Are Elections Less Important Than Ever in the Age of Trump?
I confess I am enjoying watching the Republican Party implode. It is an all-consuming act of political rubbernecking. The blowback, personified by Donald Trump, of the party’s decades-long descent into the politics of fear is strangely gratifying to watch.
Trump’s criticism this week of House Speaker Paul Ryan as “weak” and “ineffective” and his denunciation of “disloyal” fellow Republicans has blown the “Party of No” wide open. The GOP nominee has promised that “the shackles have been taken off me” in his criticism of the party that has borne his candidacy but is now embarrassed by it.
The vocal minority of haters—who have become emboldened to wear their prejudices on their sleeves because their hero Trump does it so fearlessly—has several political advantages, including the clear ability to push the major conservative party ever-rightward via vehicles such as the Tea Party, Trump and a well-oiled and -funded media infrastructure that amplifies its distorted agenda.
"So how do we bridge our divides as this election looms, and, more importantly, after it is over?"
Still, it is hard to feel sorry that the nation’s most important conservative political institution, which built itself on coded racism, sexism, militarism and free-market fundamentalism, is now withering under the scrutiny of its own creation.
But then there is the Democratic Party, which has maintained its smug moral superiority for having nominated a candidate who pays lip service to its stated liberal values when it suits her, but behaves more like a moderate Republican otherwise. Hillary Clinton even admitted as much earlier this year, when she said at a campaign event, “I get accused of being kind of moderate and center. I plead guilty.”
It is no wonder, then, that so many conservatives and Republicans are voting for Clinton over Trump. By that measure, the conservative movement has clearly won control of our electoral system by skewing our politics so rightward that it actually has a choice between an extremist and a moderate. For progressives, the only choice that remains electorally is to cast a protest vote for third-party candidate Jill Stein or throw their lot in with Republicans by backing the moderate.
Given Trump’s shameful performance at both presidential debates and the resulting poll numbers, it appears more likely that he will lose. If and when he does, my fellow Americans and I will breathe a sigh of relief at being spared the constant appearance of the racist, sexist, egomaniacal, red-faced bully in our news feeds.
But many are worried, including Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, that “Trump may go away, but the people he has empowered will not.” It is a valid concern, even though the majority of young Americans are far more progressive than older folks and far less tolerant of Trump. (Actually, they dislike Clinton, too).
There are multiple and complex reasons for why the Trump phenomenon is an undeniable part of the American political landscape, including a steady diet of right-wing media and legitimate economic grievances, coupled with racial resentment from a shrinking white majority. But regardless of the reasons, the phenomenon is here to stay, meaning that even if Clinton is elected president in November, we as a country have to understand and deal with the fact that millions of Americans have pledged allegiance to a racist, sexist, nationalist and deeply flawed American billionaire.
Add to this mix our internet-age communications systems and the ability to respond to others with lightning speed without having to face each other personally, and the potential for polarization and mutual distrust is even greater. Given that the nation is awash in more weapons than people, we may have a potentially explosive situation come November.
So how do we bridge our divides as this election looms, and, more importantly, after it is over?
My only interaction with a Trump supporter thus far has been an unsolicited email I received through my personal website’s contact form that stated simply, “FUCK YOU you Left wing cunt Americans are tired of your filth and WE WANT TRUMP.” It didn’t do much to disabuse me of my preconceived notions about Trump’s backers.
If I were to meet an ardent supporter of Trump in person, my instinct would be to want to argue with him or her. I would jump to the conclusion that such a person would consider me, a brown-skinned immigrant woman with a foreign-sounding name, “the enemy.” I would be on the defensive before I began a conversation. I would readily assume that he or she was racist, sexist and anti-immigrant. There would be, seemingly, no possible bridge between our political divides.
It doesn’t help the progressive cause for economic justice that Democrats appear to be in bed with Wall Street executives who are busy living large while 99 percent of Americans suffer financially. Indeed, millennials back Trump over Clinton significantly on only one issue: his stated goal of holding corporate America accountable. It appears that the two major parties no longer offer clear political divisions along which the majority of Americans can align.
But there are issue-based fault lines that have emerged quite clearly this year: In broad strokes, economic justice, racial justice and climate justice encompass the majority of concerns for many Americans. Some of those Americans consider themselves conservative and even Republican. It is along those fault lines that we can and must try to organize politically, even if it means stepping way out of our comfort zones to find common ground with people who may not share all our values. It is very possible that the populace whose anger Trump has unleashed will remain resentful and beyond our reach.
Perhaps we need to see the implosion of the Republican Party via the Trump nomination as a sign that the time to win progressive political change through the electoral system is over and that presidential elections are just basic check-boxes to dutifully cross off our to-do lists. The real work lies after Nov. 8—in how well we build alliances, how hard we push whoever is in the Oval Office and how savvy our organizing becomes.