This election, in many ways, reminds me of a laptop that has been overtaken by a series of viruses.
Liberals like myself didn’t cause the viruses. But we did neglect to update the software when the computer first started to malfunction, and instead of taking the computer to a repair shop, we smashed it with a hammer. This, all the day before our undergraduate thesis was due. In many ways, our inability to be proactive–and our ensuing haste–caused us to fail out of school.
Step one in enabling a Trump presidency was not taking him, an (almost) billionaire Ivy Leaguer who had nearly 70 years experience playing the system, seriously. I still remember reading articles during the primaries about lifelong democrats temporarily switching parties just so they could vote for Trump. These well-intentioned voters were under the impression that Trump was the weakest candidate. A lot of people laughed. Obviously, most of us didn’t try to “game the system” in this way, and I’m mixed about whether I even support that strategy since it’s borderline unethical. But we really did take Trump as a joke: SNL’s debate sketches always depicted Hillary resting on her laurels as Alec Baldwin’s Trump bumbled and fumbled the simplest of questions. In one of the openers, SNL cut between an interview in which Donald Trump was trying to defend his “grab the p*ssy” comment and Hillary Clinton throwing a premature celebration party.
We really, really thought this election was in the bag. And SNL, like many other artistic endeavors, was trying to reflect on society. At the time, society was putting out headlines about how Clinton’s campaign was preparing her for a landslide victory, and social media posts were assuring us that all the bad press surrounding Trump would save us from his victory.
Except that’s not how press works. In public relations, there’s a very definite hierarchy: there’s no press, which is the worst for a candidate. Then there’s bad press, neutral press and good press. If you have enough bad press, it eventually can become a good thing. This wasn’t an issue of “crisis” communications, like with Exxon Valdeez and other high-profile news stories–Donald Trump’s camp was in control almost the entire time. We were too naive to notice that he was actually targeting a very specific audience that would see his “bad” press as an urgent call to action to defend him on November 8. And we still sell him short; and if you don’t believe me, just look at all the people insisting he’ll get impeached or lose in 2020.
But step two in enabling Trump’s presidency leaves me absolutely ashamed of my own party. Step two was widespread apathy within the Democratic Party and among liberals. It’s no secret that liberals tend to be better educated. It’s also no secret that we don’t vote. Having degrees doesn’t exactly equate with knowledge, and that’s why we were schooled this election. We can disagree with Republicans all we want, but at least they vote, and their politicians aren’t too afraid to do whatever they need to do to further the Party’s agenda. We’ve seen this with their blanket refusal to appoint any of President Obama’s SCOTUS picks. It’s unethical, it’s unlawful, but at least they get things done.
I can’t tell you how many fellow liberals have told me they’re “wasting” their vote, that it doesn’t matter whether they vote or not. Well, sure, one vote doesn’t do much in a federal election. The problem is, millions of you said the same thing and stayed home. Or you protest voted (in swing states, too!), because you couldn’t handle voting for the “lesser of two evils.”
For those who decided not to vote for the lesser of two evils, I’ve got news for you: in a country with well over 200 million voters, you can’t always get what you want. Someone’s going to be president, and by not voting or protest voting, you just put millions of lives in danger. Did you really think that thesis was going to write itself?
Voting is what holds politicians accountable, because–newsflash–it’s what keeps them in office. But as we’ve seen, the average person has a very rudimentary understanding of civics. Even the term “public servant” seems to have lost all meaning to many of us. I think back to Hillary Clinton and, for all her faults, I applaud her for changing her stances on TPP, the Keystone XL Pipeline and gay marriage. A lot of us labeled her a flip-flopper (this term is ridiculous) and a corporate shill (this is fair). But ultimately, her job was never to lead, but rather to listen to her constituents, and serve their needs. This was one area in which she was effective.
Which brings me to my final point: we enabled Trump because we tried to fix the Democratic Party with a sledgehammer. We all laughed, thinking the Republican party was about to meet it’s demise, and that Trump was cracking it wide open. But now we have what seems like a million grassroots movements around the country pushing back against neoliberalism on one end, and newly-anointed Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi calling forcefully for the party not to change on the other. We have people like Comedienne Sarah Silverman who invalidated people like myself who were mourning Bernie Sanders’ loss–which I’m convinced caused at least some of the protest voting. And we have people who refused to accept that Hillary Clinton was actually a well-rounded candidate, or at least a much better option than Trump and one worth voting for.
The worst part is that we had public servants who either ignored people’s cries for change, or didn’t properly communicate when they were actually listening and trying to fix the mess. But again, we voters were apathetic and often failed to hold up our end.
But my fellow liberals, and I cry to think about it, we couldn’t put our differences aside for one historic election. And for that, we’ll be paying dearly for decades.
If you think, for a minute, that your vote doesn’t count, it’s not a sign you should skip voting. Instead, it’s a sign that you need to get more involved. Whether this means volunteering to register voters, getting involved with organizations that are doing the heavy lifting, or putting your representatives on speed dial so you can tell them how to best serve you, you owe it to yourself and the country to dig in.
And please, whatever you do, don’t let Trump win 2020.