Post-Election: How Can We Win?

November 10, 2016


Art by Danielle Hodges

“This is a war we can’t win

After 10,000 years, it’s still us against them

And my heroes have always died in the end

So who’s going to account for these sins?”

Titus Andronicus, Four Score and Seven, The Monitor

I would like to begin this essay with an acknowledgement of the rage, fear, and disgust that I have been seeing on social media, from conversations with friends and family, and of my own personal state. This does not feel good. I went through all of the stages of grief on November 9th  as I was watching the election results come in- shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and a brief depression that morning. However, after this brief cycle I have arrived back in my desired state- that of hope. Whatever stage of the process you are in, I urge you to act based on this feeling and not from a place of anger or disbelief. Now that we are free from the artificial discursive constraints placed upon us by the electoral process, we can return to politics and principle. In the following pages, I aim to analyze how we have gotten to this point and then conclude with a vision of where we can go.

Before continuing, I also want to issue an apology. The past couple of days I have been telling all of you that I was confident in a Clinton victory. In reflection, that confidence was a defense mechanism to shield myself from the horrifying possibility of that which has become our new reality: a Trump presidency.

As a student of peace, I believe that all human life is sacred. I believe in working to increase equity and harmony, reconcile trauma, and resolve conflicts. I view the world holistically and relationally, paying special attention to the dialectics of contradictions that form along faultlines. This worldview paired with a macrohistorical lens, allows for analysis that takes account of the past while providing an accurate description of the present and its potential. The goal of peace studies is the realization of peace values. These include, but are not limited to: Equity. Reciprocity. Integration. Solidarity. Inclusion. This is not a theoretical essay, but I want to make my position and intention clear. I would hope that this would not be necessary for anyone who follows my work. However, the limited scope of political discussion throughout election season has led many to call me sexist, racist, immature, too idealistic, a saboteur, “Trump-like” and any other variety of slurs for raising a calm analysis about the prospects of a Clinton candidacy. Now that it seems my method and analysis was essentially correct, I beg those who have engaged in such banal name calling to take a seat and reflect on whether or not an apology is warranted to all of us who have been fighting for the soul of the United States on the basis of sound principles.

The 2016 election was all about the negative politics of what the American people did not want. Clinton’s campaign was always about voting against Trump, not voting for a constructive political vision. In a country where millions of voters explicitly called for a new approach to overcome the illegitimacy of establishment politics, the Democratic party and the liberal elite actively sabotaged the only social force that could have stopped not just Trump, but his brand of political thinking- the grassroots efforts of students and community organizers behind Bernie Sanders. Throughout the primary process, it was clear that many of Sanders’ supporters would not support a candidate of the elites and of the US empire. Instead of listening and going with a candidate that had a sound advantage against Trump in the general election, the DNC gave it’s most important constituents the finger. For all of the lamentation about “Us vs. Them,” polarization, and hate, liberals have offered more of the same. I would like to extend my congratulations to you for maintaining your moral high ground. Trump will inevitably fail the voters that decided to give him a shot after their votes for Obama in 2008 and 2012 brought them no material gain, for all of the reasons that the left and liberals despise him. Trump won’t bring jobs. He will boost the military. He will solidify structural violence in this country and use horrible rhetoric along the way. When his supporters realize that the same powers they hate are still governing the country- the deep state officials, the shadowy corporations, etc.- they will be searching for answers. And they will also remember how they have been disrespected throughout this election. I can only imagine what it feels like to lose your job or home and then be called racist and sexist for trying to find a way out via a wildcard Trump presidency.

The “voice of liberal reason” has been the opposite of reasonable- driving a further wedge between the working class and progressive political goals. Along the way, this voice has also become a shrill nagging to the left with a perversion of political language used in radical circles. Feminism, questions of identity, of intersectionality, were turned into tools to grind the progressive social force capable of defeating Trump into the dust. Any analysis that dared to discuss the checkered past of Hillary Clinton was considered to be ‘over politicized’ and weaponized as part of a chauvinist conspiracy against the woman standing in as Lesser Evil. The messengers were then ritually slain in front of social media audiences with principle being cast as malfeasance. Pulling the lever for the right candidate, the absolute minimum tier of democratic practice, became the litmus test for ‘humanity.’ The Truth hurt her chances, so many of us were commanded to stick our fingers in our ears and chant ‘na-na-na-na’ while Trump was mobilizing social forces that threatened our core values. How was a proper conversation supposed to occur simultaneously with this bullying campaign? And how did this ‘common sense’ hold for so long? Why were so many in Clinton’s camp blindsided by Trump’s victory?

