“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” - Pema Chodron
Our brand of democracy is hard.
In a nation the breadth of a continent, that could easily contain as many countries as western Europe, through sheer will, we force a republic. If the benefits of such an unlikely union — military and economic strength, cultural hegemony and agricultural plenty — manifest themselves passively in our daily lives, the challenges do not. They present boldly.
In fact, it’s easy to see the defining trait of our democracy as an ongoing cultural clash. Long before the culture wars of the 90s and 60s and 20s, before even Jim Crow and the Suffragettes, the original Populist movement and the struggle for unionization, there were waves of anti-immigrant nationalism, there was slavery and there was the hostile takeover of Native American land.
Through this historical lens, we see the emotions of fear, anger and sadness — emotions that were on display on Tuesday — all too clearly. We see them, dispiritingly, as historical themes in an inevitable national narrative.
But, all is not lost. To get through the next four years, here are ten things designed to equip us with the knowledge to write our own chapter — the chapter we want — in the ongoing story of America.
1. It’s okay to be shocked. We all are. The majority of Americans are stunned. If you read some man-on-the-street reporting, Trump voters are too. It’s not about cultural bubbles. Sure, we must bridge a divide, but let’s also not forget every non-partisan pundit got it wrong. What we’re experiencing now is the disquieting product of fatuous commentators, a crumbling fourth estate and a tragically nescient electorate.
And, the truth is, no one really knows what’s going to happen next, because all the people who say they do are the same ones who predicted a victory for Secretary Clinton. We’re in unfamiliar territory. This was unexpected, and it’s deeply unsettling. Now, we should take time to process and grieve. Mary Oliver reading her own poem, Wild Geese, is a great place to start.
2. Search for answers. We all want to know why this happened. In our search for reason, we must remember there is no magic bullet. There are as many answers to the question of why as there are egos in cable news. However, this piece, by Rembert Browne in New York magazine, is a wonderful jumping off point. It’s insightful, compelling and, most important, authentic. This was also the first election in fifty years without the Voting Rights Act. So, there’s that.
By now we’ve also heard about the low turnout - among black voters, Latinos and Millennials. Such critiques not only miss the point, they add insult to injury. Maybe you’ve seen apocryphal reports that Democrats deserted the white working class. Some will point you back to the Democratic candidate herself, as if somehow she should have made herself just a little bit more likable. It’s both pointless and deleterious to posit whether Sanders would have won against Trump. Let’s let that go.
3. A reshaped court. The first and, perhaps, most significant event of a Trump presidency will be the nomination and swift confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia. This will endear him to party loyalists and help establish some baseline of credibility. Turns out the Republican obstructionist strategy paid dividends in the long-term — just like your 401(k)! — and you can be sure Trump’s nominee will parrot Scalia’s rebarbative stance on conservative lodestones like abortion, immigration, the separation of church and state, campaign finance and more.
Den Mom and court conscience Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an old soul going-on-83, while Justices Kennedy and Breyer are 80 and 78, respectively. The long and short is that it doesn’t look good for core liberal standings like Roe v Wade. There’s a strong chance that a President Trump will nominate at least two more justices in his first term. Expect a Trump presidency to register in the history books for, if nothing else, dramatically influencing the Supreme Court and, thus, the next forty years.
4. An obsequious legislative. Such epochal outcomes turn us, unfortunately, back to Congress, where those justices will need to be confirmed in the Senate before they can take the bench. Trump’s nominees will undoubtedly find easy passage, as will most bills that make it out of committee and to Trump’s desk. While it’s anyone’s guess as to which issues take priority in the first four years, you can be sure plenty of domestic policy will be on the agenda: the GOP will want immediate successes to tout in the 2018 midterms. (One likely area will be “right-to-work” laws because they knock the legs out of organized labor, which historically breaks Democratic.) I guess you can’t refuse to govern forever.
5. A cabal of fools. Perhaps more than any president in history, owing to his own lack of experience, Trump’s cabinet — a granfalloon of impossible proportions — will play an outsized role in his presidency. Pay attention to the key cabinet positions, including Secretaries of State, Defense and Agriculture. Trump’s Attorney General, if his traduced promises are to be believed, may also have a large role to play, if only to jump the shark with Secretary Clinton. If nothing else, his cabinet will guide him through the complex and tumultuous world of foreign affairs, where the unenviable trifecta of Middle East instability, tensions in Southeast Asia and an empowered Russia loom large. Oh, and did you hear there’s a #Brexit coming up?
6. Countdown to 2018. Given this anlage of fear, let’s not forget the 2018 midterms. In the coming weeks, Democrats will imbue them with a divine potential, like some dragon slayer designed to bring courage back to the blue ranks. (CNN just hit reset on their countdown clock.) The thing is, RGB and Breyer are counting on it, as are all the long-term liberal policies that three Trump justices would gleefully denude. With a bit of luck, the Senate will swing back to the Democrats, at which point everyone’s favorite capitulators will regain the ability to influence our political system on behalf of themselves and Wall Street.
7. The work begins. To be sure, it’s all enough to leave us exhausted, feebly wringing our hands at the rampage of this puerile homunculus while the giant lizard of the Democratic party slithers off to lick its wounds. Here’s the thing: in the meantime, there is a lot we can do, and moving to Canada is not the only recourse.
The simplest and, conversely, most effective tactic? Volunteer. A number of helpful posts have enumerated the numerous volunteer opportunities across the country. In two weeks, we’ll mark the start of the Holiday Season, and I suspect there are a lot of historically disempowered communities that would love to know we’ve got their back right about now. It’s cliché because it’s true: Against the beast of hate, love is the weapon that cuts deepest.
