This is the moment they said would never happen.
They said he was too angry, too divisive, too repellent to minority voters. They offered that he said all the wrong things at the all the wrong times. They said he was too erratic, too dangerous, a threat to republicanism and the world.
Today, they face reality: Donald Trump has been elected the next President of the United States.
Sometimes, America feels the compulsion to choose the exact opposite of whatever we’ve been doing, and the opposite of a progressive president, Barack Obama, is indeed a President-Elect Donald Trump. America is tired of the progressive kind of change, and is poised to embark on a whole new grand experiment.
I am a conservative because I believe “conservatism is the politics of reality” and this is our new reality.
Trump rides into power on the backs of white voters and independents, fueled primarily by non-college graduates that helped him win the Great Lakes States of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania (Michigan is too close to call as of 7:32 am.) Republicans always tease about a great restoration of their rust-belt base, promising to win the votes of “Reagan Democrats” and yesterday, Trump succeeded where they failed.
The Republican Party rides into 2017 with the wind at their backs, having secured the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952. This was a wave election, a political tsunami very few saw coming.
Those that did, though, chose to stoke people’s anger to drive it further. This is part of the legacy of Trump’s victory whether they want to admit or not - I am a realist. Many figures that will now be considered symbolic of the right chose to fan the flames of smoldering rage in order to boost their candidate and propel “a movement” that largely existed as an act of revenge against Obama, the progressive Democrats, and their agenda. They also took aim at establishment types of all stripes that believed in responding to such an agenda with a softer, kinder tone. They argued against “the entire corrupt establishment” and the candidate chose to make his last push on the basis of “fighting the globalist agenda.” They reveled in conspiracy, and wallowed in dehumanizing treatment. They built a cult of personality and proudly wore the label “deplorable.” Theirs was populist politics turned up to 11 and they correctly bargained that they would reap the rewards of speaking to people’s hearts.
They repudiated the vaunted “autopsy” of the 2012 election that stressed targeted outreach strategies to minority voters and women, embracing instead a “come home” outreach to disaffected white voters and they won more votes from women and minority voters. Trump didn’t need to unite with the Republicans in D.C., only to unite his message with their voters.
The voters have spoken. Their radicalism was not an illusion, and they’ve come to take their country back. What started in 2010 as the TEA Party movement and accelerated in the midterms of 2014 has finally landed with a powerful crash on the doorstep of The White House.
It has picked up steam from vehement opposition to illegal immigration - Trump declared that “Mexico is not sending us their best. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” More than a few were motivated against the changing face of America, changing demographics, that they were told were ascendant and replacing the white majority. And it is fueled in part by a large contingency of voters that were tired of being called bigots and “deplorables” for believing that change should be slow and deliberate amidst the agitated progressivism taking root in colleges and cities across America, that they have to embrace every culture but their own.
In each successive midterm, Obama’s Democratic Party kept losing seats due to backlash against the bank bailouts, the stimulus pork-barrel spending binge, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank. The wipeout was apparent in 2014, and, after this election, it’s like the ground has been contaminated as if hit by a nuclear meltdown or a hydrogen bomb. Outside of reliably blue states, there will hardly be a Democratic Party left in power anywhere else in America at the start of next year.
We’ve heard a lot about identity politics in this election. Enough, I’d say.
We need a better kind of identity politics. It’s time to unite around our singular, shared identity: we are all Americans.
We are all workers, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons trying to make the best of our lives. Years of economic stagnation, globalization, and automation have decimated parts of our great land. Trump’s stance against free trade deals such as NAFTA and the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership were explicitly meant to appeal to this sense of displacement and disruption among working-class Americans. 67% of voters said they feel like the country is on the wrong track. Trump’s made them a lot of promises, and they have chosen to give the Republicans a chance to lead so it’s imperative that we hear them out.
