A couple of months ago I managed to resign myself to the notion of Donald Trump being the president of the United States. Now I’m trying to remember how I did that.
I remember at that time a BBC report hit me like a bolt of lightning. It was just a typical campaign update, but like so many others it was dominated by story after story about Trump while Hillary Clinton was … well I don’t know where Clinton was. Trump dominated the headlines every day, so that wasn’t so unusual, but it was a clip from his speech that hit me like a ton of bricks.
All he said was something like: “If I’m elected I’ll always be for America and Americans.” That was it, simple, clear, positive, and who could be against being for America? When you remember the fact that the typical American voter doesn’t do or even know how to do any kind of detailed fact-based analysis it becomes frighteningly clear that a guy like Trump could win with that message if he stuck to it. The danger became all too real when you considered the fact that Clinton never did produce a clear agenda or campaign theme beyond simply being Hillary instead of Trump. In the end I think the Clinton camp simply gave up and chose a campaign strategy that assumed Trump would defeat himself and they could just show up and collect the votes.
Not really surprised
So here we are. Clinton lost. I wish I could say I’m surprised. The last few weeks I’ve allowed myself to hope for a Clinton victory — I mean what else can you do? I bought into the Nate Silver bandwagon even though I’ve always had my doubts about his statistical magic. The problem with complex predictive statistical analysis is you can’t know if you’ve got the right data set or how reliable the data are. When your predictions are right it looks like you’re a genius — until you’re wrong. Well, the predictions were wrong, the data turned out to be junk.
So here I am looking back to a time when I was actually less hopeful in an effort to scrounge together some optimism. What was I thinking back then and how does it reflect on Trump’s victory?
Take heart, dear liberals. Clinton’s loss is not an indictment of progressive liberalism or ideas. Clinton didn’t lose because she was too liberal; she lost because she failed to give progressive liberals and independents something to vote for, something to support enthusiastically. Clinton is basically a moderate Republican, so her loss cannot be an indictment of liberalism. Liberals still have the only workable and truly popular solutions. Liberals just need to find a party that will champion their agenda.
It wasn’t just sexism
Take heart, dear feminists. Of all the reasons I ever thought Clinton might lose, I never thought (nor do I now think) she’d lose simply because she’s a woman. To be sure, sexism is alive and well in America, but Clinton lost because she was a weak candidate with too many liabilities and too many people simply didn’t want to vote for her. Even if she’d been a man I think she would have lost.
Listen: Do you think a black man would have won back in 2008 if he’d been disliked and distrusted by more than 50 percent of the population? Obama campaigned on change. Bill Clinton said: “Change? Give me a break.” If Obama had been a hugely distrusted and disliked candidate who wasn’t offering something compelling to vote FOR, could we have said he lost because he was black? I think Americans are ready and willing to elect a woman as president, but she’s going to have to be a great candidate that sparks hope, energy, and enthusiasm, not a candidate that tells people their hope, energy, and enthusiasm are naïve and unrealistic. Clinton’s loss might give feminism the jolt it needs to re-examine its discourse and progress. I think it’s possible that Clinton’s loss might provoke a renaissance of feminist activism that goes beyond the celebration women in positions of power.
Take heart, dear Democrats. While this is a stunning and catastrophic loss, it’s also an opportunity to jettison the tepid neoliberalism that captured the party in the late ‘80s and has led to sooooo many other stunning defeats. Republicans don’t win because they’ve got great ideas and candidates everyone loves. Trump will be the most unpopular president to ever step into the White House, and the majority of people who voted for him actually said they didn’t really want to vote for him. Democrats lose because the conservative Democratic elite who have been running the party since the late ’80s refuse to nominate populist progressive liberals that people want to vote for. Obama barely got nominated and the elite clearly decided they weren’t going let something like THAT happen again.
A chance to rebuild a liberal party
This is a chance to rebuild as an honest-to-god liberal party. The myth that the Democratic elite know who’s “electable” and who isn’t has surely been exposed as utter delusion. That’s actually not a bad thing; it means Democrats have a chance to change their mentality and nomination process so that truly electable candidates can get the nomination in the future. Surely Democrats can’t conclude that Hillary was too liberal, so it’s time for a little revolution within the party. If Democrats champion, pursue, and enact liberal policies rather than function as a firewall against them, they’ll have popular candidates whom people want to vote for, and they’ll win elections, and that’s a good thing.
Take heart, America. Don’t forget that Trump is going to become the most unpopular and distrusted president to ever take the oath of office. Although Trump was elected, he actually lost the popular vote and he has no mandate. He also has no plan — and doesn’t seem to even know anyone who does have a plan — so his ability to actually govern, much like his “amazing” casinos, will probably never materialize. We know that his fellow Republicans have no idea how to govern either; they seem to think refusing to govern is a new form of governance. Furthermore, remember that Trump isn’t actually ideological. In many ways he’s not actually a Republican. While the Democrats managed to suppress their populist anti-establishment candidate, the Republicans failed. That means that Trump takes office in front of a party that’s so deeply dysfunctional, distracted, and toxic that they’ll likely continue to implode despite their electoral victories.
In many ways the nomination of Trump was a predetermined disaster for Republicans whether he won or lost. His loss to Clinton would have been a humiliating defeat, but his victory is a repudiation of their core strategy and values. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to unite behind Trump, and even if they do, Republicans have shown us over and over again that even when they unite and get into power, they can’t get anything done.
We’ll have more chances
Take heart. If we lose Obamacare, we’ll come back with single payer. If they try to privatize Social Security, they’ll be out in two years. If they try to stomp on women, GLBT’s, or emigrants, they’ll simply accelerate their own demise. Trump will be a bad president, but we’ve had bad presidents before, and we will have another chance to vote.
Maybe I’m being naïve but I don’t believe Trump’s election is about making America a bigoted and hateful safe harbor for sexism, racism, and anti-semitism. This is just another installment of American stupid. If anything, Trump’s America will reawaken the slumbering forces of peace, justice, diversity, tolerance, and reason. Americans can only try stupid so many times before they realize it’s always a bad idea. Perhaps now tepid liberalism will be jolted out of its complacency. In a strange way, maybe THAT’S how Trump actually will make America great.
Paul Udstrand is a photographer and writer who lives in Minneapolis.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)