Archived Opinion

The GOP has the ball, so let’s see what they do

The GOP has the ball, so let’s see what they do

I needed nearly a full day after the election before I could formulate a response to the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. 

Just before 10 p.m. on election night, as Florida and North Carolina broke for Trump and it began to dawn on everyone that all the pollsters and pundits had had it all wrong, I must have read two dozen posts on Facebook ranging in tone from delirious celebration to abject misery to complete disbelief, but I contributed nothing because I just could not believe what was unfolding.

On Wednesday morning, I awakened to an America that I could no longer recognize, and faced the task of telling my children that the foul-mouthed man they had been seeing on television over the past several months was going to be the next President. It was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.

Now that I have had nearly a week to reflect, I think Trump’s victory must be reckoned with as something more than the triumph of racism and xenophobia and sexism and incivility over what many Americans hold as a core value: equal treatment, inclusion, and justice for all. There can be no question that the election of Trump represents a crushing blow to the spirit for all of those who have engaged in that battle and have celebrated every hard fought step forward.

There is also no question that this battle just became much more difficult and the country a much less safe place for millions of Americans, since Trump catered to and emboldened that particular, um, demographic at every turn during his campaign. It should come as no surprise that we have seen multiple reports of hateful and racist acts in the days after the election, prompting the President-elect to admonish some of his followers on 60 Minutes.

He is rather like Dr. Frankenstein trying to control the monster that he himself animated, if not created.

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It is tempting to see this, as I did for several days, as a seismic shift not just in our politics, but in our country. But upon closer inspection, we see that Trump did no better with voters than John McCain or Mitt Romney. We see that for the second time in 16 years, a Republican was elected as president despite getting fewer votes than his opponent. It is worth noting that Trump himself despises the Electoral College system, but that is another column for another time.

The point is that the voters who elected Trump have been there for the past several election cycles, in more or less the same numbers. Progressives were able to ignore this formidable block of voters as a force because in the previous two elections, they had a bigger force, that charismatic agent of change and hope, Barack Obama.

There is no doubt that President Obama has accomplished some major goals that have benefited millions of American, including 22 million Americans who now have health insurance because of the Affordable Healthcare Act, or Obamacare. He also deserves credit for his role in rescuing the economy from the brink of total collapse brought about by the disastrous George W. Bush administration.  

But here is the thing, and it is the thing that the Democratic Party keeps missing. Working class voters have been largely left out of the equation, unaided by the economic recovery, and, worst of all, categorized as racists or uneducated fools if they complain about it.

Obamacare is as good a place as any to start. The legislation itself was the result of a bitterly fought battle, a highly compromised bill that almost everybody agreed had “problems,” but proponents believed was at least a step in the right direction. For many people who had no health care and could get none due to pre-existing conditions, it was a godsend. 

For many others, who did not get to keep their original insurance plan as they had been promised they would, it was onerous, sometimes much more expensive than their previous plans, sometimes prohibitively so. But when they complained about paying out as much as 30-40 percent of their monthly income for health insurance, they were largely ignored, or even scoffed at. They were told to be grateful that they had insurance and to quit being selfish.

This was one of several catastrophic mistakes made by the Democrats, but in some ways it sums up the larger problem. People suffer for all kinds of different reasons, and are disenfranchised in all kinds of ways. The Democrats have done an admirable job in fighting for inclusiveness and justice for those groups who have for much too long been on the outside looking in. But the party has paid less attention to the shrinking middle class, working class voters like my late father, who was a long haul truck driver and a Democrat because that was the party that fought for good pay, decent working conditions, and good benefits (including health insurance) for people like him. Where is that fight now? Where was it during the campaign?

Both parties have abandoned the working class, which is why voters are fed up with the system. It should come as no surprise that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump generated the most excitement in this election, or that Hillary Clinton lost. Sanders made the fatal mistake of branding himself as a Democratic Socialist without understanding that too many voters would only hear “socialist” and listen no further, while Clinton was the ultimate product of the system, in spite of or maybe because of all of the things she has accomplished.

Trump is the President-elect because he was able to run both as an outsider and as the Republican nominee. If either party fails to see that this election is a repudiation of the system and a cry in the wilderness for meaningful reform, we will be right back where we started four years from now.

The Democrats can and should continue to fight for justice and inclusion while reconnecting to their working class roots, and they had better. The Republicans had better see to it that Trump keeps his promises to the voters that elected him, because once the wall goes up, the tax breaks go out, and the rich just keep on getting richer as they always do when trickle-down economics fails to trickle as it always does, there will be no one left to blame.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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