Thoughts on a Sobering Election (*Updated 11/14/16)
I resisted the urge to pen this missive in the first few hours after the election in order to let the initial shock wear off. While my own election as Johnson County Supervisor was virtually assured due to a lack of opponents (though there were some 1,600 write-ins, which breaks the record of 1,400 in both 2008 and 2010), I was among those who were almost as confident that Secretary Clinton would win in an electoral landslide. When she did not, the look on my daughter’s face was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to endure.
So I waited.
I poked around on Facebook and Twitter to gauge friends’ reactions, and as I suspected they ranged from “I told you so” resignation to that pure fear I saw in my daughter’s eyes. The few Trump supporters I know were of course ecstatic, but it is interesting to note that they all seemed to have voted not so much to support Trump as acting out of their own fear of a Clinton presidency.
The Post Mortem
And so now we enter the phase in the grieving process where we begin to take stock. We ask ourselves how this happened. We point fingers of blame in nearly every direction, but as my stepfather always likes to say, whenever you point a finger, three point back.
We did this. As Democrats (and as Americans), we did this. It was not merely who we nominated, it was what she represented in the eyes of every person who voted against her and every person who did not vote at all. Please allow me to explain.
You all know that I was a very vocal supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders. I urged him to run, and was a precinct captain, then county, district and state delegate for him. I supported him in the face of those who would tell me “Bernie is not even a real Democrat!” And oh how I hate the No True Scotsman fallacy. To my mind, he represented everything I was taught the Democratic Party was supposed to stand for: Peace, togetherness, strong educational opportunities, opposition to oligarchies, dogged support of organized labor, genuine environmental ethics, equal opportunity, sincere support for women and all oppressed people.
Secretary Clinton carried the baggage of not just her actual faults, such as carrying Wall Street’s water, but also the weight of perceived faults piled upon her by three-plus decades of what she correctly called “The vast right-wing conspiracy.” Say what you will of the American political right, they are tenacious competitors and they do not take prisoners. It never mattered to them that nearly all of what they accused her of was rubbish. They knew that all they needed to do was repeat it loudly and often, and most people would believe it. Perception is reality.
She won the nomination with a world-class political machine operating nationwide. Senator Sanders put up one hell of a fight – it was an insurgency, a thing to behold – but it fell short. I am not among those who believe the DNC threw the race in Secretary Clinton’s favor, but that’s water under the bridge we all jumped off of. She won the nomination.
And so when the convention concluded I announced my support for her candidacy. I did so in small measure because I wanted to be a “good soldier,” and because Senator Sanders endorsed her as he said he would, but mostly for reasons I spelled out in these pages. Even with the aforementioned baggage in tow, I believed she could beat Donald Trump handily. I believed that her baggage was stuff America could cope with, and that the anger, narcissism, misogyny, xenophobia and race-baiting Mr. Trump spewed was not.
I was wrong.
The “I Told You So” part
I believed, then as now, that the revolution Senator Sanders ignited would have its best chance of continuing under a Clinton administration than under Mr. Trump.
The problem now is that we need that revolution even more, even though it will be much harder to achieve. I was the good soldier throughout the general election. Knocked on doors, wrote columns for the paper, defended Clinton and excoriated Trump on social media and at every opportunity. Now, however, I can say it: Bernie Sanders would have mopped the floor with Donald Trump. He would have taken away all the support Trump got from the angry, disaffected voters who believe that Washington abandoned them long ago.
And before you go there, Bernie has been swatting away that “socialist-as-epithet” rap for five decades. He did it in the primaries, and he’d have had no trouble doing it again when running against the living, breathing epitome of the “Billionaire class” he’d been railing against throughout those same five decades. He also would not have let Trump get away with portraying himself as a friend of the worker, as Secretary Clinton did.
All this and none of the baggage, whether real or perceived, of decades of corporate special interest support and right wing propaganda.
What We Face
The Democratic Party now faces a reckoning. Its neoliberal leadership is groaning under the weight of moneyed corporate special interests. It saw major defeats from the White House to congress to the Iowa Legislature. Like it or not, America is now the most Republican it has been since the Hoover Administration. Government in America, from the precinct to Pennsylvania Avenue, has perhaps never been so conservative.
In the sports world, when a team faces that kind of humiliation, the coaches usually get fired. In the corporate world, there would be a shareholder revolt.
As a direct consequence of these losses, America now confronts a very real threat of losing decades of progress, on health care, on civil rights, especially women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, on education, on labor standards, and more. What little progress we’ve made on combatting global warming will go right up the smokestack. Say adieu to the Paris Accords. Donald Trump is even a threat to the Geneva Convention, the UN, and NATO. All this, and I haven’t even mentioned immigration, where Mr. Trump is apparently about to put 11 million people into cattle cars and ship them south. Meanwhile Daesh is throwing a party because they’re going to get the kind of war they want.
