Published Wednesday November 16th, 2016 in the Huffington Post
It has been a week since we woke up to the reality of a Donald Trump presidency – a week of fear, speculation and protests across the U.S.
For a few days, some of us tried to console ourselves that his election promises were just rhetoric – nothing more than the rantings of a man desperate to get elected, only to back off once in office.
By this past weekend, however, Trump was showing that he intends to follow through with his divisive plans. From his pledge on 60 Minutes to deport two, maybe three, million immigrants, to his appointment of the sexist white supremacist Steve Bannon as his top advisor, Trump has shown that he intends to lead the U.S. into perhaps its most dark and paranoid period yet.
This is a man exposed during the election to boast about his chauvinist attitudes and assaulting of women. It is unbelievable to me that such a man can be elected president, but it serves as a warning that the politics of sexism, racism and fear still have great currency.
It shows that the progress we thought we had made on the equality of women was as fragile as many in the women’s movement had been warning all along. We still have a very long way to go.
As progressives, it is more important than ever that we stand up to such attitudes. In the face of the sexism, the racism and xenophobia coming from the most powerful office in the world, we need the voices of more women to be heard in the halls of power, and I pledge to do all I can to make that happen.
Trump presides over a deeply divided country. In fact, he received less than half the popular vote, and even got slightly fewer votes than Hilary Clinton. Like us, however, the US operates under an archaic voting system. Where we have an outdated first past the post system for electing MPs, the US elects its Presidents through Electoral College, which awarded more college votes to Trump. It’s a failed system that made Trump president, despite losing the popular vote.
Normally, you might expect such a president-elect to reach out across the political divide to heal the wounds of a hard-fought election. It would be foolish to expect that of Trump, however. He got to the White House by exploiting people’s fears, not soothing them, and by deepening divisions in society, not bringing people together.
Trump’s election must serve as a wakeup call for progressives in the US and in Canada. It reflects a deep mistrust in politics and of politicians, and stands as a stark reminder that sexism and racism continue to have a powerful and seductive influence among voters seeking easy answers.
From Brexit, to Trump’s election last week, to the anti-establishment right-wingers in France and Austria preparing for elections in 2017, working people who have seen their livelihoods destroyed and their fears for the future ignored as neo-Liberalism devastated whole communities are having their revenge.
Plain, tough talk is preferred over nuanced policy. Reasoned arguments fall on deaf ears when there are fewer and fewer good jobs, and seemingly nothing but a dismal future for working people and their families. People want hope, but hope begins with trust – and voters are not inclined to trust the political establishment who got us into our current desperate situation where the rich just get rich and inequality grows.
It’s the same impulse that saw Bernie Sanders rise from relative obscurity to be a real contender for the Democratic nomination. Like Trump, he railed against elites and the establishment, promised to renegotiate or pull out of trade deals that hurt working people, and attracted thousands of supporters to raucous rallies as he denounced the rich Wall Streeters who funded the campaigns of mainstream politicians. Both said the system was stacked against working people.
There were even some voters who could see themselves voting for either Trump or Sanders – despite one being an avowed right-winger and the other a socialist. Not all Trump supporters would vote for Sanders, of course, but enough in a tight race to tip the balance in an election. That’s because both Trump and Sanders were able to connect with working people about the troubles they face. For the first time in a long time, working people felt like they were being heard, and responded with their support.
The good news is that working people are more determined than they have been in generations to make their voices heard. Sanders showed us that impulse need not be directed toward fear and hate, but toward building a more equitable society for all.
It’s up to progressives to make that happen.