Defeating Trump Will Take More Than An Electoral Victory

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to reporters after holding a "National Security Working Session
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to reporters after holding a "National Security Working Session" with national security advisors in New York, U.S. September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

If you're like me, you have probably been exhorted in every possible way to vote for Hillary Clinton: We are told that we have a moral obligation to support her--some even say that we must vote for her in states where the election isn't even close. It is suggested that it is not enough for Donald Trump to simply lose; instead, he must lose by a wide margin--and, we are further told, that if this sort of defeat of Trump does not take place, it is our fault and not the fault of Hillary Clinton, the Clinton campaign, or the Democratic Party.

This narrative is both dangerous as a theory of social change and deeply wrong. Clinton supporters are right that many people ought to vote for Hillary Clinton--at least, those in swing states. But they are wrong in thinking that it is enough to prevent the election of Donald Trump, even by a large margin; we must counter Trump with a social movement of our own. Our moral obligations run two ways this election--voters in swing states must vote for Clinton, but Clinton supporters must be fully engaged in progressive organizing.

The Clinton campaign, unlike the Sanders campaign, is essentially top-down in structure. It has spent a huge amount of time and money on advertisements attacking Donald Trump, and to little effect. And while Clinton, assuredly, makes many public appearances, her campaign is markedly different from Sanders' campaign, with its rallies of huge crowds, independently-organized volunteer efforts, and eventual evolution from campaign into a substantive movement. This may be enough to win an election, but it is not enough to really defeat Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has conjured up from the anxieties and economic insecurity of millions of white Americans a powerful white nationalist movement that our country has not seen in decades. It verges on the delusional to think that even the largest margin of defeat will put that behind us as a nation. As so many free speech advocates have urged, the best way to fight speech is with more speech--likewise with social movements: the best way to contend against Trump's movement is with our own. Even with a Democrat in the Oval Office, a majority-liberal Supreme Court, and a Democrat majority in Congress, white nationalism and right-wing authoritarianism will not be behind us. Ideas do not simply dissipate if defeated on election night.

In 1964, far-right wing Senator Barry Goldwater, currying favor with segregationists with his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, won the Republican nomination and was utterly routed in the general election by Lyndon Johnson. Yet that strain of conservatism did not go away, even with a massive electoral defeat. It continued to influence our politics, through the John Birch Society and other conservative organizations and media outlets. Rather than dooming conservatism, the Goldwater candidacy in fact launched to prominence contemporary right-wing politics. The same will be the fate of Trump unless supporters of Clinton recognize the echoes of history.

So when Clinton supporters speak to you of what your moral obligation is in the voting booth, respond to them by pointing to their own moral obligation: That their duty does not end when they cast their ballot; that it is incumbent upon all of us to roll back the tide of authoritarianism, a feat which can only be accomplished in the streets and our communities, to hold Hillary Clinton to account for the "most progressive Democratic Party platform in American history," to ensure a better future for every American--one in which Trump and his supporters are once again an unserious political force. This is an intellectual, social and political project; "elections," as Bernie Sanders has said, "come and go. Revolutions never end."