by Stan Cutler
There are many ways to parse the demographic and political data. We will look at the numbers to understand who voted for Trump and try to answer the basic question – why was nearly half the electorate willing to overlook his obvious character flaws and elect him to the presidency? People voted to shatter the status quo, even if it required them to put a narcissistic demagogue in the Oval Office. We Democrats can either take advantage of the disruptions that will result from this historic election or we can view it as a dismal ending.
It’s never the end – change happens. Let’s lift our chins, put smiles on our faces and deal with it. At the moment, most of us are angry, depressed and terribly pessimistic. Let’s get over it and look at each event as it occurs and find the opportunities for reform that we Democrats, as well as Republicans, know are necessary.
We will have to get over the immediate emotional shock and look upon the near future as an opportunity to change the ossified political institutions we call “Washington.” Americans, whether Republican or Democrat, understand that our government has evolved into a tangled mess that is at once unresponsive and enormously expensive. This election may finally force the changes that both Republicans and Democrats understand as necessary.
First of all, Republicans are Americans. Despite the obstructive and odious behavior of Republican politicians since the 2008 election, they represent people who are like us in most ways. I believe that most of the people who voted for Trump are not racist, xenophobic misogynists.
I’m an old guy who’s done a fair share of traveling across America, and I have enjoyed the company of my countrymen in cities and towns wherever I’ve been. Certainly there are nasty people in America – people Hillary called the “basket of deplorables.” That she said it into a microphone was a significant, amateurish and egregious political error. But what she was trying to say was that the majority of Republicans are not in the basket. She believes, as I do, that most Republican voters are fine, wonderful people just like us.
The media representation of the campaign was a reality show. The “news” focused on the sensational, the dramatic, the personalities and the competitions. It is no wonder the country is polarized as a result. The way communications media have evolved without regulation turns out to be politically poisonous. (There are ways to detoxify the media, but that’s another story, one of the opportunities we should be looking for.)
But that polarization could be comity, a coalescing around the shared values and beliefs that make Americans who we are. Commercial media sensationalize events and emphasize the contentious, the abnormal and the outrageous in a way that alters our perception. Thanks to the 2016 campaign, we now view Americans as falling into two opposing classes.
Well, there’s a lot more to Americans than how they vote. I choose to believe that all Americans have the same generous and fair-minded beliefs, a bedrock of decency and a love of democracy that guides their behavior. When Trump attempts to violate those bedrock values, the Republican legislators must be encouraged to remember who they are and why they are in government. Democratic politicians, whose constituents share fundamental American values with their Republican countrymen, must operate at a moral level if they are to influence the changes that will be taking shape over the coming months and years.
You and I still have a voice. We have to see through the media distortions and urge our Democratic Party representatives to persuade their Republican counterparts to heed their better angels. Otherwise, if we and our representatives behave strictly as partisans, then we not only perpetuate polarization we lose any opportunity to effect positive change.
This is not Pollyanna optimism. I do not in any way believe that the 2016 election was a good thing. The likelihood of terrible consequences is high. But I refuse to live my life as if all is lost. The bad things haven’t happened yet. When they start to occur, then the only possibility of reversing them is aggressive involvement. We can spend the coming years paralyzed by the disappointment, or we can remember who we really are and insist that the politicians, Republicans and Democrats, do the same. Realistically, we have no other choice.