There is no bright side.
President-elect Donald Trump has started walking back some of his promises. A fence, maybe, instead of a wall. We’ll just deport criminals at first, not all undocumented immigrants. We’ll improve Obamacare, not repeal it. And he didn’t really mean all those campaign rants and threats, according to his apologists. That was just campaign hyperbole, the kind of thing candidates have to say to get elected.
Relax if you like. But there is no bright side. The nation’s next president is a xenophobic nativist who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, whose lack of experience, vindictiveness, and volatile temperament make him not just unsuited for the job but dangerous.
Mike Pence, Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich: We have known from the start what kind of people Trump would surround himself with. And the Congress that will be in power come January is full of Trump enablers. Together, they will set this country back in ways that will haunt us for decades.
During his campaign, Trump was clear about his attitude toward people of color, toward women, toward Muslims, toward immigrants, toward people with disabilities. Now he can turn that attitude into terrible action. Backed up by the Supreme Court.
Just as serious: his rhetoric is giving other Americans license to do great harm. It took less than a day for that to begin to exhibit itself here in Rochester, with a Muslim American woman reporting that two people had already told her to go back home where she came from, and someone burning Pride flags flying at two different homes
, someone painted “Make America White Again” and a swastika on a softball field dugout; at SUNY Geneseo
, a swastika and “Trump” were painted on a dorm. On a bus in New York City, according to New York magazine
, a white couple harassed a Muslim Hunter College student, yelling that she had to remove her hijab.
Maybe these are the outbursts of a few extremists. Maybe their hate-filled celebration will flame out, and calmer heads will prevail among the Trump supporters. But a racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment was clearly a factor in Trump’s win. Trump bellowed out that sentiment. And numerous Republican leaders embraced him.
This country’s traumatic history of discrimination and violence against minorities was never a thing of the past. Now, the person in charge of the president’s strategy will be a man who has been head of a white-nationalist, anti-Semitic media company.
Climate change, income inequality, Social Security
, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, health care, international relations, diplomacy: Donald Trump and the hard right will be in charge of all of that come January 20. So: there is no bright side. But there are lessons in this election outcome. And the future of the country hangs on what we learn from them, and how we act on what we learn.
Here are a few on my mind right now:
1) It’s long past time to address the needs of the unemployed and the underemployed.
Technology and trade agreements have left millions of Americans unemployed or underemployed. That is a fact. Better public policy could have helped prevent that, and we haven’t summoned the will to act.
Donald Trump promised the moon in his campaign, but he can’t snap his fingers and create manufacturing jobs. And as important as infrastructure improvements are, we won’t solve all the problems of the unemployed with massive road, sewer, and bridge projects. Not everyone is skilled in those jobs. Not everyone lives where the work is needed. And short-term construction work is not a long-term career.
Real solutions won’t come overnight. Some will take decades. But we’ll never get the equitable, strong economy we need if politicians in both major parties didn’t learn one of the big lessons from November 8: Many people were motivated to vote for Trump not because of racism or xenophobia, but because they want jobs and financial security.
Donald Trump could actually lead this effort. And yet the news Sunday was that an initial Trump move will be to search for and deport as many as 2 to 3 million immigrants who he says are criminals and are in the US illegally. Smart political move, maybe; it may make Trump supporters feel better. But it won’t create jobs. It won’t improve anybody’s well-being.
What we need are jobs that offer a stable future, college that is affordable, job-training programs, policies that lift wages. But those are expensive. And the country will have no way to pay for them after Trump and a Republican Congress cut taxes and ramp up military spending.
Jobs were a key issue in this campaign. Unless we act, they’ll be a key issue four years from now.
2) The Democratic Party needs major reform.
On November 8, Democrats lost an election they should have been able to win. We can spend the next decade debating whether Hillary Clinton was the best candidate the Democrats had. Certainly she entered the campaign with a ton of baggage, and Democratic Party operatives seem to have underestimated its seriousness.
But that wasn’t the only problem, and complaining about the FBI’s e-mail investigations – as Clinton is – is a dangerous distraction. Trump was promising change, and despite Barack Obama’s growing popularity, Clinton and her surrogates didn’t make a case effectively for continuing and expanding his policies.
Just as serious: the Clinton camp reeked of elitism. It had an exclusivist, we-know-best attitude at a time when young people in droves had been getting involved in public policy and political activism. The remnants of the Occupy movement, the growing Black Lives movement, the Fight for $15 movement: young people were involved in all of those. Bernie Sanders gained the loyalty of many of them. Clinton never did. And, in fact, she and her surrogates could be downright condescending toward them.
There was former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s comment at a Clinton rally last February, telling young women who were supporting Sanders: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” There was feminist icon Gloria Steinem, at that same Clinton rally, adding to the insult: “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”
And there was Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” description of Trump supporters.
You can’t insult voters in one breath and win them over in the next.
Donald Trump is not a populist. His policies won’t help many of the people who voted for him. And a strong Democratic candidate should have been able to defeat him. Now, the Democrats have to wait two years for a chance to win control of the Senate, and the odds against them will be enormous then.
And it’ll be four years, of course, before they have another chance at the White House. Given the work that has to be done, and the thinness of their bench, it may take that long for Democrats to turn their party around.
At the moment, Democrats need a strong group of leaders, to not only reshape and reinvigorate the party but also to reinvigorate the rest of us, to help us overcome our disillusionment, to inspire us, and to keep us focused on the job ahead. Fortunately, we don’t have to look far for that leadership. It’s work tailor-made for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama.
3) As for the rest of us?
We have work to do. Protest marches are important. But that has to be followed by activism. And we all need to be in this for the long haul. This week, we’re publishing a partial list of local activist groups
, and we’ll add to it throughout the coming weeks. Find one and get involved. The hard work – on justice issues, civil rights, the environment, health care, jobs, and all the rest – will have to start here at home.
Hampson and Wightman
The community lost two outstanding, creative members earlier this month, and this publication lost two friends and former writers, Tom Hampson and Warren Wightman.
Tom – whose name is familiar to any area jazz lover, thanks to his long-running, engaging show on WXXI radio – initiated our coverage of jazz, bringing his knowledge, his experience as a musician, and his passion to our readers for several years. Warren, a brilliant, multi-talented man, wrote about science and nature in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Each was an expert, with an astonishing breadth and depth of knowledge. And each had a unique ability to write about what he knew in a way that was both authoritative and great fun to read: interesting and personal. You felt you were listening to them talk, and they were talking especially to you.
They loved what they wrote about, they were generous in sharing their knowledge and their talent, and we’re grateful for their important contributions to our pages.