Who would have believed two years ago that this could even happen? Well, it has. And there were a lot of reasons for it.
First of all, no one took him seriously at first. The media loved him because he got them ratings, so they kept showing all his outrageous speeches and his big rallies without criticizing their content or calling him out on his lies. Democrats didn't take him seriously. Pundits didn't take him seriously. And neither did I.
I had been aware of Trump for 25+ years, especially since I live in the Metro NY area. But I never really paid any attention to him, even when he was bloviating about Obama not being born in the U.S. I mean, who cares what a reality TV star who runs casinos and builds gaudy towers thinks about the President? I never even watched his Apprentice shows, not even once. I just ignored the guy as someone who was not worthy of attention.
Well, as it turned out, he was. And in a very bad way.
As for the Democrats, they had a three-way race in the primaries that the media narrowed immediately to Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton, totally ignoring Martin O'Malley, who, in the brief moments he had to comment during their primary debates, actually sounded like a decent candidate. I had not originally been a fan of Hillary Clinton, as I felt she had way too much baggage and the Republicans hated her. So I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary.
Then came the nominations - and it became Trump vs. Hillary. In watching their conventions, I felt it was obvious that Hillary had the advantage. Her convention was full of hope and positivity, while Trump's was dark and foreboding. Didn't we learn that Reagan beat Carter in 1980 because Carter had spoken of the "malaise" in America, while Reagan offered that sunny vision of "a shining city on the hill"? I assumed history would repeat itself. No one wants to think America is no longer great, and believe a dark vision of the country that only Trump could save, surely.
Sure, there were some stumbles - Hillary didn't campaign much in August, devoting a lot of her time to fundraising; and then she had that bout with pneumonia in September. But she bounced right back with three solid debate performances, where she seemed to best Trump in each one. Her poll numbers rose again and I was feeling confident she would do well in the election.
Then came the Comey announcement about the discovery of new emails "pertinent to" the FBI investigation discovered on Anthony Weiner's laptop, putting her on the defensive again and giving red meat to the Right. Nine days later Comey said "nothing to see here after all," and moved on. But probably by then the damage was done.
On election night, Trump won the electoral college and thereby the Presidency.
Then came all the recriminations and the blame. The polls were wrong. Comey did it. Wikileaks did it. The Russians hacked it. It was the DNC's fault for cheating Bernie out of the nomination.The media was complicit by giving Trump too much air time and touting false equivalencies between his flaws and Hillary's. The Democrats didn't turn out in sufficient numbers. There was an underground white working-class rebellion everyone had missed. Clinton's campaign hadn't focused enough on states like Wisconsin or Michigan. They took African Americans and Hispanics for granted. Trump supporters were voting against their own self-interests. Bernie supporters refused to support Hillary. And so it goes.
All of these factors came into play and led to the result that most thinking people hadn't believed could happen. America voted in a president who has no knowledge of how government works, knows nothing about policies - neither foreign nor domestic - has spouted various stances on every issue imaginable and has no actual moral core. However, his campaign was run by Steve Bannon, who headed up Breitbart news as it became a vehicle for the "alt-right" movement, and who has now been chosen as Trump's strategist in the White House. He picked Mike Pence, a far right religious conservative whose policies as governor of Indiana show he is a formidable opponent of women's and LGBTQ rights. Other names being touted as potential cabinet members are equally concerning, especially when it comes to the EPA.
And let's not forget that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is champing at the bit to get rid of the ACA, Medicare, Social Security, and various other programs. And of course, that Trump will be able to pick at least one, and likely more, Supreme Court Justices. It all adds up to a total disaster for the Progressive cause, and a huge setback for so much progress that has been made over the past 8 years.
So what went wrong?
I had an uneasy feeling about the election since the spring when Bernie Sanders' movement got under way, and I saw the enthusiasm for him, and not so much for Hillary Clinton. It all felt a lot like 1968. I remembered how Eugene McCarthy's followers had refused to get behind the winner of the Democratic nomination, Hubert Humphrey, and how the former candidate himself had refused to endorse Humphrey until the last moment, when the damage had already been done. And Nixon was elected President.
