On November 8, I wrote that the America I knew wouldn’t elect Donald Trump, a man I called the most “dangerous and abhorrent recent nominee of a major political party.” I spoke of my hopes for this country and of what I thought would happen on that fateful evening. And I was wrong. Donald J. Trump was elected to the highest office of our land and will—however tragically—become our next president.
The past few weeks have been really painful for many of us—disillusioning, in fact. Like others, I’ve questioned how this outcome was ever possible in the country I thought I knew so well.
Frankly, I remain terrified by what may come our way over the next four years. And if I am terrified, I cannot begin to imagine the fears of those who have been most targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and who are most vulnerable to fall victim to his administration’s policies.
Yet, it is worth remembering that while Donald Trump won the Electoral College, his victory was far from a wholesale repudiation of who we are as a nation.
Hillary Clinton, after all, won the popular vote and did so decisively. While votes are still being tallied, at least 2 million more Americans voted to live in a forward-looking, inclusive America than one in which bigotry and disastrous ideas triumph.
That means something. We should always remember that while we lost the election, love and progress (and Hillary Clinton) were the true victors on November 8.
What we must take away from this defeat, however, is the absolute necessity of staying engaged in our nation’s politics and actively fighting for the values and policies that we believe in—and that a majority of us voted for.
Hillary once said that “the worst thing that can happen in a democracy—as well as in an individual's life — is to become cynical about the future and lose hope: That is the end, and we cannot let that happen."
Let’s not lose sight of this. More than anything, this moment requires us to remain hopeful and to engage more than we have ever engaged before. That’s a really tough thing to do when we are faced with such an ugly reality. But our future demands that every one of us meet this challenge. The America we know—the one that prizes its diversity and prides itself on the principle that if you work hard, there is a place for you no matter your roots, your identity, your past—is still out there.
We are citizens of a country that struggled through a Civil Rights Movement and passed the Civil and Voting Rights Acts after the blood of thousands was shed. A nation that came out of two world wars stronger than ever and somehow managed to unite after a four-year civil war nearly tore us apart. And, yes, a place where less than 100 years after women fought for their suffrage, a woman won the popular vote for the most powerful office in the world.
We are a nation of immense contradictions and long struggles. Yet, as I wrote last week, we are one that always moves forward.
At every critical juncture in our history, Americans have been presented with two fundamental questions: How do you envision the America of tomorrow? And how hard are you willing to fight to get there?
We must all tackle these questions for ourselves. We will, inevitably, arrive at different answers, and our path forward is bound to be very, very rocky.
But I know what I envision for tomorrow’s America, and more than 64 million people seem to agree. So where do we go from here?
I believe we must start—as painful as it is—by meticulously following the news and our president-elect’s every move. There are few things worse than reading the onslaught of headlines about the ongoing transition, but if we aren’t aware of the ills being committed, we have no hope of correcting them.
Then, of course, we’ve got to hold the Trump administration and Congress accountable. Our Senators should expect a lot of calls over the next four years. With Trump in the White House and both chambers of Congress controlled by Republicans, the last hope of stopping detrimental policies from becoming law is to make sure that every Democrat in the Senate stands strong and prevents such measures from getting the 60 votes necessary on most pieces of legislation.
We can start by calling every Senator and urging them to vote “no” on the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as our next attorney general. If his history with race was too troubling to be confirmed by the Senate for a judgeship in 1986, he’s certainly not fit to be our nation’s chief lawyer in 2017.
Similarly, we must continue to condemn the appointments of Steve Bannon as chief strategist and Michael Flynn as national security advisor. White nationalists and Islamophobic people do not belong in the West Wing.
Let’s make calls. Lots of them. And let’s try to engage the friends, family members, peers, and coworkers we have who have drifted off and evaded politics in recent years. Their votes matter just as much as ours do. We need them on board for the fast-approaching midterm elections and beyond.
In 2018, we will need to hold as many Senate seats as possible in a year with an ominous map, and we’ll need to work as hard as ever to diminish Paul Ryan’s majority in the House.
Thirty-six states will be choosing a new governor in 2018 and control of state legislatures is up for grabs, as well. These races won’t simply affect who dictates policies on the state-level in the years to come; they’ll determine who will redraw congressional districts after the 2020 census is taken. Right now, Republicans control the House, in no small part, because they have gerrymandered their way to a majority. In fact, they will hold onto their majority this year in spite of the fact that Democratic House candidates will likely end up with more raw votes. If we have any hope of retaking the House, we have to do something about this structural disadvantage. That begins by winning in state capitols.
In a similar vein, it is time that we unite to get rid of the Electoral College. This is the second time in just 16 years that the candidate with fewer votes has gone on to become president. It won’t be easy, but it is worth pursuing, and contrary to what many believe, it won’t require a constitutional amendment.
To say the very least, there is a lot of work to be done. We face bruising years ahead. And although this nation may have taken a step backward this November, the burden is on us to muster the energy and determination to make the next two forward steps. Let’s get going, and let’s fight like hell.
Dylan Stafford is a first-year in the College.