It’s been nearly two months since Donald Trump won the 2016 election for president of the United States but somehow that’s not been enough time for the reality to sink in for many political liberals. Yes, presidential elections have been emotional for some time. I can vouch for how sad if not depressed many conservatives were when Mitt Romney lost his bid to unseat President Obama in 2012. If you didn’t already know that, it’s probably just because you don’t know many conservatives. The media never for a moment considered how heartbreaking that loss was for many Americans worried about the direction of the country.
But as the media overwhelmingly tend to the political left and chose not obscure their bias so much this round, we’ve been given daily examples of the difficulty folks on that side of the political divide are having with the reality of Donald Trump. The crying, the protests, the riots, the subway art installations, the artist boycotts, the recount efforts, the organized and funded push to have the Electoral College do … something, the media-fed conspiracy theories about Russian vote hacking. Pundits on TV shake their head at everything Trump says and does, and journalists on Twitter react like rabid Pavlovian dogs to every utterance the president-elect makes.
Folks on the Right, regardless of how they feel about Trump, have been enjoying this meltdown. It’s funny! The hubris leading up the election only makes it more so! The more kindhearted keep encouraging the rest of us not to take so much delight in the tremendous difficulty the Left is having. And we all keep wondering just how long the Left is going to have this break with reality, this refusal to come to terms with life as it is.
Of course, conservatives have little room to talk. We’re handling this much better in part because we simply had much more time to get used to it. Peggy Noonan wrote her “That Moment When 2016 Hits You” column in April.
Have you had your 2016 Moment? I think you probably have, or will.
The Moment is that sliver of time in which you fully realize something epochal is happening in politics, that there has never been a presidential year like 2016, and suddenly you are aware of it in a new, true and personal way. It tends to involve a poignant sense of dislocation, a knowledge that our politics have changed and won’t be going back.
It was a catholic column, but perhaps only conservatives took the moment to heart. Much of the Left had something of an underpants gnome strategy for the 2016 election:
1) Make sure the GOP nominates Trump
That strategy didn’t work out, and clearly very few people on the Left took the possibility of a Trump victory seriously. Many on the Right, on the other hand, knew it was a long shot — and they may have expected Clinton to win — but they knew it was at least a possibility. Also, whether or not they thought it was a possibility, at some point Republicans had to accept the simple reality that Trump had won the Republican nomination.
It was that painful, tortuous journey to the Republican nomination that gives us some lessons for the Left to learn now. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) It’s Okay to Be Sad
Technically, on January 13 I predicted Trump would win the presidency. But I didn’t really internalize the belief that he’d secure even the GOP nomination until February. When he won the South Carolina primary after a debate in which he accused George W. Bush of letting the 9/11 attacks happen, I realized he was unstoppable. And it depressed the heck out of me.
No, I hadn’t been reflexively anti-Trump, but to say he wasn’t my preferred candidate is a profound understatement. I walked around in a funk for a couple of weeks. I hung on every word of my pastors’ sermons. I read a lot of Holy Scripture. Word to the wise: the Psalms were written for times like ours.
I was also sad about how things were shaping up in the Democratic Party. I looked with horror upon a country that had sunk so low as to nominate two people of such low moral standing. We’ll get to how sadness should not be the only reaction one has to Trump, but it’s important to note that this is a perfectly valid feeling.
2) Accept the Rules of the Game
One of the sillier responses to the 2016 election is to point out that Hillary Clinton won the “national popular vote” or some such. Here’s Stephen King:
Clinton won the election by 3 million votes–that’s MILLION–and that idiot Trump is going to be president. What’s wrong with this country?
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) December 22, 2016
This is very much like saying the Cleveland Indians tied the Cubs in the 2016 World Series because they both scored 27 runs over the course of the seven-game series. It’s a statistic without any meaning at all. We don’t elect presidents via a national vote — very far from it — so the idea that California and New York going big for Clinton is somehow meaningful is a non sequitur.
I did this same thing during the primary. I would always point out that Donald Trump kept winning thanks to oddities and quirks. There were 17 candidates splitting up the vote! Trump wasn’t winning majorities! There were open primaries!
