For many, the election of Donald Trump to be our nation’s next president was as much an event of emotional upheaval as it was political. The choice seemed so clear, and the polls professed a surety that, if not conclusive, at least let us sleep at night. Many of us weren’t able to sleep so easy in the nights that followed, the gear-grinding reality of Trump’s selection over Hillary Clinton seeming so preposterous, so unfair. But moving ahead — which I am not suggesting means giving up our opposition to Trump, the Republicans, or the politics of hate — requires us to reckon with the role we played in electing Trump and taking responsibility for it.
In a Vox piece titled “How to co-exist, after defeat, with citizens whose views you despise,” political science professors Melissa Schwartzberg and Jennifer Gandhi attempted to provide a roadmap for recovery following a bitter election, and they hit on a few ideas that I believe are key to working through the emotional, social and democratic fallout of Trump’s victory.
Perhaps hardest to internalize among their points, but most important, is their assertion that we must accept that “we the people fell short.” They resist the knee-jerk reaction to place blame on pollsters, on the media, or even on the larger electorate, and force a difficult evaluation of how Clinton’s supporters interacted with (or didn’t interact with) the political process.
I had friends who phone-banked, who canvassed, who crossed state lines in order to get out the vote, and friends who didn’t. One friend put up a post on Facebook the Friday before Election Day offering a ride to anyone in the Bay Area who wanted to head to Reno with him to go knock on doors. I looked with confliction at Clinton’s web site, where last-minute weekend trips to Arizona and Nevada were advertised, balancing a much-needed weekend against a seemingly-remote Trump victory.
“We need — almost reflexively — to acknowledge that the electoral results express voters’ preferences mediated by the institutional rules,” Schwartzberg and Gandhi wrote. I’ve found this idea one of the hardest to wrestle with in the days following the election, as it became clear that Clinton would win the national popular vote while losing the electoral vote. Because the truth of the matter is that for the eight years the Democrats were in power, there was no fuss made about the Electoral College. Moreover, the Electoral College is not a secret body — while I had many friends who didn’t understand the exact mechanisms of it, anyone who’s watched election night returns should roughly now how it works. Does it suck? Absolutely. Is it unfair? It was in this case. Is it more responsible for Trump’s victory than we are? Nope.
Schwartzberg and Gandhi are also careful to warn against the instinct to shirk responsibility for the election of the results — their two biggest examples being those who say, “Don’t blame me; I voted for Bernie,” and those who claim (fatuously or not) that they’ll leave the country. They warn against this as a dangerous step towards challenging electoral legitimacy, which I take some issue with, as there are serious questions about how voter ID laws skewed the electorate in key states, but I think the push to own the results is right. The reason to support electoral legitimacy is because it’s the same electoral legitimacy that elected Barack Obama, and that we hope will elect Trump’s successor in four years (God willing). We must continue the fight against draconian voter ID laws, and against the Electoral College, but that has to be a forward-looking fight.
The most important and weirdly positive takeaway from their piece is that we should still value our vote, even if we lost, and that we should be able to identify “the role [we] played in producing the outcome.” Every eligible voter, whether they voted for Trump or Clinton (or Johnson or Stein or didn’t vote at all) “helped to constitute the margin of victory or defeat.” As the California vote continues to roll in and Clinton’s popular vote margin continues to grow, acknowledging the importance of those votes within our national political discussion — even if it’s excluded from the Electoral College — is not insignificant.
Even as feelings of despair and dejection threaten to overtake us, accepting our role in this election and moving forward with the lessons we’ve learned from it are crucial to a progressive comeback. The alternative is giving our country over to those who claim to love it, but love some twisted version of it; and for me, at least, that is a retreat I am unwilling to make.