Dear Democrats — It seems like just yesterday we sat watching the presidential election returns, but that was two long years ago. That night went from expected coronation to worst-case scenario so quickly, few could fathom what was happening. By the time the dust settled, Trump was president-elect, and Clinton was embarking on a multi-year tour to explain why the benighted fools of Middle America sent her packing. Along the way, Democrats threw their stones at the electoral college, pointing out repeatedly that Clinton won the popular vote, as if this presidential election should have followed different rules than the previous 48.
As you prepare to take control of the House of Representatives, your inclination will be to spend the next two years exacting revenge, investigating the administration, and generally making Donald Trump’s life difficult. While this would be good entertainment, you would be doubling down on the partisan behavior that made a Trump presidency possible in the first place. You think the American people do not particularly love Donald Trump, and you’re right. But you also think this means they love you. They don’t. If you don’t change your ways now, you can fully expect to hand him the White House — again — in another two years.
This should become clear as you look at the electoral map. You did well with the coasts, as you always do. Where did you blunder? “Flyover country.” Think about that for a minute. Do you even realize how offensive that term is? You know who does? Everyone who lives in flyover country. They know your primary concern is with coastal elites. You will deny this, but you make it painfully obvious. Who runs the party? Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y). To represent the entirety of the country, you actually have to have real geographic diversity in your ranks. You can start by installing some middle Americans into visible leadership positions in Congress. Because if you think the Pelosi-Schumer wing of the party has much in common with regular Americans, we have a second Trump term to sell you.
You also seem to think your politics of division plays well. It doesn’t. You have done your level best to portray a world full of powerful villains and powerless victims: rich vs. poor, whites vs. minorities, men vs. women. You are surprised when women don’t vote en masse for your candidates, but you can’t seem to grasp the fact that every time you demonize men, you are demonizing their fathers, husbands, sons, and friends. The division you sell doesn’t match the reality they live. Hillary can blame her loss on sexism until the cows come home, but unless women believe it, and many don’t, she is spitting into the wind and all over a big chunk of the American electorate.
Similarly, you have had a lot of trouble convincing those rubes who cling to their guns and religion that if only they understood things better, they would be fully on board with you. But there are few things more obnoxious than telling people that they don’t know what’s good for them. You present yourselves as their moral and intellectual superiors. Is it any wonder they can’t wait to vote for the other guy?
No, the American people don’t like you, but they used to. Democrats used to stand for working people, not coastal elites. Democrats used to promote community, not divisiveness. Democrats used to campaign on principles, not political expediency. You offered liberal candidates who believed that people should be free, not progressive candidates who believe that people should be controlled. You used to offer candidates who cared more about serving people than ruling them.
Democrats, your two-year journey begins now. Find your way back to the American people. Most Americans don’t want another four years of Donald Trump. But they’ll take him over what you’ve been offering. Bet on it.
We’ll be back soon with a similar letter to our Republican friends. Until then, chew on these things and figure out how to do better. We all know that winning is your real goal, but here’s the good part for you: If you do better, you are more likely to win. So if you can’t do the right thing for the right reasons, do the right thing for your reasons. At least you will be doing the right thing for a change.
Antony Davies is associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James R. Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast Words & Numbers.