On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. He will govern with both houses of Congress under Republican control. This will be a disaster for America, but it is the sort of disaster that Texas Democrats are familiar with. The GOP has had similar control over the government of the State of Texas since the early 2000s. To that end, here are some survival suggestions, based on the experiences of Texas Democrats.
Protect Your Blue Districts and Institutions. Most of Texas is under Republican control, but the major cities in Texas and predominately Latino counties in South Texas are Democratic-leaning. Progressives in those parts of the state have spent a lot of effort building up strong teams of Democratic political leaders in those areas. This model needs to be followed nationally, given that Washington isn’t friendly territory right now. Support your local and state Democratic politicians and organizations and remember that many important political battles occur far from Washington. Also, states that remain predominately Democratic need to jealously guard their powers and privileges. A corollary to that is...
Let Your Local Democrats Be Themselves. If the Democratic Party is going to follow a fifty-state rebuilding plan, which it must, it needs to understand that this is a big country and local politicians need to be responsive to local electorates. For example, many Democratic politicians in South Texas are socially conservative. Social liberals like me may not agree with that, but if they are on the right side of issues like school funding, voting rights and the social safety net, those differences must be accepted. Democrats can’t afford to get into the “they are Democrats In Name Only” game. This can play itself out at the Congressional or gubernatorial level on issues like fracking or gun rights. There naturally will be and must be debates and clear stands taken at the national level for various policy issues, but an increased respect for federalism and devolution would help the Democratic Party build itself up at the state and local level, which it desperately needs to do.
Don’t Rely on Demographics. Democrats can’t expect changing voter demographics to save them. That didn’t save Hillary Clinton in 2016 and in Texas, Republicans have been able to maintain a working majority by garnering about 40% of the Latino vote. Don’t assume any set of voters is always with you or against you. That assumption has hurt Democrats in Texas, so please note that lesson. We’ve learned it the hard way.
Pick Your Battles. A wise Texas politician once told me, “you don’t have to get into every fight”. Democrats can’t go into outrage overload with every unhinged utterance from Donald Trump or his supporters. That way madness lies. But Democrats can focus on the key battles of the next several years and should use every parliamentary and legal tool they have to resist Trump and the Republicans when they propose bad policies, even if the facts of a given situation mean the GOP will likely win. Wendy Davis’s filibuster in favor of reproductive rights is an example of this in Texas. It didn’t stop a bad bill from passing, but it galvanized a generation of activists and the U.S. Supreme Court ended up striking that law down.
Be of Good Cheer. This is going to be a long four, hopefully not eight, years. There will be terrible moments. However, more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump (a fact that should be mentioned whenever possible) and many of Trump’s voters supported President Obama in the past, which means they can be brought back into the Democratic fold. Democrats need to resist the Republicans, but they should do so in a manner that makes people want to be Democrats. It’s not enough to simply be anti-Trump. Remember the counsel of people like the late, great Texas writer Molly Ivins: “keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it”.
So keep fighting. Happily.