“What are we going to tell the kids about this?”
For many Americans, the worst moment of election night wasn’t the 3 a.m. victory speech by Donald Trump. In the hours that followed, parents stole into the rooms where their children slept and counted the hours before the school day began on Wednesday, dreading the conversation to come.
Kids look to their parents for safety and assurance. For weeks, even many Republican households believed that Trump was headed to sure, if perhaps narrow, defeat. In an effective Clinton ad, Trump’s avalanche of insults and mockery were replayed with a mosaic of children watching them on television.
As Halloween approached, it was clear that Trump was already the all-season boogeyman for quite a few American kids at the dawning of their political awareness. Moms and dads mulling how to talk to their young children about sex were suddenly discussing the phrase “grab them by the pussy” at the Saturday breakfast table. The same children taught to be mindful at home and school saw relentless evidence that there was no real consequence to being cruel.
And today, the questions posed by faces with teary eyes: Will my friends not be able to see some of my friends anymore? Is there going to be a wall? Is anybody going to stop him from being mean to people?
That is not to say Trump did not attract the support of many young people. One school friend of mine took to Facebook over the summer to mourn the loss of a former member from his soccer team in a motorcycle accident. The boy was a big Trump fan, and his parents spoke movingly of his support for Trump at a Pennsylvania rally for the candidate last week.
Those same young people, on both left and right, don’t recognize the political restrictions of the establishment, dismissing experience and sometimes even condemning it. As a result, we now have the first man to have never served in the military or held an elective office standing before us as president-elect. He won’t be the last.
Democrats, the self-defined party of children and families, must begin accounting for their failures. They can start by contemplating their culpability in allowing a uniquely bad role model to occupy the Oval Office.
Hillary Clinton’s party, if it is to have the political future not available to their vanquished candidate, must confront a legion of errors that led to their losses.
Among them is the clearly flawed — or nonexistent — ground game in the swing states where Trump gave Clinton a pasting. Then there’s the yearlong failure to hammer home the news that the economy is growing, letting Trump’s apocalyptic narrative take hold with disaffected voters. The missed opportunities to field better candidates in House races, and backing former lawmakers in the Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin Senate races who were all rejected as retreads.
Clinton, in her concession speech, wistfully spoke of the prospect of the nation someday electing a female president. But a glance at the party’s bench shows a deficit that will hurt them in the quest to knock off Trump in a re-election bid.
This devastating loss leaves Democrats betting that someone like Kamala Harris, the senator-elect from California, jumps on the Obama fast track to the presidency.
Then there’s the fact that Democrats and Republicans don’t play by the same rules. Nor does the GOP waste time on political politesse. Some of its leaders spent the evening of Barack Obama’s first inaugural at the high-end restaurant The Caucus Room plotting to make him a one-term president. According to author Robert Draper, a writer with first-class sources, Paul Ryan, the current speaker of the House, was one of those plotting strategy.
Two years later, a commitment to functioning government led Obama to agree to the Budget Act of 2011 mandating nonnegotiable cuts to federal programs to force both parties to negotiate a broader spending deal.
In the end, Republicans learned to tolerate “sequestration” even when it trimmed the Pentagon’s budget. And our first African-American president wound up presiding over automatic cuts to social programs providing Head Start and drugs for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS.
Our new president won’t have nearly the same commitment to government or attention to detail as Obama. Nor will he have to care much — his party controls both houses of Congress and may benefit from opportunistic Supreme Court resignations, giving Republicans chance to replace the aging ideologue Clarence Thomas with a much younger model built to last well into the 21st century.
Democrats may find that the only way to be relevant in this new environment is to adopt the same Constitution-threatening behaviors they’ve seen from Republicans.
And they have just less than three months to book a room at a restaurant for January 20 to sort out how to stop the legislative freight train.
“I should get away with it because Donnie got away with it,” is a pouty argument usually rejected by parents. But for the vanquished Democrats, it may be the necessary first step back from their historic failure.
Ellis is chief content officer of CQ Roll Call.