These are the times that try men’s souls—and women’s, too.
Last night America experienced a political earthquake. Though the full extent of the damage is still unclear, there is no denying the magnitude of the upheaval: a man who campaigned on a platform of hostility to immigrants, contempt for women, and disregard for civil and religious liberty has now been elected president of the United States. The same Republican Party that successfully stymied progressive legislation for the last eight years, and obstructed President Obama at every turn, now controls both the Senate and the House of Representatives. And the Supreme Court, for so long the bulwark of our liberties, is likely to become a rubber stamp for economic privilege and social reaction—possibly for a generation.
Citizens United, it seems, may just have been the beginning, unleashing a torrent of corporate money that buried Russ Feingold, Zephyr Teachout, Ted Strickland, and the California ballot initiative to control rising drug prices. With Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the White House, and a conservative majority again on the Court, decisions that seemed like settled law only a few days ago—gay marriage, legal abortion, the right to join a union, indeed, the very right to citizenship itself for all born inside this country—may now well come under attack. These are all fights we cannot afford to lose.
And so, despite the temptation to mourn, we have to organize. Because if we can’t rely on the president, or the Congress, or the courts, we have no choice but to rely on one another. Not just for comfort but for strength—and survival.
There will be a time for recriminations. A time to determine just what portion of the disaster we now face is due to white backlash, what to misogyny, and what to a revolt against the elites in Washington, Hollywood, and Manhattan. A time—and a necessity—to debate how much to blame the Democratic Party for choosing a candidate so loathed by so many men and women that they preferred to trust their futures to Donald Trump. A time to try to gauge the effect of FBI Director James Comey’s unprecedented late intervention into the election—and of the cynicism fostered by the way Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic National Committee skewed the nominating process. There will even be time to argue about whether Bernie Sanders might not have been the more electable Democrat after all.
Today is not that time. Hillary Clinton has been defeated. The Democratic Party is in deep disarray. American women have learned that even a buffoon with no experience in government or history of public service is more likely to be elected president—so long as he has a penis, a television program, and a billion dollars (more or less). And so many of our hopes—for free public college, a livable minimum wage, expanded Social Security, a path to universal health care, paid family leave, an end to private prisons, the abolition of the death penalty—now lie shattered, along with the prospect of an administration that, whatever its limitations, had been shown to be open to pressure from the left.
Which means we have to apply even greater pressure from the left: to march in greater numbers, to shout out louder against injustice, and to summon and be prepared to sustain everyday massive nonviolent civil disobedience on a scale not seen in this country for decades. Not because we refuse to acknowledge the results of the election. But because, as we would have written no matter who won last night, elections are only the beginning of the contest for power. And because in the coming contest there are some in immediate peril, who need our help, our energy, and our solidarity.
History will judge this country—our leaders, our media-entertainment complex, ourselves, and our fellow citizens—harshly for electing Donald Trump. But if we withdraw into our private grief and abandon those who, this morning, feel most threatened by the result—Muslim Americans, Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ Americans, women, inner-city youth—history will never forgive us.
Instead, we have to stand up, and fight back. And to realize that we are not without resources, and advantages, and potential leaders, in that fight. Donald Trump campaigned on a series of impossible promises: to not just repeal Obamacare but replace it with something that delivers high-quality, affordable health care to all Americans; to revive American manufacturing, cut taxes, improve education, provide childcare, cut the deficit, defeat “radical Islamic terrorism,” stem immigration, expand the economy, and, of course, build that wall. He also promised to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership—the one promise his election itself may well guarantee, freeing the coalition assembled for that fight by the labor movement and environmental activists for other, now desperately pressing, battles. And though Hillary Clinton, who waffled on the TPP and said nothing of significance on the Dakota Pipeline, has now become irrelevant to all of the coming struggles, President Obama has to decide whether to let her defeat become his repudiation—or to roll up his sleeves and join the fight to preserve his legacy, and our republic.
The stakes are too high to be blinded by emotion. Obama remains not only a hugely popular president but a symbol of, and spokesman for, the very diversity, civility, and tolerance threatened by Trump’s election, and could, if he chooses, help lead the fight, along with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and newly elected progressives like Pramila Jayapal and Jamie Raskin, whose victories last night were like beacons in the darkness.
The stakes are also too high not to be strategic. Not all of Trump’s impulses were wrong; not all of his support comes from racial or sexual fear or resentment. A trade policy that puts not just American manufacturing but American workers first would be a worthy goal for any president. And though his mixed signals on foreign policy defy easy interpretation, the rejection of American imperialism that earned Trump the disdain of the foreign-policy establishment might well deserve critical support from progressives—and anyone else fearful of our current plunge into a new Cold War. In 1952, with the original Cold War at its height, I.F. Stone challenged his readers to “Back Ike for Peace.” The current crisis demands an equal willingness to seize opportunities without being paralyzed by prejudice against the source.
Where Trump’s proposals are progressive, we should back them—regardless of his motives. But when—as will far more often be the case—they offer pretend solutions, we should expose them. And when they pose a threat to our rights, our fellow citizens, or the health of our planet, we must oppose them by every peaceful means at our disposal, from filibuster in the Senate and endless amendments in the House to physical obstruction of the machinery of repression, including massive mobilization and demonstrations on our streets and in our cities.
Given Trump’s rhetoric, we would be foolish not to expect repression in return. So we must be prepared for that, too, politically, by strengthening groups like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and the immigrant-rights movement; emotionally, by practicing solidarity; and practically, by picking our battles and not wasting precious time and energy on infighting and sectarian hair-splitting. If we’re going to survive the Trump regime, and have any hope of blocking it in 2018 and overturning it in 2020, we’re going to have to work together: Clinton and Stein voters, gay and straight, black and brown and white, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, socialist and liberal (and even some libertarians).
The next four years will test our country—and our movement—like nothing else we have seen in our lifetimes. Welcome to the fight.