Donald Trump, assuming he survives in office long enough to seek reelection, clearly hopes that Pocohontas, as he calls Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, will not be the candidate the Democrats pick to bring him down next year.
He is lethal, of course, in his assignment of sticky nicknames that pinpoint his opponents’ greatest vulnerabilities. His choice of sobriquet for Warren is, from a purely technical marketing standpoint, as masterful as it is odious. He wants to embed in voters’ minds the notion that the senator is a con artist who gamed affirmative action in order to win a Harvard professorship.
Needless to say, that notion is a lie, but for reasons perhaps best left to a novelist, Warren did chose early in her career to identify herself to potential employers as Native American. Family legend spoke of Cherokee forbears and seemed confirmed by cheekbones on her father’s side. It pleased her to believe the legend.
Not that would it be unheard for families like hers with roots several generations deep in Oklahoma to have acquired such genes. Indeed a DNA test she took last year proves she has some. Whether she was wise to play Trump’s game by taking the test is another matter. She took it after he promised to donate a million dollars to her favorite charity if she tested positive. Many in her own party thought her decision to answer his infantile challenge showed poverty of judgement.
Nonetheless, Trump had better pray he has found her Achilles heel because of all the challengers the Democrats might conceivably throw at him — and the field of possibilities is large — she, uniquely, speaks to the voters who gave him the electoral college in 2016.
She is a populist without being a demagogue, and, if not as yet a social media natural, she is a terrific orator on the stump. Speaking to those who voted for Trump, she conveys compassion, an unpanderingly inclusive honesty, a genuine been-there-ness and a steel trap intellect. Unlike Trump, she has a backstory that well illustrates the knife edge on which many middle class Americans now live — one illness or accident or plant closure away from insolvency.
After announcing her candidacy for the Democratic nomination on New Year’s eve, she headed, as all candidates do, to Iowa where the first nominating heat will be held a year from now. She went straight to deepest Trump country, to the district of Congressman Steve King, an out and out white nationalist, where drew she enthusiastic crowds
What has given us Trump, in her view, is an understandable reaction to blood sucker capitalism, unchecked concentration of economic power, the capture of the state by predators at the expense of public welfare, and the loss of faith in democratic government that has resulted, opening the way to opportunist wouldbe autocrats peddling fantasy fixes and bigotry. Better than most, based on years of studying and writing about how middle class families manage, or struggle to manage, their finances, Warren understands how the game is rigged.
The Friedmanite perversion of Adam Smith that asserts the only obligation of corporations is to maximise quarterly profits for owners has ushered in deepening inequality not only of wealth but also of power over public policy that wealth buys through the Supreme Court-sanctified corruption of political finance.
The Trumpublicans naturally denounce Warren as a socialist bent on turning the US into another Venezuela. She says no, she is pro-market and it is the defenders of the unjust and unsustainable status quo are its real enemies. Among those who believe she is onto something are the Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, a once rabid but now increasingly disenchanted Trumpist. Carlson remains a nativist, sadly, but his convergence with Warren on the need to reform capitalism is intriguing.