On election night, the first state that called for Donald Trump was Kentucky, a safely red state. It was a predictable call.
However, what transpired in the later hours of election night defied party lines. “Blue wall” states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that were considered safely Democratic flipped in Trump’s favor. Media pundits have described this as evidence that Trump has redrawn the ideological boundaries of this country, but I reject that interpretation.
The demographics associated with the states that Trump stole haven’t changed that dramatically since 2012. Trump’s victory on Tuesday night was a product of his keen awareness of the underlying mood in this country. He articulated an easily understandable message that matched American sentiments.
Many on the left will point to external influences as an explanation for Clinton’s loss, such as F.B.I. Director James Comey’s statements, years of conservative smears against Clinton and Trump’s exploitation of bigotry. CNN’s Van Jones even described Trump’s ascension as a “whitelash.”
Though none of those explanations are wrong, they are somewhat incomplete. Clinton was a steady, extremely well-qualified and consistent candidate. Accordingly, she promoted a platform that valued incrementalism over radicalism, pragmatism over ideological conviction and moderation over iconoclasm.
The problem is that status-quo politics, even if it’s the most rational option, isn’t popular when racial tensions are peaking, wages have been stagnant for more than a decade and the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen. Put simply, Trump realized this and Clinton didn’t.
The Democratic Party must continue to reject the bigotry that Trump and the growing “alt-right” are making mainstream. This is non-negotiable. However, the party also needs to critically look in the mirror and decide what its future identity will be.
Are we going to continue to dabble in the center-left or embrace a bold ideology that unequivocally demands economic, racial and gender equality? The success of the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements are indicators that young people, who are the future of the party, demand drastic social change.
The country is ready for a resolute brand of principled progressivism. The only question that remains is whether the Democratic Party can engage in the necessary soul searching in order to adapt to the demand for a philosophy more adventurous than the stale neo-liberalism of the ‘90s.
Matthew Brotz is a junior majoring in philosophy.