Do you believe that this is what America is about? Are we really 320 Million xenophobic misogynists whose basic credo is “I’ve got mine, screw you”?
I don’t believe that either.
What I do believe is that the DNC has failed us and it is time to clean house. Let’s talk about putting Tulsi Gabbard at the helm of the DNC*. I want to see Kim Weaver in charge of the Iowa Democratic Party. We must follow the model of Our Revolution and work to elect “Berniecrat” progressives at every level of government, and we must start right this moment. Today.
Yes, I was a tad indignant that I did not receive an endorsement from the Sanders spin-off organization called “Our Revolution,” but that is unimportant. What matters is that in a cycle where republicans were sweeping up everywhere, more than 57% of the progressive candidates that they did endorse won their elections. Do the same thing in elections across the country and we can win back the hard-fought progress that is now under threat.
Let’s start with the school board and city council elections that are coming up in Iowa City and around Johnson County in 2017.
It takes much more than winning elections, much more than replacing party leadership. The only thing that can combat billions of corporate lobbyist dollars is millions of activist citizens. You must get more involved. So should your friends. So should everyone you know. Vote, yes, but also run for office, or recruit and help someone run for office. Attend school board meetings. Write letters. Pay attention to what your board of supervisors is doing. Above all, do not remain silent. Complacency equals death.
Love Thine Opposition
Here’s something too many of us have forgotten. The Republicans are not the enemy. The “Alt-Right” is not the enemy. Conservatives are not the enemy. They are the opposition.
Complacency, ignorance, fear, anger and hatred – those are the enemy. If a person has cancer in their lungs you don’t hate or fear the person just because you hate and fear the cancer. Likewise with anger and hatred. When you meet a person who appears to have hatred or fear in their heart, it is too easy to respond in kind. It is also futile. That person has their own story, they have been walking their own path for many years and have arrived at different conclusions than we have. We have to listen, to hear where they are coming from, and share our point of view with love. Nothing else will work.
But why bother?
Yesterday in an open letter, writer Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing fame, among others), said to his wife and daughter, “Well the world changed late last night in a way I couldn’t protect us from. That’s a terrible feeling for a father.” Whether or not you are a father or a mother, you can easily understand that particular brand of fear.
The Republicans have been saying for six years that they want to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, despite never offering what they would “replace” it with. Now they’ll get their chance, and my son and 20 million others will lose their health insurance.
They want to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. They say it’s because of abortion, but it is already illegal for federal funds to go toward abortion, so they are simply cutting funding for women’s health care. Mostly poor women and women of color. My daughter supports Planned Parenthood’s work.
Mr. Trump said, “We’re gonna bring back waterboarding and a lot worse.” He said, “Torture works, folks, believe me.” Which means he is going to order our military to violate its own oath as well as the Geneva Convention, which is obviously wrong on simple moral grounds, but has the added feature of fueling our enemies’ propaganda machines, thus endangering even more of us.
The list on Mr. Trump goes on and on.
Here at a local level, I need your help. You elected me because I said (ad nauseum, admittedly) “Stop pouring concrete on good farm land!” Now I will need your support to scale back or eliminate the North Corridor Development Area. Growth is good, but uncontrolled growth is a metastasis. We need to stick to in-fill development first, and fringe area development second.
We also need to expand transportation options by creating a metropolitan transit authority, which, with so many stakeholders involved, will be a very heavy lift. To do it I need people writing letters, making calls and attending meetings.
With the Republicans in full control in Des Moines, we can expect more assaults on mental health care, and on labor rights as well. I’ll need public support if we are to do anything in response.
The Poor Farm and the Food Hub will need tons of local backing as well. I am counting on all of you to back me when I go to do the work you’ve asked me to do.
When Good People Do Nothing
If you care about this experiment we call America, a democratic republic that has continually overcome its flaws, improved itself progressively and lit the world for 240 years, that has survived a civil war, countless economic downturns and original sins of slavery and genocide, that is never perfect but always striving, then you know that the only thing that can destroy it is apathy.
We suffered a humiliating defeat on Tuesday. You had every right to be angry, or despondent, or apoplectic. But now it’s time to stand up. We fall so we can learn how to get back up. When we get knocked down, we come back stronger. And if we do it with love in our hearts, not fear or anger or hatred, we cannot lose.
*Update: Since I posted this, Senator Sanders (and Senator Reid, among others) have voiced their support for Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison. Unless and until Rep. Gabbard decides to throw her hat in the ring, Rep. Ellison will have my support.