The Democrats’ path forward

Tristan May

The 2016 election was supposed to be a home run for Democrats, both nationally and in statewide races. But as the night of November 8, 2016 unfolded, it quickly became clear that everything that could go wrong, was going to go wrong. Key swing states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio, showed lower voter turnout in cities and suburbs–places in which Democrats were expecting largely positive vote margins to outweigh losses in more rural areas, which tend to vote Republican.

This meant that the only way for Democrats to win the election would be to overperform in those rural areas, but that just didn’t happen. One by one the dominoes fell, with Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and almost every other state Clinton was supposed to win going to Trump. Everyone knows what happened next; utter despair and deep-seated fear took hold in the half of the country that voted for someone other than Donald Trump. One question was on millions of Americans’ minds the next morning: what next?

What is evident is that Democrats failed to show people what they truly believe in. Rather than arguing for the progressive agenda that so many Americans actually believe in, Clinton’s’ platform was full of watered-down policies; none of which broke through in an era when the media chooses to focus on the most salacious and eye-catching stories during presidential elections. It is inarguable that President Trump’s campaign lied. A lot. But, in response to those lies, Democrats can’t only recite facts to the American people; that clearly hasn’t worked. Democrats must begin to talk about their truths, the fundamental beliefs which underlie every policy supported by Democrats.

The question of how they ought to move forward has become incredibly divisive within the Democratic Party, revealing a divide that has existed under the surface for decades, hidden by a charismatic and unifying two-term Democratic president. The earthquake that was the 2016 election was merely a symptom of the silent crisis, in which there are two main sides, both with perfectly valid points.

One side points to the fact that this was an incredibly close election, one which was decided by Obama-Trump voters. These are folks who supported Barack Obama, with his message of bringing change to a broken Washington, before supporting Donald Trump, with his message of bringing change to a broken Washington.

The other side in the struggle for the Democrats’ identity was that which wanted to focus on the base of the party: minorities and women. At first glance, this might seem ridiculous, there is no way African-Americans, 92 percent of whom voted for a Democrat in 2012, would suddenly turn against the Democratic Party.

That, however, is not the issue. The issue is when the base of the party (women, African-Americans, Hispanics, etc.) decide to stay home on Election Day, rather than go out and vote. Therefore, even if, say 52 percent of people would rather have Clinton as their president, Trump could still win because 4 percent of those people didn’t feel energized enough by the candidate to show up to the polls.

The fundamental argument is about whether to appeal to the white, male voters who flipped to Trump, by talking about bringing jobs back to the U.S. from overseas, or to focus on the base, by making criminal justice reform a priority, and doing other things of that nature.

My only question is: why can’t Democrats do both? On a national level, I choose to believe that showing “white America” the injustices faced by minorities on a daily basis will help them understand that racism is a serious issue, even in this day-and-age. I know that making clear to folks in cities and urban areas the plight of rural America, with rampant job loss and stagnant wage growth, will incentivize them to be more active participants in democracy.

The problem with the Democratic Party in the past has been forgetting that nearly everyone faces serious struggles, all the time, and failing to realize that no one deserves to be forgotten, either by their party, or their government. I choose to believe that demonstrating to all Americans that their voice will be heard is the most potent political strategy, not poll-tested slogans, or the tactics of hate and division. This is the path to victory for Democrats, in 2018, and beyond.