COMMENTARY: Expecting political ‘center’ to hold will not win elections
I am shocked, but not surprised, that Donald J. Trump is now our President-elect. It was my neighbors and friends who put him there, though I am sure many people here at Rutgers who didn’t grow up in a dying, rural, majority white town are indeed shocked to discover that a majority of their fellow citizens could possibly think he could be a good president.
Regardless, we on the Left are faced with two glaring crises. First, come January 2017, the Republican Party will be the governing party. Trump will be president. Mike Pence will be vice president. Mitch McConnell will be Senate majority leader. Paul Ryan will be speaker of the House. The vast majority of governors will be Republicans. Second, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost. Spun any way, a loss is a loss. Some pressing questions must be asked and answered.
What does this mean? Most pressingly, it means that Trump and his party will be able to implement the Conservative agenda they have been pushing unsuccessfully for all of President Barack Obama's term. We all know the stakes. Republican political power will bring a host of undesirable outcomes – from a conservative Supreme Court and Cabinet, to a more regressive tax system and less regulation for big banks. I defy anyone on the Left to say we should retreat from electoral or "mainstream" politics. If the new status quo is left unchallenged, it will result in objectively bad policies being pushed on the American people. The new federal majority must be stopped. If our Democratic representatives care one iota about their constituents, they must take a page from the right-wing playbook and become shameless obstructionists with the goal of making Trump’s single miserable term completely unproductive. Of course, the Right will cry hypocrisy, but this is the only possible course of action in the short term.
In addition to assessing our current situation, we need to emulate the GOP and perform an honest post mortem on how we got here. Any reasonable observer would conclude that Clinton ran by far the better campaign. In terms of fundraising, data, Get Out The Vote (GOTV), advertising and outreach, she decisively outperformed the Trump Campaign, which was sloppy, mismanaged and ineffective. Trump did far less on-the ground GOTV campaigning, which is typically the bread and butter of any electoral campaign. He raised less money and ran fewer and lower quality ads. She was not out-organized. She was not outspent. There can be no excuses. Clinton lost the battle of ideas. That is not to cast judgment on the correctness or incorrectness of her ideas. This is politics, truth is rarely relevant. She failed to offer a more compelling set of promises than he did. Trump offered "greatness." Clinton offered us "Obama Part III." Trump came out strongly against the disastrous free trade policies that have wracked vast swathes of the country west of Morristown and east of Oakland. Clinton was hardly believable in opposing just the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
What lesson do we draw from this disastrous defeat? Primarily, Clinton and her clique were wrong. Triangulating towards the center will not win elections anymore. If it did, then the quintessential moderate politician should have easily trounced the candidate so off the scale in every way that even his own party felt uncomfortable with him. As a Democrat personally, but a progressive more broadly, I assign blame fully to the moderate wing of my party. Your philosophy (or lack thereof) is ideologically and politically bankrupt. You have lost your mandate to lead. It is time for you to leave. The Left needs to offer the American people more than incremental change. We need to present our country with a compelling case for radical change to combat the message of Trump and Trump-ism.
What is to be done? As young people, we must not become discouraged. As citizens, we must demand that our representatives dig in their heels and freeze the legislative clock at Jan. 19, 2017. Call all seven of New Jersey’s Democratic congressmen and both our senators. Tell them as their constituent that they have your permission to be shameless obstructionists. As voters, we must begin to prepare to win progressive majorities in both Congress and all 50 State Houses, starting this spring with the New Jersey gubernatorial election. As progressives, we must force out the moderates and the Blue Dogs. The Right could not stop Trump. The Center could not stop Trump. Now it is up to the Left to fight him. This is not the time for concessions, it is time for action!
Ben Silva is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in history with minors in economics and Spanish.
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