Let Us Mourn, Then Organize
At a time like this, many liberals and progressive will recall the words of labor activist Joe Hill: “Don't mourn, organize.”
But let's be honest. We're in shock. We need time to mourn. To recover from the trauma of this election.
I feel awful for my 19-year-old twin daughters, who voted for the first time this year and now have to spend their college years with Trump as president. They're upset. They talked about moving to Canada. They were half serious. We talked and texted all night, trying to console ourselves. It was tough.
I reminded them that we've been through periods like this before. The Civil War. The Gilded Age. The Great Depression.
I told them that in 1968, when I was 20, America elected Richard Nixon. At the time, we thought that this was the apocalypse. I had worked for Bobby Kennedy's campaign. His murder in June of that year was traumatic. He certainly would have beaten Nixon, brought together the civil rights, union, and anti-war movements, and pushed to end the war in Vietnam, escalate and war on poverty, and expand workers rights.
After Nixon won, I considered moving to Canada myself, not just out of fear of Nixon's agenda but also to avoid the draft and Vietnam. I even submitted an application to the University of Toronto.
But I stayed. I didn't want to abandon my country. Like many others of my generation, I wanted to change it.
After Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in November 1968, a massive resistance movement emerged to make it harder for Nixon to govern. In 1970, we started electing anti-war candidates to Congress. We started a backyard revolution of community organizing in urban communities. Then activists also built the women's movement, the consumer movement, and the environmental movement.
Nixon did great damage (including the invasion of Cambodia, the killings at Jackson State and Kent State, the government infiltration and surveillance of dissenters), but the country survived.
Yes, Trump is worse than Nixon. He's a demagogue, a white supremacist, a psychopath. But we'll resist again.
I reminded my daughters that probably 35 percent of eligible voters didn't vote this year. Most of them are poor, people of color, and/or young. Had they voted, Clinton would have won a big victory. Don’t judge the whole country by the election returns. The American people, overall, are better than the people who voted.
There will be many post mortems trying to explain how and why Trump won. Among the key factors:
James Comey: No major election analyst tonight (not even Rachel Maddow) mentioned the impact of FBI director Comey's outrageous intervention on the outcome of this election. That, more than anything else, stopped Clinton's momentum, diverted attention away from Trump's sex and other scandals, and refocused public attention on Clinton's emails. More than 20 million people voted between his letter to Congress 11 days ago, and his statement two days ago that the FBI found nothing damning in the new wave of Clinton emails. Much damage was done. Comey, the rogue FBI director, was more responsible for Trump's victory than anyone else. A Republican under pressure from GOP lawmakers, Comey intentionally caused the damage.
Voter Suppression: The Republicans’ voter suppression campaign (including voter ID and felon disenfranchisement laws) in key battleground states—particularly in poor and minority areas—gave Trump the margin of victory. This was true in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and other cities. Republicans engaged in such fraudulent election activities as sending phony robocalls to black households with misinformation about voting locations and times. Our arcane election laws also played a role. If Election Day were a national holiday (as it is in most democracies), or if most states had same-day voter registration, turnout among those groups would have been higher, and Clinton would have won in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and other swing states, and won the presidency.
Media Bias: The mainstream media gave Trump a free ride for most of the past year; treating him like a normal candidate rather than a racist demagogue. That allowed him to win the GOP nomination and to gain traction after the Republican convention. The media’s obsession with Clinton's emails obscured the much-more-serious Trump scandals—his failure to pay taxes, his sexism, his bogus and self-serving foundation, his lies about his fortune, his fraudulent and abusive business practices, his total ignorance about public policy, Only in the past month did the media wake up and begin serious reporting on the real Trump. But it was too little, too late.
Right-Wing Money: The Koch brothers didn't back Trump, but their political empire—including other right-wing billionaires who joined forces with them—may have spent close to a billion dollars helping Republican candidates for House and Senate. That increased GOP turnout in battleground states, and helped Trump.
Other factors—WikiLeaks, Attorney General Loretta Lynch's stupid meeting with Bill Clinton on the airport tarmac, and the persistence of racism and sexism among a significant segment of the American population—all also played a role.
How did so many pollsters get it wrong? Trump benefited from what political scientists call the “Bradley effect.” Just before Election Day in November 1982, polls showed that Tom Bradley, the African American mayor of Los Angeles, was going to beat Republican George Deukmejian in the race for California governor. But on Election Day, Deukmejian won. It appeared that many voters had lied to pollsters (or even to themselves). They didn't want to appear racist, so they told pollsters they favored Bradley, but they voted for Deukmejian. Apparently, a significant number of people this year told pollsters they were voting for Clinton, or were undecided, but wound up voting for Trump. Perhaps they didn't want to admit to pollsters, or to themselves, that they preferred Trump over Clinton.
The future looks better. Although turnout was low among the under-30 generation, those who went to the polls voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton and liberal Democrats for Congress. Latinos—the fastest-growing part of the electorate—voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. Within a few years, their growing numbers will determine elections in Florida, Arizona, Nevada, even Texas.
There were even some silver linings on Tuesday. Voters in Maricopa County, Arizona, defeated the right-wing immigrant-bashing Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington state approved ballot initiatives on Tuesday to increase their states’ minimum wages. Voters in Arizona and Colorado approved measures to require businesses to provide employees with paid sick days. California voters approved statewide ballot measures to extend current income tax rates for the wealthy to pay for public education, to raise tobacco tax by $2 a pack, to repeal the ban on bilingual education, to strengthen gun control laws, and to legalize marijuana. And some might find solace knowing that even though Trump beat Clinton in the Electoral College, she won the popular vote.
Moreover, all polls show that large majorities of Americans support a progressive policy agenda that links economic prosperity with fairness. They want higher taxes on the super-rich, stronger regulations on Wall Street, and big business to protect consumers, workers, and the environment, a significant increase in the federal minimum wage, some version of universal health insurance, a large-scale job-creating infrastructure program, and more affordable colleges and universities.
But public opinion, on its own, doesn't bring about change. That's what movements do. Americans need to join forces to resist where Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, the Koch brothers, and Wall Street want to take the country. We need to build on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 campaigns, and the movements to protect immigrants, block the Keystone and Standing Rock pipelines, divest from fossil fuels, and defend Planned Parenthood and women's right to choose.
We need new Democratic Party leadership. We need a progressive like Senators Elizabeth Warren or Dick Durbin, or Congressman John Lewis as the next head of the Democratic National Committee.
This is no time for liberals and progressives, Bernie Sanders supporters and Clinton followers, to point fingers. This is a time for cooperation and strategizing. Unions, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, community organizing groups, LGBT activists, and wealthy progressives must collaborate. Progressives must raise the money—hundreds of millions of dollars—to send an army of paid organizers to key swing states and House districts now. We can't just parachute organizers into swing states a few months before the next election. We need to build on and expand the base by organizing ordinary people around local and national issues. We need to ramp up protest and engage in civil disobedience to stop Donald Trump's initiatives. And we need to register voters, so they'll be “fired up and ready to go” for the midterm elections in two years and the presidential race in 2020.
We need to lay the foundation for Democrats to take back the Congress in 2018, and then elect Elizabeth Warren president in 2020.
Mourn our losses. Then organize.