For Democrats and other liberals across the country, the results of the 2016 presidential election came as tremendous shock, as the polls and mainstream media overwhelmingly assumed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. The victory of the Republican presidential nominee, controversial businessman Donald Trump, despite losing the popular vote by a plurality well over two million, has thrown many of us, especially at Vassar, into a state of disarray.
The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency, especially as both the House of Representatives and the Senate are controlled by the Republican Party, puts many of the progressive ideals Democrats hold dear, and Barack Obama’s legacy, in serious peril.
This, combined with the growth and success of right-wing movements throughout Europe, threatens the fabric of global progressivism. The success of Brexit in the United Kingdom, the resignation of Matteo Renzi in Italy, the near-success of Norbert Hofer in Austria and the growing strength of the National Front and Marine Le Pen in France all make the international left ill at ease.
With that said, there are reasons for leftists abroad to be a little more optimistic. It has become very possible that, despite the outcome of the referendum, Brexit may never actually occur.
Although he made it quite far, Norbert Hofer ultimately lost his election to the candidate for the Green Party. Marine Le Pen still faces an extremely uphill battle if she wishes to win the presidency next year (although those hoping for a Socialist Party comeback should prepare themselves for a disappointing election season).
Unfortunately, those of us living in the United States have considerably less cause for optimism. Despite what certain left-wing blogs might be telling you, Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. The recounts and petitions to the electors may make us feel better about the situation, but they will not change the outcome of the election. Even in the best case scenario, the Republican Party will control all three houses of government for the next two years at least. Progressives must acknowledge before productively moving forward.
This may appear to be hypocritical considering my last article, in which I published an email I sent to the electors urging them to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump. While I have hope that at least one of them will read what I wrote and change their mind, I’m not hedging my bets.
Unless something truly extraordinary happens, Donald Trump will take office in January.
The most we can hope for is that the Democratic Party acts as obstructionist as possible, takes back the Congress in 2018, and goes on to defeat Trump in 2020. If that occurs, then it’s possible that American progressives can limit the damage to a point that can be easily fixed by the next administration.
This could even occur without much soul searching for the Democratic Party. In a CNN Money poll, about half of economists said that they “believed there will be a recession at some point in the next four years” (CNN Money, Will Donald Trump get hit with a recession?” 11.09.2016). Such a recession, if poorly handled, could make the Republican Party especially vulnerable, and may turn the tides in the Democrats’ favor.
However, the Democratic Party may have some need for soul searching, although perhaps not in the fashion that many seem to be advocating for. The calls I’ve seen have tended towards an ideological shift, a push for the radicalization of the Democratic Party. The perceived lesson of 2016 appears to be that the answer to an increasingly polarized society is to move further to the left, become more populist and feed into the same anger and resentment that fueled Trump’s campaign.
I fear that the Democrats will take this election as signal that centrism is dead, and that they will assume from this that Americans can easily get behind a radicalized candidate despite the fact that the left’s radical lost the primaries and the right’s radical lost the popular vote.
Instead, the Democrats need to increase outreach towards white, working class voters such as those that handed Trump the White House, and in the future will need to adjust their strategy of governing that shows political courage.
Very soon, there will be a day when a candidate is unable to be elected president merely with support from the white populace. Obviously that day has not come. Until that point, the Democratic Party cannot operate under the belief that white, working class voters are unimportant.
Many have used this as evidence that Bernie Sanders could have fared better. I would argue that’s an incorrect interpretation, although if you’d really like to know which candidate actually may have a shot against Donald Trump, I’d have bet my money on Joe Biden.
Of all the potential Democratic candidates, he would likely have been the best equipped to speak to the concerns of white working class voters.
Furthermore, the Democratic Party must reckon with the fact that Trump’s victory was at least partially the result of failed policy.
It is not a coincidence that right before the election, the White House announced that insurance premiums would increase by double digits in 2017. Forget James Comey, that’s the real October surprise.
Obamacare was an accomplishment, but it is not a lesson in political courage. The legislation, while it helped a great many people, is deeply flawed. Had the Democrats shown real political courage during the early days of the Obama years, before the Republicans took back the House of Representatives, we’d likely have a public option by now. Instead, the current healthcare system, while a step above where we were eight years ago, is marred by imperfections. Again, that’s not to say that Obamacare was a failure, for it can be credited with allowing millions of Americans the opportunity to have health care who never had that opportunity before, but through insistence on compromising even when it wasn’t necessary, we hurt our chances of something better.
The Democratic Party can and will bounce back from this defeat, but as a party we must reevaluate our electoral and governing strategies. We must look at the critical errors Clinton and other establishment figures (and there were many) made on the campaign trail and rectify them.
Specifically, we, as Democrats, need to find better ways to reach out to working class voters and, when in power, govern in an ambitious way that shows political courage.
In opposition, we must obstruct efforts by the Trump administration to circumvent American values and oppress minorities, and we must redouble efforts to take back the House and Senate in 2018. As citizens, we need, and are morally obligated to, vote in the next midterm elections in order to return the House and Senate to the Democrats and set the country back on the right course.