Election 2016

My Daughter Wants to Move From America: What Do We Do Now?

We must resist the right-wing takeover of the government.

Photo Credit: uplift_the_world / Shutterstock.com

My own daughter wants to leave the country. “I’m already planning my trip to Ireland, to live there indefinitely,” she told me minutes after Hillary Clinton conceded. My wife—who like my daughter, also holds two passports and is a naturalized American from Nigeria—asked me, a few minutes later, “Should I kill myself?”

I told my daughter, “go to Ireland,” and I told my wife, “please don’t kill yourself, I need you.”

Seriously, I’m reporting verbatim. These are painful days for liberals who put their faith, silver and energy into the Clinton candidacy. For progressives who supported Bernie Sanders and viewed him as the stronger rival to Donald Trump, there’s a temptation to say, I told you so. I will resist this temptation and suggest others should also.

The main task now is to resist the right-wing takeover of the government and to criticize Trump when justified and apply rule of law to delay or halt any forms of executive overreach or autocratic behavior on his part.

To be sure, tracking President Trump’s misdeeds—and those of such stellar surrogates as Chris “I break the law to punish opponents” Christie—will consume time, resources and attention. Before our resistance begins, we might take a moment to assess what went wrong.

No matter the degree of generosity we feel toward Clinton personally, we cannot shirk from the bitter message delivered by the American voters Tuesday. Trump narrowly won victory despite losing by a wide margin the largest state (California) and the most influential one (New York). Yet on the strength of massive majorities in the South, Southwest and parts of the Midwest, Trump patched together a coalition of the least educated and the lowest paid workers. Sounding some of the same populist chords as Sanders, he managed to present Clinton as a tool of Wall Street and a creature of great wealth, even as he himself mocked the very American government he wants to lead by boasting about not paying taxes and admiring dictators.

Trump’s victory cannot be easily shrugged or dismissed as an aberration or a fluke. His victory represents the humiliation of the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party—in short, the Clintons—and liberal elites who raised a billion dollars on behalf of an unlikely Wall Street darling (a feminist and a professional politician) only to lose to a right-wing populist after having scorned a progressive populist, Bernie Sanders, who actually defeated Clinton in some of the very states (Michigan, for instance) that Trump narrowly won Tuesday.

We can’t replay history, but one what-if haunts me: what if Bernie had made a greater bow to identity politics by selecting a distinguished woman or person of color as his running mate, say, last March, and what if President Obama, himself a cautious corporatist Democrat, had decided to endorse Sanders. Would Bernie have gotten the nomination and gone on to defeat the dreaded Trump?

Taking personalities out of the equation, we can pose the question more abstractly: do Democrats settle for the possible or organize around principles, aspirations and concrete polices and programs that realize their values?

The choice before Democrats in the primaries was nothing less than the choice between the politically expedient (Clinton) and the dare-to-dream dynamism of Sanders. In victory Trump reminds progressives especially that political expediency is sometime the least practical path forward.

The lesson is necessary. During the campaign, I was told by countless supporters of Clinton, life-long reformers and people of good will, that Clinton was the best we could do. And that Sanders was simply too radical for voters.

Well, even after spending $500 million more on her campaign than Trump did on his, Clinton came up short. So much for the argument that realism trumps idealism.

Soon enough, the lessons of 2016 will either be applied or discarded. Should Sanders run again? Is Elizabeth Warren the rightful inheritor of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. What forms of resistance can Democrats of good will mount against the new administration?

Trump’s own behavior, and the Republican control of both Houses of Congress, might accelerate the sorting-out process that often happens in transitions from one presidency to the next. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be sorely tempted to ram down the throats of what amounts to half of the nation’s voters a set of purported remedies that could include rabidly right-wing Supreme Court justices, lower taxes on the wealthy and the elimination or the severe scaling back of useful federal programs and agencies. And that’s only the domestic side of the deluge to come.

Could such an aggressive disregard of half of American voters ignite a backlash and even create a series of crises that would nourish progressive reformers? Time will tell. But the logic of the Republican’s narrow yet sweeping victory presents the possibility of a silver lining for radicals. The winner-take-all election has damaged, if not destroyed, the credibility of those who insist that cautious tepid reforms are the best Democrats can hope for—and, worse, that even asking for more was too risky.

The neoliberal coalition of wealthy financiers and privileged professional elites made Trump’s ascent easier because Democrats were robbed of their most potent electoral weapons, which are none other than soak the rich through sharply higher taxes and defend working people through higher wages. Clinton cautiously promised both, when a more effective approach would have put at the center of the Democratic campaign a muscular defense of these twin goals.

For both wings of the Democratic Party—the Sanders-Warren wing and the Clinton-Obama wing—the loss to Trump is painful and dispiriting. Yet we can take heart that voters do want outsiders, and do want change, and that now, undeniably and inexorably, Donald Trump will become the ultimate insider. Soon enough he will come to represent the Washington establishment he claims to abhor.

When inevitably the next election season begins, Democrats should conclude that the most realistic way to regain the presidency is to embrace the candidates who favor idealism and deep structural change—in short, the "political revolution” message of Sanders. If Democrats rebound in this fashion, the real victim in Trump’s victory will be the pro-corporate, hug-the-rich wing of the Democratic Party. Out of the ashes of the defeat of the best-funded and most pro-business Democratic candidate in recent memory can rise a progressive coalition committed both to justice for women and people of color and concrete gains in wages and benefits for the low-wage working class.

G. Pascal Zachary, a frequent contributor to AlterNet, is the author of Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century.
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