This was my first election cycle in which I followed religiously for 15 plus months, petitioning, writing, and attending rallies. I worked to the best of my ability to ensure a victory for Hillary Clinton, the candidate who prevailed after a rigorous primary against Bernie Sanders. In spite of the glaring bias the Democratic Party displayed throughout the primary elections and turning a blind-eye to the populist movement initiated by Bernie Sanders, I stuck with the party. Many Americans still believed the Democratic Party was the champion of the working class that reached out and listened to the pain of the workingman and woman. This was the Democratic Party, whose high moral values set the standard for how the working class envisioned our America. However, America made its voice heard on election night and sent a clear message: the Democratic Party does not represent the working class. Somewhere along the way, our party lost its way and turned a blind eye to the very people it said it would stand up and defend.
For the last 18 months, the overwhelming sentiment among elites within the Democratic Party held that Donald Trump had no chance of winning. There was no reality in which he would ever come close to stepping into the White House and take on all the responsibilities it entails. It did not matter if it was Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket for the party. Trump was a joke, and they treated him as such. Growing complacency led to a tacit belief in the “blue wall” built up in the rust belt states and how people would come out in droves for Hillary. But, then he won, and the reality of Donald J. Trump came to fruition.
Shocked and surprised, the next step was to find something to blame. Pundits and elites came out and attributed it to FBI Director Comey’s letter, the lack of voter turnout, and misinformation. In reality, the only people they should be blaming are themselves. For months, we the people, placed trust in ‘professionals’ who have been career politicians and establishment elites for years. In return, we now have a man, President-elect Trump, who is without a doubt both unprepared and unqualified to lead our great nation forward.
Clinton’s campaign did not resonate with people across the country, particularly in Rust Belt states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The reason why she did not resonate with the working class people of these states seems relatively simple now: she did not spend enough time campaigning in those states, and her message did not speak to them. Top Democrats and officials within her campaign poured more efforts into states such as Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, three swing states she also did not win but, more importantly, did not need to win. Clinton failed to reach out to the blue-collar working class voters of these states and across the nation. Clinton among white voters without a college education lost by a surprising 39-percentage points a margin larger than Walter Mondale lost to Reagan in the 1984 election. Trump also beat her by 50 percentage points among blue-collar white men, and 30 points among non-college-educated white women. Finally, she lost a surprising amount of college educated white women as well.
Trump ended up capturing more than three-fifths of rural voters nationwide and in the decisive Rust Belt states he improved tremendously over Mitt Romney’s 2012 performance nearly everywhere outside the major cities. In addition to the Rust Belt states’ collapse, Clinton’s campaign lacked a consistent message throughout the election which resulted in people across the board not coming out to vote at all. Democrats need to seriously reconsider their party outreach strategies and work to inspire Americans across the nation better to get out and vote because when they don’t, they lose.
After suffering an embarrassing loss for the White House, not gaining control of the Senate, and not inspiring more people to come out and vote, the question remains: where does the Democratic Party go from here? The answer remains complex and a simple solution cannot and will not come forth anytime soon. That said, there are a few key steps I believe the party should start to take to have a chance of winning in four years
First, the next Democratic National Committee chairman should be Keith Ellison. He already has the support of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Bernie Sanders and shows promise in being the right person to provide a clear path forward after the Democrats failed to take both the White House and a majority in the Senate. Keith Ellison represents the 5th district in Minnesota in the House of Representatives and is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. His priorities in Congress have focused on building up the working class, promoting peace, pursuing alternative environmentally safe energy sources, and advancing civil and human rights for all Americans. He would make an excellent chairman and exemplifies everything the Democratic Party should be moving forward: inclusion and a workhorse for the working class.
The next order of business should be a return to grassroots’ organizing and less reliance on big donors to fund campaigns. Striking a balance between the two has become essential to creating the perception and atmosphere that the campaigns are for the people and by the people, not big money corporations. Keith Ellison has supported focusing more on grassroots campaigns rather than big donors. Donald Trump was outraised by Hillary Clinton three to one and won the election, so to assume there has to be an obscene amount of money raised each year to win just doesn’t hold true.
Lastly, the Democratic Party leaders who turned a blind-eye to blue collar workers and failed to listen to the problems of the working class in America, either need to evolve or step down. The Party must organize efforts within states that have struggling working class families and listen and work with them to address their glaring problems. The Democratic Party was a party of the people, by the people, and for the people. But in its current state, it is not. The best course of action is to demand the Democratic Party to evolve to include the needs of American working class families. These suggestions will not fix the Democratic Party altogether but will set them in the right direction.
Election night for some was exciting, though for those in LGBTQ, Muslim, and Hispanic communities it was gut wrenching. I cannot lie; I was shocked to see the results. I could not wrap my head around how Clinton could lose so many of the rural working class American votes to a man who has done nothing but con his way to the top. Then it occurred to me that the answer seemed so simple: Clinton did not work hard enough to inspire blue collar workers to consider her their champion. The Democrats and the Clinton campaign’s myopia regarding working class issues cost the people more than an election.
With all of this in mind, it’s important to remember that the feeling that so many Americans and I felt that night can go away if we want it to. To emphasize, this is where the work begins to ensure we have the party that holds the same vision for the country that we do. This is what the Democratic Party is at this moment, but it is not what it has to be. I am confident in the people’s ability to rise and lead change from the bottom up, but it’s only a small part of the overall change. Ultimately, substantial change must also come from the top down and if it does not, then not only will the Democratic Party continue to lose elections, it will also lose the people it once said it stood up for and that would be heartbreaking.
Rutgers Student studying Political Science & Government with a minor in Journalism who has an interest in the intersection of journalism and political movements.