It’s Time to Look Ahead

Today is a victory, but the fight is far from over.

Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg Creative
Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg Creative

When I woke up Friday morning and saw that we were only a few decimal points away in nearly three states from an almost certain win, I fell to my knees in an unexpected, guttural cry and wept. For the last four years, we have had to face the constant denigration of our humanity with the resolve of gods. I’m a strategist working at the intersection of electoral politics and community power, and my colleagues and I have done everything we could to balance ideology with pragmatism and get to this day with our wigs and integrity intact.

On Saturday morning, it was finally called. The day is here, and we have won.

It will take quite a bit of time to process the trauma of the last four years, but now it is time to look ahead, and in looking ahead, there is a certain clear-eyedness that the four years has fostered. A clarity that nothing — not even the return of compassionate stability to the executive chamber — can cloud.

With an election as precarious as this one, with margins as small as they were, it’s easy to see how the threat of another Donald Trump could be just ahead — in fact, the threat of another Donald Trump is likely around the corner. Trump laid out a successful, inexhaustible playbook for how to win: protect the inherent benefits of white supremacy by making whiteness the victim of progress, weaponize our relationships with foreign actors to pull at the loose strings of our democracy, manipulate the public, and suppress the vote

It was a successful strategy with an outcome that almost cost the country another four years of violently corrosive leadership. It is a strategy that the GOP will almost certainly duplicate and superimpose on whatever GOP presidential hopefuls rise out of the salt.

We must be prepared for that threat — pretending we are suddenly beyond the very possibility of it will not neutralize it. We must acknowledge that Donald Trump’s America — a racist, xenophobic, money drunk, inequitable America — has always been America. It is the America that President-elect Joe Biden will inherit.

We must also acknowledge that the same communities that have been disproportionately impacted by these big problems are the same communities that have delivered this win: Black communities, Latinx communities, immigrant communities, indigenous communities, and young people, organizing relentlessly against impossible odds since well before 2016 but certainly upping the ante in the wake of it. Those communities and the leaders that organize them are not just pawns in the electoral game — they are the leaders of the party. It’s time that we listen to them as they call for structural change at every level of the electorate.

Democrats have made middle-of-the-road politics their home base and have in large part resisted moving away from the center. An election this close makes taking a closer look imperative. 

For the last four years, community organizers and policy makers from communities who bear the brunt of these problems have been offering up policy ideas and solutions, few of which truly exist at the center. If we’re going to solve those big problems, find everyone who shares our values, give them a sense of purpose, and make sure they see themselves in our work, we need an approach fundamentally different from what we’ve done in the past — we should follow the playbook affirmed by the people.

That playbook is certainly to the left of where the Democratic Party stands and has stood historically — but it has to be the future of the party if Democrats want to win again in 2024 and gain control of the Senate. That’s the fundamental shift that could and should happen.

How do we accomplish this? To start, I want ten more Ayanna Pressleys, and ten more Jamaal Bowmans, and ten more Cori Bushes, and ten more Alexandria Ocasio Cortezes, and ten more Katie Porters, and ten more Elizabeth Warrens. I want them at every level of government. I want them to have a seat at every table of influence — I want them to lead. The Democratic Party faces a choice over the next four years: nurture and grow candidates like these who excite, mobilize, and organize the party — or silence and squash their influence, and in turn, silence the party’s own possibilities.

We need to kill the myth that moving further left means losing voters. For God’s sake, Katie Porter flipped a reliably red district, stuck to her progressive values while relentlessly dragging bad actors, kept her constituency, and won reelection by a landslide. Medicare for All co-sponsors Jared Golden (ME-02), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), and Mike Levin (CA-49) all won reelection in swing districts.

We need to kill the assumption that the center is the best we can do and holds our best interests. The center has left marginalized communities on the fringe for decades and has left them out of conversations about who we are as a country. We cannot demand that people “Vote for Democrats” simply because we are not Republicans.

No amount of saying “We are not Donald Trump’s America” will make that true. We have always been Donald Trump’s America. If we are ready to be better than Donald Trump’s America, then we must work every day of the next four years to make that true.

It’s Time to Look Ahead