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter what your excuse is, the game is played according to the rules set out at the beginning. If you want to change the rules for a future contest, feel free to write a constitutional amendment and get enough states to ratify it. But wishing it were otherwise is about as worthwhile as wishing you were an Olympian. Get over it.
3) Admit Your Candidate Has Flaws
Now, if the Right could do this, there is no excuse for someone on the Left having trouble here. There were a lot of GOPers really sold on their candidate in the 2016 GOP primary. There were accomplished governors, senators, and business leaders. There was true diversity of opinion on immigration, foreign policy, and health care. There were policy wonks and communication whizzes.
But the fact of the matter is that they were all bested by Trump for one reason or another. Rubio was a great campaigner and smart policy guy, but he was humiliated in the debates and this was not the year to be the pro-immigration reform guy, to put it mildly. Ted Cruz headed an incredibly well-oiled campaign machine, but he actually was the guy elevating and legitimizing Trump early on — and let’s face it, he lacks personal appeal for a lot of people.
In retrospect, most Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump in the primaries will admit their guy had flaws. There’s been an incredible lack of introspection about Hillary Clinton personally and a campaign that proved to be startlingly incompetent in many significant ways.
There is no reason why anyone should deny that Hillary Clinton had tremendous problems as a candidate. She was robotic, she was focused on her opponent’s personality rather than his policy goals, she was embroiled in scandals caused by her own poor judgment, and she had instincts toward the status quo on foreign and domestic policy in a year when people wanted dramatic change. You can still like her and be happy with your vote while acknowledging that she had serious problems.
4) Don’t Follow the Media’s or Social Media’s Lead
It should go without saying that the media had the wrong idea about the 2016 race from top to bottom. They were focused on personality at the expense of policy. They took a man well known for his sexual impropriety and tried to make his sexual impropriety the major story of the race. They avoided truly discussing his foreign policy, immigration, and economic policy. They pretended that Hillary Clinton was a far better and stronger candidate than she was. They protected her in ways that blew up in their face (e.g. by claiming, prior to her collapse on 9/11, that discussion of her health was a conspiracy theory).
Social media was just as bad. To give an example from the Right, nearly everyone on Twitter believed strongly that Trump’s primary opponents should renounce him and pledge not to support him if he won the nomination. Among Republicans off social media, there was almost no support for such an approach. Typical Republicans wanted the candidates to support whoever got the nomination.
There’s always a disconnect between a navel-gazing media establishment based in New York City and Washington DC and the rest of the country, but it’s gotten far worse in the last year. Disregard the false narratives being pushed by many in the media and get out and talk to a Trump-supporting neighbor. You’ll learn far more. And you’ll feel a lot better when you realize they’re not the monster they’ve been portrayed as.
5) Recognize Not Everyone Shares Your View
My own political approach — limited government, free market, restrained foreign policy, strong religious and family institutions — is not shared by many. But being different is great training for moments like these. The re-election of President Obama was disorienting for me. How could people willingly choose to go for another four years with a guy whose executive branch overreach was so troubling? A guy whose domestic policy goals were disastrous? Yet the voters of this country did just that.
It was a good lesson that not everyone shares my views. It’s a lesson I keep learning regularly, and it keeps me humble. Also be aware that lack of diversity among your friend and family set is not necessarily healthy. Many Clinton voters have realized that and have begun seeking out alternative sources of news to help them understand new ways of looking at issues of the day. That’s a great approach.
Liz Spayd, the public editor at The New York Times, pointed out that many liberal readers of The New York Times were angry at how one-sided that paper’s news coverage had been in 2016. That bias had left many readers in the dark about issues and candidates and how people outside of a narrow ideological view think.
The media in particular but also the entire Left could use some humility and acknowledge that they do not know everything. Acting like you do just sets yourself up for embarrassments.
6) Don’t Keep Doing the Same Ineffective Things to Fight Trump
There was a moment a few days after Trump had won the presidency when he began tweeting intemperate thoughts about rioters. His reluctant supporters felt a wave of depression hit as they realized he would never stop tweeting. Why should he, I guess, since it works out so well for him.
There was a similar feeling when the organized effort to change Electoral College votes put out an ad where smug celebrities pretended to respect Republican electors as they begged them not to vote for Trump. These celebrities-completing-each-others’-sentences videos are one of the many Clinton campaign efforts that probably did more to help Trump than to hurt him.
