they are falling behind while working harder than ever. This is their story, they know it is true, but we kept telling them that there are no villains (“stronger together,” “love trumps hate” and “America is already great”).

And so when a grifter like Trump comes along and spots the mark in his con and tells them what they want to hear (someone else is to blame, it’s not you, it’s XYZ), they believe him.  It’s the Mexicans/Muslims/Blacks, he tells them; they believe him. It’s rigged against you, he tells them; they believe him. And only I can fix it, he tells them; they voted for him.

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22 Responses to Tell us a Happily-Ever-After Story

  1. Big Bad Bald Bastard says:

    One of the great archetypes of literature and film is the little guy triumphing over evil. From David and Goliath to Frodo vs. Mordor, the best heroes are the everyday, average people, who finds themselves in an extraordinary situation and somehow or other win.

    The problem is that the Trump voters believed that Frodo is the villain, sneaking over the border of Mordor in order to commit terrorist acts against Barad-dûr and to put the Ringwraiths out of work by imposing burdensome regulations against Evil Sorcery.

    They voted for Sauron, and he’s going to Make Mordor Great Again. Gah… Trump would even sexually harass Shelob… grab her by the spinnerets.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Maybe. But then, Bernie Sanders should have won, right? Instead, he identified the bad guys perfectly and lost. No, at the proverbial end of the day, this was an “identity politics” election. I mean, think about it, if Trump had just hammered away at the globalists without ever mentioned race, would he have attracted a substantial following? Doubtful. The soul of the nation is changing And Clinton got that changing soul to give her the majority of the vote. So…we won but, as it is with many of America’s political oddities, we lost.

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  3. grs says:

    How do you convince the voters who voted for Trump that they voted for the villain? They are cheering for the villain. They’re cheering for the Paul Ryans, the Scott Walkers, the Rudy Guillianis, The Newt Gingrinches. The people they have put faith in continue to hose their base. How do you save people from the con when they keep going back to it?

    So a party hates women/minorities/homosexuals/different religions…. and now what? How do you explain that depriving these groups their rights will do nothing to stop class warfare? Railing against unions, railing against the ACA, railing against all sorts of programs that help them. There is an education gap with a large part of the electorate. It’s not a communication gap. I don’t know how you dumb it down enough for these people.

    Occupy Wallstreet came close, but it was co-opted and infiltrated so quickly. Bernie never lost focus, remained on point about who the villain was and explained it clearly, and the DNC shut him down. Warren is on point. The majority of people who voted for Trump immediately dismiss these two. The Democrats operating in reality don’t have some bigoted, racist, sexist boogeymansh target to trot out. The Democrats’ villain has money to fight back.

    The Democrats need to become the party of the people, but they have serious issues fighting back against corporate America.

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    • osirisopto says:

      DW suggests hanging out at their dive bar, shooting gallery, swimming pool or church long enough for them to accept you and then ask them.

      They’re not going to respond to an inquiry from someone holding a clip board, but they would from the guy who’s next up on the pool table.

      Liked by 2 people

      • grs says:

        I heat what you’re saying. Those lines of communication need to stay open. And I know you know that it’s bad right now. So bad that people’s families are refusing to speak with each other. This recent piece from NPR gets to part of it.

        Individually, these men are all solid Democrats; but Brian Davidson with the carpenters union said he struggled to convince his members to follow the union leadership’s advice.

        “We asked our members who they were voting for…[and] they couldn’t wait to tell me they were voting for Trump,” said Davidson. “I mean they couldn’t wait to get it in my face, ‘Hey, yeah, what are you going to do about it – yeah, I’m voting for Trump. I don’t care what you say, you’re not gonna tell me what to do.'”

        “When our members will wake their rear ends up is when they watch their wages and their pensions and their health insurance dump into the toilet,” said Morin. “They’ll wake up and they’ll say ‘Wow, I’m working for $12 bucks an hour now.’ That’s when they’re going to wake up and it’s going to be too late.”

        I have family members like the people in that piece. They live in a very different reality even though we have the same zip codes. I don’t mean socioeconomic. It’s not just a worldview, it really is the information they absorb. The Dems really need to move left and embrace it. Not just platitudes. I can communicate the issues, but the leadership needs to step up.

        I believe focus needs to be on getting people to the polls. Turnout matters. Maybe that starts with better transparency at the local and state levels. Maybe it’s better transparency on what people’s Congressperson and Senator actually do and how that affects people. I don’t think the future revolves around getting Trump voters to change their minds. I think it’s getting the people who didn’t vote, half of eligible voters, to actually vote.

        Liked by 1 person

      • tengrain says:

        Jinx, you owe me a beer! — TG

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    • tengrain says:

      GRS – Yes, the Dim’s are compromised by the money branch of the party. Sanders did do a good job and got shut down by DWS’ DNC. We have a ton of internal problems to address.

      I’m with Driftglass on this: I don’t intend to spend any time/energy on trying to woo the racists; let the GOP keep ’em. I think the people we have to win are the people who sit out the elections.

      Rgds,

      TG

      Liked by 2 people

      • osirisopto says:

        Those are the people who put Obama in office and coincidentally voted for a dem house and senate.

