As we prepare for holiday dinner conversations with family members that we are pretty sure voted for Donald Trump, I want to offer these truths and hopes for the Democratic Party. We’re all beyond ready to be done with this dreadful year (Princess Leia? Have you no decency, 2016??). And just because it's Christmas (and at Christmas you tell the truth), I offer these ways that my fellow Democrats can be better in the New Year.
1. Learn the right lessons. When we lose elections, it’s easy to say everything we did was wrong (and when we win, everything we did was right). Learning the wrong lessons is just as dangerous as using the same failed playbook. We often “learn” the lessons that fit with our existing view of the world. Even as we await the voter files to help us see who showed up and who stayed home, we can conduct research to, for example, better understand those who voted twice for Obama and then for Trump.
2. Take risks and be bold. Let’s face it, 2018 has the potential to really suck for Democrats, especially at the federal level. Republicans are favored to grow their majority in the US Senate, probably by at least three seats. The impact of their failed policies won’t be felt yet. And Trump will continue to distract the media and his base with each new tweet and masterfully manipulative PR move. This is not the time to be timid and cautious. We need to be bold in our vision for our country and innovative in our approach to implementing it.
3. Make our vision for the country clear. We need to plainly state how we want to lead our country – and not just get wonky, but actually address the fears and aspirations that we have as a country. Democrats on every level of government need to introduce legislation and policies that speak to our collective needs and aspirations. That means addressing job creation and community innovation and rising healthcare costs and failing schools.
4. Facts matter – and not just for our critics. As we learn how to battle the proliferation of fake news and misinformation, it’s not enough to point out when our critics are wrong. We need to accept truths, even when they don't fit within our established worldview. A majority of white women voted for Trump. That's a fact. We need to stop explaining it away, and start trying to understand why – and then use it to adjust our ways of appealing to them.
5. Fight back and resist. We need our elected officials – especially our Senators and Members of Congress – to use every procedure and PR moment to fight back against attempts to destroy our social safety net and further consolidate power among the elite and wealthy. Our state and local leaders have a unique role as the frontline of defense for our communities. Not only can they fight back, but they also can advance progressive policies that strengthen our communities and expand opportunities for all. Attorneys general can use their statewide positions to protect and represent their constituents under attack in this new political climate. We will hold our elected leaders accountable to be scrappy and outsmart our opponents. And when they aren’t, we will find candidates to challenge them in their next election.
6. Acknowledge that Donald Trump is brilliant. Wait. Stay with me on this one. Yes, he’s a narcissistic, race-baiting, devious, arrogant sexual predator (deep breath) but he also is a genius at controlling the media and manipulating rules to benefit him and his family. We will lose if we assume our values and principles alone will help us stop him from advancing his agenda. Even as we endure daily moments of feeling sucker-punched by the mere idea of his presidency, we must acknowledge his masterful and blatant manipulation of facts and his well-practiced ability to tap into anger, fear, and anxiety. Moreover, we’re about to witness it at a new level when he has access to federal agencies like the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So let’s stop underestimating and dismissing him – not to mention playing into his game of irrelevant distractions – and treat him for the political genius that he is.
7. Ignore the cries for change at our own peril. This election showed us that a large part of the country wants change, event at the expense of hurtful and racist policies. If we don't change and our party leaders don’t truly listen to those cries for change, we will – and deserve to – lose.
We may be a wounded party but we're a great one, too. We’re the party of FDR, Barack Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, John F. Kennedy, and Elizabeth Warren. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, Democrats must be prepared to be much stronger in the months and years ahead.