Following Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential Election, Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence has issued a challenge to his opponents. With these words, I strongly believe that the star has revealed how we as liberals can eventually take back power from the Trumps of the world.
Writing an editorial for Broadly, Lawrence argued: “This country was founded on immigration and today the only people that feel safe, that their rights are recognised and respected are white men… I want to support our democracy, but what can we take away from this? It’s a genuine question that we all need to ask ourselves. We shouldn’t blame anyone, we shouldn’t riot in the streets. We should think strongly and clearly about what to do next because we cannot change the past.”
Going on, Jennifer Lawrence noted that in the coming days, we liberals need to “get important things done.” Elaborating, the Hunger Games actress wrote: “Do not let this defeat you—let this enrage you! Let it motivate you! Let this be the fire you didn’t have before. If you are an immigrant, if you are a person of colour, if you are LGBTQ+, if you are a woman—don’t be afraid, be loud!” In other words, I believe that Lawrence is saying that we need to argue our case to voters more clearly than we did over the last election, in order to make sure that Trump is a one-term President.
The thing is that as liberals, we on the political left have a lot to shout about. On many issues, the American people agree with us, not our opponents. Let’s look at gun control, for example, a key issue in recent years. During his campaign, Donald Trump said that he will be “the best Second Amendment candidate ever,” promising that as President, he will not move to tighten these laws. In contrast, Democrats advocate making gun control laws more strict, for example ensuring that people on the ‘no fly list,’ who are suspected of terrorism, cannot buy these deadly weapons.
Over the last few years, US gun-related deaths have risen dramatically. Meanwhile, mass shootings like the Sandyhook incident in 2012, have increasingly drawn public attention to this issue. Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise you that according to a June 2016 Quinnipiac survey, Polling Report writes, 54% of Americans favour stricter gun control legislation, with 42% opposed. In other words, we have common consensus behind us on this issue, as we do with a range of others, like same sex marriage, legal marijuana and race relations. So why did the Republicans blow us out of the water in 2016?
Hope and change
Here, I believe we need to turn to the candidates themselves. For all of his faults, Donald Trump was very effective at capturing his base. During his campaign, the billionaire adopted anti-globalist policies like restricting immigration, imposing high tariffs on foreign imports, and punishing US companies who outsource jobs abroad. These positions played well with non-college educated whites, who increasingly believe that they’re being left behind, economically speaking, by globalisation.
In other words, Donald Trump cast himself as a hope and change candidate, inspiring his base. With this, Trump was like Obama, who framed his campaign around bringing positive change for ordinary Americans, even if in my opinion, he failed to deliver. However, despite adopting somewhat liberal positions, Hillary Clinton chose to make Donald Trump the focus of her campaign, repeatedly telling people why they should vote for her, just to stop him from becoming Commander-in-Chief.
By turning herself into a purveyor of fear, I believe that Hillary Clinton helped spread apathy among her base – the people she needed to inspire to get out and vote, to win. You all know what I’m talking about. In the days running up to the election, it got so nasty that many of us just wanted it to be over already, just to make it stop. By focusing on attacking Donald, rather than putting out a message of hope and change, as Jennifer Lawrence suggests we do now, Clinton just fuelled this apathy further.
We saw the fruits of this strategy on election day. Yes, Clinton won the poplar vote, if by a narrow margin. However, US Presidential elections are decided in the Electoral College, where each state is allotted a certain number of votes, based on population size. The Republican’s victory in Mid-West states like Wisconsin, formerly a Democratic stronghold, allowed him to win under this system. The states that clinched the election for Trump, are the ones where his anti-globalist message played well with white working class voters, showing the impact of his hope and change rhetoric.
But it was apathy that really killed Clinton’s chances. CNN reports that voter turnout sank to a 20-year low in 2016. Democrats tend to perform better in high turnout years i.e. Presidential ones, when infrequent voter groups, like young people, are more likely to turn up to the polls. In contrast, Republicans generally perform better in low turn out years, i.e. mid term elections, where more frequent voters e.g. older people, hold more power. This is why, for example, the Democrats won in 2008 and 2012, Presidential years, while the Republicans triumphed in 2010 and 2012, mid-term years. So by creating apathy, Clinton decreased turnout, handing victory to her opponent.
Jennifer Lawrence was basically saying that we need to focus more on inspiring voters, rather than scaring them, when we get the chance to take back the White House in 2020. During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to implement some pretty extreme policies, such as temporarily banning Muslims from the US. If Trump makes good on these pledges, he could anger liberal and moderate sections of the American electorate very quickly. Even if he fails to deliver, as Obama did, he’s a Republican, so Donald is unlikely to implement measures that the majority of the US public agree with, achieving similar results.
In 2020, it’s key that we capitalise on this anger, to beat Trump. But we should not do this by once again taking on the role of fear-mongers, as 2016 proved that this tactic doesn’t work. We liberals need to retake the mantel of hope and change back from the Republicans to incentivise people who agree with us – the majority of the American electorate on many issues, to come back to the polls. To make this happen, the Democrats need to pick better candidates. Hillary Clinton was almost as unpopular with the US public as her opponent, so she had to start spreading fear, to retain any hopes of winning the White House.
Instead, liberals need to choose someone like Bernie Sanders, the US Senator for Vermont, to be our next standard-bearer. Yes, Sanders lost the 2016 Democratic Primaries to Clinton, but by a hair’s breadth, despite much lower name recognition. Furthermore, it has emerged that the Democratic National Convention actively colluded to ensure Clinton’s victory. Throughout his campaign, Sanders energised his base, especially young people, in ways that his opponent could not replicate. Many of these people voted for third party candidates, like the Green Party’s Jill Stein, siphoning off much-needed votes from Clinton in the general.
Bernie was an economic populist, similar to Donald Trump. However, his policies centred more on redistributing wealth from the rich to the working classes, which really resonated with his base, who despised Clinton for her ties to Wall Street. The Vermont Senator was also a true liberal, backing now-popular positions years before his rival, who often pivoted left during the Primaries, appearing disingenuous. Critically, Sanders beat Trump resoundingly in hypothetical match-ups, suggesting that opting for a truly liberal, populist standard-bearer could help us win in 2020.
Changing it up
Conventional wisdom holds that US elections are won in the middle. Democrats were convinced Hillary could beat Trump because she’s a centrist. But lately Donald Trump has made a habit of smashing conventional wisdoms to smithereens and if we hope to oust him from the White House in 2020, we must adopt the same approach. If we choose a truly liberal, populist candidate, they will shout our ideals out far louder, as Lawrence advised, inspiring our supporters to turn up to the polls.