I think I knew what was going to happen around 11 pm on election night. President Trump was really going to happen. I live in a small town south of Tallahassee. During the 2000 election recount, I lived inside Tallahassee city limits. Then, like now, the Democratic candidate won Leon County but did not win the votes needed to put the state in the blue win column.
Hillary Clinton won Leon County, where Tallahassee is located. In my town, not really even a town – just a named county seat, the electoral count told a different story. Donald Trump won Wakulla County. In fact, Donald Trump won most of North Florida and the Panhandle.
Around 11 pm on election night, I was in a room full of Democrats in Tallahassee. It was my final stop on a night of visits to candidate hosted election return watch parties. This last party was hosted by someone who did win that night – Congressman Al Lawson. For many, congratulations offered to the newly elected congressman were tempered by alarm over what was being reported on large screens showing cable news feeds with national election returns.
By the next morning, I knew we weren’t going to face a long recount like we did in 2000. What I didn’t know for sure on that November post-election day morning was whether campaign trail Donald Trump was going to govern in the same manner as he had campaigned once he was sworn into office.
By the one hundred day mark of the Trump administration, it became clear that campaign trail Donald Trump and President Trump were cut from the same cloth and what we saw during the months leading up to inauguration would be the new governance normal in the United States.
In May, the nation’s Democratic faithful were given a new plot twist to pin their hopes on when the firing of the FBI Director was followed by the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Special investigations aside, Democrats now find themselves inhabiting a strange post-Obama world where themes of resistance have emerged as new waves of civil engagement and social activism sweep across the nation’s city centers.
But what about the not-quite-a-town communities, like the one where I live? Is there a pocket of resistance in rural communities like mine?
In North Florida and in communities across Florida’s Panhandle, the resistance is evident in packed community meetings, letter writing campaigns, and in donations to social support programs like Meals on Wheels.
Other resistance efforts take the form of “die-in” protest events at Senator Marco Rubio’s offices – which happened on the same day in May across Florida at all of Rubio’s local offices.
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Deep in Republican territory, Panhandle activists follow a Facebook page called “Bay Indivisible”. The page is devoted to resisting the Trump administration. The page founders advocate using the national Indivisible Guide for resistance advocacy. On June 3, the group will hold a protest march in the
Panama City area.
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Weekly efforts abound in the form of gatherings such as postcard writing parties, advertised via social media. This Sunday in Tallahassee, local activists can meet up for a postcard writing event at a local brewery:
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Home-based letter writing as a form of protest has also emerged as an old school way to resist. Between the Resistance-inspired resurgence of stamp advocacy via postcards and letters, the United State Postal Service may have found new relevance in an otherwise increasingly digital correspondence world.
Apart from these efforts, what does this talk of “resistance” really mean? Does it just mean we plan marches, jam the Congressional phone lines, and watch Hulu series like “The Handmaiden’s Tale” in abject horror for four years?
Nationally, the appeal of the “resistance” appears strong. On Twitter, there are multiple accounts using the word “resistance in their name – including the alt-accounts that were started by “rogue” government employees. A search of the resistance hashtag also illustrates the wide appeal with people using it to post political commentary, retweet posts deemed in the resistance spirit, or to generally express opposition to the political zeitgeist of Trump World.
What do these digital and grassroots efforts mean for Democrats in Florida? Poll watchers hoping for an early midterm sign were disappointed in the outcome of a recent Montana congressional special election. The race drew national attention after the Republican contender body slammed a reporter shortly before Election Day. The real takeaway from this defeat is that last minute candidate gaffes or even, in this case, what may turn out to be an actual adjudicated crime will not propel weak candidates to victory in areas where Donald Trump won with points to spare in 2016.
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For Florida Democrats hungry for a gubernatorial win after twenty years of Republican rule, hopes for 2018 are fueling arguments across the state about ideology and strategy. Remarks by newly hired party president Sally Boynton Brown about how to message to voters ignited a social media firestorm. After the dust settled, the clear takeaway was that the ideological rifts of 2016 remain deep chasms that continue to divide the party. It has been said, most recently by longtime political reporter Bill Cotterell, that the Democrats HAVE a progressive arm (in Florida’s case, a caucus) but that the Republican Party IS a conservative caucus.
Historically, Democrats have cited the party’s “big tent” approach as a strength. Can the “big tent” still welcome Democrats of widely differing ideologies? Or was November 2016 a tent shredding storm? In a state where Democrats have lost the governor’s mansion by a percentage point, every possible vote across every county will matter.
With so much uncertainty and so little party unity, questions about the party’s shot at electoral wins plague races up and down the 2018 ballot. A gubernatorial win would do much to not only stabilize but also revitalize a wounded Democratic Party. An early prediction – the candidate who bridges the divide and adopts the “party healer” mantle will win the primary and stand the best chance of turning Florida blue in a midterm year for the first time in twenty years.
If the tent was shredded in 2016, it’s because it hasn’t worked. That analogy has always grated on me because it conveys that you can believe anything you want and call yourself a Democrat. That does nothing but confuse voters. We have to be a values-based party, and we have to fight for our values. If not, we’re going to continue getting our clocks cleaned.
I appreciate what you are saying. That said, what set of values did Democrats run on in 2016? Was voter confusion part of our loss last November?
To arms, I suppose…but before anyone pulls their sword and gets in the RIPE way, consider: post election, John Podesta and Jennifer Palmieri pinned blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss on a host of uncontrollable things that ultimately felled a well-run campaign that executed a sensible strategy, and a soldier of a candidate who appealed to the broadest coalition of voters in the country. (that is BS) They shot down questions about whether they should have run a more populist campaign with a greater appeal to angry white voters, pointing to exit polls that showed Clinton beat Trump on the issue of the economy. (that is wrong as well) They explained that internal polling from May showed that attacking Trump on the issue of temperament was a more effective message. (I note that drum hasn’t quieted) Palmieri said in an email to Podesta, “Make a virtue of her longevity, embrace all the Clinton-ness — the forty years in politics, the decades on the national stage…Maybe folks had Clinton fatigue at one point, now they are just seen as part of the fabric of America. Hillary won’t go away, she is indefatigable, she just keeps at it, and you can trust her to get the job done.”.
While others in the campaign reflected “She was the wrong messenger and everyone misjudged how pissed working class people were.” Far too much energy and air time was expended defending the paid speeches Clinton delivered to Wall Street banks, pay-to-play accusations about the Clinton Foundation, and fallout of Clinton’s decision to set up a private email server at the State Department. Defending Hillary became the energy of the campaign. The paid speeches and the glitzy fundraisers did not paint a picture of a woman connected to the real suffering in the country. She lost…and without delay began blaming everyone and anything. Misogyny, Comey, Russia, Wikileaks, 1000 Russian Bots, and just today, the DNC…Hillary said, “I set up my campaign and we have our own data operation…I get the nomination, so I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party…I mean it was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money in it.” Andrew Therriault characterized that as ‘pretty precious’ since “she used the DNC as a way to funnel more money toward her campaign because of the higher contributing limits for political parties… Clinton used the DNC as a ‘laundering vehicle”.
And then there was the issue with Bernie Sanders. I think the majority of people in this country believe Hillary Clinton owns that. The short version of this is that Hillary lost because of her own deeds and inaction. There is nothing proactive about or with commiserating with Hillary Clinton’s version of why she wasn’t elected. She owns that for sure. Move on…repair.
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