Election night 2016 felt like 9/11 all over again. As a friend put it, it was almost worse because the hit came from the inside. Not to minimize that horribleness of 9/11 and the thousands of lives lost. That was a horror. But when Trump became president-elect, it felt like a blunt knife ripping into the soul and psyche of this country. If you’re feeling afraid, in shock, and despondent, that is an appropriate reaction. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, at least not yet. A self-serving sociopath with no public service experience is the man with the proverbial finger on the button.
But after the grief, the fighting must begin, and in earnest. We no longer have the luxury to be apolitical. It is time to get informed and get involved. The best way to prevent a Trump administration and a Republican congress from inflicting mass damage is mass involvement. That means joining one or several well-organized progressive groups of your choice (MoveOn, OurRevolution, Democracy for America, American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign or NARAL, to name a few) and giving them $5 or whatever you can afford as often as you can afford, signing their petitions, going to meetings and demonstrations. If you have twenty minutes a day to spend on Facebook talking about what you ate for lunch, you have twenty minutes to sign a petition in opposition to wholesale deportations of undocumented immigrants. Or to express your outrage that our president-elect is appointing a well-known white supremacist to be his senior counsel. Or to call your elected representative and demand he or she stand up any attempt to fuck with Social Security. Spend twenty minutes a day to exercise your civic muscle and you might wake up in 2018 really liking how your country’s governing body looks.
Here are a few thoughts to lift you out of your grief and inspire you to do something. For starters, let me remind you that Hillary won the popular vote, by about a million votes at the time of writing this article. That margin is likely to increase as they continue counting votes. Secondly, a huge portion of eligible voters in this country stayed home on Election Day. There are 230 million eligible voters in the United States, and only 126.6 million voted. That means 103 million or so didn’t vote. With eligible voter turnout at 55%, the U.S. has one of the worst records in the world. Of the 35 largest democracies, we are near the bottom, coming in at number 31. Belgium’s voter participation rate is at 87% and Sweden’s is at 82%. Come on, America, how have we gotten so bad at democracy? It’s disappointing, but the good news is there’s something we can do about it. There are groups devoted to building voter engagement, like ProjectVote and RockTheVote. Don’t be shy. They’d love your help. Or your five bucks. A broad range of studies has shown that when more people vote, progressives win.
Also, don’t give in to the idea that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a hateful bigot. Sure, a certain percentage are, but probably not most. The larger share of those people who voted for him did so out of a sense of desperation, a sense that there’s no hope for their future, and that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party have spoken to their concerns for the last few decades. The American middle-class has been on a downward slide for the last few decades, a slide that feels even steeper in rural America and the Rust Belt—where Trump’s economic message resonated.
It was Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin who put Trump over the finish line election night. The Heartland has lost heart. They’ve seen factories shuttered and jobs sent to countries where wages are lower than dirt. They’ve been told by both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party the falsehood that globalization is inevitable* and they should just lay down and die. Exit polling showed that 72% of all voters—Democrats and Republicans alike—feel the American economy is rigged against them. Well, on Tuesday, they spoke back and said, ‘we will burn down this house in order to save it.’
There were only two candidates running this election cycle who spoke to this massive malaise—Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s candidacy was doomed by the mediocre mediacracy who scrambled to pick up every vile crumb that fell from Trump’s lips and discuss Hillary’s damn emails ad nauseum. Bernie’s campaign was also doomed by an out-of-touch Democratic Party leadership who expected everyone to simply fall in line behind Secretary ‘It’s-Her-Time’. Yes, Hillary won the popular vote, but not by enough to tip the electoral college toward the Democrats. She was not the strongest candidate we could put up. Why? Because it was the Rust Belt, trade-agreement-fucked electorate and rural America (Michigan and Wisconsin specifically) who voted for Bernie first and then Trump in the general. Why? Hillary’s been wishy-washy about free trade and her VP pick, Tim Kaine, wasn’t even wishy-washy—he flat-out supported them. Furthermore, the Democratic Party leadership, in the form of Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, was putting in the fix for Hillary by limiting the number of debates and exposure for other candidates. And while she was busy alienating the progressive wing of the party, DWS was working behind the scenes to to dismantle part of Elizabeth Warren’s financial industry regulations.
So, in addition to getting involved with progressive groups, make it your mission to tell the Democratic Party to snap out of it. Find out where and when the Democratic Party is meeting in your area, grab some friends and go to those meetings. Tell the leadership that if they’re going to remain out of touch with the zeitgeist, step aside and let folks like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders—who clearly know the time of day in America—lead the way.
The time to strike is now. These first two years of Trump’s administration are probably going to be times of intense Republican infighting and disarray. Let’s capitalize on that.
*Globalization is not inevitable: the U.S. was a protectionist country for most of its history. It’s just that corporations have gotten exceedingly powerful in recent years and have been able to successfully peddle this myth as reality and push public officials to do their bidding. What is the terrible downside protectionism poses? That we’re all going to have to pay a bit more for our flat-screen TVs and cell phones. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m okay with that, if it means America doesn’t get driven down into the third world.