November 16, 2016

KOWALEWSKI | Reflection, Recovery and Responsibility

Print More

It’s been a difficult week. Many of us, including myself, were left distraught by the election of Donald Trump as our next president. It was disturbing to see that his candidacy was not impeded by his flagrant violation of democratic norms, tolerance and simple human decency. Most notably, his admission to sexual assault and his bigoted attacks on Muslims, Latinos, immigrants were apparently no obstacle to achieving the most powerful office in the world.

In response, the mood on our campus, and across the country, has been dour. I entirely reject those who have caricatured students as “coddled” or incapable of handling the real world. This result was a big deal, and it came as a shock to many. For many, it’s personal. With the coming Trump administration, undocumented immigrants feel their entire lives at risk of upheaval. The Muslim community faces the prospect of a president who has previously called for a ban on Muslim entry, and a domestic registry Muslims. LGBTQ individuals see a Vice President who has endorsed incredibly harmful conversion therapy. These are just a few examples.

Hence, it’s perfectly understandable that so many of us are upset. We’ve all needed a moment to reflect on an outcome that shook our understanding of the nation we live in. The painful lesson that we’ve learned is that we can never be complacent. Progress is never given, and we must continually work for it.

And a lot of us did. I want to take a brief moment to commend the students who dedicated themselves to fighting for victory in our democracy. While we came up short this time, I will never forget the dedicated individuals who registered voters, made phone calls, traveled to Pennsylvania for Hillary, drove classmates to the polls here in Ithaca, and spread awareness of just how important voting was. This is what makes a difference. It’s the type of participation that we are obligated to promote in our communities and all of our own lives.

For the past few days, we have seen another huge outpouring of energy. Thousands have turned out on campus to protest Trump’s victory, joined by countless more in other universities and cities across the United States. I have heard some slight frustration that all of these protesters had not participated more in the electoral process. But this is not the time for recriminations. We must present a united front, and protests are a necessary part of that. They push back on a narrative that this country actually wanted President Trump, and serve to speak out against hate. It is important, however, not to waste this energy. We are at the point where it is essential to channel our emotions into the broader work of activism and organization.

This isn’t always as sexy or glamorous as a protest. It involves dedication even when no one else is listening, and demands long days and long nights to make a difference. Further, there are many ways to effect social change. While I may be biased, I think one crucial avenue is through the realm of electoral politics. After all, Trump is the next president because he triumphed in our electoral system. Trying to reclaim our government does not mean waiting until 2020. The work of defeating Trump, and his allied forces, through electoral change begins immediately.

Take notice, for example, that one of the underreported stories of November 8 is that pro-criminal justice reform candidates won District Attorney races in many major cities. Local elections will begin next year, here in Ithaca and across the country, and these warrant our attention. Even more importantly, however, is 2018. This midterm election will feature every member of the House of Representatives, a third of the U.S. Senate, a majority of governorships, and most state legislators up for reelection. It will set the stage for congressional redistricting from 2020, and allow us to provide a major break on President Trump’s agenda. I hope that every person who is sad, upset and angry today will let those emotions guide their actions as our next midterm election approaches.

The federal government might not be on the side of progress for the next few years. But change can, and must, begin on a grassroots and local level. This is true even beyond the realm of democratic engagement. We need to start building up a broad progressive coalition for change; one that recognizes the multifaceted ways to fight for justice. With regard to climate change, for example, we can continue to push our University to be on the forefront of a transition to a carbon-neutral world. If reproductive rights come under attack, we can support the organizations that help women continue to access the care they need. When racial minorities come under attack by discriminatory policies and an newly assertive spree of hate crimes, we are obliged to defend them, listen and amplify their voices.

I will not lie to you and pretend the next four years will be easy. A few observers have expressed hope that a Trump presidency might not reach our worst fears. I want to believe this. If President Trump is genuinely committed to his purported goals of reducing corruption and protecting the middle class, Democrats will stand with him. Yet, consider me skeptical. Those who have urged us to give Trump a shot may find that he has already thrown away his shot. With his elevation of Steve Bannon to chief strategist, Trump is about to bring white nationalism into the corridors of power in Washington. Moreover, at a moment when he should still be basking in victory, Trump has continued to bizarre launch attacks on the free press. Ultimately, we have no real reason to believe that Trump’s presidency will be substantially different from his alarming candidacy.

So yes, it will be hard. We are about to have a president who threatens to enable the darkest segments of our society. Remember this, however. Trump lost the popular vote by over one million votes. Only 29 percent of Americans believe he has a “mandate” to implement his agenda. We still have this upper-hand, and we are obligated to make the best of it. We must never allow Trump’s dangerous initiatives to be normalized. Welcome to the loyal opposition.

Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.