One week ago, in a shock to much of America, Donald J. Trump became the President-Elect of the United States of America. As the race was called for Mr. Trump, many Americans immediately had the feeling expressed by the great Martin Luther King, Jr. many decades ago that "we have some difficult days ahead." I believe there are many reasons for this feeling. First, the feeling expressed by many on both the left and right that Mr. Trump was not qualified or suited to be President. Second, the polls overwhelmingly pointed to a win for Secretary Hillary Clinton. Finally, the myriad of insensitive and offensive statements made by Mr. Trump toward minorities (African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims), those with disabilities and women, to name a few, suggested to many that he did not have the temperament to be President. The reasoning simply being that surely America would not elect a person who was or alleged to be xenophobic, racist and/or misogynistic. The fact that his campaign was chaired by Steve Bannon who has become a leading voice in the "Alt-Right" movement only further cemented in people's minds that Mr. Trump was too far from center to be elected President. The Alt-Right movement has become synonymous with white nationalism.
Despite the foregoing, by the morning of November 9th, against this consensus line of thinking, America, or more specifically the Electoral College, had given Mr. Trump the needed votes to be called President-Elect. The reaction was both swift and severe. By his supporters, surprise turned to jubilation. Maybe America really would be great again. On the other hand, those who had not voted for him were sad, outraged and fearful. These emotions also quickly turned to anger as Secretary Clinton's supporters witnessed her lead in the popular vote continue to grow. This lead currently stands at approximately 2,000,000 votes.
With each passing day it seems the Trump Presidency spawns a new crisis. I have heard stories of immigrant children crying at school, wondering whether their parents would be deported while they were at school. Muslims wondering whether they would be exposed to hate crimes or a Nazi type registry, and African-Americans wondering whether the country under Trump and Bannon's leadership would return to the "Jim Crow"-like times of our nation's dark past. As someone who spent the last month in Florida working to elect Secretary Clinton, I believe I have experienced the full range of emotions felt by most Americans who did not support Mr. Trump.
Shock, for one. How did we lose Florida by less than 1%? If we had won Florida, would we have won the Presidency? How did we win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College? Do we challenge this result? As an African American man, fear over what might happen to my community and other minority communities. Fear that the progress we have made under President Obama -- universal healthcare, job growth, marriage equality, woman's choice and expanded protection of civil rights might all be lost.
Separately, what is the signal to be taken from Mr. Trump's appointments? Naming Steve Bannon as Chief Advisor to the President, on equal stature with the Chief of Staff, and in a position to be the primary influencer on this President, at a minimum has to be read as Mr. Trump being less than sincere about creating an American that works for all. Personally, I have known Mr. Bannon in a professional context. We worked to turn around a media company together. He as Chairman and me as Chief Operating Officer. We were successful. I never saw, first hand, him act in a racist manner as is now alleged. That said, it is hard to give the benefit of the doubt to a person who ran a media website which has become the primary platform for the "Alt-Right" movement to get its message out.
Time to Move On
Where do we go from this point? How do we answer the foregoing questions? For starters, I believe we must give ourselves the time and space to heal. We must allow the open wounds of a very contentious election time to close. We must get mentally healthy so we can have the clarity to chart the course that will carry us into the future. Each person must heal in their own way and in their own time. Once, rested, we must rally. With an uncertain path, we should take the advice of former Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe and plant a thousand flowers and see what blooms.
I have now returned from Florida. I have rested, and nearly recovered from the many sleepless nights in this most important of battleground states. After what felt like a soul-crushing loss, it feels better and better to be around people. That said, I still have periods of wanting to withdraw from society; the grumpiness of not wanting to be around others. I know these feelings will soon subside. When they do, I will connect, align, organize and come together with other like minded individuals, and answer these questions together.
We need clear-eyed warriors. The road ahead will be hard.
The Path forward:
The following is meant to be a starting place versus an exhaustive list. A grounding that I hope will start both conversation and action.
