Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

The Silver Lining: Twelve Gifts from Trump to Progressives

A shorter version appeared on openDemocracy here.

Now that they have had some time to mourn, clamor, or lick their wounds, progressives should begin to see the silver lining from last week’s elections. Despite losing the Presidency and facing other challenges, they should notice the accompanying consolations and seize the new opportunities. Here are a few of them.

1. The people (can) matter more than money. Despite the fact that Hillary Clinton raised more money than any candidate in the history of elections, dwarfing Trump’s campaign war chest by tens of millions, she still lost to his populist appeal. Agree or not with the outcome, and setting aside the desirability of the Electoral College, the choice was made by everyday people, regardless of how we might assess their judgment. The United States is (in a minimal sense) a democracy after all. If there is a single criterion that distinguishes a democracy (meaning liberal electoral republic) from a “competitive authoritarian regime” it is that political outcomes are uncertain.

2. The media is not all powerful. Again, despite the fact that the corporate media nearly unanimously united behind Clinton for much of the campaign, they were unable to secure her victory. It could either mean that everyday Americans reflexively distrust what they see, hear, or read on CNN/Fox, NPR/AM radio, the Washington Post/USA Today, or that they have developed a healthy skepticism and can make their own judgments. Either one is a small victory for progressives whose causes are often opposed by corporate and mainstream media, which survive on advertising dollars or large donors.

3. The people are now skeptical about polls. While some social scientists have long warned about the biases and inaccuracies of polls, they were often cited like holy scripture by journalists of many different camps. The fact that the fallibility (or margins of error) of polls can no longer be hidden is also a victory for democracy. After all, if polls knew everything then why bother holding elections, or why ever bother striving for change.

4. Transparency and authenticity matter. Like it or not Trump appeared as the more authentic, unscripted candidate and it mattered. Add to that the Wikileaks showing how scripted Clinton was, down to after which lines she should smile, it made Trump’s unfiltered style even more appealing to many. What this means going into the future for progressives, is that genuine, credible candidates like Bernie Sanders will be more likely to be on major party tickets. For the people, it means knowing who and what they are voting for.

5. The lesser evil (665) is not good enough. What this election also demonstrated, to the delight of genuine progressives, is that simply saying, “I’m not as bad as the other guy/gal,” does not always work. Clinton’s main selling points besides “not Trump,” were “not racist,” and “not sexist,” also all negative. Moreover, she had too many negatives of her own. Many progressives feel that the country has been stuck in what might be called “665 politics” as Eyal Weizman once put it, that is, the politics of lesser evils. The very fact that neither candidate won the popular vote by any meaningful margin, reminding us of recent 665 elections like the year 2000, which demonstrated that you cannot build a campaign on this alone. For progressives, it means that they can more adamantly and unabashedly demand “greater good” candidates from their parties.

6. Race resentment and prejudice is now unconcealed. That it is in the wide open, it can finally be addressed head on. It will be difficult and it will take a lot of work both at the grassroots and leadership level. The sheer scale of the open displays of prejudice will likely impel an honest national dialogue that addresses people’s worries and fears. The public needs to be educated about the history of racism in this country in a concrete, sustained way. Just as children learn their multiplication tables, they should learn in a tangible way not only about slavery, but Jim Crow, race covenants, redlining, “urban renewal,” and other racist government policy that happened not just in the South but throughout the country. American Civics education needs an overhaul and we have now all heard the alarm bell loud and clear.

7. People want to be heard, not lectured to by elites. This is really a consequence of (2) above. No matter how many times media and experts told the public that Trump was beyond the pale, it only made his supporters more certain that they were backing an anti-establishment candidate. This means that in the future, should the media and elites collude against a strong progressive candidate, who connects with the masses and increases voter turn out, that candidate will probably be immune from elite attacks.

8. Americans do not like cheaters. Correctly or not, a good part of the public thought that the DNC rigged the primary to favor Clinton. Both the DNC leaks and the Podesta leaks seem to support that assertion. The people spoke, either by not voting, or by voting for Trump, Johnson, or Stein, saying they do not like those who do not play by the rules. Moreover, a small majority of people polled seemed to think that Clinton broke the law with her emails or by mixing State Department and Foundation business.

9. Right now people want change, not the status quo. Because of the stagnation of wages, the declining standard of living, the sense of insecurity, or the outrage against corruption, people want change. Even if that change involves taking a risk on a “loose cannon.” Many people last winter and spring predicted that the winner will either be Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, because people do not want the status quo. Polls seemed to confirm this at the time and that is what proved true. This is also welcome news for progressives who want to make bold moves on inequality, climate change, and peace.

10. The Democratic party is now ready to clean house. And it seems they are starting. In the last few days, Bernie Sanders followed by Harry Reid and Elizabeth Waren made the bold move of endorsing Rep. Keith Ellison for DNC chair as a full time position. Ellison is a progressive grassroots icon who also happens to be African American, from Detroit, and is the first Muslim member of Congress. He had an impeccable reputation as a “people’s lawyer” before running for office. It has not even been a week yet, and the Democratic grassroots is gaining ground. This surely bodes well for progressives within and without the party.

11. Trump is already backtracking on many of his campaign promises. Over the past week, we have seen him revise his stance on the Affordable Care Act. He is now proposing “keeping the parts that work, that are popular”and replacing the parts that do not work, adding that he “wants healthcare for everybody.” One complaint of progressives is that Obamacare only helped some people–those who qualified for the highest subsidy—but not others. He has also backpedalled on gay marriage, saying that the Supreme Court’s ruling is “fine” and “law of the land.”

12. He may serve as a non-ideological counterweight within the Republican Party itself. For example, one of his campaign promises that he appears to be sticking with is a “yuuge” infrastructure spending project to put people back to work and modernize the transportation system. These types of projects have been considered either as “big government” no-no’s or state prerogatives by the Republican party core in the recent past. Another surprising silver lining is that Trump wants less overseas military involvement, especially in Europe and the Mideast.

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This entry was posted on 2016-11-16 by in Political Parties, Political Theory, Politics, US History and tagged , , .
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