The Dysfunction of the Democratic Party, Distilled in One Tweet

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“Wait, the Democrats actually sent that tweet?” Photo: Netflix

Let’s say that for some reason you, a political observer, had come to the conclusion that the Democratic Party is an inept, out-of-touch, catastrophic mess when it comes to its efforts to convince people to vote for its politicians and its policies, and that its failures on this front could help explain how one of the worst, least popular, and most transparently dangerous to the nation major-party candidates in American history was elected president a year ago.

If, in this hypothetical world, you felt this way, the tweet the Senate Democrats sent out earlier this morning will likely elicit a strong reaction in you:

It’s just one tweet, of course. It’s important not to make too much of it. But boy does this tweet fail on multiple levels, and in several ways that tie into longstanding critiques of the party of — in Hillary Clinton’s timeless phrase — “trumped-up trickle-down” economics.

At the risk of overexplaining, here’s why this tweet is such an abomination:

1. The format doesn’t even work at a basic level. If the text said “Danger Things” or “Stranger Blings,” at least it would be clear that the, uh, “joke” here is that the title screen of Stranger Things is being spoofed. You can’t just swap out words for other words with no linguistic connection — that’s not how this sort of thing works! Also, it reads like TRUMPREPUBLICAN TAXPLAN, which is very hard to parse visually. This is terrible meme-ing.

2. The Democrats have caught a lot of flack for the perception that they are the party of latte-sipping repeat Hamilton attendees. This is partly a caricature that has been pushed forever by right-wing media, of course, and it’s not a fair hit when it comes to the party’s base, since the richer a given voter is, the more likely they are to vote Republican. But there’s some truth to it when it comes to the party’s leadership and consultant classes, both of which do seem to view the world through what can only be called an elite coastal lens, as evidenced by decisions like having Lena Dunham release a pantsuit-themed pro-Clinton rap right before the election. Stranger Things is a really fun show — I, a coastal elitist to the core, am a fan — but in the grand scheme of America, approximately zero people watch it. At a basic level, this isn’t a resonant reference unless you are within in a very specific sort of bubble.

3. Even setting aside all the other issues, this meme manages to fall into a trap that has ensnared Democrats for decades — an inability to escape right-wing framing on taxes. What makes Trump’s proposed tax policy so outrageous (at least based on what we know about what is still a Trumpishly ill-defined proposal) is the massive scale of the tax cuts going to the wealthy. Poll after poll has shown that Americans are quite united in their disgust for this sort of tax cut. It’s a simple message, a simple thing to reference: “America has crumbling infrastructure and a horrific opioid crisis — America has real needs — and the GOP wants to drain the country’s coffers to give tax cuts to billionaires!” And yet this meme doesn’t touch upon that — instead, it falls right into standard, oversimplified “taxes are bad!” rhetoric, complaining about a middle-class tax increase. That is not the point to be hammering home at this time.

Again: just one tweet. There are bigger problems in the world and in the desiccated, creaking husk that is the Democrats’ political infrastructure. But it would also be interesting to know where this idea came from and how it made it into the world without being shot down by someone sensible.

Democratic Party Dysfunction, Distilled in One Tweet