I was pleased that Bernie did endorse Hillary immediately after conceding the nomination to her. However, that did not please his followers. Looking back, maybe McCarthy's followers wouldn't have cared if McCarthy had endorsed Humphrey earlier either. The result might have been the same in 1968 just as it was in 2016. Some called Sanders a traitor for endorsing Clinton. Others just didn't care. There was so much bitterness left from the hard-fought primary, and also from the revelation that the Democratic National Committee had favored Hillary, revealed in the Wikileaks release of emails among DNC members. Some Bernie supporters weren't Democrats at all and maybe they would never have voted for Hillary in the first place. But others probably would have, if they hadn't seen another choice.
I was one of the people who supported Bernie, but not blindly. I knew his policies would be hard, if not impossible to implement. I just wanted to protest about having Hillary Clinton being presented as our only choice, as I felt she would be a flawed nominee..
However, once she got the nomination, I was committed to her, and the more I saw of her, and the more I learned about her, the more I actually liked her on top of supporting her politically. I could put myself in her place and remember what it was like for women of our age (I am 63) back in the day; how hard she had to work to get to where she was. Whether or not you agreed with everything she has done (or that Bill Clinton did) - which I didn't - she was strong, she was brave, and she was qualified. Trump was none of those.
Trump is a weak, insecure bully with no pertinent experience for the role he will now be playing. His thin-skinned, easily offended nature terrifies me. Will he, as someone on Facebook said today, start a war because of a tweet? One can only hope there will be cooler heads in his administration who will control him insofar as international relations - and the use of nuclear weapons - are concerned.
I must say the results of this election have gotten me angry and fired up to a degree I have not felt in many years. If any ordinary Republican - say Romney, Jeb Bush, or Rubio - had been elected, I would be unhappy, but not like this. I immediately sent a small donation to about ten different organizations that work for LGBTQ rights, racial justice, women's reproductive rights, and the environment. And I'm going to the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017. But I feel rather helpless as the GOP will be controlling all three branches of government; there will be no checks and balances. They will have carte blanche to do the things they've always wanted to do.
We cannot let them succeed.
One of my big concerns is that many avid Bernie supporters refuse to join with those who supported Hillary to work to defeat the Trump administration's agenda.
They cite the fact that the Democratic Party has done things they disagree with - from using drones that kill civilians, or allowing fracking, to supporting foreign governments that allow human rights violations - to say that both parties are equally evil and they say they want no part of the Democratic Party. They say those of us who are calling for them to work together against Trump are acting "privileged" or "self-satisfied" and "sanctimonious." They say we didn't try to create a force that would have destroyed the oppressors.
I have done some soul-searching as I am always open to constructive criticism. I do not see what we could have done differently under the current system to reject both parties and somehow become powerful enough to have influence over what this country does.
Whether it was the fault of the DNC, rigged voting or just plain not getting enough votes (and you can argue any one of those points all you want), Bernie did not win the nomination. I'm sorry. He just didn't. If he had, I would have supported him wholeheartedly against Trump.
As far as voting for a third party - which I know many Bernie supporters chose to do rather than vote for Hillary - that would not have worked either. First of all, our system is completely rigged against third parties winning, so that is a problem that needs to be addressed at another time. This year was not the time. I also did not even agree with Jill Stein's perspective on a lot of things (let alone Gary Johnson's!) and felt she was supremely unqualified to run a government. So please spare me the idea of "Well, if everyone had voted for her she would have won." I wouldn't have WANTED her to win.
So that leaves this question for the Bernie supporters who reject the Democratic Party: What is your solution to the mess we are in? I am open to all suggestions. To me there are two things at stake:
(1) How to prevent the GOP from reversing all of the progress that has been made in terms of civil rights and a cleaner environment; and (2) Longer-term, how do we ensure that true Progressives gain power in Washington?
For (2), there are also two things that can be done. One is to work from within the Democratic Party to reform it and bring it back to its original Progressive values, by working at local and state levels to get Progressives in office in state legislatures, governorships, and Congress. The second way, if you think the Democratic Party is a lost cause, is to champion a Progressive third party that can develop real power - not the Greens who barely run any candidates on local levels and then trot out an unqualified candidate for President every four years, if that. (And yes, I am aware there are SOME Greens in office in some parts of the country but not nearly enough). Those third-party candidates have to start at the grass roots level. Run them for town council, for freeholder, for assembly representative, for state senator. Then run them for governor and Congress, and finally for President. Only then will it be possible for a third party to have power, and not before.
If anyone has other solutions to the mess we are now in, please, let me know. Because we have no time to waste.