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What Just Happened? – Starting To Make Sense Of The 2016 Elections

November 18, 2016

It’s been just over a week since Donald Trump became president-elect, a week to begin absorbing the reality that on Jan. 20 the Republican party will have unchecked control of all three branches of the US federal government.

Here are some writings that I’ve found helpful as ways to get oriented to our new political reality.

I’ve been following journalist/organizer/gadfly Al Giordano since the fall of 2007 when he wrote in the late, lamented Boston Phoenix the first (to me) plausible analysis/argument for how then-Sen. Barack Obama could, and would, win the Democratic presidential nomination over then-seemingly-invulnerable-frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Giordano’s pre-election analysis, “What Happens Now With A President-Elect Trump?”, of what would happen if Trump won the election is both sobering and instructive. Here’s a taste:

“Life as we knew it and expected it to unfold will never be the same. American fascism will have arrived and the worst, most violent elements in society will feel emboldened to harm everyone they consider as “the other” with impunity. The burning of the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi this week by Trump supporters is merely the opening salvo. The internal conflict within the FBI in public view right now will afflict every police agency, federal, state and local, as openly authoritarian elements attempt to seize control. Hate crimes will rise against women, people of color and the LGBT communities precisely as law enforcement turns a blind eye to much of it. Look for entire new demographic groups to be targeted, too: Those 20 million who newly have health care, many of whom had preexisting conditions, people living with disabilities and others will be added to the list of national scapegoats. The attempt to repeal Obamacare will be a literal death sentence for many of us.

Those of us who have lived in countries under authoritarian rule have spent recent months having our own conversation about what is happening in the USA. We do it in whispers because most of you will not believe us no matter how loudly we shout about what a Trump election would bring down the ‘pike. We shake our heads and feel a great wave of pity for most Americans who have no idea what tyranny really looks or feels like. Tyranny – contrary to popular myth – is asymmetric. It hits from all sides, crevices, nooks and crannies, from the dark places, the shadows. The figurehead’s power above merely provides it cover. It has the same paramilitary logic of what was endured in Latin America’s dirty wars and the dictatorships across the sea that gave rise to the Arab Spring. When Donald J. Trump praises strongmen leaders across the globe he is giving his “tell” of how he would govern – with a clenched fist.”
The only authentic resistance to the policies of a Trump presidency will make nonviolence its watchword, and unapologetically so. To participate, you’re going to have to get training in nonviolent civil resistance. I’m not speaking of the “express trainings” by dudebro groups like “Democracy Spring” with fawning celebrity dilettantes like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, but, rather, sessions that last a minimum of eight hours or, ideally, an entire weekend or more and are led and organized by women of experience at it and especially women of color….
The resistance will not be led by the Green or Libertarian Parties, “Occupy” activists or any similar fringe: Their brands of “leadership” are what got us into this mess in the first place.
The revolution will be authentically multi-racial, a true partnership, women-led and nonviolent or there will be no chance of success at all….
Me? I’m ready to play an auxiliary role in a women and women of color-led resistance to a Trump’s America. They’re the only reason we have a candidate with a chance of defeating him on Tuesday. They’ve saved America once already this year. It’s time for us boys to start taking orders instead of barking them while wagging our finger at the gals. And it’s the only possible guarantee against Trumpism infecting the movement against his policies. Real men – like President Obama – will know just how to play that supportive role. He’ll be doing it from an organizing academy out of the coming Obama Museum in Chicago – and win or lose this election I expect to see y’all there, too.
(See also: Giordano’s bracing tweetstorm arguing for the importance of getting your own house in order—literally and figuratively—before “taking to the streets” to protest the incoming regime.)
One of the hardest things about organizing for change is the necessity to take your opponents seriously, to understand what makes them tick and how they succeed.  (Not that they always succeed, but they must have done some things right to get to where they are.)
Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg do just that with this “first draft of history”  (h/t: RG) on what and how Trump’s campaign analysts and strategists saw as their (perhaps only) path to victory, and how they adjusted their campaign in the closing weeks to maximize their chances of winning.
Trump’s numbers were different, because his analysts, like Trump himself, were forecasting a fundamentally different electorate than other pollsters and almost all of the media: older, whiter, more rural, more populist. And much angrier at what they perceive to be an overclass of entitled elites. In the next three weeks, Trump channeled this anger on the stump….
For historical context, read Adam Serwer’s article, “Is This The Second Redemption?”.
So America stands at the precipice of a Second Redemption. Unlike the first, it was not achieved by violence, and has not ended in the total disenfranchisement of people of color. Its immediate consequences may not be as total, or as dire. Yet it has a democratic legitimacy that extends far beyond the American South. The erasure of the legacy of the first black president of the United States will be executed by a man who rose to power on the basis of his embrace of the slander that Obama was not born in America.
It’s all but impossible to understand the importance of racism in United States history, and the utter demolition of the inter-racial Reconstruction era by the Redeemer governments of the Southern states in the late 19th century (with the “benign neglect” and active support of most Northern whites) is a stark reminder that, no matter how often Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama repeat “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice“, it ain’t always true.
Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol has started an interesting debate on TalkingPointsMemo with journalist John Judis. (Read them both.) Skocpol argues for the importance of long-term organized relationships over and against the (necessarily) short-term “messaging” of campaigns as a key to understanding Trump’s dominance in white-dominated small towns and rural areas:

But the problem was Trump ran up huge margins in nonmetro rural, small town and some outer-suburban areas. Factory workers, even former ones are few and far between there. Previous work shows that Trump voters are NOT disportionately affected by trade disruptions, factory closings, etc. What is more likely is that these nonmetro areas had organized networks – NRA, Christian Right, some RNC and Koch network/AFP presence – that amplified the right media attacks on HRC nonstop and persuaded many non-college women and some college women in those areas to go for Trump because of the Supreme Court.You say Trump had no organization. True enough for his own campaign. HRC had the typical well-funded presidential-moment machine, an excellent one. We on the center left seem to treat these presidential machines as organization, and they are, but they are not as effective as longstanding natural organized networks. To get some of those working for him, Trump made deals to get the NRA , Christian right and GOP federated operations on his side. They have real, extensive reach into nonmetro areas. But off the coasts, Democrats no longer have such reach beyond what a presidential campaign does on its own. Public sector and private sector unions have been decimated. And most of the rest of the Democratic-aligned infrastructure is metro based and focused. That infrastructure is also fragmented into hundreds of little issue and identity organizations run by professionals.

Blogger, former ACORN organizer and Washington Monthly editor Martin Longman is worth following. He’s written a steady stream of posts since the election focused on how (and how not) to move forward in the Trump era, including posts on:

Finally (for now), there’s blogger and former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth’s tweetstorm on how members of Congress listen to their constituents. Read it.  (Not-so-long story short:  If you want to make a difference, call your representatives and show up at their town halls.” But read the whole thing.)

That’s all I’ve got for now. As always, I welcome your reactions in the comments section, as well as any suggestions you have for help with making sense of this new era we’re entering. If the Twitter machine works better for you, hit me up @MassCommons.


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