Photo by Gage Skidmore.
This election is heartbreaking, and I am still processing what it means for our country. I love America, and Donald Trump’s hate, ignorance, and bullying represent all of the things that I want to believe our country can overcome. I don’t think anyone has all the answers yet about how we fight back for a more inclusive and fair America that lives up to our ideals, but I know this election makes the fight all the more urgent. Here are a few thoughts I have on how to respond to this election.
1. Stand with vulnerable communities
The worst immediate consequence of this election has been the permission slip that it has provided for hateful people to spew their hate at immigrants, Muslims, people of color, the LGBT community, and other populations. Personally, I worry about the rise of overt anti-Semitism that Trump has inspired, but I still feel safe from the most direct consequences of this election. But I know that lots of my friends see this election as a rejection of their humanity, and I want to do all that I can to give them my love and support.
It’s not enough to not be hateful and bigoted. We have to actively oppose hate and bigotry. When we see someone being targeted with this kind of abuse, or when we hear it from our friends and family, we have to confront it. Hateful people are going to keep carrying their permission slip from this election until we take it away from them.
For those with the resources to do so, now is the time to support organizations that fight for the people who are most vulnerable to the consequences of this election. The Southern Poverty Law Center made its bones bankrupting the KKK with lawsuits from victims of hate crimes, and they continue to use the legal system to fight injustice. Republicans will try to destroy Planned Parenthood, and private donations are now especially important to protect access to reproductive health care. Jezebel compiled a good list of organizations who will need more support.
2. Public opinion can stop Trump
When a Trump Administration and Republican Congress try to force through unpopular policies, we need to be there to show how their agenda will damage the country and organize people to oppose it. In 2005, Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, and George W. Bush pushed hard to use this power to privatize Social Security. He failed. The American people were so strongly opposed to the plan that Republicans in Congress refused to support it.
In an election characterized by populist backlash against elites, it is hard to imagine a less appropriate response than cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations at the expense of programs for low- and middle-income Americans. But Republicans are already talking about doing just that under the blueprint of the Ryan Budget.
As Trump showed when he won the nomination while ignoring many of the tenets of conservative economic orthodoxy, not even Republican voters are interested in the Ryan Budget. The working-class people who supported Trump in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan did not cast their vote because they want to turn Medicare into a voucher program or give tax breaks to the corporations and executives who shipped their jobs overseas.
I co-wrote a paper earlier this year showing that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and the Ryan Budget were only popular with the elites who donate to Republican campaigns. These policies were not even supported by a majority of Republican voters.
As he has throughout his career, Donald Trump wrote a lot of checks during the campaign that he might not be able to cash. If his economic agenda fails to deliver an industrial renaissance and “something terrific” fails to materialize to replace the Affordable Care Act, a lot of people are going to be left out in the cold.
Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress know they will soon face reelection, and a wave of public opposition has the potential to dissuade them from enacting their most unpopular proposals. Or, if voters see President Trump and his party rigging the system even more for the wealthy and special interests, they are going to look for an alternative.
3. Progressives need to hold our leaders to a higher standard
The progressive agenda is based on the idea that the system should work for everyone, not just the elites, and this message should have been perfectly suited for this election. I think voters who are frustrated with a rigged system made a mistake by trusting Donald Trump to fix it, and as that becomes clear we need to do everything we can to show that progressives can be trusted to look out for the interests of ordinary Americans.
I think Hillary Clinton would have made a really good president. I knocked on doors in Pennsylvania to encourage people to vote for her, and I’m deeply disappointed that she lost.
I think Hillary Clinton was honest and trustworthy. Even though I thought the paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and others showed poor judgment, and the Clinton Foundation’s conflict of interest policies were not perfect, and it was a mistake to not follow government protocols with her State Department emails, I didn’t think any of these things were that big of a deal. These all seemed like relatively ordinary things for politicians to do, and I think the media blew them way out of proportion.
I still believe all of that, but I care more that most voters saw things differently. Maybe they agree that these are ordinary things for politicians to do, but they are sick of it. I don’t think this explains voting for Donald Trump, who is far more corrupt than the worst caricature of Hillary Clinton, but I think it’s why some people did not support either of them. I know that’s true for some of my friends who live in the Midwest.
So for those of us who work in progressive politics, we need to hold ourselves, our colleagues, and our leaders to a higher standard of conduct. Even when we know that someone is not actually corrupt, we need to be less tolerant of creating the appearance of corruption.
The progressive agenda recognizes that sometimes making the system work fairly for everyone requires action from the federal government. But no one is going to support that agenda if they don’t trust the federal government to act fairly on their behalf. This is less of a problem for conservatives, who tend to oppose using government to solve problems and claim that government is the source of our problems.
When frustrated voters are looking for an alternative to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, they need to know that progressives can be trusted to make the government work for everyone.