In August, I took a brief hiatus from graduate school to accept a job as a political organizer with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Although I had initially been a Bernie Sanders supporter in the Democratic primary because of his progressive vision for America, once that ship had sailed, and it was Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump in the general election I knew what I had to do to ensure that when the dust settled I was on the right side of history. I headed hours away from the comforts of my life in Washington, DC to Erie, Pennsylvania in support of Secretary Hillary Clinton and Democratic ideals. I also went with the aim of helping elect other down-ballot Democratic contenders in elections, bearing Obama’s presidency in mind and being intellectually honest in the fact that a democratic leader means nothing without the right supporting cast around them to assist in bringing their vision to fruition.
I arrived in Erie the day after Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine had visited to speak to the Erie residents. This visit came weeks after Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump had made a trek of his own to the top of Pennsylvania to check in on Erie voters and let them know that their votes mattered tremendously. Based on conversations held with locals upon my arrival to Erie, two things immediately became certain. First, residents were more energized by Trump’s visit than they were by Kaine’s because it is a long-standing tradition for presidential hopefuls to stop through Erie. Second, based on the first reality acknowledged, my team and I would have an uphill battle to fight if history was to be made, so we fought.
We traveled to local colleges and schools. We went to community centers and sporting events. Still, a truth remained— many of the millennials we were regularly in contact with realized how toxic a Trump presidency could potentially be for themselves and other groups that make up America, but they also could not come to grips with how Bernie was treated during the primaries.
In a world where Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness was already on the ballot, the Democratic Party’s actions to undermine Bernie Sanders’ success in the primary coupled with Clinton’s proximity to Debbie Wasserman Schulz immediately following the whole ordeal gave rise to a perception that proved to be almost impossible to shake. For adults in Erie who have had Democratic leadership for the majority of recent memory without much improvement to the lives of everyday people, they were unenthusiastic about the prospect of a Democratic president being able to bring local change that Democratic mayors and senators of the past had failed to deliver. In the world of politics where perception is the reality, these perceptions effectively issued a death-knell to the idea of a Trump-Kaine victory. Donald Trump honed in the perception issues and played to them, constantly decrying how Bernie Sanders had been treated badly and asking what the electorate had to lose by voting for change. With this acknowledgment of wrongdoing at the top of the Democratic Party and the challenge he made to voters to try something different, Trump was able to catalyze a revolution within our loyalist voter base that showed on Nov. 8th when Trump became the first republican to win the state of Pennsylvania in twenty-eight years. A Republican populist with no political experience beating out a well-credentialed Democratic stateswoman taught us all a lesson in transformative politics and shattered all poll predictions.
On the back end of what can only be described as a political revolution, I am left not knowing how to feel. In the earliest days of president-elect Trump, there have been reports of members of the LGBTQ community committing suicide rather than facing an America where their very existence may potentially be challenged every day. There are further reports on social media of intolerant messages being placed on structures, women getting groped and Muslim-Americans being harassed. There have been protests in major cities all across the country, and I would argue that they have been speaking to a very real fear. Cabinet picks are typically one of the earliest indicators of how an administration will be run. Just recently, President-elect Trump has identified Steve Bannon, a man who has no respect for the plurality of this country, as one of his closest advisers. If this pick is to be a gauge of how the Trump administration will govern, Americans are rightfully scared. Given the fact that this nation’s success in now inherently tied to the success of the Trump presidency, I genuinely wish him well. My only hope is that his administration hears the cries made by many Americans, acknowledges them as legitimate concerns, and takes steps to move forward and be a president for all Americans.