The world is hurtling towards the sun, and we're all going to die. That was my first reaction to the news that Donald Trump was elected President. Then I spoke to a college student who was in tears over the results, and the best advice I could give her was to find a cause she believed in that could help bridge the gap between Eastern, Elitist Liberals like us (hey--let's invent the acronym EELs to describe us, pass it on) and the massive numbers of angry white men who just picked themselves a president. Maybe it would be mobilizing millennials to vote, or improving education so people wouldn't go into the polls knowing so darn little about the way the world works--something that would both make a difference and make her feel better.
That's my advice for us as well. I woke up this morning wondering if I'd ever work again as a progressive communicator. I came to DC in the beginning of the Reagan Administration, and there were no shortage of left-wing groups, committees, nonprofits and other rabble-rousers who had some money to spend hiring propagandists like me. But today, I'm not sure that there are as many institutions and organizations with the wherewithal and clout to take on the Trump Administration (woooo--typing those words for the first time sends a shiver down my spine). The digital age has fragmented much of the left into micro-targeted, narrowcasting, follower-gathering individuals, whose idea of collective action is a retweet, not a march on Washington. Wherefore art thou today, Greenpeace? Whither thou goest, Common Cause?
Donald Trump won because he knew how to talk to voters who turned out to be the majority of the electorate. All the polls and commentary were wrong because they were based on assumptions nurtured in the schools, salons, vacation retreats and websites of us EELs. Someone said on punditTV that the last Democrat who could appeal to both EELs and white working class voters was Bobby Kennedy, and we needed another one of those, please, to start winning elections.
Until we figure out how to grow some new RFKs, or maybe Joe Bidens (Joe, forgive us, we should have asked you first!), perhaps the best we can do as communicators is to communicate our most deeply held values and beliefs, and show how they relate to Trump voters and pointy-headed liberals alike. We need to find language on climate change, money and politics, criminal justice, healthcare--all the bedrock issues of the many Centers, Institutes, Committees and Projects that have employed us over the years--that cross the education, income and geographic divides that just produced a president.
Take another look at the electoral map. It's largely the same one that's reared its divided head for decades. Blue on the coasts, red everywhere else. Is that the country you want to live in? Should we really be building our future on politics that allows a bunch of eastern (and western) elite liberals to dictate to the rest of America how to live?
No wonder the people in the "flyover states" (shame on us for even thinking that) are angry. No wonder they resent us. No wonder they took their revenge on us when they were finally given the chance. We need to figure out how to talk to them, and even more important, listen to them. Donald Trump isn't going to solve their problems. He's not going to build a wall, bring back coal, revive shuttered factories or stop global trade. He won't even be able to "leave happy holidays at the corner" and get everyone to start saying "Merry Christmas" again.
When voters find out that rejecting "political correctness" doesn't automatically lead to correct politics, they're going to be ready to listen to another view. Maybe even ours.