Donald Trump capped what has been an emotionally taxing election cycle chock full of unproductive and demanding dialogue by pulling off a shocking upset. There has been and will continue to be speculation about how Trump’s campaign actually pulled it off, but more important is an understanding of what comes next — and how we can be a part of it.
In September we endorsed Hillary Clinton, disclosing our numerous concerns with a Trump presidency. But this is not the time for students to wallow in despair or disengage from the democratic process. Donald J. Trump will be the face of our nation, but we can and should use this political clout to influence future elections.
Despite Trump’s presidential win, Clinton was the one more popular with voters, gaining over 220,000 more votes than the Republican nominee and outpacing him in voters under 30 by 18 points and voters 30-44 by eight points. The issue was that turnout was down overall. With some states still too close to call, Trump is in line to handily win the electoral college but could also tally less votes overall than McCain did.
We can’t blame Texas for this after we set early voting turnout records and outperformed past margins. But nationwide, voters were turned off from what they considered a difficult moral choice. And students who worked with Clinton to edge Texas closer to competitiveness would be remiss not to see the victories they are responsible for and to abandon an electoral system that, while flawed, is the path to effecting change in this country.
Making other conclusions about this race would be a mistake. After turnout took a nosedive, little more than a quarter of eligible voters voted for Trump, and among those who voted for him, many disapproved of him. This nation does not necessarily approve of racism or sexism. But it does approve of avoiding difficult choices it’s tasked with making.
So let’s not misdiagnose the problem. Keeping future Trumpians out of office will require students to engage with their political system, despite its many flaws. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by influencing the direction of our battered political parties in post-Trump elections.
Clinton herself might have had the worst night. The political establishments she embodied were the real losers of this election. On the republican side, a populist demagogue seized control of the GOP by divorcing himself from party norms. As for the Democrats, many awoke this morning to find their party on life support. Although just a few weeks ago many pundits were gleefully writing obituaries for the GOP, the future of the democratic party is also in jeopardy.
The political identity crisis of our major parties presents us with a unique opportunity to redefine politics after Trump. This isn’t built on partisanship — we want to choose between two competent parties that give all of us something to vote for, not just a nightmarish scenario to vote against. Now’s not the time to be apathetic about the future. It’s ours, even if apathy won the day in 2016.