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What to Do After the Election?

Moving Forward Under a Trump Presidency

The weather in New York on the morning of November 9th was gloomy, just like the political mood. Despite numerous reassurances to the contrary, many people’s worst nightmare had just come true. Donald Trump would soon be President. It was as if the entire world had somehow come unraveled overnight. A general malaise was palpable on the streets. Someone hung a black scarf on their apartment door. Lamentations 1:20 echoed in the hallway. “Pay attention, Lord, for I am in trouble. My stomach is churning; my heart is pounding inside me because I am so bitter. In the streets the sword kills; in the house it is like death.”

While the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the fall of Jerusalem might seem like unrelated events, both caused an existential crisis among the faithful who suddenly had their world destroyed before their eyes. Many Democrats and independents have said they no longer recognize the country they had one day earlier called home. How do we move forward in such a situation? That’s a question I’ve mulled over for the past few days.

Organize, Organize, Organize

If there is one major lesson we need to take from this election — and here I am speaking to independents, liberals, progressives and radicals — it is that our collective disorganization has become fatal to democracy. We can point fingers all day long — at Democrats for railroading Bernie Sanders; at liberals for continually undermining the Green Party; at the general lack of organizing against the two-party system; and at the general hostility of many leftists towards organized politics. All of these are related to the global state of disorganized leftist politics. Only South America in recent years has been able to sustain some semblance of left-populism, and even that is now beginning to collapse.

Prepare to Resist Bigly

If we have learned anything from four decades of conservative politics, it is that you have to think about the long game. The foundation for Trump’s victory began with the election of Reagan in the 1980s and was solidified with the rise of the New Right. It’s important to recall that one of the main rallying points behind the New Right was its fierce opposition to Roe v. Wade (1973), opposition which now find itself in a position to overturn that historic decision. If we can’t count on the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights, then we need to start thinking about how we will do that city by city, state by state.

Another important dynamic of the New Right was a resurgence of white supremacist groups, a trend which has increased since the 1970s. A recent Lawfare report noted that “the number of active Klan groups increased from 72 in 2014 to 190 in 2015 – a 163% increase which includes an explosion of new chapters within existing groups, and the reappearance of older groups.” Similar trends were documented in a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Europe saw a similar spike in hate crimes after the Brexit vote, and evidence in recent months — such as attacks on mosques and African-American churches — suggests a similar pattern is already emerging in the US. This is a serious civil rights and public safety concern, and the left needs to start preparing to respond. This means thinking seriously about our self-defense capabilities against a growing threat from armed white supremacists, regardless of the color of their uniform. As some scholars and activists have pointed out, emancipation and civil rights were not won solely by non-violent protests. Defending these gains may not be either.

Similarly worrisome is how a Trump presidency will handle the growing ecological catastrophe. His initial remarks on the environmental front are deeply troubling, from a likely climate-denier heading the EPA, to slashing climate funding, and a massive surge in coal, oil and gas extraction. Even if only half of these plans come to fruition, we will need to replicate across the entire country what the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies are currently doing in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Change the Rules and the Game

Finally, we need to seriously think about how to address several structural issues in the US electoral system which continue to favor an elite-driven, two-party system. These include enacting meaningful campaign finance reform, finding a way to overturn Citizens United, seriously revisiting why we have the Electoral College, and fighting to restructure the hurdles to third parties entering the political system and having a fair hearing in debates.

Some will be harder than others, but a twin organizing strategy within and outside of the system can help address this. With this in mind, here are a few ideas for next steps.

First, the left needs to seriously reconsider the idea of running for office. While I am skeptical of politicians generally, it is precisely this sentiment that enabled a sweeping conservative electoral victory. Second, we need to have more serious and heartfelt talks with our friends and family about these issues over supper meals, in our mosques, temples and churches, in the bleachers of our kids’ football games, and in the hallways of our schools and universities. One way to counter a Trump presidency is by dividing and stripping him of as much of his support base as possible. Third, we need to work to restore a commitment to civil discussion and debate. One thing all Americans agree on is that they are tired of political lies and corruption, and we need to build on that common ground. Finally, for white folks like myself, if we are not already actively involved in anti-racist or social justice organizing circles, we need to be.