You can also donate to causes that matter to you. As a nonprofit professional, I can tell you firsthand that the size of your donation pales in importance compared to its regularity. Forget a one-time $100 gift, can you donate $5 a month every year? That’s gold.
Finally, you can help cultivate new progressive candidates for the 2018 midterms and 2020 redistricting. (Want to geek out on redistricting? Get at it here.) If you can, get involved in local politics. Let’s really get to know our communities. It’s a privilege to advocate for their needs.
Find your state senators and representatives, inspect their voting records, read the bills they sponsor and act accordingly. I can’t overstate the value of the nonpartisan Open States project from the Sunlight Foundation. Get on there, get informed and get active. It matters, and our involvement will make a difference.
8. Remember this moment. Ultimately, we have to separate fault from responsibility. Write down what you’re feeling, right now. Distill it to its barest elements: I am feeling [emotion] because [experience]. Now, paste that text into a calendar appointment and set reminders for the midterm elections. Remind yourself of this pain when it’s time to vote again — and have the courage to share that pain with others.
The folk musician, anarchist and labor organizer Utah Phillips once said, “The long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going, but where we want to go.” Hold onto your dream. Harness it. Take responsibility for bringing it to fruition in 2018 and beyond.
9. Look forward: the future is bright. If you haven’t seen it by now, this beautiful image of how 18-to-25-year-olds voted on Tuesday is nothing short of inspiring. Sure, party alignment tends to drift as demographics do, and older voters by and large vote more conservatively. And yet, what this tells us is the Obama presidency was not a fluke. Our hope was not squandered. Authentic, ambitious, uncompromising candidates ignite turnout, galvanize voters of all stripes and lead to systemic change. (Remember this year’s Democratic primary?) The trick is cementing it.
10. The future of the Democratic party. Who knows what happens to Hillary and Bill, but don’t forget about Warren, Sanders, Booker and Teachout. Despite the losses, on November 8, we saw recreational marijuana legalized in four new states, the country’s second black woman elected to the Senate and its first Somali-American representative. The day brought new blood into the Democratic party and, more importantly, inspired Progressives around the country. The dream lives.
We have to soldier on. On Wednesday, in the classiest concession speech in decades, Secretary Clinton said she was sorry for not winning; but we are the ones who let her down. She said she’d never quit. We have to do the same.
Sure, we can stage protests, express our anger, pour sugar in the gas tank — but it’s worth noting that neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton called for that. Protesting isn’t wrong, but it won’t achieve our goals. Our strengths are multiplied exponentially by working from within the existing political structure. Gaming the system is always smarter than fighting it. Look at the GOP.
The reality is that it’s alright not to agree all the way down the party line on candidates and issues. As Secretary Clinton has said time and again, the Democratic party should have room for everybody. Perhaps, to some extent, what we saw this cycle is the expression of a feeling that it does not. Perhaps many voters — not just white, uneducated, working-class voters — feel that the Democratic party has abandoned its core. Once the party of unions and low-income Americans, it has a lot of work to do if it wants to claim in the future the mantle it has borne proudly in the past: the champion of the marginalized.
If he’s allowed, Trump will grab that mantle and wrench it to him forcefully, as he has done so many other things. If the Democratic party isn’t careful, it will find itself in the same position as the GOP in the 80s and 90s: synonymous with the wealthy elite, a tool of Wall Street, ossified and culturally irrelevant. It may be that it’s already there.
At every moment, we are volunteers.
One of my favorite human beings, Stephen Colbert, once said, “At every moment, we are volunteers.” He meant, essentially, that we choose our responses to the terrifying randomness of life. Now, more than ever, we must navigate that choice responsibly. It is our duty to fulfill our civic contract. We have to expand our conception of service. This is the challenge of a new generation. We must make it our mission.
Are you upset? Good. Is your heart broken? Mine too. Wipe your tears. We’re not alone. If the sudden accumulation of pieces like this one proves anything, it’s that there are lots of us out there feeling this way (including Leslie Knope). Put down your phone. Leave the bar. Skip the gym on Saturday. It’ll all be there when you get back. You have the power to effect change. You matter.
I refuse to relinquish my agency. I refuse to retreat to the safe harbor of cynicism. I refuse to let down the incredible women in my life that are counting on me to help drive us all forward together. I refuse to abandon the dreams of my mom. I refuse to give up on my niece’s future. It may be that, in 50 years, we’re no better off. It may be that our downward trajectory was not slowed in the slightest — but I will have tried.
In what is bound to become a legendary live performance, on Tuesday night, Colbert said goodnight to his studio audience with a raw, audacious monologue. In it, he referenced C.S. Lewis, saying, “You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time. And the devil cannot stand mockery.”
On Wednesday morning, staring down the barrel of the next four years, it was evident that we need to double down on the last eight. It was evident we must mock. In one of the greatest speeches ever given (and it’s not even real), Charlie Chaplin laid out his vision for the future, in one breath both mocking fascism and calling for a utopia of equality. He did this in 1940, three-quarters of a century ago.
Today, on Veteran’s Day, let’s honor our nation’s service members by recommitting ourselves to its future. We’ve been fighting this fight for longer than any of us have been alive, and perhaps one day we’ll actually win it. But, for now, we must reach out, collectively place our hands on the moral arc of the universe, and together bend it back toward our will. And yet it moves.