What Now for Progressives?

Robert Creamer Political organizer, strategist and author

It will take some time for Progressives - and for America as a whole - to process the electoral disaster represented by Donald Trump’s victory last night.

Strategists and commentators will inevitably engage in endless hours of second -guessing. And it will take months before we can really assess what this political earthquake means for the future of democracy in America and American leadership in the world.

But as we engage in that process, there are several key principles that should guide us.

First - we can’t sugar coat the magnitude of the disaster. Trump’s election has the potential at least, to be the single most catastrophic event in modern American political history. The implications for our economy, for peace in the world, for the welfare of millions of ordinary people are staggering.

That is especially true for the most vulnerable members of our society - for immigrants, for Muslims, for the poor, for all of those who desperately need health insurance, for those who need protection from gun violence - for the victims of sexual harassment and abuse.

Trump’s victory will in fact do more than allow him to implement policies that inflict harm on millions. It will legitimate the worst instincts of white supremacists, bigots and misogynists.

And of course, Trump will control the nuclear launch codes.

Second - we must resist the impulse to give up and sink back into “non-political” activity - to close our eyes and cover our ears and hope this nightmare will somehow blow itself out like a hurricane that will pass.

I guarantee you that after almost 50 years of progressive battle, that alternative some time sounds attractive to me. And I know there have been reports massive numbers of Americans inquiring about immigration to Canada.

But we can’t give up on America. And we can’t give up on politics.

Like it our not politics defines our life together. No one can escape climate change. And ask the people of Syria how easy it is to avoid a war.

For a lot of activists it may take some time to heal. But we cannot allow the horrific experience of this electoral defeat to defeat us.

Third - our first priority must be to organize to defend ordinary Americans from the worst excesses of a Trump Presidency and of the organizations that lead the fight to promote progressive values.

That means that Progressives cannot turn on each other. There has never been a time in modern American history when it is so clear that if we do not hang together, we will all hang separately.

It is not a time for recriminations and circular firing squads. It is not a time to blame Hillary Clinton or her campaign. It is certainly not a time to blame President Obama or his Administration. And it is a time to make certain that the other side is not allowed to pick off vulnerable people or vulnerable organizations.

Fourth - more than ever we must stand up straight for progressive values - both because they are right and because they are good politics.

Donald Trump did not win because America rejected progressive values or solutions. In fact, of course, a majority of Americans actually voted for Hillary Clinton - they just weren’t spread evenly through critical swing states.

We can’t give into the temptation to waffle or soft-pedal our commitments and values. One of the things voters actually liked about Trump is that he seemed to say what he things - which he appeared to be “authentic”. Even though in fact he was offering nothing but resentment and demagoguery.

But most important we have to stand up straight for progressive values because they actually address the real underlying cause of the Trump phenomena.

That brings us to point number five. We know a lot already about the main underlying cause of last night’s Trump victory, and we must keep it firmly in mind as we plan for the future.

The resonance of Trump’s message was rooted in the failure of our economic system to deliver for ordinary Americans over the last thirty years. Remember that over the last three decades America has experienced a 48% increase in gross domestic product per person. That means if it were evenly distributed all Americans should have been 48% better off than they were 30 years ago. But instead the real incomes of ordinary people were stagnant and all of those gains went to the top 1%.

That is the fertile ground where resentment filled, scapegoating messages find resonance.

Our strategy going forward needs to forcefully address this underlying issue or it will never succeed.

One thing we know. The policies Trump has so far embraced do not do anything to actually address this underlying problem. Progressive policies will. We must place them center stage.

Sixth, we cannot allow the other side to frame who and who is not the “political establishment” that the public rejected last night. You bet we need to change the rules of the game that govern our economy. You bet we need to allow the voices of ordinary people govern the future direction of American policy instead of corporate elites.

But leaders who stand up for progressive values are NOT the “establishment” that has been rejected by the voters and we can not allow “everyone in Washington” to be painted with the same brush.

Seventh, we must be willing to be bold as we take action to defend our values and the interests of ordinary Americans. Timidity will not be rewarded in a battle with someone like Donald Trump, his Alt-right collaborators - or his more traditional right wing Congressional allies.

We will take casualties in the battles ahead. But they must not be casualties that we timidly accept. It is no time to cower. If there are going to be casualties they need to be inflicted in battles we initiate.

Finally, as Americans and as Progressive, we must never lose faith in each other. It will be very difficult to get through the next four years. We not only need each other to win. We need each other to see us through.

And we need to remember Dr. King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


This was reposted from The Huffington Post.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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