Trump may lose tomorrow, but Trumpism will remain
An empty Donald Trump podium in Hilton Head Island, S.C. on December 30, 2015. | Stephen B. Morton/AP

It’s almost over. To paraphrase a saying from the Great War, it has been the election to end all elections. Outrageous claims, false charges, and sensationalist innuendo that would have meant the end of candidates in past campaigns have become so normalized this year that words like “bombshell” or “shocker” no longer seem applicable. It’s almost like we’ve become numb to scandalous behavior – both real and imagined.

But by the end of tomorrow night, it will all be done. If the Nate Silver math holds, Hillary Clinton will be elected the first woman president of the United States and Donald Trump will be heading back to his gold-encrusted perch atop Trump Tower. The beast will have been beaten back at the gates.

But even if Trump loses tomorrow, the Trump-ified Republican Party he has bequeathed to the nation will still be with us. And the populist anger he has stoked against immigrants, Muslims, women, refugees, and others will still be simmering.

The danger of Trumpism will not end with the vanquishing of Trump himself. A Clinton win is necessary, but it’s not sufficient to stem the tide.

Trumpism down-ballot

The optimistic outlook for the presidential race is only part of the story. Polling numbers suggest that it’s still an uphill battle to beat the GOP in many down-ballot Congressional races tomorrow. The House looks out of reach; the Senate is a possibility, but it will be tight.

The Republicans have been quite successful in taking and holding onto power over the last eight years, even as Barack Obama handily won the presidency twice. 69 House seats, 13 in the Senate, 900+ in state legislatures around the country, and 12 governorships – those are the gains the GOP has seen just since 2008.

Their subversion of democracy – from voter suppression and gerrymandered voting districts to the free-flow of Citizens United campaign cash – will continue to define our electoral system even if the Donald is stopped. All the little Trumps that ride into office (either for the first time or by re-election) tomorrow will still be around to act as roadblocks to progress.

The GOP will continue to have a stranglehold over far too many states and congressional districts on November 9th. They will still have control over what laws come before Congress. They will be in charge of the electoral boundaries and voting laws in dozens of states. And their network of think-tanks and policy shops – like ALEC and others – will still be aggressively promoting its anti-labor and anti-public services agenda at every level of government.

A narrow Hillary Clinton win alone won’t be able to break their power, and even a landslide victory for her will still leave too many Republicans in a position to guarantee gridlock. They’ve already promised to block any Supreme Court nominee that President Clinton puts forward and renewed their pledge to be “the party of no” when it comes to a progressive legislative agenda.

Trumpism in Congress and in the statehouses will be the Tea Party taken to the next level. From the Fight for $15 to tuition-free education and criminal justice reform, and from reproductive rights to the freedom to organize unions – achieving gains on democratic priorities will still be tough fights.

Trumpism and the battle of ideas

Just as the right’s grip on the levers of state power will not be undone with a Trump defeat at the ballot box, the same holds true in the battle of ideas.

The long-held right-wing tropes about the benefits of free markets, globalization, and privatization have been complicated by Trumpism. Some of the traditional concerns of the left have even been hijacked in this election and overlaid with Trump’s racist and deceptive double-talk about making the GOP into a “workers party.”

Debates will of course continue about how many white working class voters bought into Trump’s rhetoric about stopping unfair trade deals and bringing back jobs, but regardless of how much influence he had, many of the issues he talked about are still going to be crying out for solution. There will still be a need to engage the notion that closing borders and banning immigrants is a way to reach economic prosperity.

Developments like the sticker-shock of Obamacare premium increases are placing new questions in some people’s minds about whether there is something for them in the progressive coalition’s agenda. We have to show them that there is.

The problems of neoliberal capitalism are still going to plague us after Inauguration Day, yet progressives have yet to move very far beyond the stage of critique. We continue to struggle in our effort to develop easily-communicated alternative paradigms. Since the financial collapse of 2008, the shortcomings of the current economic model have been pretty clear to see. Yet we on the left are only just beginning to formulate what should be done differently.

It is impossible to talk about the wreckage left to us by Trumpism without also mentioning the racist extreme right. The KKK, the alt-right, and the militia movements have all been emboldened by the Trump campaign. The Republican Party has long flirted with such elements on their fringes, but with Trump they have been massively strengthened. Sanitized (and sometimes not so sanitized) versions of their rhetoric have been legitimized by the failure of too much of the mainstream media to call out Trump’s racism for what it is.

It will be even more necessary to assert that Black Lives Matter after tomorrow and to fight for police and criminal justice reform. It will be even more necessary to assert the equality and dignity of women after a campaign which saw unprecedented open sexism and misogyny.


But Trumpism isn’t the only force that will remain with us after Election Day. There is another phenomenon that came to the forefront in this election which also promises to be a defining influence on our country in the years to come – one that inspires optimism for the fights ahead of us.

Over a year and a half ago, Bernie Sanders launched his bid for the Democratic nomination. In the course of his campaign, millions of people, especially young people, were energized by an anti-austerity message which offered an alternative to the demagoguery of Trump. Sanders’ “political revolution” brought people together and reminded us that if we organize ourselves and get in on the action, we can change the destiny of our nation. It was a call to build the movements of the 99 percent.

It took hold of people’s imagination because it spoke to what they’d been living through after years of economic recession and crisis. Take on the banks, make college free, raise the minimum wage, invest in a new green economy, make trade deals truly fair, and make healthcare a right – it was an agenda which found a mass constituency. It inspired people to think about the different future that is possible through collective action and democratic participation.

Sanders-ism, or more accurately, the idea of socialism is one that has a new potential in America. It is a concept that a new generation is just beginning to define for our own time and context, but the signs are encouraging. For several months earlier this year, this publication ran a series on what socialism means today which featured authors from across the left and people’s movements. That’s a debate that should continue in the months and years ahead. It has to be an integral part of discussions being had about what kind of country we want to be.

A historic win for Clinton tomorrow will ensure that the space is open for the people’s movements to grow and assert new forms of political independence both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

With Trumpism lurking, that’s space we are going to need.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.