The single biggest question before Democrats is not how to overturn the results of the 2016 election or dissecting what went wrong in the Clinton campaign. It is, how do we proceed? That is a complicated question.
The President-Elect, is a racist, sexist, xenophobic, Muslim-hating, white supremacist enabler. He is totally unqualified to be on a school board, let alone be the leader of the free world. His cabinet appointments include the esteemed senator from Alabama, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who is literally named after two separate confederate icons (President of the CSA Jefferson Davis, and General P.G.T Beauregard), and was too racist even by 1986 standards to be confirmed for a federal judgeship) There’s also Former Governor Rick Perry who was nominated for Energy Secretary, one of the departments that he said he’d dismantle if elected President in 2012. There’s of course Ben Carson for HUD, even though he believed that he wasn’t qualified to run a government agency. Then perhaps the most troubling pick, Rex Tillerson for State, who has been awarded the friendship medal by a man responsible for undermining our democracy by interfering in our electoral process.
The Democrats will remain the minority party in the Senate until at least 2020, and it is unlikely that they will recapture the House. Liberal stalwarts like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer could be replaced by nominees of President Trump, creating a right wing court for the foreseeable future. State legislatures are dominated by Republicans, as well are the governorships. It appears that the Democratic strategy of multiculturalism and promoting tolerance, succeeds in winning the popular vote, but has failed yet again to secure the Presidency. Suffice it to say that over the next 4 years, much of the progress that has been accomplished under progressive leadership will be rolled back. As progressives, there is not much to be optimistic about.
Two options for Democrats
The first strategy proposes that progressives band together and unite themselves against not just President Trump, but against any Republican or Democrat who attempts to work with the President. We didn’t lose this election, a foreign power, as well as a corrupt FBI, interrupted our democratic process with the goal of electing Donald Trump. Democrats won the popular vote, and we increased our numbers in both houses of congress, the Republicans do not have a mandate. If the Republicans want to change this country, they can do it on their own, and we shouldn’t make it easy for them. We must obstruct their agenda, and be for Trump what the Tea Party was for Obama. Democratic lawmakers must always vote the party line and be uncompromising, forsaking bipartisanship and never supporting any legislation proposed by Republicans.
If there is one lesson that should’ve been learned over the last 8 years, it’s that bipartisanship is dead, and the minority party doesn’t benefit from compromise. So rather than compromise our principles, why not make our positions clear and force the Republican’s hands into enacting their destructive right-wing agenda? Democrats warned voters what would happen if they gave Republicans control of government, therefore Democrats should allow voters to see what happens when we aren’t there to be the adults. Democrats also should try to delegitimize the Trump presidency in the same way Republicans did for Obama.
We cannot normalize Trump. Donald Trump will be our President, but we cannot act like things are politics as usual. Trump is a demagogue with no clear policy other than ginning up hatred. If we pretend that his is a practical way to lead, then his brand will spread like wildfire.
Most importantly, we must write laws that are explicitly progressive, further left than anything that would’ve been passed under the Obama administration. These bills can’t be without purpose, it must be made clear that their passage would directly benefit the working class and middle class. This would include eliminating the social security cap, a $15 minimum wage, a truly universal healthcare system, and a constitutional amendment that would invalidate Citizens United, among other things.
Finally, Democrats have to force the Republicans’ hands in passing extreme legislation. They want to defund Planned Parenthood, privatize Social Security, bomb Iran and destroy the safety net? We have to make the case against that, while antagonizing them into actually doing it. After those affected see how we never stopped fighting for them, while Republicans were just preying on their fears, then we can get to work rebuilding in 2020. I call this the burn it down strategy.
The opposing argument is that Democrats have a responsibility to do damage control. For whatever reason, Democrats and progressive ideals lost in this election, and it was in an environment where we should’ve had the upper hand.
The failure of Democrats to succeed in 2016, in what might arguably have been the most consequential election in a generation, is a burden that will affect us all in unseen ways for decades to come. Not only were we defeated by Republicans, we were defeated by the ugliest strain of populism that has put forward ideas that are antithetical to the America that liberals have been cultivating since the days of LBJ.
Donald Trump wants to burn down the government, and he has no qualms about taking millions of Americans with him. Those white nationalists who cloak themselves in the media-concocted phrase “alt-right” have been waiting for years to bring their neo-fascist world view to the mainstream. If allowed to shape policy for the next four years, unchecked by the old conservatives who have been cowed into accepting the Trump worldview out of fear of primary challenges, we will not be able to imagine the turmoil that will be wrought on this country.
Democrats have to act in the interest of bipartisanship, and sometimes that means voting for a bad bill to avoid passing an awful one. Bad and awful are usually synonyms, but in this case they are superlatives (the argument of accepting a lesser of two evils was especially present this election, and it will not disappear during this administration). A bill proposed by some swing state republican to raise the minimum wage to $8 an hour is not ideal, in fact it does almost nothing to deal with the problem of income inequality. However, when other Republicans are proposing a total elimination of the minimum wage, an idea that Trump is not explicitly opposed to, Democrats have to make a judgement call. This will also occur with appointments. Given the choice of John Bolton or Richard Haass for Deputy Secretary of State, the small differences in ideology matter.
Democrats are going to have to swallow their pride, or whatever remains of it, in order to save this country from itself. Then in 2020, hopefully the voters will reward us for ending the gridlock. I call this the good shepherd strategy.
Now what’s the right strategy? Frankly, I don’t know, and I seriously doubt that the party knows. Democrats are lost in the wilderness, they’re recovering from an election that literally nobody (not even the President-Elect) thought they could lose.
There was never a contingency strategy, there was never a plan to be in the minority. After hearing the party leaders reflect on their loss, and having discussions with members of my own county party, there is only one consensus. We have to try something new, because we are losing state legislatures and governorships and local offices in addition to national races.
Democrats are the party of the people, we have the right policies, and we govern based on facts. Yet somehow we are still perceived as the party of East Coast elitists who are out of touch with reality. In this post-factual America, it will be difficult to overcome that perception, but if we cannot, America may be lost.