Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States. What’s wrong with that sentence? It’s that it feels like a sentence – a punishment or condemnation of sorts. Making matters worse, in an attempt to make Donald Trump’s inconceivable presidency comprehensible, Democrats have lobbed outrage toward Russia, fake-news, James Comey, the electoral college, and millennials – everything except Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party. The reality is Hillary Clinton lost because on the night of the election she did not receive the necessary amount of votes in the necessary states to be victorious. There is not one piece of incontrovertible conclusive evidence as to why Hillary Clinton lost the night of the election. Pundits may differ as to why a voter did not cast a ballot in her favor, but the fact of the outcome remains. It is difficult but extremely valuable to be forced to move from one place to another—politically speaking—and to accept and confront the situation in which we find ourselves: a Donald Trump presidency.
Every vote is an act of faith and because voters do not know what a candidate will accomplish during a political term, a vote represents a currency of “good faith”; therefore, it is the politician’s responsibility to give people something in which they can believe. Unfortunately, this election was about two people and not the people. Democrats lost their political identity because their identity ceased to exist in support of progressive ideas for Americans, and instead the party rested on their laurels of a Clinton presidency.
Power without having an identity or knowing oneself—in a political sense—hints at instability, and without a political identity Democrats are in danger of becoming politically schizophrenic. The Democratic Party did not have an identity tied to a progressive agenda, so voters were stuck debating whether or not Hillary Clinton was as progressive as Bernie Sanders. When it became clear Bernie was more progressive, voters were led to believe, despite the evidence to the contrary, that Hillary Clinton was the party’s best chance at defeating Donald Trump. Once this chasm opened—a disconnect between the Democratic establishment and the people—the Democratic Party proved themselves to be out of touch. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t know why she’s running, then Democratic representatives can’t tell voters why they should vote for her outside of her identity as Hillary Clinton. Democrats will need to firmly root themselves in a progressive agenda led by leaders millennials will be motivated to vote for.
As Democrats search for ways to make themselves a politically viable option amongst millennials and other crucial voting blocs, they should be cautious of acting missionary-like, which is to say, as James Baldwin put it, acting like they know more about the voter’s experience than the voter does. Clinton’s team ignored Sanders surrogates and grassroots activists who campaigned for Sanders:
Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party chair and another Sanders booster who was at the DNC meeting, said. We not only screamed about this, we wrote memos, we begged,” Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party chair and another Sanders booster who was at the DNC meeting, said. “I spent a good chunk of time writing memos about how [Bernie’s surrogates] could be utilized on the campaign trail, about ‘issue voters,’ about the environment, Black Lives Matter, Dakota Access Pipeline, rogue cops, you name it… I was [also] talking specifically about rural communities, and how [Hillary] completely ignored and abandoned anything that we cared about.
When you begin to confront the fact that the Democratic party didn’t support the candidate who refused to have a Super PAC and didn’t listen to Sanders organizers who had campaigned on the streets, who had an ear to what was happening in swing states, that’s when you realize that the Democratic primary contest is designed to stop grassroots candidates. Then you begin to see the problem with the party—a problem that is exemplified by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook:
In a race where people wanted fundamental change, Donald Trump sure was a fundamental change,” Mook said. “It was a strength being an outsider.”
This quote tells you all you need to know about the mentality of the Democratic Party. To recognize that there was strength in being an outsider while ignoring street activists who organized and worked for Bernie Sanders, an outsider in the Democratic party and who tried to warn the Clinton campaign about the potential of a Trump presidency, is a show of arrogance that should alarm every Democratic voter. A room full of people who were all-knowing, who arrogantly believed in their own benevolence, could not foresee that the Democratic party’s perfect candidate was the most flawed candidate, despite her actual qualifications. They couldn’t fathom that she’d be incapable of beating the best Republicans had to offer, which happened to be the worst Republicans had to offer.
Donald Trump, a man who is moral, economic, and ethical incompetence in corporal form, and has a capacity of human decency that lies on the fringes of pathetic, is not scary. Donald Trump’s presidency, in particular, isn’t scary. Donald Trump doesn’t have to be the President of the United States for Republicans to defund planned parenthood, or pass strict voter ID laws. Sexism, racism, and classism are not potent because of their ability to keep people of color or women from the Oval Office. They are potent because, and let’s be honest, racism, sexism, and classism kills people. When people cannot afford healthcare, people die. When women do not have rights over their reproductive health, people die. When white men are allowed to assault the bodies of black men, people die. The Democratic party never addressed what was truly at stake in a Trump victory, ignored many Bernie Sanders-inspired candidates at the state level and used Donald Trump as a scare tactic to conjure votes for Hillary Clinton, which are all methods of campaigning that are not inspiring.
The Democrats did not give Hillary Clinton or Democratic voters the campaign she deserved. Her team presented her as if it were her time to be president and not someone who was willing to go out and earn voters. “I’m With Her” was language that played on the anticipation of Hillary Clinton being the United States’ first female president, but the campaign largely ignored the intersectionality of Hillary’s campaign as a white woman. “Ready for Hillary” was also language that made the voter the primary actor in a situation that demands the politician to be the primary actor. “She’s With Us” or “She is ready for us” would at least signify that Hillary Clinton is the one engaging in action.
To regain what was lost in this past election cycle, Democrats will need to go beyond rebuilding the party. They will need to rebuild their connection with people at the grassroots level and put voters first. Will the party continue to take money from corporations, or will they act to remove money out of politics? Are they going to be more critical of the deportation of undocumented immigrants, even if it’s happening when a Democrat is President of the United States? What about gun control? Universal Healthcare? Affordable college tuition? Unions? And trade deals? The Democratic party needs to act soon and deliver a unifying, progressive message if it wants to be a party that survives after the Clinton era, because the days of receiving a vote for having a “D” in front of your name may come to an end very soon.
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