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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/20/19

How America Broke Up With the Democratic Party

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Many grassroots Democrats separated from their party in the 1990s, and the 2020 election may be the last chance to save the marriage.

While the GOP has been trying to establish a semi-permanent ruling majority through bigotry, gerrymandering and voter suppression, Democrats had long-term majority control of American politics pretty much continuously for more than a half-century.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected four times to the presidency and brought with him a Democratic Party sweep so complete that, with the exception of two brief two-year periods, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives from 1931 to 1995. FDR built the modern-day Democratic Party and launched it toward the 21st century.

Working-class Americans had fallen in love with Roosevelt and Democratic Party policies in the 1930s, and that love affair persisted across the better part of three generations. In the past few decades, though, they "fell out of love" with the Democratic Party and began regularly putting Republicans in charge of the country.

What happened?

Back in the 1980s, sociologist Diane Vaughan did some remarkable research about how people fall in and out of love that she compiled in her book Uncoupling. Her surprising but commonsense findings, now used by psychotherapists and marriage counselors around the world, apply to politics as much as they do to intimate relationships.

At some point during most relationships, one partner will become dissatisfied with the behavior of the other. When this dissatisfaction is so fundamental that the unhappy partner might consider dissolving the relationship if it's not changed, they will almost always say something or otherwise signal their dissatisfaction.

This signal of dissatisfaction is referred to by therapists as "the cry," as in "the announcement" (think town crier, not sobbing). If the "offending" partner ignores or doesn't understand the gravity of this "cry out" about how the relationship is going, it's referred to as "the cry unheard." The most common occurrence is that the partner "hears" the cry, but doesn't think it's a big deal and so ignores it; in other cases, it's missed altogether.

When the "cry" isn't heard or is misunderstood as a routine small disagreement, the dissatisfied partner will begin noticing other things that are offending, and, over time, compile a list of reasons to leave the relationship that outnumbers the reasons to stay.

Meanwhile, the offending partnernot having heard, or having misunderstood the "cry"is oblivious and thinks everything is just fine.

The first turning point in the relationship comes when the dissatisfied partner, having put out the cry unheard and not seeing changes in behavior, starts to share the grievance with others, complaining (often subtly) about their partner.

After a (typically relatively short) time, having gotten feedback from others that, "Yes, that behavior would bother me, too," the dissatisfied partner, concluding the relationship can't be salvaged, begins an emotional separation process, moving past bargaining and anger into grieving the loss, accepting that the relationship is not salvageable, and then, finally, announcing that they are pulling the plug on the relationship.

Hearing for the first time this announcement that the relationship is dead, the clueless partner who didn't hear the cry is blindsided, shocked, and devastated. While their partner has already gone through all the stages of unhappiness, deciding to leave, grieving the failure of the relationship, and accepting it as over, the clueless partner is forced to begin the process (similar to Kubler-Ross' stages of dying) for themselves from a cold start.

Applying this model to the Democratic Party, the first really loud "cry unheard" from the Democratic electorate came in 1992.

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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