During the Independence Referendum in 2014, my very good friend Will MacLeod, American journalist, activist & Glesga fish-supper aficionado, penned a poignant and thoughtful piece on Wings over Scotland entitled “An Actual Letter from America“, giving his thoughts on our situation; this spawned a lot of support for him and he subsequently visited our bonnie land, with his “outsiders view” contributing to the narrative for progressive thinkers here around the referendum.
In a similar vein, I offer my (far-less poignant) thoughts on the situation currently confronting progressive activists in the US currently. As the fires burn tonight in America as the disenfranchised and deceived take out their anger at a misogynistic racist being raised to the highest office, I say this:
Don’t set fires. Get organised.
I know where you are right now. You’re angry, you’re confused, you’re baffled at how this has all come to pass. I know. I was there on September the 19th, standing in disbelief at a counting-centre as result after result came in for the No campaign. I felt the same feelings of bewilderment. A sense of loss and grief as it seemed the promise of a bright future had been taken from us, and replaced with bleak dystopia.
But setting Fox news trucks on fire won’t help, it won’t accomplish anything, and right now, you’re wasting time you don’t have. I know the anarchists & protestors today do not represent the organised left, but little seems to have been done since the election other than protest it. I know in behind the scenes Keith Ellison and others are working hard to move things along, but in politics it’s what the voters see that matters, and all they can see is protests. You cannot spend the next few years protesting an election. I know it’s hard, and unpleasant but he won. Rightly or wrongly, with help from Putin or Wikilieaks or not, without the popular vote sure, but he won. He is the President. You can’t stop that, and self-denial is pointless.
Your next presidential elections are less than four years away. Realistically, they start at the midterms in 2018. In previous presidential elections, your candidate selection process doesn’t properly start until past then. Sure, there are hints that certain people might stand. Everyone knew Hilary was running from about 2010 onwards, but actual campaigning doesn’t start until a lot later.
You can’t do that this time around.
In the weeks since Donald Trump won the election (despite having 3 million less votes than Hilary, but whatever. Our FPTP system isn’t perfect, either!), many theories have been put forward as to how it happened. It was the Russian hackers. Hilary was too close to Barack. Her email-server debacle scared women. Trump promised the unattainable. All of these have a certain amount of truth, but here’s the point: it doesn’t matter. She lost because more people voted for Trump than her (in the electoral states that matter; obviously overall she won the popular vote!). To counter that next time around, you need to start the campaign now. Not in 2019 after the midterms. Not next year. NOW.
Progressives in America should give serious thought to uniting around a possible candidate now, rather than wait until the formal primaries in 2019/2020. So much in election cycles in the US focuses around what The West Wing’s Josh Lynam called the “three boxes” (Domestic, Security and Trivia”), with the one you want to avoid being trivia.
When a candidate first emerges from the pack and gains enough prominence to get some articles on paper, the press focusses heavily on this. What they did as a student, if they’re male what their wife does/wears. If they’re female their clothes and appearance (sadly this sexism is still present in 2017!). What baseball team they like etc etc. ad nauseam.
With a short election cycle, and the possibility of a lot of talented progressives putting their name into the hat it could well take until well into the actual election itself before the press obsession with the colour of a candidates handbag or whether they support Notre Dame or not dies down enough that actual policy stories get written and debated.
And Trump would love that. Keeping people on the trivia, by making laughable statements on irrelevant things is how, aided and abetted by the right-wing press, he managed to avoid too much scrutiny on his (and I use the term lightly) policies.
It remains to be seen how his presidency will pan out once the campaign rhetoric he sadly dragged out again at the inauguration has been shelved and actual governance begins. I don’t hold much hope. But what is clear is that the American left doesn’t have the time to spend the next two years naval gazing and blame-gaming.
The day after the day after our referendum, a friend and I were speaking, and they asked when the next independence campaign would be. I said “Now. It starts now. We have to start convincing people to change their minds now, because there will be another vote, sooner or later. And we don’t have time to wait until it’s announced to get working.”
The same holds true for you, America. If you don’t want eight years of Trump instead of four, you need to have the policy debates now, find a candidate you can unite around now and then get back out there. With four full years of campaigning, you can get out to the backwoods that Hilary, sadly, didn’t enough time to visit, where voters who felt ignored by “the machine” saw Trump a lot more, and voted in their thousands for him. Knock doors. Pound pavements and talk to them. Reach out to the disenfranchised and ask for their vote. And then go back again next year and do the same. And the next year. By 2020 they’ll remember you and know your candidate, their policies, their views, and not just whether they wear Prada or Dolce & Gabbana.
Get out and there and campaign now, because if you don’t, it will be another cold four years you’ll spend looking in from the street on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Republicans in the White House. And all the burning news trucks in the world won’t keep you warm.