After two years of brutal politics, the Presidential election of 2016 has been decided, but I would not say it is in the rear view mirror just yet. Donald Trump has won, surprising even Republicans with the strength of support he had in blue states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The surprise was even greater among non-Republicans who formed their opinions based upon numerous polls showing Clinton with a comfortable, if small, lead. Many of our citizens who supported Clinton were sure that she was going to win and were shocked and dismayed by her loss. Some have since turned to protest and a few to violence. Even the more civil responses from her supporters indicate a deep distrust of the President elect and those that voted for him. This is like a cut that would normally heal, but may fester for a long time instead. What should be the Whig response to this?
We must always take a stand against violence. It is never an acceptable response to attack innocent people because of political disagreements. In some cases people have been beaten because they were identified as Trump supporters (or on the other side attacked for being a religious or racial minority). Whether they were Trump supporters or not was probably not important to the hooligans that did the beating. They wanted to send a message and discourage people from supporting causes they did not like. This action is not compatible with democracy. Everyone who wants to live in a free country, where we can go to vote without fear of physical intimidation, should be outraged and vocal. If you think this violence is acceptable because you did not like the candidate or his supporters, consider that next time it could be your candidate and you getting beaten. Violence breeds violence until someone breaks the cycle. It must not be allowed or taken lightly.
We of course should also seek to be among the first responders to break the cycle of violence. Those in the center of politics have generally been able to understand the positions of the left and the right and negotiate a working solution between them. In this case the right sees sore losers acting on their political frustrations. This assessment is not even remotely complete though. We can let the police deal with the violence and law breakers. We also, however, need to short circuit the underlying problems so that our young do not feel the need to take to the streets in response to elections and political discourse. We need to analyze what other causes exist for this behavior and come up with positive actions for dealing with them now and in the future.
First, there must be analysis that goes deeper than labeling violent people as “sore losers” or “social justice warriors” and being satisfied with that as a complete analysis. The most glaring contributor to the rage seen is the awful rhetoric generated in today’s polarized two party politics. Election rhetoric has always been meant to paint an exaggerated contrast between the two major parties. Each side strongly encourages its faithful to believe the worst about the other party, its candidates, and its supporters. In today’s political environment, however, this is becoming increasingly dangerous. The stakes of losing an election like this are portrayed as being far too high. A second factor was the very sudden shift in expected outcomes. At 7 pm on Tuesday, Clinton supporters had confidence from the polls that she would win. She would have a few point advantage in the popular vote and the firewall of blue states would do the rest. They would regain Senate control, appoint a liberal Supreme Court justice, and retain the Presidency. Just six hours later, the dream turned into a nightmare. The Republican Party now has control of a significant majority of states, both houses of Congress, and the Presidency. Assuming Trump appoints a conservative to the Supreme Court, the conservatives would have a 5-4 advantage. Given this, great fear for the survival of the left’s vision for the country is to be expected. We are not just seeing poor losers of a political campaign. We are also seeing people who fear their nation has been taken from them with only a few hours to process the results. We need to clean this wound with honesty. Fears must be turned into positive rather than negative actions.
One of the left’s strong fears is that they are now in the minority while the rest of America has become a nation with large numbers of racists, misogynists, and/or ignorant voters. The widely held belief that the majority of Trump’s support came from this “basket of deplorables” is perhaps the most hurtful (to both sides) and least accurate of the fear mongering coming out of the campaign. As those of us near the political center understand, this was an election where the candidates were both very unpopular with the majority of voters. In the end, the party loyalists voted for who they liked while the rest of us desperately wanted a primary do-over. There are, however, elements in this country that want to divide us with fear using lies about our neighbors. They are grasping at straws and straw-men. They should be repudiated and would be if our leaders and media would do their job. Ask Clinton supporters to verify this for themselves rather than just taking the word of those who want to motivate them to vote for Democrats. Have them find those who voted for Trump and ask them why. Have them carry on a conversation with them and see that they are just like everyone else.
