Grief is provoked by all manner of stimuli, but the way it is expressed is curiously uniform. Many are familiar with the Kubler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, which postulates that terminally ill patients will experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance on their journey to death.
This model could be applied to the Democratic Party and its supporters in the wake of Donald Trump’s shock victory – though members at different levels of the party appear to be going through the stages at varying rates.
A large swathe of the grassroots are still in denial, clinging to the hope that the Green Party’s push for a recount in key states could overturn the election.
Others are angry. These are the higher-ups, the organizers and field officers, those with a window into Hillary Clinton’s electoral strategy who knew it sucked.
A great many more are at the bargaining stage. Yes, with the result itself, hence the petitioning of the electoral college by vexed anti-Trump voters, but also with the Democratic Party.
Members of this group include young, newly-engaged activists – many of whom consider themselves independents or only became involved in Democratic politics this cycle – as well as older Democratic loyalists who’ve become disillusioned with the party under Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Add the tide of people looking to do anything and everything to frustrate the Trump presidency – let’s call them the Anti-Trumpists – and you have the makings of a movement that could reshape the Democratic Party.
The debate right now is whether the party can return an investment of their energy and idealism with tangible political dividends – or whether they could find richer rewards elsewhere.
Prejudicing matters against the Democratic Party is the fact that legions of Anti-Trumpists see a chasm separating them from the Democratic leadership. This gulf was opened before the election when activists discovered the DNC’s cynical attempts to undermine the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, and has widened since the launch of a messy battle for the leadership between the White House and the party’s progressive wing.
Certain Anti-Trumpists may, not without cause, feel the party is a busted flush – too dominated by entrenched interests and governed by elites to be a suitable vehicle for their brand of political activism. These outsiders could be lured instead to the myriad single issue groups springing up to combat specific aspects of the Trump agenda. They may even be moved to form their own party – perhaps something along the lines discussed in left-wing journal The Jacobin.
However, others may feel the time is more suited to an internal takeover of the party rather than a mass exodus. Many who took to the streets and filled meeting rooms following the election believe a change has to come. At a recent Manhattan Young Democrats gathering, 28-year-old activist Nick Zehnder said he hoped Trump’s victory “puts a boot up their asses and we get a significant change in leadership and direction.”
It’s not just millennials who feel this way, either. Speaking on a march through Manhattan on the Saturday following the election, 70-year-old Sue said she felt the party wasn’t “progressive enough” and “too on the side of the elite.”
These activists don’t seem ready to throw in the towel on the Democratic Party yet – and organisations like ‘You Matter’ seem to be angling to channel the energy unleashed by the election into the party, rather than see it expended elsewhere.
Time will tell whether the final stage of grief experienced by the Anti-Trumpists results in an acceptance of the Democratic Party – or a rejection of it.
Image via The Upstander (CC BY-SA 4.0)