Here's How We Can Face The Massive Challenges Ahead

Protesters chant and hold signs during a protest against the election of President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 201
Protesters chant and hold signs during a protest against the election of President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This is a sickening time in America, and around the world.

I'm trying to process feelings of shock and horror at the election results.

But I take some solace in knowing this: No matter what it feels like right now, our country will survive. Our institutions and values are too deeply rooted to be upended by a single election.

But there's no question, something truly terrible has happened. We are facing some very troubling times ahead and will have to confront massive challenges.

It's going to take quite a while to sort out what happened in the election, to assess what the impact will be on the country. But l wanted to share some immediate reflections on the election, and some guesses about what things look like ahead.

  • Rejectionist Election. The Trump vote represented a rejection of establishment politics, a rejection of insider deal-making and fury over the working of an unjust economy. It may seem upside down to say that Trump was the vehicle to express those sentiments, but he plainly did stand for a radical rejection of business as usual and a contempt for elite-driven politics.

  • Clinton's Miscalculation. The Clinton campaign made a decision to run as not-Trump, rather than on her surprisingly progressive agenda. In retrospect, at least, that clearly was an error. One consequence of the campaign's decision about how to run the race was that, while run well from a technical competence point of view, it was utterly devoid of passion, inspiration and grassroots energy. In a populist moment, that proved a fatal flaw.
  • Voter Suppression. It wasn't just Clinton's failure to generate enthusiasm that depressed turnout. It was an explicit part of the Trump campaign and, more importantly, was the product of a decade's worth of Republican efforts to limit ballot access for people of color and students. We may never know the exact impact of voter suppression efforts, but in a very close election, it was very likely decisive.
  • Money Still Matters. As a candidate, Trump was in a class by himself. He was able to garner unprecedented free media attention and he disdained normal fundraising strategies. So, the presidential election results cannot be described as the triumph of Big Money donors, even if Trump is likely to serve their interests. However -- and in spite of Trump not playing the regular big-money game -- this was the most expensive election in history. Outside spending had a decisive role in U.S. Senate elections, dwarfing candidate spending in closely contested races, and taking control from the candidates. More than160 million was spent on the Pennsylvania Senate race alone (118 million by outside groups), more than120 million in tiny New Hampshire (90 million by outside groups).
  • A Proto-Fascist Movement. Donald Trump generated massive enthusiasm for his campaign, in no small part by generating a proto-fascist movement built around vicious anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Latino sentiments, and drawing on deep wells of racism and sexism. We have to address this head on, because history demonstrates how such sentiments can spin out of control and lead to the most horrific results.
  • What should we expect and do in the days, weeks and months ahead?


    There's huge uncertainty about what policies a Trump administration will pursue. Trump proposed contradictory policy measures, barely sketching out details even of his top-line proposals. But above all, he just didn't demonstrate interest at all in policy. So, there's just no way really to predict what we should expect in the way we could with a more traditional candidate.


    We have to convert widespread populist sentiment into real progressive-populist policy. With a Trump administration, there may be some opportunities to do this in particular cases -- trade, drug pricing, domestic infrastructure investment and money-in-politics.


    But the overwhelming bulk of the Trump agenda, to the extent it is discernible, aims to free corporations to engage in reckless activity and mass predation without any restraint -- to rip off consumers, pollute the environment, threaten the planet with catastrophic climate change, strip health insurance coverage from those who can't pay, restart the Wall Street schemes that led to the Great Recession. And the Republican leadership in Congress may be establishment, but it favors an extremist corporate agenda that, if anything, goes further than Trump has proposed.

    And to this agenda, it's crystal clear what we must do: Resist it with everything we've got. That means suing to block unconstitutional maneuvers. It means demanding that the Democratic minority in the Senate use its power to block the corporate extremist agenda. It means calling out that agenda for what it is. And it means speaking up and defending the rights of immigrants and any other group that Trump may target.

    Above all, it means mobilizing like never before and taking to the streets to demonstrate our people power, our refusal to defer to corporate hegemony or to permit the spread of fascist sentiment, and our insistence on the progressive agenda that has overwhelming support from the American people.

    What we can't permit is for a protest vote -- and a call for a populist uprising against establishment politics and narrow elite control of the economy -- to be co-opted into a victory for the very corporate establishment and political elites against which the revolt is directed.


    For all the hard fighting that is going to come in the years ahead, we must assert the central importance of love and solidarity, kindness and decency to who we are as a country and a people.

    These are the times that try men's (and women's) souls, wrote Tom Paine. As Paine instructed, it's our duty not to shrink from service to the country, but to stand by it.

    Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen, a grassroots advocacy organization that for 45 years has been devoted to defending democracy and fighting corporate power.