The path forward after the 2016 election
This summer I wrote an article about how the ideological swing of the Democratic Party toward neoliberalism was contributing to their loss of the white working-class vote. I discussed how the Democratic Party had gone from nearly four decades of uninterrupted domination in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate, on the back of their working class-minority community collation to a historically small opposition status. However with this trend in mind, I still believed, as did most, that the Democratic Party would still retain this collation into the 2016 election because while the party needed serious reform and Clinton was not perfect, the Republican alternative was an incoherent message that offered no solution to the problems Americans faced.
However, like most of us, I was wrong and Nov. 8 was a seismic political event whose effects will be felt for years to come. Every poll and educated political opinion pointed toward a Clinton victory and considering the accuracy of these polls in 2008 and 2012, there was no reason not to trust them. Part of this was likely due to arrogance, believing that our country could not elect someone so outside the conventional political spectrum or realm of common decency. But now we are faced with grave uncertainty with many fearing that Donald Trump will fulfill his campaign promises of mass deportation and a “Muslim registry”, while many are simultaneously worried that Trump meant none of these promises leaving the American public without a idea of the path this new administration wishes to take us on. However, whether he fulfills his promises or not, the Democratic Party is left without a clear path forward and so, we must devise one.
To begin with, now is not the time for bipartisan rhetoric of “bringing the nation together” under our new president-elect. Donald Trump had his chance to demonstrate his ability to govern; it was his campaign. A campaign is designed to show the American public what a candidate's administration could look like, what their temperament in office would be, and what issue they would focus on. Donald Trump’s campaign was a misogynistic, xenophobic, fear-mongering tour of the United States, evidence enough to denounce this man long before he enters the oval office. Six months ago, opposing Donald Trump was not a partisan issue, it was standing up for American values of tolerance and acceptance and the same holds true today.
Donald Trump’s cabinet appointment from the Neo-Nazi Steve Bannon to the racist Jeff Session has proved yet again, Donald Trump’s presidency is one built on division and hate, not unity or acceptance. He has had more than enough chances to prove his competency to lead this nation and he has failed every chance he has been given.
The Progressive path of opposition begins with political engagement. In this election, just as in the past two, a larger percentage of the population decided not to vote than vote for one of the two candidates. Nearly 45 percent of eligible voters stayed home on Election Day for a plethora of reasons and it needs to become the job of the Democratic Party to reach to those voters and bring them into the political process. While it is not only a disgrace that so few participate in our Democratic process, the party must work to bring these people in because in nearly every circumstance higher voter turnout benefits Democratic candidates. Progressives must take it upon themselves to register their friends and family, so that when the midterms come around turnout is higher than ever. Additionally, new and old voter restriction laws target communities of color and senior citizens. In states like Virginia, 25 percent of black men cannot vote because of felony restrictions. These laws must become the centerpiece of the legal fight to expand the voting franchise to accurately represent true American values of democracy.
The next step involves increasing political engagement. Political involvement should not be confined to simply voting every four years, the Democratic Party needs to be involved in get-out-the-vote campaigns every year so Democrats do not lose the midterms to apathy. Beyond the Federal level, Democrats need to be involved in state and local politics. Almost 900 state legislative seats were lost to Republicans during Obama’s tenure partially because Democrats did not fight to retain them. Democrats not only need to vote in every election, but they need to stand in every election. No Republican should go unchallenged for any elected office in any part of this nation from Washington to West Virginia. Additionally, progressive members of our society need to increase their involvement, and support, for organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Center for American Progress, and the ACLU. These will be the groups that will provide the services that Trump’s administration won’t and fight the unconstitutional legislation he may try to impose.
However, engagement is only one part of the process. Donald Trump’s victory was not solely due to low turnout and low political engagement; it was also due to the failure of the Democratic message. It is not an accident that many of the states that flipped for Trump were states that Senator Sanders carried in the primary. The “third - way” ideology of the old Democratic Party has been rejected and it is time to come up with a new platform; a platform that does not concede to half measures but is solidly progressive and forward thinking. The reestablishment of Glass-Stiegel, pulling out of NAFTA, and truly addressing climate change are not just pathways to the White House, they are a moral platform on which the Democratic Party needs to rebuild its foundation. Additionally, the party needs to elevate and support candidates that agree with such a message and these candidates should reflect the diverse makeup of the Democratic Party. Young progressive, progressives of color, and queer progressives need to lead the fight to reform the party and create a social democratic movement.
Finally, there needs to be a real effort on behalf of Democrats to push for an abolition, or alteration, of the Electoral College. This election was the second time in less than two decades that a Democratic candidate has won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. The Electoral College is an inherently undemocratic process; a single electoral vote in the state of Wyoming is equal to around 180,000 voters while one electoral vote in California is equal to nearly double that. The Electoral College favors smaller states and swing counties, not democracy. Donald Trump did not receive an electoral mandate on the bequest of the American democratic system, like everything he has done he conned his way into a half-hearted victory. With Clinton’s popular vote lead well over a million, for the sake of Democracy; the Democratic Party must take a hardline stance against this undemocratic institution.
On a personal note, on Nov. 9 the first thing I did when I woke up was text a close friend to see if they were okay. They’re Muslim, and while they told me they were doing fine they said their family was scared. I never thought, growing up together, that I would ever have to reach out to them to check on their well being after an election. Just as no one truly knew that Donald Trump was going to win, no one truly knows what the next two to four years are going to look like. Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s victory does not validate his actions or make his comments excusable; he is still a racist, xenophobic, sexual predator. Donald Trump is not normal and if we let this new political reality become normal, we forsake every American value of tolerance and acceptance. The Democratic Party must rebuild, but above all else it most oppose every attempt Donald Trump makes to change this country for the worst.