I was raised in a white, working-class rural American town that voted for Donald Trump this year. Urban liberals lack understanding of places like my home, and tend to write them off as uneducated or backwards. My town and countless others across the country proved this month why this attitude is so misguided and has to change.
While liberal protesters’ shutting down highways, destroying property, blanket labeling Americans as hopelessly racist, burning American flags, threatening to move to Canada or secede, arguing for post-election safe spaces and reduction of homework, demanding electors go against the will of the electorate and vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and burning effigies of President-elect Trump catch the public eye, they don’t do much beyond that.
These demonstrations create a public relations problem with the patriotic, religious and working-class Americans outside of the urban liberal spheres along the coasts.
Student and adult protesters who define themselves as anti-Trump and left-leaning must cease violent, anti-democratic activity and rhetoric if they hope to regain the vote of everyday Americans which, to the surprise of many students, isn’t just comprised of the California populace.
By rejecting the United States or any of its innate qualities, left-leaning activists squander their unique opportunity to seize the image of the “Party of America” from the GOP. All supporters of a progressive agenda must unite together under a message of practical liberalism that is open and relatable to a wider demographic.
Fox News and the various conservative news outlets are able to juxtapose progressive policy with violent, illogical and unpatriotic activity. Voters who are moderate Democrats or left-leaning independents then have to justify this radical activity, and progressives look staunchly hypocritical after trashing conservatives for protesting in the wake of President Obama’s election.
As of 2016, 34 percent of people aged 18 to 24 and 36 percent of self-identified liberals consider themselves “extremely proud” to be Americans, the lowest percentages from that study. The fact of the matter is that the states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania – which contain the white working-class votes necessary for Democrats to secure seats in all levels of federal government – are significantly more patriotic and prefer to focus on matters of economic growth and national security.
Although the leader we chose is a molten black stain on American history, he is the President-elect. Our attention should now be on winning the next election by following a philosophy of “practical liberalism”: fighting for progressive causes in a more relatable way. Instead of demanding the Electoral College disband, which would effectively devalue the rural voter entirely, change the argument to appeal to these voters that are worried about their jobs, families and communities just like everyone else.
While the Republican Party holds control of a majority of statehouses and the federal government, it does not represent the majority of America – and neither do the Democrats. According to the Pew Research center, as of 2015, 32 percent of Americans identify as Democrats, 23 percent as Republicans and 39 percent as independent. In order to win elections, one party has to win the various debates in a way that encourages its own voters as well as attract moderate voters with their message. In 2016, Republicans clearly did this better than Democrats. Democrats and progressive students alike can either continue infighting and angrily disavowing the United States, or they can unite and formulate better ideas and arguments.
The Republican Party has painted itself as the patriotic party, even though they have wholly rejected typical working-class American values. The denial of climate change has become a central national security issue that increasing defense funding will not solve. They even rejected and stalled on funding for veterans and 9/11 First Responders developing diseases from their heroism. Republicans have amplified the War on Drugs for decades, which has resulted in an epidemic of mass incarceration and civil rights violations that cost taxpayers billions annually. Economically, Reaganomics and globalization have resulted in the dismembering of key workers’ unions and the failures of “trickle-down” economics have led to dangerous inequality that stunts the growth of the GDP.
[Related: Anti-Trump protests are not in vain]
Trump has made factually void and repulsive remarks and threats involving the civil and religious rights and liberties of minority groups. The fears of these peoples are valid and reasonable. However, radical action like blocking highways and burning effigies is not the answer. It paints progressive students and supporters as violent, hateful and undemocratic. The only way to come out on top is to be the party of ideas, reason and care for Americans struggling to find economic security in an ever globalizing world . Spurning the system does little more than turning people off from progressive politics altogether.
Student activists must push common sense reforms on fronts such as these instead of despondency and violence towards the government. They have messages all Americans can get behind. No more calling Trump voters stupid or racist. Instead, convince the moderate, undecided voters someone else has a better solution.
Democrats must reshape their image into a patriotic powerhouse that focuses on issues of all Americans, and politically active students appalled by Trump need to engage with the government in a productive way – not reject it altogether.