Donald Trump's presidential victory was cold water in the face for many progressives.
It was a stunning election night. After an exhausting eighteen-month campaign and a vote count that went into the wee hours, we learned that the next President of the United States will be a rightwing authoritarian populist whose explicit racism prompted KKK leader David Duke to tweet, triumphantly:
Two terms of the nation’s first African-American President, a broad expansion of health care, the rescue of the auto industry, and an infusion of federal infrastructure spending that staved off a Great Depression, end like this. Black people, Latinos, Muslims, and immigrants cannot help but feel the blow the hardest.
The explicit misogyny and gleeful boasting about abusing women by Trump, which appeared to drive a surge for Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy as the first woman major party nominee, ended with a definitive victory for the benighted macho aggressor.
There will be plenty to chew on over the next days and months for progressives.
There is, of course what might have been: Had Bernie Sanders been the nominee, would the outcome have been different? Had Sanders lost to Trump (which he might have done), the mainstream pundits would have been unified in smug disdain for his outsider candidacy—as they were from the beginning.
But the establishment candidate lost instead.
Will Democrats and their friends and allies question their belief that the political professionals are best suited to decide who runs?
Voter turnout numbers suggest that the optimism and energy that drove Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign was not fully transferable to his Democratic rival. Little wonder. Sanders captured many of the same frustrations Trump voters expressed. As Trump put it in his victory speech, “The forgotten men and women of this country will be forgotten no longer.”
The difference, of course, is that while Sanders offered a vision of economic and racial justice, universal health care, free college, and taxes on the obscene wealth of the top 1 percent to pay for a more equal society, Trump offered immigrant-bashing, tax cuts for the wealthy, and a restoration of white, male supremacy. The only area of overlap was on changing U.S. trade policy—and there the details are fuzzy.
Democrats and progressives must grapple with the deep sense of alienation that drove both the Sanders and Trump campaigns. A status-quo, insider candidate who is a close to both the Washington establishment and Wall Street was never going to be a credible vehicle for populist concerns.
It will be tempting for Democrats to make fun of Trump, and of the people who support him. Cultural disdain for “white trash” voters helped feed those voters’ sense of alienation. Democrats have to offer more comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable if they hope to build a real and effective opposition.
Then there are the agonizing details.
FBI Director James Comey played a unique role with his announcement to Congress that the FBI was examining Hillary Clinton’s emails in the last few days of the campaign—only to announce, two days before the election, when the political damage was done, that there was nothing there. Never mind.
Republicans now control all branches of government. They cannot pretend to be outsiders anymore. The harm they can do is daunting. Democrats and progressives must unite in opposition, and figure out how to truly represent the better vision of America that we hold in common.
We have no choice. Let’s get going.
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive.