There is very little for me to say that has not already been said concerning the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. It is a result that many of you find shocking, revolting, terrifying, bewildering, and any other number of emotions. There are even some of you who, justifiably, feel personally endangered by this turn of events. And, so, social media has become alight with all of the varied reactions. Some of which I find concerning, because it feels like we’ve been down this road before.
There’s little need for me to try and diagnose the reasons for Trump’s win. Others have done so with more knowledge and eloquence than I could. The two most insightful pieces I have read this week can be found here and here. If you can read through those, or any of the other myriad of intelligent pieces floating around in different publications on the subject, and still not understand how Trump won the election, there are no amount of words or figures that could be arrayed to convince you.
What most interests me, from a historical and cultural perspective, are the REACTIONS to Trump’s win that I see among the liberal coalition that voted for Hillary. These, of course, range the gamut from the still-in-shock “WHAT??!?!?!?!!?!!” to the resigned-but-optimistic “Love Trumps Hate” to the bitter rage of “REVOLUTION!” It’s the latter that I want to talk about, now, because it is the one that has the potential to be just as dangerous as the movement that created Donald Trump in the first place.
As I’m sure you are aware if you have social media, there have already been protests against Trump’s win across the nation. That in and of itself is fine. In a democracy, you are supposed to make your voice heard. But there are developments from these protests, and from the type of people that are posting about these protests, that are straying into what I will originally call “the Dark Side” (can’t believe nobody has ever used that term before!). There are 4 general comments I’ve seen frequently on social media that are part of this Dark Side (though there are numerous more that I don’t have the time or energy to get into):
1) I’ve seen people calling for a systematic campaign of harassment against the electors of the electoral college, to force them to vote against their party, and thus for Hillary (this is called being a “faithless” elector). This is based on the fact that it appears (I say “appears” because technically the final numbers aren’t confirmed yet) that Hillary won the popular vote, despite losing the election. A discussion of the electoral college is beyond the scope of this piece, and I certainly do believe the system needs some form of reform (though I do not believe it should be abolished – it actually is a safeguard against “tyranny of the majority”).
The relationships between electors, political parties, and the popular vote are rather complex. But harassing electors to get the result you want would create the biggest constitutional crisis in this country since the Civil War, with potentially far deeper ramifications than a Trump presidency. Further, I suspect a great hypocrisy: would these people be saying the same thing if Hillary had won the electoral college but Trump had won the popular vote? Or would they be thumbing their noses at the Republicans and saying “tough shit”?
The discrepancy between the electoral college and popular vote is a terrible side-effect of our current political system, and one that needs to be remedied. But we do not remedy the situation through a campaign of extralegal harassment aimed at perverting our institutions. If you want reform, it needs to be done BEFORE the election. Changing the rules halfway through the game because you don’t like the score isn’t fair for anybody, and is just going to encourage other people to do the same thing.
2) I’ve seen people calling for a vote to impeach Trump before he has even been inaugurated. Besides the fact that having Pence as president could arguably be considered worse than having Trump as president (that’s a different argument entirely), this is just as much a perversion of our political system as intimidating electors. Trump may be an abominable human being, but as of yet he hasn’t actually done anything to warrant impeachment other than exist. I despise the man as much as anybody, but trying to turn our impeachment process into an “undo” button on elections will only have the effect of eroding our entire system of government.
Besides: what were these same people saying when the Republicans were trying to impeach Bill Clinton back in the 1990s? Were you saying, “good for them for utilizing the due process of law”, or were you saying, “Political witch-hunts like this are a sham!” Hell, even more recently, many Republican talking heads proposed voting to impeach Hillary from office if she won, and many of the same people who are now calling for Trump’s impeachment were deriding the Republicans for making the same exact proposal a month ago!
3) I’ve seen people calling for New England and/or California to secede from the union as a result. Naturally, these are the same people who, during the last election cycle, made fun of how insane the governor of Texas was for making similar threats if Obama should win. Needless to say, the history of our nation has proven unequivocally that secession of this sort is just not an option, and I really, sincerely hope that anyone who says that feels utterly ashamed of themselves. Pull a 5 dollar bill out of your pocket and apologize to Mr. Lincoln, would you?
4) Last, but not least, I have seen people propose that the Democratic minority in Congress use every measure at their disposal to disrupt and delay any attempts at legislation by the Republican majority. You know, the exact same thing these people have heaped scorn on the Republicans for doing for the past 8 years. I should not have to point out the hypocrisy, here.
