By 10 pm on election night, we were heading toward an outcome so painful and horrifying that my body responded with a bout of diarrhea each time Donald Trump was given another state’s electoral votes, until 2:30 am, when John Podesta told me to go to bed, so I did. I went to bed with hope alive and woke to learn that an hour after I had gone to bed, Hillary Clinton had conceded. The previous night’s pain of fear in my guts shifted to the pain of mourning in my chest. This is real, and we will live this for the next four years.
In the aftermath, I’ve read a lot of suggestions and ideas for how we as Democrats can mitigate the damage that President-Elect Donald Trump has promised to do to our nation, our citizens, and the world. Volunteer. Spread love and peace. Empathize with the Republican voters. (Liberals—bless them! So eager to see the world from another’s viewpoint that after 9/11 they enraged the conservatives by pointing out the legitimate grievances of Middle Eastern Muslims; now they scold their fellow liberals by thinking through the legitimate grievances of working-class whites.) I’ve read a lot of finger-pointing at the Democratic Party and what “they” did wrong and how “they” need to bring it in time for the 2018 elections, but I haven’t read a lot of “we” from rank-and-file Democratic voters like myself.
First off, as we all know by now, the numbers don’t support blaming Republicans for a surge of Trump support. In 2004, 62 million voted for Republican George W. Bush; in 2008, 60 million voted for John McCain; in 2012, 61 million voted for Mitt Romney. This week, 60 million voted for Donald Trump. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that the 2020 Republican candidate will receive about 60 million votes.
Now to the Democratic vote. I’ve seen a somewhat misleading infographic blaming Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity for her loss—the graph notes, correctly, that in 2008 69.5 million voted for Obama and in 2012 66 million voted for him. But that graph fails to note that in 2004, only 59 million voted for John Kerry, fewer than the 60 million votes that Hillary Clinton received this year. Those extra voters for Obama were *inspired* to vote for him, and it’s not hard to see why: he is charismatic, a magnificently gifted public speaker, and was also our first African-American nominee for the presidency. If Bernie Sanders had been our nominee this year, perhaps he would have *inspired* some extra voters sufficiently to have won the electoral college, instead of just the popular vote, as Clinton did.
The Republicans have beaten us this year by not expecting to be inspired by, or even to respect or like, their candidate. They show up and vote Republican. We have learned from 2008 and 2012 that the numbers of people open to showing up and voting Democrat is higher than the current 60 million Republican voters, but they only show up and vote if they are inspired. I submit that the reasons for this are baked in to the personalities of Republicans and Democrats. In general, in their daily lives as well as in their politics, the Republicans I know are stronger on group loyalty and pragmatism, whereas the Democrats I know are stronger on individualism and idealism. It makes sense that a Republican who values group loyalty and pragmatism would show up and pull the lever for a hateful, ignorant, inexperienced, racist, misogynist bully if that hateful, ignorant, inexperienced, racist, misogynist bully has the word “Republican” next to him. (My own party loyalty has limits, by the way: I would not have voted for Trump if he were the Democratic Party nominee.) It also makes sense that a Democrat who values individualism and idealism would not vote for any candidate he or she doesn’t firmly support.
So I want to do a little group-therapy moment here for my fellow Democrats. If you learn, intellectually, in therapy, that a personality trait or knee-jerk way of reacting to a situation is not actually furthering your interests, you work to slow down and try to mitigate or reverse that ingrained way of doing things. Because of our idealism and individualism, we have won the popular vote and lost the election twice now in sixteen years (hi, Ralph Nader! Hello, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein!).
Democrats need to work to moderate their idealism into a more pragmatic approach in order to win elections. Likewise, Democratic voters need to stop thinking about the Democratic Party as something separate from themselves and start thinking about how *we* are going to do the work necessary in the upcoming years to lead to wins in 2018 and 2020. I am as much to blame as anyone—I am a reliable Democratic voter, but I haven’t been involved in the party. I have given money to candidates, but not to the party. I have lived in states (Kansas, Indiana) where Democrats almost always lose (and Tuesday was a particular bloodbath for Democrats in Indiana), and so it has seemed more worthwhile to focus my attention on national politics, but I am going to change that. Tomorrow morning I will be attending the Allen County Democratic Party’s monthly breakfast meeting, and that will be the start of my work to *be* the Democratic Party instead of just voting for the candidates that *they* put on the slate. I will keep you updated on my efforts to become part of the Democratic Party.
Rachel E. Hile