Now that I have calmed down a bit, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the self-inflicted moral tragedy that is the 2016 election. I still haven’t decided if I want to engage or just watch it burn while I tend my garden but either way, its hard to look away:
- For better or worse, the future is open: Yes, in the very long run “the arc of history bends towards justice”. But also, “past performance does not guarantee future success”. It is not at all guaranteed that the right thing will happen. Nothing is determined and everything might not be ok. Too many people placed too much faith in long term trends like changing demographics, technological progress, and cultural liberalization. The only thing that determines the future are individual choices.
- Action, reaction: At the same time, politics is bigger than any one person. It is bigger than the candidates. The world has been going through an intense period of liberalization and was due for a conservative course correction. In Brexit and Trump, this force was so powerful as to make the quality of the candidate (or initiative) irrelevant. These two ideas are both true and in contradiction. I don’t totally understand it.
- Objective truth: If I may be entitled one small told-you-so, the state of our politics is what you get when you abandon objective truth. No, the alt-right is not the fault of relativist philosophers. But, if you were wondering what a world of subjective (relative) truth looks like: here we are! Facts don’t matter, hateful ideologies are confirmed by a balkanized media, and misinformation is used as political ammunition.
- People are either racist or stupid: After two years of campaigning, no one in this country can claim ignorance about the two candidates’ character or values. There is already a lot of talk about liberal arrogance and we should seek to understand the psychology of middle America. But, don’t let Trump supporters off the hook. A vote for Trump reveals either a fault of character or staggering stupidity. Clearly, racism/misogyny runs deeper in America than many people thought. But countries aren’t racist, people are. In this country, its seems a sizable proportion of citizens either have hate in their hearts or nothing in between the ears.
- Politics is not a fact-based enterprise: Republican politicians do not tell the truth and electorate can’t be bothered to check the facts. Democrats should rest assured that this will not change. We will surely be blamed for all sorts of problems caused by conservatives. Colbert nailed it a decade ago: Democrats believe in truth, republicans in feelings. Unfortunately, in politics, feelings beat truth. This is a terrifying reality that democrats, nevertheless, need to embrace: communicate feelings not truth.
- Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight: Democrats seem to have forgotten what republicans have always known: politics is war by other means. Not only that, but it is a fight between good and evil, truth and lies. Democrats need to take a page from the republican playbook and fight like the future of humanity depends on it–it does. For years, republicans have not played nice or fair. They lie, obstruct, cheat, move the goalposts, act in bad faith. And, it works. Democrats don’t need to stoop to their level in all these ways—we have truth and justice on our side. But, we need to play rough and even a little dirty. They will do the same.
- Obstruct: The beginning of a presidency is ripe for obstructionism. Democrats should fight the confirmation of every appointee for whatever reason, or none at all. They need to stall and stymie every bill and compromise only as a last resort.
- Impeach: There are already legitimate reasons to investigate Trump and his team. Republicans didn’t hesitate to go after Clinton for infidelity, Trump will do much worse. Get to it!
- Embarrass: With an eye towards the 2018 midterm elections, democrats need to embarrass all republicans that support Trump for the next two years. Nobody likes living in a constant political campaign, but this election necessitates it.
- Keep our values, change the message: Democrats are on the right side of history. We need to stay firm on our values of equality for men, women, homosexuals, transgender, racial, ethnic, religious minorities. However, it is clear that the message of political correctness is not working. Do we want to be right or do we want to win? Clearly, we need to soften this message to appeal to middle america and rural whites.
- Pick your battles, but fight them all: Certain priorities of president Trump, despite being totally misguided, do not represent a clear and present danger to our future. Others do. Building a wall is a stupid idea. However it is not in and of itself, morally wrong. Eliminating the EPA is. Democrats should be very clear which is which so they know when to compromise. But, they should fight them all of these battles with the same intensity that republicans did Obama. By fighting every fight (even those not of critical importance), democrats can slow down Trump’s agenda and minimize the damage to our most important priorities.
- Help Trump supporters despite themselves: It is incredible to see so much of this country vote against their best self interests. Rural, middle class, white people just voted in a president who vowed to take away their healthcare, lower taxes for the wealthy, not raise their wages, and loosen protections for workers. He promised them a bunch of things he can’t possibly deliver. When he fails to bring back coal or jobs from China, we cannot expect these voters to change their minds. Yet, democrats still need to pursue policy and politics that addresses these people’s very real concerns.
- People don’t vote: Only 58% of eligible people voted. Yes, there are more hurdles to voting in urban areas and in low-income communities. But, if democratic voters went to the polls in the same numbers that republicans do, it wouldn’t even be close.
- Electoral reform: Trump was right, the system is rigged…against democrats. The electoral college was created to stop someone like Trump from being swept into the white house on a wave of populism. The good judgement of the political class was supposed to prevent a dangerous man like Trump from actually becoming president. Now, it is doing the opposite. The Supreme Court is a partisan body that elected the president in 2000 and undid voting protections this year to help republican candidates. Gerrymandering has all but ensured a republican majority in the house. Democrats need to make it their top priority to reverse these trends and even the playing field. This will be a heavy lift and will take a long time, but it has to be done.
- State politics: Republicans are in such a plum spot now because they patiently built strong majorities in statehouses across the country. Democrats need to do the same. It is a stepping stone towards electoral reform.
- Abolish the electoral college: This can be done through the interstate compact (which might go before the Supreme Court) or by constitutional amendment (which requires congress). Either way, it will take a long time and the support from a strong majority of state legislatures. It will be impossible without some red states going along with it.
- Election day should be holiday: This is the best step towards increasing voter turnout nationwide. Voter turnout is good in and of itself, and will also help drive democratic victories. We should put republicans on the defensive by proposing it and not letting up, both at the state level and federally.
- Gerrymandering: Democrats don’t need to gerrymander to win. If congressional boundaries are drawn in common sense ways that take into account the natural boundaries of a community, democrats win. As they are now, congressional boundaries are so gerrymandered that democrats would have to win 56% of the popular vote to have a majority in the house. Democrats need to control a sizable majority in congress in 2020 when these lines are redrawn. This may be impossible. However, if they can turn outrage of Trump into a landslide victory 4 years from now, it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to set this right. This is quite possibly the most important thing democrats can do over the next four years.
Contributor Max Neumeyer currently teaches in Wyoming.