The weather in New York on the morning of November 9th was gloomy, just like the political mood. Despite numerous reassurances to the contrary, many people’s worst nightmare had just come true. Donald Trump would soon be President. It was as if the entire world had somehow come unraveled overnight. A general malaise was palpable on the streets. Someone hung a black scarf on their apartment door. Lamentations 1:20 echoed in the hallway. “Pay attention, Lord, for I am in trouble. My stomach is churning; my heart is pounding inside me because I am so bitter. In the streets the sword kills; in the house it is like death.”
While the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the fall of Jerusalem might seem like unrelated events, both caused an existential crisis among the faithful who suddenly had their world destroyed before their eyes. Many Democrats and independents have said they no longer recognize the country they had one day earlier called home. How do we move forward in such a situation? That’s a question I’ve mulled over for the past few days.
Organize, Organize, Organize
If there is one major lesson we need to take from this election — and here I am speaking to independents, liberals, progressives and radicals — it is that our collective disorganization has become fatal to democracy. We can point fingers all day long — at Democrats for railroading Bernie Sanders; at liberals for continually undermining the Green Party; at the general lack of organizing against the two-party system; and at the general hostility of many leftists towards organized politics. All of these are related to the global state of disorganized leftist politics. Only South America in recent years has been able to sustain some semblance of left-populism, and even that is now beginning to collapse.
Prepare to Resist Bigly
If we have learned anything from four decades of conservative politics, it is that you have to think about the long game. The foundation for Trump’s victory began with the election of Reagan in the 1980s and was solidified with the rise of the New Right. It’s important to recall that one of the main rallying points behind the New Right was its fierce opposition to Roe v. Wade (1973), opposition which now find itself in a position to overturn that historic decision. If we can’t count on the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights, then we need to start thinking about how we will do that city by city, state by state.
Another important dynamic of the New Right was a resurgence of white supremacist groups, a trend which has increased since the 1970s. A recent Lawfare report noted that “the number of active Klan groups increased from 72 in 2014 to 190 in 2015 – a 163% increase which includes an explosion of new chapters within existing groups, and the reappearance of older groups.” Similar trends were documented in a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Europe saw a similar spike in hate crimes after the Brexit vote, and evidence in recent months — such as attacks on mosques and African-American churches — suggests a similar pattern is already emerging in the US. This is a serious civil rights and public safety concern, and the left needs to start preparing to respond. This means thinking seriously about our self-defense capabilities against a growing threat from armed white supremacists, regardless of the color of their uniform. As some scholars and activists have pointed out, emancipation and civil rights were not won solely by non-violent protests. Defending these gains may not be either.
Similarly worrisome is how a Trump presidency will handle the growing ecological catastrophe. His initial remarks on the environmental front are deeply troubling, from a likely climate-denier heading the EPA, to slashing climate funding, and a massive surge in coal, oil and gas extraction. Even if only half of these plans come to fruition, we will need to replicate across the entire country what the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies are currently doing in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Change the Rules and the Game
Finally, we need to seriously think about how to address several structural issues in the US electoral system which continue to favor an elite-driven, two-party system. These include enacting meaningful campaign finance reform, finding a way to overturn Citizens United, seriously revisiting why we have the Electoral College, and fighting to restructure the hurdles to third parties entering the political system and having a fair hearing in debates.
Some will be harder than others, but a twin organizing strategy within and outside of the system can help address this. With this in mind, here are a few ideas for next steps.
First, the left needs to seriously reconsider the idea of running for office. While I am skeptical of politicians generally, it is precisely this sentiment that enabled a sweeping conservative electoral victory. Second, we need to have more serious and heartfelt talks with our friends and family about these issues over supper meals, in our mosques, temples and churches, in the bleachers of our kids’ football games, and in the hallways of our schools and universities. One way to counter a Trump presidency is by dividing and stripping him of as much of his support base as possible. Third, we need to work to restore a commitment to civil discussion and debate. One thing all Americans agree on is that they are tired of political lies and corruption, and we need to build on that common ground. Finally, for white folks like myself, if we are not already actively involved in anti-racist or social justice organizing circles, we need to be.
If one thing is clear from this election, it is that there is too much at stake to resign ourselves to lamentations. We must turn our tears of lament into fuel for our resistance.