        I feel you’re only thinking of the nationals. On the local and state level a different game must be played, by locals, with locals. Outsiders need not apply.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. StringOnAStick says:

    For various reasons I’ve spent a lot of time recently iin rural areas of Michigan and the southeast, and these areas have not recovered from the Great Recession, hell, they were in recession for years before that even started. They wanted someone to blame for why their sainted, godly, white heartland true ‘merika wasn’t as well off as the liberal coasts, and Trump gave them the one they wanted: racism.

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  5. speaking of jimmy stewart, a great story that gets the villain right is “it’s a wonderful life” – but the ending was too soft – it should have gone like this:

    t’s A Wonderful Life – The Final Scene

    Potter’s personal health care attendant (the man who pushes his wheelchair) bursts into the party at George and Mary Bailey’s house. The mood, which had been festive (just a moment before, we saw the arrest warrant being torn apart and thrown on the pile of contributions from “so many friends”) changes immediately, as the tale of Potter’s purloining of the disappeared bank deposit is told. At first incredulous, the people become increasingly angry as the depth of depravity of the twisted, misanthropic millionaire becomes clear.

    Next we see the crowd carrying torches as they approach Potter’s mansion – it is like the evil twin of the house that George, Mary, and their kids have filled with love – equally large, but almost all in darkness, and without any sort of holiday decoration, neither Christmas tree, menorah, or solstice wreath. Ernie drives up in his cab, and siphons some gasoline from the tank into a large metal can. We see him and Potter’s former health care attendant splashing the gasoline at the entrances of the house, including the wheelchair ramp. Uncle Billy ignites the flammable liquid by throwing his torch into it, and the rest of the crowd follows suit. The volunteer fire department arrives, but Burt the cop keeps them from coming up the long drive.

    Inside the house, through the windows, we see Potter desperately going from room to room, trying to escape, but it is useless. Uncle Billy watches with grim satisfaction, and we see the flames of the house reflected in his glasses as he mutters “So long, you old so and so.”

    We recognize other members of the crowd – the same individuals we saw in the “Pottersville bar” scene – and, like then, there are no women or other members of the Bailey family present, except for Uncle Billy.

    Clarence the angel, no longer in civilian clothes, but rather in his magnificent new robe and wings, watches sadly from treetop level. The camera pulls back and we see the house beginning to collapse as the flames leap higher. The final scene pans upward from the burning house to the starry sky, and we see in Gothic letters the following Biblical quote: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life” (Deut. 30:19).

    Liked by 2 people

  6. C Montgomery Burns says:

    I should just start off with #ImStillBitter.

    And boo-hoo for all those suckers who thought the Orange Monster would cure all their ills and make them….I don’t know, let’s say more white again, no? How about make them rich and famous and maybe let them stay in one of his many gold plated houses of wh&res build of other peoples money in the sky.

    So some fool didn’t do her homework or put 2 and 2 together and realize Don the Con made his (non) fortune off of fu#king people who where down on their luck or just too stupid to not to be born to racist parents with money. F them.

    Just as I say F you to the fools I work with who just got pink slips because my employer was dependent on a federal bailout that is now not coming.
    Every one of the newbies who were hired in the past 2 years made a point to vocally promote Hair Monster Trump even though any campaigning/politics in the office are forboden. We are a union company so voting for someone who doesn’t support unions or minimum wages or…..blah, blah, blah. I’m just to tired to care about them anymore, as granny Burns used to say ‘You reap what you sow’.

    So now they, because of their adoration of a bull shit sales man fell for the oldest con around and now, they’re out. No more paycheck, no more health insurance and no more retirement/401, just the warm satisfaction that they voted for the guy who’s going to drain the swamp, the same swamp that was going to keep us in business. i couldn’t begin to describe how much I could care less about the hurt feeling of these people who lost lost homes and health care because and dignity. I can only say just wait looosas, it’s just beginning, the garbage the swamp is getting filled with needs more victims.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. To be REALLY EFFECTIVE the 200-slide PowerPoint presentation would have the presenter read ALL of the text on every slide!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. tengrain says:

    Ah, you’ve been at an IBM meeting!

    Rgds,

    TG

    Like

  9. Jim H. says:

    Yes. Great post & great thread & thanks for pointing me to the thread from Wash. Monthly. I posted the first part of my own series called “Narrative Power: Power Narratives” earlier this week. It’s an important topic. I called Trump’s winning narrative “a smug Pepe the Frog vs. a corrupt, collapsing Meemaw. The Clinton campaign narrative, in broad strokes, was something like: Hermione Granger vs. Amateur Voldemort.”

    http://wisdomofthewest.blogspot.com/2016/11/narrative-power-power-narratives-pt-1.html?m=0

    The point in your post about villains (and scapegoats) is an absolutely crucial one. Great minds… or something to that effect.

    Oh, and Spoiler Alert: In the end, his heroic thriller won out over her memoir style marriage plot—but more on that in subsequent posts. Stay tuned!

    Best,
    Jim H.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. roket says:

    True, all that. Plus they cheat so there’s also that.

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