1. Admit Where We Failed. It is easy to look outside to others for this loss. Certainly FBI Director Comey's late missives were not helpful. Others may allege voter suppression or electoral fraud. As a person that served as a Voter Protection lawyer in Florida, without hard data to the contrary, it is difficult for me to find merit that there was fraud or suppression to be material enough to have made a difference in the election. I believe this election turned on Trump's ability to better connect to the masses of economically downtrodden in our country and offer them a more crisp message of jobs and economic hope. By contrast, and while I believe Secretary Clinton had the far superior detailed jobs plan, as Democrats, I believe we failed to really acknowledge, in an authentic way that was felt by the voter, especially those voters in the rustbelt and the Midwestern battleground states of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, that we felt their pain, emphasized with the many job losses around now shuddered factories and that we are personally invested and committed to improving their economic lives. Many will point to a racist element, unlocked by Mr. Trump's rhetoric, that changed the tide of this election. While I believe there became a more vocal racist fringe, I think the voters that changed this election are those I describe above who saw their vote for Mr. Trump as a desperate last chance effort at a better economic life. As we rebuild the party (DNC) we must keep this lesson at the forefront of our thinking or proceed at our own peril in future elections.
2. Challenge the Electoral College. This is a long shot. That said, an election result such as this is the reason the Electoral College was established in the first place. In 1788, Alexander Hamilton warned of the risks of inaugurating a president with "talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity" and suggesting the Electoral College could prevent the office of the President from falling into the hands of someone unqualified for the office. Several members of the Republican Party, as well as of course Democrats, have flatly stated that Mr. Trump is unfit for the Presidency. His early Cabinet choices would certainty seem to be in line with this claim. To prevail, Mrs. Clinton would have to persuade enough "faithless" electors to change their vote to her in order to beat Mr. Trump and pass the 270 threshold. The result would then have to be ratified by Congress. It is hard to imagine a Republican Majority Congress confirming Secretary Clinton. Therefore, in the alternative, perhaps a compromise candidate could be confirmed. Such a challenge would further divide our nation. Notwithstanding the chance for further division, if there was ever a time to follow the framers intent, it would seem that now is the time. Certainly, the Electoral College should be radically amended or eliminated post this election so that no candidate so far ahead in the popular vote would not be president. Senator Boxer and others are already working in this regard. Regardless of the result of the challenge, Mr. Trump would be served notice that his actions will not go unchallenged, and any actions that are not equitable will be challenged at every turn.
3. Challenge Cabinet & Supreme Court Appointments. Though generally a President must be allowed to fill out their Cabinet, we must not stand by and allow the appointments of candidates that are totally unqualified. Mr. Bannon, due to his proximity to the Alt-Right movement, and Mr. Guliani, due to his lack of experience (at least in the case of Secretary of State) are two that come immediately to mind. Filing legal suits. Urging our Democratic Senators to use all means to prevent votes from coming to the floor, and in the alternative, working to ensure that there are not enough votes for confirmation are absolute priorities. This is especially the case with Supreme Court Appointments given their life tenure once confirmed.
4. Form Alliances. All minority, women and special interest groups must unite to back each other. If we do not allow ourselves to be divided, we bring real strength to the table. The ACLU and SPLC have stepped up with initial leadership in this regard. The NAACP, National Urban League, Anti-Defamation League, NARAL, Planned Parenthood and many others must join and be active and united.
5. Define No Compromise Issues: A woman's right to choose, marriage equality, sensible immigration reform and affirmative action to name a few. On these we must be unyielding. Where there is the opportunity for true bi-partisan compromise we must take it, however, there can be no yielding on issues we define as "no compromise". The GOP has fought President Obama at every turn for eight years. I am not arguing for a government based on spite, but it must be made clear that we will fight at all costs for our beliefs and for a more progressive America.
6. Restructure the DNC. See number one above. We must take a hard look at our party and make corrections where appropriate. For example, truly being committed to the progressive values of rebuilding the middle class and closing the income gap. We must listen to, then serve, poor and middle class Americans of every race and creed and be committed to a better economic future for them and their families. We must build around the principles of transparency and accountability. Permit competition in our ranks for the best leadership versus the past practice of anointing leaders and choosing them based upon tenure.
7. Educate, Register & Get People Out to Vote. Forty-seven percent of America did not vote in this last election. We can not have a truly reflective democracy without people participating in the process. As I alluded to in items 1 and 6 above, some do not see themselves in the process. We must show them how voting produces a system that works for us all. I believe this to be particularly true with our younger voters. They are the future leaders of America. Unless they are incorporated into the system they will only grow more apathetic with age, which may deprive us of some of our best talent.
I hope that this is a good start for where we can go as a party and a more unified nation. We should be clear-eyed that there will be difficult days ahead. However, with focus and resolve we can make this a country that works for all, build a healthy DNC and with any luck be ready for a better result in 2020.
I leave you to ponder this poem by Langston Hughes. We do not have to bound by these words. We can have an America that works for us all.
Let America be America Again:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")