A vote is not a political platform. An analysis describing the current political landscape in the United States is not an endorsement of the worst-case-scenario. Description of the American reality was considered moralistic evaluation throughout the election cycle, and this fundamental attribution error lead to an autistic politics (in the sense that of a condition in which fantasy dominates over reality) that was both unwilling and unable to accurately read the situation. As stated in the previous paragraph, accurate description was inherently political simply because the Democrats picked a bad candidate. Clinton’s political support came from a place of fear and entrapment, not from genuine belief or conviction that she would take even a good path forward. The election of Trump has been widely considered as a mandate for white supremacy and ultra-nationalism. I think this view should be taken with a grain of salt considering the choices available to the American people. The electorate was forced to choose between two hated candidates, and it came down to a simple question of who had been doing the dirty work of empire and putting the cost on the American people. This election was not lost because of third-party voters. It was lost because the Democratic party and the liberal elite insisted on pushing the candidacy of one of the most-hated members of their party. I do feel for them. It’s ironic really. Trump and his supporters were ‘stupid fucking racist idiots,’ but they demolished the establishment’s entire political machinery. The Democratic leadership must feel pretty stupid. Unfortunately they are also shameless.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of many of you, my friends and those I respect, that doubled-down on her candidacy in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. However, the resulting circular firing squad phenomenon rapidly got out of hand and to disastrous effect. Remember- we were once all united under the banner of Bernie Sanders. We believed in a more inclusive United States and a return to the most positive of American values. Was our coalition so weak that you truly believed we all turned into Trump supporters? That we would turn our backs completely on the platform we were fighting for so that we could unleash our inner sexism, racism, and privilege politics upon the world? No. We will all move forward together as planned and get back to organizing. All I ask is that you take a moment to reflect on where the narrowness of the conversations leading to the election brought us.

Please excuse the cathartic language of the above paragraphs. I want to have a conversation because we are in this together. I want to have a real political conversation without name calling and strawmen. I want to reach a common understanding so that we can organize together and rid ourselves of this terrible disease. Now that this cursed election is over, we can have a reasonable discussion. The failed political line of the Democratic party now has no legitimacy or answers. Here is what I propose:

  1. Diagnosis- We need Conflict Analysis.

In a post-election speech in the Rose Garden, President Obama said to “remember that we are all of the same team here.” This is the exact type of nonsense from the elite class that is not only untrue, but also insulting. People are searching for political answers to solve the contradictions that have been exaggerated throughout this final stage of the American imperial experience. No, Mr. President, most of us are actually not on the same team and we refuse to sit around and bow down before the sacred institutions that have led us into ruin. Rather than lofty platitudes of unity, we must first acknowledge political differences and conflicting goals of political actors within American society. Once this analysis has been completed we can move to reconciliation. Until that understanding is achieved, the rhetoric of unity is simply that- rhetoric from a party that will not suffer the consequences of their immense political failure. We must examine what the goals are of the various groups in our society in order to understand what the potential is for a solution that meets the needs and interests of a divided America. Most of my diagnosis can be seen in this blog post on the Galtung-Institut’s website if you care to read more.

  1. Prognosis- What will happen if the prominent political trends continue?

It’s clear that election night was a wakeup call for the entire country. The line of attack that was utilized by the Democratic party to force through the election of Hillary Clinton is meaningless without the constraints of the election. The 15 contradictions along political, economic, military, and cultural lines have reached an inflection point with the election of Donald Trump. And finally, the American people are ready to seek answers and find solutions. We are currently seeing protests in many major cities that come from a place of anger, and these will fizzle out. However, the expertise of the students and activists that mobilized under Bernie Sanders, as well as of the many other grassroots organizations that are constantly fighting for a better future, will translate into political organization ready to tackle the challenge of President Trump. Unity will come, not from the Democratic party’s leadership, but from the bottom that needs to be heard.

  1. Therapy- How do we bridge the divide and do the work of building equity and harmony, reconciling trauma, and transforming conflict?

First, the left-end of the political spectrum must reconcile. The electoral process was not pretty- it was nasty, brutish, and long to put a twist on Hobbesian terms. Healing from the self-inflicted wounds of the election is possible, but there must be a degree of accountability and mutual respect moving forward. Second, a thorough conflict analysis can pave the path to dialogue. We will have to listen to those who were labeled stupid, sexist, and racist if we wish to move forward. Listening dispassionately to these concerns is not a pie-in-the-sky hippy proposal, but a concrete way to map our path forward and allow for some creativity. Third, take a deep goddamn breath because we have the tools to save the future of this country. American values- hard work, cooperation, equality- are ours to enact. We have the tools of nonviolence, organization, and conflict transformation as methodology. The difference is that now we are forced into action because of the imminent threat to our communities.

As the Titus Andronicus lyric at the beginning of the essay so eloquently states, a war of Us vs. Them is a war that can never be won. Continuing to frame the conflict over American identity in this war means that there is nothing to be won. A battle between ‘the enlightened’ and ‘the ignorant’ is bound to be littered with bodies. Unfortunately, this is no longer strictly metaphorical. Play your part and let’s build. Let’s learn. Let’s figure this thing out.

Finally, I would like to end with an excerpt from my blog Octaguante on December 16, 2015:

“Take a step back, understand where this is coming from, and solve the underlying conflicts. Character assassinations of the GOP candidates will not do the job. Calling people stupid is a waste of time. Continuing to talk in terms of the collective we doesn’t do justice to the actual diversity in not only the United States, but also the rest of the world where these debates have real and violent impacts. What you see is the real-time enactment of a very old and well-established deep culture. It is easy to call out the GOP candidates for being hateful. It is hard to acknowledge that deep down, an alarming number of voters are thinking in the same way. As per Ben Carson’s quote- it is more merciful to be candid about the current discourse and lay it to rest, or risk being one of the thousand pricks.”

We’re all in this together. Let’s take this country back.