And while we did not receive the votes of most Americans living in cities, single women navigating their way through life, and immigrants unsure of their future in this country, as the majority party in Congress, we are still obligated to govern on their behalf, to pursue policies that will improve their lives just as we would our own. Whether or not we deserve their votes, they deserve our attention - we are all Americans, and as Americans, we take care of our own. We don’t always do so through government - the might and the reach of the American economy ensures that civil society can provide a meaningful life for most - but it is our duty to provide a pathway to renewal and prosperity where the American Dream has turned into a living nightmare. Being blessed with the opportunity to serve is exactly the catalyst for doing everything possible to make sure it’s worthwhile.
Politics cannot be the art of ignoring everyday problems. Sincere service requires a commitment, through numerous elections, in-season and out-of-season, to work with local leaders of faith and goodwill to empower struggling Americans, help them get back on their feet, and equip them to meet the promises and opportunities that await.
So it must be worthwhile - effective and intelligent. To be honest, that might not be entirely apparent by the next election. But it’s not about the next election. It’s about the next generation. It’s about the next century. It’s about what we do with the opportunity to serve in the here and now and whether we live up to the promise of America.
Conservatives can rejoice: progressivism has been stopped dead in its tracks. We are now in position to effect positive change in our states and localities without interference from a Washington-knows-best progressivism that spits on states’ rights (liberals in California and Massachusetts should like that too). We have been given a mandate to root out waste and corruption in Washington D.C., to kick to the curb the influence-peddlers that have been feeding off corporate welfare for far too long. If Trump means what he says, we shouldn’t waste any time cleaning out the tax code, lowering rates overall, and bringing the trillions invested overseas back into American companies to create well-paying jobs with good benefits here at home. We will repeal Obamacare and balance federal priorities with the competitive spirit of American entrepreneurialism. We will have the opportunity to honor Ronald Reagan’s legacy by approving a Supreme Court Justice that will apply the Constitution as Antonin Scalia would, by asking what original principle the framers’ intended to protect in perpetuity.
The Democrats knew all this was at stake. I’ll admit it’s one of the reasons I was so concerned about nominating Donald Trump in the first place. But today we can most affirmatively say that Trump’s is not just an alternative agenda but a complete and total repudiation of progressive policies and longstanding orthodoxy in both parties. Some third rails remained off-limits, and there is a serious concern that we will not be able to tackle the national debt with Trump as President, but others were put on the proverbial skewer. Free trade deals of the past are in question, alliances too. All of Barack Obama’s executive orders are on the table - this is what happens when a president circumvents the separation of powers he swore to uphold “with a pen and a phone.” Trump is set to inherit the most powerful government the world has ever seen, an office that has grown to more than 61 agencies and 400 departments, and a judiciary largely absent in checking the power of elected representatives. As Dan McLaughlin notes at the National Review, “principled conservatives who are ready to work with President Trump some of the time, and against him at other times, may turn out to be the friends liberals need right now, and vice versa.”
I can only definitively say: I have no idea what comes next. Trump has campaigned on “Making America Great Again” but has given little in terms of specifics and the plans he has put out have gone through revisions and withered under scrutiny. Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Jeff Sessions have led a transition team that has kept most of its deliberations under wraps, and Trump has a tendency of awarding his most faithful supporters. Secretary of State Newt Gingrich? Attorney General Rudy Giuliani? We’re about to find out.
Trump has said “he likes to be unpredictable” and America rolled the die. Now we find out how it is cast. The markets are falling out - they don’t like uncertainty. And many are comparing Trump’s victory to the Brexit vote earlier this year. I concur. This is a political earthquake that registers a 10 on the richter scale. House members that never really doubted their reelection are waking up today to find their constituents have elected them to serve alongside Donald Trump, who they didn’t even think would win at all. Will those that have crossed him feel his wrath?
Above all, on January 20, 2017, none of this will matter — the speeches, the campaign ads, the debates — none if it will matter anymore. Our new reality is a political reality but President Trump and the Republican Party face an economic and fiscal reality that directly conflicts with Trump’s promises and the sentiments of most voters. The true test of leadership for the next president is not in this election but in his response to the challenges and opportunities of the future.
The country has decided that test will be issued to Donald Trump. It’s up to him to make the next move.
You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU