Semi-optimistic thoughts after the election.

Quick reaction post — I haven’t edited this much, just jotted it down and put it out there:

It looks like a lot of voters apparently didn’t see Trump the same way I do. This post is not for them. It’s for the folks who voted against Trump and are disappointed now. It’s also partly a followup to this post by my friend Laura.

First: we’re in new territory. Has there ever been a time when a functioning democracy, with reasonably healthy institutions, voluntarily elected a completely non-establishment populist strongman/demagogue in a normal election, with the usual ballot privacy protections and everything? Without those institutions having been hollowed out first? This situation might be genuinely unprecedented. Which is good news: the worst historical comparisons really don’t apply here. I’ve heard some people making comparisons to Germany in the early 1930s. That’s misplaced, and unfair to Trump supporters. Trump is not that kind of ideologue; he’s just a talented narcissist who correctly read a mood that more experienced politicians missed. The situation has some resemblance to Berlusconi in Italy in the 1990s, but even that is not a perfect fit.

So we’ll learn this road as we travel it, but there is no reason to be fatalistic. Nothing is pre-determined here. We’re still going to have elections in two years, and again in four years. Trump is not operating outside politics. He’s skilled at politics, and he’s operating in a purely political framework as a political actor; he hasn’t actually pushed those boundaries. (Some people seem to think he has, that somehow his election is akin to a coup, but it’s not. He won the election by campaigning and winning votes. He’s despicable, but he showed that pretty clearly and people still voted for him.)

Second, just because he’s President, or President-elect, doesn’t change who he is, or who this country is. He’s just some guy who got elected President. The qualities a President should have have not changed nor been cheapened, even if he doesn’t have them. His behaviors have not been rendered Presidential except in the tautological sense that he’s been elected President. He’s just who he is. The office does not change that. Furthermore, even if he hadn’t won, about the same number of people would have voted for him. In other words, the percentage of dissatisfied people in the country would be about the same, it’s just that it would be other people. What makes us Trump opponents so sure that the dissatisfied half should be them and not us, this time around? Which brings me to:

Third, the cycle will come around again. Remember the re-election of George W. Bush? The world was stunned; they couldn’t believe we’d re-elected the same President who’d started the unnecessary and already disastrous invasion of Iraq. Someone even set up And yet four years later we elected Barack Obama, and then elected him again. Trump is the 45th President of the United States, but he is not the last.

Fourth, it’s the Democrats who have to change. My friend Karen Underhill nailed it: “We didn’t redistribute wealth. That’s why this happened.” I would say, actually: “We didn’t redistribute dignity.” Raw redistribution of wealth can happen with mere handouts, in theory, but that’s not the point. People need to feel both economically secure and dignified. Trump understood this. He’s not going to deliver it, or worse, maybe he’ll deliver it for some (lighter colored) people at the expense of other (darker colored) people. But he understood a raw need that the DNC has shown little understanding of in recent years. (Update: looks like Naomi Klein agrees.)

Bernie Sanders would have won this race, I think (not everyone agrees). This was an election where the majority of voters wanted a roll-the-dice candidate. Clinton was the exact opposite of that; she even thought she was criticizing Trump when she repeatedly said he was a risky gamble, not understanding that that was exactly the quality voters liked about him. When things aren’t going well, why not roll the dice?

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both were very much roll-the-dice candidates, but the Democratic establishment wasn’t ready to give Sanders and his ideas their support. Either the Democrats will change, or Donald Trump will be re-elected. I honestly don’t know if they can change, but between Sanders in the primaries and Trump in the general, the message could not be clearer. Blaming this on the Republican Party’s own problems (which are real enough) is convenient, but it absolves the Democratic Party of too much. If this election doesn’t cause healthy change — by which I mean, of course, change I agree with 🙂 — in the Democratic Party, then our problems are much worse than just this election result.

Finally, I don’t mean to sound naive, but this is a democracy. There were protests yesterday, the day after the election, in a lot of major cities. These protests are a mistake and make the anti-Trump half of the country look bad. The organizers described them as protests against hate, against racism, etc, but that’s just wishful thinking. If you hold a protest that is clearly aimed at the winning candidate the day after an election, then the only possible interpretation people will have of that is that it’s a protest against the election outcome. Democracy means accepting the outcome of the election. It’s fine to protest the resultant policies and actions that are then enacted, but since Trump doesn’t even take office for another couple of months, now is clearly not the time to protest.

I get it: people don’t want to feel like suckers, and they know that if Donald Trump lost, he’d be doing everything he could to work the refs, stoke his supporters’ outrage, and fuel speculation that the election had been stolen. That’s probably true, but it’s not what happened. The damage done (and still to be done) by his obvious disrespect for norms will only be made worse if the rest of us toss them aside too. The way to counter Trump is to demonstrate that we stand for certain things. Respect for norms is only one of those things, but it’s the most accessible one at this moment, so let’s try to keep it strong. It’s going to need all the help it can get.

Meanwhile, there are mid-term elections coming up! Let’s get to work supporting candidates who understand that the way the Democratic Party has been operating since Reagan/Bush won’t cut it anymore.

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