Pushing aside the shattered remnants of firewalls and foolish assumptions, we survivors emerge to survey the wreckage. The Republican victory was, paradoxically, both narrow and sweeping. Trump won by carrying most of the swing states by very narrow margins, the Congress still has (smaller) Republican majorities, the GOP actually gained in governorships and state legislatures. All this in spite of the fact that the Democrats actually won more votes, in both the presidential race and those down-ballot.
Hillary Clinton was a flawed and tragic candidate. Among the best-qualified presidential candidates in history, she was weighed down by a generation of Republican character assassination, only abetted by her own errors of judgment such as the infamous private email server. She could never escape the doubts about her character, could never go on the offensive against a highly vulnerable Donald Trump. After being torpedoed by the New York office of the FBI at the last moment, she could not recover even when cleared. Undecided voters in the final week went overwhelmingly to Trump and tipped an election she should have won.
There is no excuse for the Democrats’ failure to recapture the Senate, given the huge imbalance in the numbers of seats the two parties had to defend. We should have won both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, we could have won Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. Such an opportunity will not soon return.
Most essentially, we need to continue to stand for the diverse and inclusive society we believe in, for a vigorous and sophisticated response to the threat of global warming, for diplomacy before force in foreign policy.
As to the House and the state legislatures, the disaster of 2010 looms large as it allowed comprehensive, systematic gerrymandering that gives the GOP a lock on those chambers, until such time as Republican malfeasance reaches such massive dimensions that even their own partisans will vote them out. Wait for it, but don’t count on it.
So the Republicans can pretty much have their way. How should Democrats and progressives respond? Most essentially, we need to continue to stand for the diverse and inclusive society we believe in, for a vigorous and sophisticated response to the threat of global warming, for diplomacy before force in foreign policy.
We must continually focus on the complete, undiluted GOP responsibility for whatever bad things happen. We can allow them no excuses, no shifting of blame. They own it. In particular, Trump (“I alone can fix it!”) owns it.
During the campaign, Trump trumpeted Hillary’s alleged corruption with devastating effect. Now he must be held to those standards. What about conflicts of interest between his official duties and his businesses? How can it be credible that his children will be put in charge of his various enterprises? How can this not be a conflict of interest? How will his official decisions enrich Trump enterprises? What sorts of commitments has he made with foreign governments (particularly Russia)? What coordination was there between his campaign and the Russian hacking of the Democrats? There is an enormous record of self-serving dishonesty here that should be a fertile field for investigative journalism and aggressive questioning by members of Congress.
The Democrats in the Senate still have tools to delay and even block legislation, tools Republicans were happy to use when they were in the minority. Democrats should use those tools to the hilt. If they push the Republican leadership to change the rules to get rid of those tools, to make the Senate a majoritarian body, that will serve the long-term interests of democracy, even if in the short run it lets them pass legislation that Democrats oppose.
While it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, we must also build a positive agenda aimed at rebuilding a society that will be much the worse for wear after the Trump years. Economic inequality will only have gotten worse: we need to keep pounding on that and rejecting Trump’s recycled trickle-down strategy that’s failed twice before (Reagan and Bush II).
But we also must rethink what has been fundamental to liberals and progressives for decades: the need for targeted benefits for racial and ethnic minorities. While we see the great civil rights laws of the 1960s as culmination of the New Deal, many working class whites see reverse discrimination. We must reframe the problem as opposing discrimination and assuring equal opportunity for all. We should not continue to drive a wedge between whites and minorities, when both face similar problems and both need a chance to succeed.
Trump’s hostility to trade pacts reflects the fact that they have been negotiated primarily in consultation with big business and without effective labor input. But by picking fights with our trading partners, he will likely provoke a global recession. We should be in position to offer a new approach to trade agreements that prioritizes labor rights and penalizes the sort of plant closures that have undermined popular support for previous agreements like NAFTA.
By the time we are done with Trump, the environmental crisis will be increasingly evident, and there will be more support for the kind of rational policies that he will reject, such as shifting to renewable energy. So we should keep advocating for those policies, making sure Trump and Republicans are shackled to their own environmental failures.
Trump will directly assault the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Roe v. Wade will probably be overruled by a Trump-dominated Supreme Court, shifting the issue back to the states. The Anti-Choice crowd would then attack freedom of choice at the state level. The doctrine that freedom of religion gives businesses the right to deny services to gays, could well be enshrined in law. We must then be ready to fight on these fronts as well.
Thus a progressive alternative to Trump will have to combine reaffirmation of much of our current stance, with some basic rethinking about how we frame discrimination and opportunity, the better to enable us to reach out to a critical Trump constituency.