If one thing is clear from this election, it is that there is too much at stake to resign ourselves to lamentations. We must turn our tears of lament into fuel for our resistance.

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Chris Crews

  • Jeremy Safran

    Chris…I very much appreciate many aspects of your post, but perhaps the most important take home point for me is the idea of “playing the game”. I don’t know how many readers here are familiar with the recent book about Obama’s foreign policy which also speaks about his emphasis on playing the long game, but I found that particularly helpful. What is particularly ironic is that what you describe as the Republican’s strategy of playing the long game after Regan, was viewed by may as having led to the ultimate destruction of the Republican party (i.e. until Trump won the election). As to what will happen to Republican party now (will it be completely taken over by the tea-party populist base, or will a more moderate faction begin to regain some influence) only time will tell.

    But clearly what you refer to as the Republicans’ long game as been disasterous for the country. The dilemma from my perspective is that one aspect of the Republicans game has been consistent obstructionism to the point where the normal process of governing the country became completely immobilized, thus leading to a public perception that only an outsider could have the potential to get things moving again.

    So I’m wondering whether there are other ways of playing he long game that are not as destructive in the short term.

    And finally there is the question of what role talking to the “other” can play strategically in playing the long game.

    Liberals have a history of trying to understand the “other” and compromising in order to get things done, but is that ultimately the best strategy when it come to “playing the long game”?

    I have no answers here. Only a lot of questions.

    • Hi Jeremy,

      You raise some important questions here.

      I think there are two possible ways to think about the “conservative long game”, or perhaps two different “conservative long games”. One has to do with the slow strategy of infiltrating local level political institutions (school boards, county commissioners, etc.) and building a grassroots base of support that way over many election cycles in order to strengthen the conservative political apparatus. The other has to do with a more subtle but, I would argue, maybe even more powerful shift in the political rhetoric and public sentiment towards the right. I think it is this more profound shift which ultimately destroyed the democratic voter base, and allowed the slow encroachment of neoliberal rhetoric to percolate through the conservative and mainstream liberal parties more or less equally. There was a recent post by Naomi Klein which argued more or less the same thing–that the real enemy is neoliberalism (within both parties), and not conservatives per se. In this regard, it really is the political elites from both parties that are to blame.

      I am inclined to think that there will be a splintering of the Republican Party in the nearish future (perhaps not under Trump, but definitely moving in that direction in a more clear way). Something similar may also happen with the Dems, especially after the feud between Clinton and Sanders. What will ultimately matter the most, in my opinion, will be just how much the center of the country is willing to shift their support. As the polls made clear, the majority of the US voting public supported Clinton and not Trump, but this is a slim majority. And it’s unclear what the other more or less silent 49% think about the state of the country right now. To me, that is the most interesting and important group that no one seems to be talking or worrying about, beyond the usual hand wringing platitudes about low voter turnout.

      The question of Republican obstructionism you raise is an important one, but also one that I think is more pronounced at the federal level, and not so much at the state or local level. We’ll see with a republican-controlled Congress and Pres is this obstructionism has deeper roots than just Dems v. Reps. It would be particularly interesting–although I suspect unlikely in most cases–to have moderate Reps obstructing a more alt-right political agenda out of some perceived common interests that now align more with the Dems and Independents than the Republicans in power. But I’m not going to hold my breath for that to happen. I think what the US public will ultimately see is that even an outside who talks a big game, and has full Congressional support–still can’t accomplish most of what he claims he can. That should provide some sobering effect on the electorate that, I hope, will prevent a second term in office.
      The short answer to your question about the long game might be to focus on the mid-term elections in 2018, and wresting away as many seats from hostile Republicans as possible in the interim. Another strategy might be to focus on building support for 1-2 issues that Dems and Republicans can agree to work on–say funding road and bridge repairs and upgrades–and build support on those issues while fighting others (border walls, etc). But ultimately I think there will be a lot of rear guard defense going on for the next 4 years no matter what.

      To your last question about the other and compromise, I think the key is to be really clear about where we can compromise and where we have to stand and fight. Sometimes the long game requires a constant offensive and giving not even an inch. This is something that I think has to be looked issue by issue in concrete context.

      And yes, right now I think we all have a lot of questions we are looking to answer.

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