In summary, the Dark Side is referring to any of the mindsets that seek to delegitimize Trump’s win and establish the Democrats as an obstinate force of disruption in government.
Now, you may be wondering what I find so disturbing about all this rhetoric. Obviously, people are upset and afraid right now, and reacting thusly. But the reason that this is so disturbing is because it has echoes of what happened beginning in 2008, as I have somewhat alluded to.
In 2008, coming off of a two-year term by a Republican president, we had two candidates for election: one of them, an old-school establishment politician whose primary campaign platform was maintaining the status quo; the other, an upstart candidate who appeared from out of the blue to utterly disrupt the party machinery and challenge the traditional political orthodoxy. Sound familiar? There are endless parallels between the Obama win over McCain and the Trump win over Clinton, and that is no accident. Obama represented, in many ways, the inevitable result of the backlash against Bush-era policy decisions combining with long-simmering cultural tensions. Again … sound familiar? Trump is very much the same, at least when we are talking in these broad socio-economic strokes. Both Obama and Trump were elected president because they represented CHANGE, they represented change for a group of people that did not feel like the government was protecting their interests, and they both represented latent cultural norms that had been laying at the fringes of political discourse in this country for decades.
Now, because I know that paragraph has probably already upset some people, let me make a few disclaimers: I know there are important differences between the Obama movement and the Trump movement. I’m not an idiot. That some of Trump’s movement is fueled by misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia is despicable (notice I say SOME … please read the articles I linked to at the beginning of this post to learn more about the fuel behind Trump’s rise), and of course this is something that needs to be addressed. I’m not arguing for some golden mean fallacy in which all opinions should be equally regarded. What I am saying, however, is that there is an important issue of perception. Regardless of the veracity of these perceptions and the ability of their candidates to actually address those issues (remember that Obama didn’t cure systemic racism anymore than Trump will be able to solve immigration), we have the fact that both Obama and Trump were elected due to a large segment of the population that felt like they were, in some way, being either ignored or outright oppressed by the government, and that the status quo wouldn’t do at all, and that some sort of change was needed. Again, it doesn’t matter at all whether you agree that Trump supporters SHOULD feel this way, all that matters at this point is that they DO feel this way.
And what did angry and fearful Republicans say after Obama’s win? Well, the same rhetoric of impeachment, obstructionism, secession, etc. that we are seeing now from angry and fearful Democrats. Many conservatives in the country legitimately saw Obama as a threat to their way of life and their prosperity, just as many Democrats see Trump in that light. Again: there are very real reasons for minorities to feel this way because of Trump, and I am not trying to diminish that. But, again, YOU can’t just dismiss the feelings of a large segment of the population because you don’t understand or agree with them. Even if there wasn’t a logical reason for them to feel as threatened by Obama as you do by Trump, it doesn’t change the fact that they DID feel threatened.
What happened next we all know rather well. The Republican party completely embraced this rage and fear and turned it into the primary platform of the party itself. Instead of actually representing any coherent conservative interests, they became a political entity that was defined SOLELY through opposition and anger. This led to the Tea Party. This led to Trump. The party was so consumed by this rage and fear that it became something that the moderates could no longer control, and now we have Trump as our president.
And THAT is why I am writing this. Because the Democratic party is now at an existential precipice similar to the one the Republicans faced back in 2008. And from the rhetoric I am seeing many of my liberal friends and associates espouse, I am afraid that the Democratic party is going to head down the same path, and repeat the same mistakes as the Republicans did. If we let the party, and the broader liberal mindset in the U.S., become defined by rage and fear, then in 4 years, or 8 years, the Democratic party may be the one that is hijacked and taken over by this fringe element. And don’t for a second think that a party of left-wing extremists will be better than a party of right-wing extremists, because history has plenty of answers for you.
I am not here to tell you to calm down. I am not here to tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid. I know it is all too easy for a white man such as myself to say these things to Muslims, women, LGBTQ (is that enough letters to be inclusive?), etc. The next few years may be hard or even dangerous for some. What I am saying is not to panic. Don’t let the fear and the rage control you, as it did to the Tea Party movement. Don’t use this fear and rage as an excuse to instill more fear and rage among the opposition, don’t use this as an excuse to abandon reason, and most of all don’t use it as an excuse to abandon our democratic institutions. Because that’s exactly what got us where we are in the first place.
If you really hate Trump and everything he stands for, you will agree with me that we should never let anyone like him become president again. The only way to do so is to not give in to the rage and the fear that we all feel right now. And that is an ideal that is utterly bipartisan.