One week ago today citizens of the United States of America went to the polls to elect a new president. Their democracy worked. They elected the 45th president of the United States. Donald J Trump was not my choice, but I am not an American. Like so many people around the world, I watched last Tuesday’s election with particular interest. I had hoped that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have won, but that was not the choice of the American people.
The essence of a representative democracy like the United States is that every four years the citizens of the US are given the right to go to the polls to elect a new president. In order for their country to remain a viable democracy, the electorate, and the nation as a whole, must accept the will of the electorate. To reject the will of the people is to descend into chaos and anarchy and abandon the principles of civil society.
The United States is unlike constitutional monarchies such as the UK or Canada. In the latter two countries the foundational understanding of government is that the “sovereign” holds all constitutional and political power and the people hold none. In Canada, for example, there is no “we the people” in our constitution. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “guarantees” the people rights and freedoms outlined in the Charter, but the constitution never transfers ownership of rights to the people. In the United States, the phrase “we the people” does just that. It recognizes that rights are the legitimate possession of the people. So, when men and women are elected to office in the United States, they represent the people as a whole, not Democratic people and Republican people, but everyone.
For that reason, it is imperative that liberals in the US, the people who suffered a stunning loss last Tuesday, pull themselves together and learn how to fight peacefully and with dignity. More than that, liberals need to learn how to fight intelligently. Not everything the Trump administration will try to do is worth opposing. He has said he wants to rebuild bridges, ports, airports, roads, and other infrastructure. Who in his right mind would oppose that? He wants to tweak Obamacare to make it better, more effective, cheaper, to reach more Americans with health care that meets their needs? Let’s give him a chance. He wants to secure America’s borders. I can’t imagine a sane person opposing that sentiment. Yes, he is a racist, or he talks like one. Yes, he is misogynist, or he talks and acts like one. Yes, he is a white supremacist, or he talks and acts like one. Those are values liberals need to be diligent, but also smart, in opposing. Screaming and destroying property will never block him or a Congress seeking to make deals with him. Liberals have to play a long, smart game in order to defeat him.
If you are a liberal/progressive American who either voted against Trump or now wishes you had, you need to refocus your attention to 2018 and 2020. The 2016 presidential election is done, finished, over. No one can or will undo its outcome. It is time to move ahead and lay the groundwork to reclaim Congress in 2018. That is an effective means to block right wing conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, and also block legislation that would roll back decades of progress for women, African Americans, visible minorities, the LGBTQ community, and others who would be harmed by the implementation of a right wing agenda. At the same time, liberals and progressives in the US need to start to make long range plans for 2020. It may seem like a date in the distant future, but it will be upon us much too soon. If the Democratic party wishes to win the presidency in 2020, they need a viable progressive candidate, free of moral and legal baggage, that could successfully challenge President Trump or Vice-President Mike Pence, if Trump chooses not to seek a second term.
Americans have a great opportunity on Thanksgiving, next Thursday, to begin planning to win in 2018. This is when you begin to listen, learn, educate yourself, and change how you behave, think, talk, walk, and conduct yourself both in private and public. Liberals and progressives need to commit themselves to respecting the institutions that Donald Trump and all members of Congress represent. That means you do not make fun of President-elect Trump, you do not create derogatory variations on his name, appearance or distort in any way his policies or positions, even if you find them abhorrent. On January 20, 2017 he will become your president and he is due the respect, dignity, and grace that you wanted him and the Republicans to show President Obama. As the current first lady so eloquently stated, “When they go low, we go high”. Make that your motto. Show the world that Democrats, liberals, and progressives can rise above the mudslinging, hatred, bigotry, racism, and the worst elements of American culture. Set the example, not only for other Americans, but for the world at large, how to compete in a liberal democracy. Do it with dignity, with honor, with respect. At the end of the day, in 2018 and in 2020, as you look back, win or lose, make it your goal to be able to say, “I ran an honorable campaign”.
For now, refocus your vision on advocating the values that matter to you most. Recruit, enlist, and mobilize the American electorate so the 2018 midterm elections have one of the highest turnouts in American history. Reclaim the United States Congress for those of us around the world who cannot vote, but who will nonetheless feel the impact of your ballots.