The past year and a half has been a moment of polarization, acrimony, and downright viciousness in American politics. Sadly, these trends have continued in the days since November 8. We’ve seen throngs of people marching or rioting in the streets to protest a free and fair election outcome, while others rally behind the hashtag #NotMyPresident. These are the same folks who just the other day were condemning Donald Trump as a threat to democracy for refusing to promise that he would accept the voting results.
Yet amid all the bitterness and vitriol of both the campaign and its aftermath, we’ve made a number of rediscoveries that augur well for the future of the republic.
For starters, we’ve rediscovered the enduring truth of liberal democracy: The people rule. Whatever you think of Trump and his supporters, there’s no question that his victory stemmed from an authentic popular uprising—an uprising that overcame unprecedented opposition from political, journalistic, and cultural elites.
As Peggy Noonan wrote last week:
“Donald Trump said he had a movement and he did. This is how you know. His presidential campaign was bad—disorganized, unprofessional, chaotic, ad hoc. There was no state-of-the-art get-out-the-vote effort—his voters got themselves out. There was no high-class, high-tech identifying of supporters—they identified themselves. They weren’t swayed by the barrage of brilliantly produced ads—those ads hardly materialized. This was not a triumph of modern campaign modes and ways. The people did this. As individuals within a movement.”
In the same vein, we’ve rediscovered that money is not an all-powerful determinant of elections. If it were, Trump never would’ve come close to winning even the GOP nomination. Remember that the next time you hear warnings about shadowy billionaires who are allegedly trying to “buy our democracy.”
On a socioeconomic level, we’ve rediscovered the plight of a large swath of Americans in the working-class communities that Charles Murray has collectively dubbed “Fishtown” (after a neighborhood in Philadelphia). These communities have long been potent symbols of lost manufacturing jobs and industrial decline, yet in recent years, members of both parties treated them with neglect. Then 2016 happened. Moving forward, it’s safe to say that conditions in Fishtown will receive far more attention from politicians and journalists alike.
In a broader sense, we have rediscovered the perils of elite condescension. Expressing open disdain for millions of your fellow citizens may be emotionally satisfying, but it can prove a hindrance when you’re trying to win votes. “You don’t get people to see things your way by calling them idiots and racists, or sorting them into baskets of deplorables and pitiables (deserving of sympathy for their moral and intellectual failings),” notes Bloomberg View columnist Clive Crook. “If you can’t manage genuine respect for the people whose votes you want, at least try to fake it.”
When it comes to the press, at least some media outlets appear to have rediscovered the importance of objectivity, balance, and curiosity, along with the danger of operating in a bubble. Following Trump’s victory, even the New York Times is engaging in some introspection. In a post-election message to their readers, the publisher and executive editor of the Times—Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Dean Baquet, respectively—wrote the following:
“After such an erratic and unpredictable election there are inevitable questions: Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters? . . . As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you.”
Finally, in the months ahead, Democrats will surely rediscover the wisdom of curbing executive overreach through legislative action. They’ve abandoned this wisdom during the Obama years because of shared policy goals, thereby allowing the administration to flout constitutional norms and/or the rule of law on issues ranging from immigration and health care to energy and the environment. Under President Trump, the policy landscape will look much different, and we can expect a renewed Democratic passion for checks and balances.
Each of these rediscoveries hopefully will, in its own way, prove beneficial to civic health and social cohesion. That’s the silver lining of a brutal and often dismaying election campaign that is now, thankfully, behind us.