Another fear on the left is that sweeping changes are about to come. They fear the rights and progress gained for America will be set back to 1973 and the Supreme Court will be changed to prevent it from rolling forward again for another generation. While the Republicans are more powerful today than they have been since before FDR, they are still politicians. Both major parties are much more strongly motivated to keep from angering voters and their donors than to make those sweeping changes. For example: the Republicans and Democrats have both had control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency in recent years. Did either touch the sacred cows of gun control or entitlement reform? No, they did not. They could have, but they like being re-elected. The signature changes they did make were the Iraq war and the ACA. Both could be said to have resulted in power being removed from their parties. The real power still rests with the voter and when a party or candidate does not represent the voters they will find out quickly they are not the boss. The Republicans may be able to get a few changes in without serious consequences, however, because of special circumstances.
There will be a strong attempt to repeal the ACA. The repeal is likely but not a certainty. It will take 50 Republican Senators and 218 Republican House members to repeal it, but only two Republican Senators or 21 Republican House members to defeat a repeal attempt. The ACA is vulnerable because of the partisan way it was implemented, its many flaws, and the high premiums and deductibles people are now paying. The political fallout for killing an unpopular law will not be high enough to stop this. Hopefully, something will be put in its place that is well thought out and meets a little of everyone’s desires for a health care act. A straight up repeal will cause even more disruption and will probably backfire on Republicans. President elect Trump has already said he would prefer to replace it instead of just repealing it. It is therefore in everyone’s best interests to take the positive action of encouraging their representative and Senators in the next congress to support a thoughtful replacement for the ACA. The plan should include a graceful transition, honest dialog with the voters, and ample time for each member of congress to read and discuss the bill. Whigs believe that openness, dialog, and respect for each stakeholder is a better way to pass major legislation. Let’s send the message early and often so that it comes through loud and clear.
The Trump Supreme Court nominations are another real fear. If President Trump nominates conservatives to the court, the fear is that he could break the court’s balance in favor of conservatives for decades. There is reason to hope for liberals. Trump first gets to fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia, a very conservative Justice. If Trump replaces a conservative with a conservative on the court, we will have the same evenly divided court we had before with Justice Kennedy as the swing vote. If Trump gets to fill a second spot replacing a liberal, then he definitely could break the political balance on the court. The fear of the Supreme Court being unbalanced politically brings a great deal of concern to everyone. This raises the threat of violence after unpopular court decisions or appointments. Shouldn’t the most important court in the land be politically neutral and judge on the merits of the law instead? A positive action would be for all of us to write President elect Trump and our Senators for the next Congress and urge them to see that moderates are appointed to the court. This will remove the constant fear that no matter who we elect to any office, an unbalanced Supreme Court will reverse old or set new precedents we cannot accept. If the majority of justices are politically moderate, this cause for concern is eliminated.
Making some effort to stop illegal immigration will also happen as it was a signature element of Trump’s campaign. I doubt we will see a wall built from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. It is too politically controversial for a realistic chance of it happening. There are not enough conservative Republicans in conservative districts to get the wall funded for example. Instead I think it more likely that we will see an increase in the armament and numbers in our border patrol along with tighter enforcement of existing laws. Positive action again includes making your representative and Senators for the next session aware of your preferences and that you will be watching their vote.
Of course, the final thoughts on this subject would have to include how Whigs would handle a similar situation differently. We have too much respect for our fellow citizens and their safety to call them names or to use fear to motivate them to vote for our party. We are moderates like most of America and focus on serving our constituents rather than ideology or party. This would make it very likely that any change we proposed to solve problems would have popular support. Neither would we be paralyzed into inaction by the threat of losing votes after we had identified a good solution. We would never appoint extremists to the Supreme Court so an unbalancing appointment would not happen. We are also in favor of openly and honestly discussing what we plan to do to give the American people time to suggest improvement. We would never vote for a bill without reading it or insisting on a complete discussion. Our goal is to serve our constituents first rather than get our office holders reelected or build party power. It makes a big difference in the choices your elected officials will make.
Dale Ritchie is the National Chair of the Modern Whig Party