Stop marching awful celebrities out for political action. Stop the War on Women ads. Stop everything you did during the campaign that only turned more voters to Trump. I’m talking to you, Evan McMullin. You’re on hour 143 of your 15 minutes of fame. Please stop.
7) Put the Best Construction on Trump
Remember that moment during the campaign when Trump supposedly kicked a baby out of a rally because he was some kind of baby-hating monster? That’s what many political reporters said, although the mother of the crying baby in question and no one in the crowd took it that way. That’s because critics put the worst construction on everything Trump says and does, but other people don’t.
You can still oppose Trump when you consider the best version of his claims, you just do so with much more balance and calmness. And it’s always best to take on your opponents’ best argument instead of his worst. That way you convince others instead of just scoring cheap points.
Also, keep an open mind on his actions. Look at his cabinet and consider reacting with something other than a reflexive unthinking “Gasp! That person I know nothing about is racist!” or “That person whose name I just learned today is the world’s worst sexist!” Look at what he’s actually proposing and who he’s tapping for his cabinet instead of just yelling that he’s the next Hitler and claiming our lives are in danger.
By turning the volume down on your criticism, people will be able to hear your legitimate criticism. By picking out a few things that are worthy of fighting, you may have an effect on the discussion.
8) Don’t Lose Your Sanity
In a piece I wrote last year called, “When It Comes To Donald Trump, I Hate Everyone,” I reserved special criticism for the more unhinged conservative critics of the candidate:
OK, you people really annoy me. Ace of Spades put it well when he said you are like a divorced man who is obsessed with his ex-wife. He thinks everything she does is awful, and he can’t stop talking about her to other people to try to get them to agree. Yes, Trump is crazy and awful. Granted. But screaming about it constantly makes you seem crazy, too. Meghan Keane Graham once wrote an essay about how a crazy man on the subway picked a fight with her. After a few stops, she realized that nobody on the subway car had witnessed the original altercation and that meant that nobody on the subway knew that he was crazy and she was not. It was even odds, at that point, which one was crazy. Maybe both were. That’s what you people remind me of all the time.
We are so far past this point now. A sad number of Trump critics have been broken by him. They can’t see straight. They tweet out over-the-top rhetoric against him. They react negatively to every single thing he says or does. They accuse him, as one prominent writer did recently, of committing incest with one of his daughters.
It’s okay to dislike Trump. It’s okay to really dislike him. But don’t let emotions cloud your judgment or turn you into an even worse version of the most extreme caricature of Trump.
9) Be Prepared to Like Something Trump Says or Does
In the same way that you had the moment when you sadly realized Trump was going to be president, you might have another moment when you realized you agree with him on something. Perhaps it’s his progressive positions on big government infrastructure spending or his social liberalism. I actually agree with many of his policy positions, such as they are, but I never much cared for his tweeting, and tended to ignore it. But even I cheered when I read his “Fidel Castro is dead!” tweet and longer statement.
Agreeing with Trump when you consider it a point of pride to oppose him forever and ever can be discombobulating. But take a cue from people who didn’t like George W. Bush or Barack Obama’s policies in general but could appreciate something they did. An inability to find anything good in a fellow human being could be a sign that you’re taking politics too seriously or too stridently.
10) Let Trump Remind You Why Our Constitution Is So Great
The American system of governance acknowledges that flawed men seek and secure power. Yes, our founders hoped we might be virtuous and have virtuous leaders, but the checks placed on executives and the branches of government are designed around the reality that men have bad instincts and that power corrupts.
In the same way that the bad choices of 2016 should have provoked us all to care more about the higher things in life — faith, family, art, nature, and more — let political opponents who concern you remind you why our system of government is designed against unbridled power. Conservatives kept telling liberals that Obama was setting a dangerous precedent by accomplishing so much of his agenda through executive order. That warning wasn’t enough, but perhaps the reality of a Trump presidency will help liberals understand why our federal government shouldn’t be able to run roughshod over the states and why presidential power should be kept in check.
So there you have it — a few tips to help you step back from the brink and start accepting the reality that Trump was elected our next president. Feel free to use the few weeks before the inauguration to work through some of these ideas.