What We Learned On Election Night And What We Must Do Now

U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton attend campaign events in Hershey, Pennsylvania, November 4, 20
U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton attend campaign events in Hershey, Pennsylvania, November 4, 2016 (L) and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 22, 2016 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/Carlos Barria/Files

My teenage daughters were sobbing. I felt extremely weepy. And I know that much of America was crying with my girls and me.

We will be inaugurating President Trump on January 20, 2017.

How did this happen? How did we not see this coming?

Just in terms of election night predictions, we learned that the Bradley Effect went national. The Bradley Effect explains why white voters tell pollsters they will vote one way and actually vote another. In the 1982 gubernatorial election in California, voters told pollsters in the days leading up to the election that they were undecided or likely to vote for Tom Bradley, the African American mayor of Los Angeles, leaving political pundits to predict a Bradley victory; instead, Bradley's white opponent, George Deukmejian won. To explain how this happened, political scientists pointed to social desirability bias--white voters failing to state their true preference to pollsters because of fears of being criticized as racist. While the Bradley Effect has been used to explain lower than expected votes for African American candidates, it seems applicable here because of what it tells us about the majority of white American voters and the candidate they chose. Most polls had Clinton's chances of winning the presidency over 50%, with some as high as 99%. And they were based upon responses from voters--as we realize now, from a large number of white voters who concealed their favorable response to Trump and his blatantly racist rhetoric when they told pollsters they would be voting for Clinton.

We also learned that the November 8, 2016 election was a logical extension of Nixon's Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy - a term popularized by Nixon's strategist Kevin Phillips-- was an effort by local, state and national Republican candidates to court Southern whites by appealing to racism against African Americans. It worked in 1968 and continued through the 1970s and 1980s; carefully orchestrated by Republican strategist Lee Atwater, it included Reagan's "welfare queens in Cadillacs" and concerns about "the welfare state," and the Willie Horton ad in the H.W. Bush election in 1988. A key element of it, known as the "dog whistle," continued into the 1990s and 2000s with Jesse Helms' "hands" ads referring to affirmative action and more recently, the birther attacks on President Obama, capitalized upon by Donald Trump to help propel his candidacy. Even while abandoning the dog whistles for blatantly racist statements such as references to Mexicans as "rapists," Trump has fully embraced the Southern Strategy and has taken it into the Midwest, with great success.

Finally, we learned tonight that the mainstream media treating a racist demagogue as a serious candidate does wonders for that candidate's chances of winning a national election. Throughout the 2016 election, the major outlets normalized Trump and treated with kid gloves his staff and surrogates who simultaneously agreed with his ludicrous positions as they denied that he made them. And, like many of the recent presidential elections, they engaged in false equivalency between Trump and Clinton, giving the impression that his lies on countless subjects were no worse than her comparatively minor misrepresentations or explanations. And it was not just Fox, but also CNN and MSNBC and all of the major networks.

So, what do we do now? And are there any lessons we can take from this calamity?

First of all, we must take all necessary safety measures to protect ourselves and protect our friends and family members from harm. This is a perilous time for those of us who are immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, and also those of us who are Muslim. Trump has promised a deportation force and a ban on Muslims and we should expect him with his Republican Senate and House to move forward on these plans. Moreover, as we know, a number of his followers are white supremacists who may see the Trump victory as the license they need to perpetrate violence on people of color. We need to be safe and also to report any threats of violence.

Second, we must continue to organize, organize, organize and not just in presidential elections and not just for U.S. President. We must work extremely hard at the local and state levels to move forward progressive policies. In many parts of our country, we have and we will. And we must absolutely provide strong resistance to Islamophobic, anti-immigrant and misogynistic policies that will come fast and furious from the incoming administration.

While we are working on local and state issues, we have to build our national electoral power, which may or may not involve the Democratic Party. Even if we align with the Democrats, it will take them a very long time to take over the Congress given the extensive gerrymandering by the Republican legislatures across the country. Even the U.S. Senate is unlikely to be at play until 2020, if that soon. So, we have to start with local elections. And as we work to build a majority in future years, we cannot work to simply get our folks to the polls, but we also must fight the wide-ranging voter suppression efforts, which will continue.

There are many more things that we will need to do, but I am tired and I am sad. So, I'll end with only one more: hold your children close for the next several days. If you're like me, there may not be much you can say; you don't have the words. But, you can acknowledge that you're sad and, like them, you can let them know you're disappointed. Most importantly, you will want and need to tell them we'll get through this together even if you're not really sure if and how we will.