It should go without saying that Democrats hope to be in a very different place in four years, even in two. As a Democrat, I believe that we must move from our current space of post-election vulnerability to become a stronger and more inclusive party that is as expansive in its ideas as it is in the reach of its organization on the ground.
The question isn’t where the Democratic party goes from here – if 2016 has proven a point, it is that nothing is impossible, for better, or in this case, for worse. As Democrats confront the latter scenario, what we should be asking is how we will get to a better place.
We have seen that you can run a politically sound, policy-based, logistically coherent, digitally comprehensive campaign, against a campaign with little coherency, seriously lacking policy plans, that appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and Islamophobia, but still lose the election. So how, then, does the Democratic party come back from this loss with the strength and energy to win in future elections?
By talking to people who didn’t vote for our candidates, with the intention of fixing the empathy deficit that is further dividing our country across party lines.
I’m not suggesting that we give the President-elect the benefit of the doubt – especially since he hasn’t earned it – but I do suggest we empathize with those who voted for him. The future of the Democratic Party depends on its ability to understand the position of people who don’t see a place for themselves in it. Only then will Democrats truly reflect the ideals they promote.
It is a mistake to write off everyone who voted for a man who will soon be the leader of our country, but who certainly does not represent that for which our country stands. It may feel comfortable to live in an SNL-style liberal bubble – but progress is not always comfortable, and sometimes the truth isn’t either. The truth is that millions more voters chose Hillary Clinton, and that while some were overjoyed by Donald Trump’s candidacy, many who voted for him did so in spite of his hateful rhetoric, and others out of dislike for Clinton. One third of the 700 counties that elected Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 turned the map red for Trump in 2016.
Trump’s promise of change resonated with Americans who have felt angry at a government that they feel hasn’t given them the attention or resources they need. These voters are just one of many factors that played into Trump’s electoral college victory; Russia, the FBI, voter suppression, and fake news also contributed. But if Trump doesn’t bring the change they hope to see, Democrats should be ready to make the case for our candidates.
In Florida for a rally on his “Thank You Tour,” Trump said the “other side” is wondering, “in four years how do we get some of these ‘deplorables’ to our side?” He isn’t completely off the mark, but this isn’t merely about winning. It is about the fact that Democrats genuinely care about championing policies for all Americans, including those who don’t vote for our candidates.
After the election, Democrats in the Senate fought to pass the Miners Protection Act to cover pensions and healthcare for coal miners, but the Republican leadership refused to back the measure. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on the Senate floor, “Every one of us goes out and basically tries to attract working men and women to vote for us because we say we’re coming here to fight for you, we’re going to stand up for you.” Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wouldn’t reach across the aisle, even to aid a group that was sympathetic to the Republican Party in this past election. President-elect Trump, who spent his campaign promising to protect coal miners, has yet to comment. And still Republicans continue to win over voters in coal country.
Democrats are still the leaders fighting on behalf of working-class families, for Americans struggling to get ahead. But we have to get to work on the ground to prove it to voters who have yet to believe it.
Throughout this election season, amidst a media environment saturated with fake news and clickbait headlines, CNN pundit Van Jones warned colleagues in the media to take seriously not only Trump-supporting white nationalists, but also the power of the collective of disaffected voters. Now Jones emphasizes the importance of constructive dialogue with Trump supporters who didn’t fully align with his candidacy saying, “Trump is much worse than anybody in this country is willing to accept. But a lot of his voters are much better, and I don’t want to give them away.” Giving Trump’s voters away will only build his coalition for him.
Let’s not push every Trump voter further in his direction, but instead spend the next four years proving to them that our party has something to offer. Let’s understand that a person is more nuanced than his or her vote. Let’s prove that there is a place for everyone in a more inclusive, productive, economically sound America, and that that place exists in the Democratic Party.
In Barack Obama’s last press conference as president, he said, “I became a U.S. senator not just because I had a strong base in Chicago, but because I was driving around downstate Illinois and going to fish frys and sitting in VFW halls and talking to farmers.” Urban areas may produce dense concentrations of Democratic votes, but, as we’ve seen, dependance on these areas won’t always be enough. To ensure an electoral college victory for Democrats moving forward, and to convey the benefits of our policies to voters who have yet to embrace them, we need to expand our reach on the ground. No more Democratic firewalls, no states too blue to ignore, nor too red to give up.
There is little merit in questioning why our party’s message wasn’t fully received if we don’t start engaging in communities where voters feel that their issues aren’t being heard. The uncomfortable truth in how we get to where we’re going is that alienating the very people whose votes we will ask for again will push us further apart; what we need to realize is that we are stronger together.