Donald Trump’s election to the presidency has permanently damaged the country. There’s no getting away from that. But those of us who lost Tuesday can still build something from the wreckage. We can find and support each other in defense of common values. Americans across the political spectrum are alarmed by the election result. Here are some concrete ways we can act.
“Mourn, then organize.” As Peter Dreier recently noted, Democrats need some time to mourn. Take that time for self-care, for whatever gives you joy and restores your resilience. I certainly needed that time. I’ll never forget election night. About 10, my daughter, so excited about a potential Hillary Clinton victory, asked me in tears: “What’s happening, Daddy?” My own tears began to flow.
But then, after taking that time, we must get busy, to mobilize a broad coalition to oppose and eventually defeat President-elect Trump. There’s no need for despair. Democrats are in far better shape than the Republicans were only eight years ago, when Barack Obama won handily, when Republicans were heavily outnumbered in Congress and when they bore the stigma of a failed Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and the financial crisis.
I reject the Republicans’ policy agenda and their norm-breaking tactics, such as holding the debt ceiling hostage. Yet Democrats can learn something from their resilience as they clawed back. Republicans were powerful grass-roots organizers, too. Many Democrats dismissed the tea party as some artificial grass turf. If only it were. We can learn from that. Like Democrats in 2009-2010, Republicans dominate all three branches of government, and will thus politically own their own unpopular measures on health care and other matters.
Skip the circular firing squad. A narrow, historic upset will encourage recrimination and infighting. That’s only human, especially among Democrats. Let’s reserve our anger for political adversaries rather than the imperfect human beings who fought for progressive values and yet fell short. We must forgive one another. Clinton supporters can learn from Bernie Sanders’s populist message that mobilized so many. Sanders folk could learn some things about policy substance from Clinton, too. Both groups might also reach out to principled #NeverTrump conservatives and libertarians with whom we generally disagree. At times, they may be important allies.
Big data are nice. Big organizing is more important. Democratic political pros arrogantly overstated the power of top-down analytics this year. I suspect they overstated the role of high-tech in past Obama victories, too. Technology and data complement grass-roots passion and organizing. They can never replace or substitute for it. The Obama, Sanders — and, yes, Trump — campaigns possessed that energy. Clinton’s supporters respected her and feared Trump. Still, too many of us were passive and diffident in our support. Clinton never quite mobilized sufficient passion. Too late, Trump has solved that problem for us.
Identify and support a group, candidate or cause you admire. The organization could be the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the International Rescue Committee or the National Immigrant Justice Center. That politician could command national prominence. But it’s probably best if she’s running for local school board or county treasurer. You can have an outsize influence on local races. You’ll learn skills and develop the personal networks that greatly amplify your later efforts.
Support good journalism. News media leaders are reportedly doing some soul-searching about their role. They certainly should. Terrible cable news programs elevated and normalized a Trump candidacy and placed disproportionate attention on Clinton’s real but venial sins regarding her email and the rest. Throughout, the desire for false balance and the unspoken assumption that Clinton would win led reporters to be harder on her than on her preposterous opponent, with pathetically little attention paid to policy.
Trump also brought networks good ratings. Which brought Trump special treatment and $2 billion in earned media. Les Moonves, chairman, president and chief executive of CBS, unwittingly said it best:
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald.”
We can do better. We can support valuable work, such as Ari Berman’s work on voting rights or Alec MacGillis’s reporting on the complex politics of poverty in purple states. We can watch substantive programs that explore serious issues from different perspectives. We can spurn vacuous offerings such as “Morning Joe,” and prime-time shows featuring dueling Democratic and Republican “strategists” spouting partisan talking points.
Engage ordinary Trump supporters with honesty and humanity. Half of the country voted for Trump. Millions of otherwise good people did so because they feel marginalized and disrespected in a changing nation that is callously leaving their communities behind. We must engage these men and women more effectively, showing our own readiness to listen as we hope they will listen to us. Whatever tough words we offer, we should adopt one simple rule: Say nothing about Trump supporters in private that we wouldn’t say straight to their faces. They deserve that honesty and respect, even when we bluntly criticize their arguments or their vote. So don’t Facebook unfriend that irritating Trump supporter or avoid Trump-curious relatives at Thanksgiving dinner. We need those human connections.
Remind your friends, neighbors and relatives that Trump is a minority president with no mandate. He won the election. There is no contesting that. But Clinton appears to have received more votes. Many Trump voters — and millions who didn’t vote, or who voted for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson or Green Party nominee Jill Stein — told pollsters they are disquieted about his character and his competence. Whatever the president-elect may claim, he won no mandate. His stands on immigration, climate change and reproductive choice are distinctly unpopular. Many Republican officials who publicly support him privately find him appalling. We must remind people of that.
Don’t normalize Trump or the political professionals who enabled him. It will be tempting to ease into normal relationships with the president-elect and his team. Resist that. Political professionals, from Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway on down, who abetted Trump’s rise harmed the nation. They knew that he was dangerous and unsavory. They chose to help him anyway. They deserve the coolest of civilities, no more.
But grant policy experts the space to help Trump in certain areas to avoid national catastrophe. The president-elect and his motley inner-circle of advisers are ill-equipped for the task ahead. Out of duty and patriotism, foreign policy experts should do what they can to limit the damage. Many diplomats reportedly plan to resign rather than work for Trump. I sympathize, but I hope they stay.
Fight voter suppression. 2016 was the first presidential election since 1964 without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. That mattered. Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin are among the battleground states that featured prominent battles over disenfranchisement and voter suppression. Trump won close victories in all of these states — aided in no small degree by successful Republican efforts to limit minority voting. Such discriminatory practices undermine the legitimacy of our electoral system and violate basic American values. You can support organizations, such as the Moral Mondays movement or the Religious action center of Reform Judaism, that oppose such practices.
Be civil and restrained in opposing the president-elect’s proposals. Trump will depict his political adversaries as scary or extreme. Let’s not play into that, or gratuitously offend potential allies with wild rhetoric and behavior.
Support justified nonviolent protest. The Trump administration may implement cruel policies toward undocumented immigrants, Muslim Americans and other vulnerable groups. Those directly affected and their closest allies will take to the streets in protest. The rest of us must be there with them.
Join the 2018 campaign. Democrats typically slough off midterms to focus on presidential races. Even President Obama couldn’t mobilize the troops in 2010, which proved fateful. We can’t let down our guard again. Given the Senate map, we will likely lose many Senate seats, but we can create the resources and candidates we’ll need later. We must convert our current anger and sadness into effective action on local, state and congressional races that Democrats stupidly tend to ignore.
Chin up. I remain heartbroken. I’m also oddly exhilarated, girded for the coming fights. There is a clarity to these coming battles. We must remove a grifting demagogue from the White House. The stakes could hardly be higher. Those of us who oppose him have one another. We have much of the country, too, which I suspect will soon experience massive buyers’ remorse.
So cheer up, progressives, and let’s work. It won’t be easy. Important things rarely are. We can weave our own silver lining within the dark cloud that now hovers over our nation.