The die is cast. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee; Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. I leave it to each of you to go through the five stages of grieving at your own pace. The time has come to ask, What is to be done? I am going to argue that each of us must do whatever possible to ensure that Hillary Clinton wins the election, and also whatever possible to transform Bernie’s campaign into a genuine movement.
I ask a favor of each of you: spare me the impassioned and accusatory list of reasons why Clinton is horrible. I know them all, and agree with them all. What is more, I am older than almost everyone who reads this blog, in many cases fifty or sixty years older. If Clinton is elected, and if her Wall Street soulmates will refrain from again crashing the American economy, she is likely to be re-elected, which means that I will be ninety-one when she leaves office. Don’t talk to me about despair!
First of all, it is essential to defeat Trump in the general election. He is a hateful, narcissistic, rabble-rousing sociopath. Might he make decisions as President that would be objectively better than those made by Clinton? Of course. Mussolini made the trains run on time. Might he appoint Supreme Court justices that would set this country back half a century? Almost certainly. You don’t care about that? Well, I have a proud gay son, and I do. Suck it up. Nobody guaranteed you a world full of happy choices between the good, the better, and the best.
But that is just the short term desideratum. What we need in this country is a progressive movement, and as Bernie is fond of saying, change always comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. That means everyone must vote in off-year elections. Everyone must join and in some way support a movement from below in cities, in states, as well as in the nation as a whole. You don’t like “bathroom bills” like North Carolina’s HB2? Then work to defeat the governor who signed it into law. You want to do something about income inequality? That will require progressive majorities in both Houses of Congress, and even then it is hardly guaranteed. You thrill to the news that millennials have a favorable opinion of socialism, even though they haven’t a clue what it is? Then start organizing.
There is no end of the things needed to bring about change. We need people who will march, and people who will sit down and link arms. We need people who will run for the local School Committee and people who will fold and stuff envelopes. We need people who will go door to door, and people who will set up information tables at the local supermarket. The first rule of all political change is: Choose something you like to do, because you will have to keep on doing it even when the excitement evaporates and the media move on to the next Big Thing. And you will have to still be doing it thirty years from now. Finally, take to heart the advice that Paul Newman gives to Robert Redford about how to play the Big Con against Robert Shaw in The Sting: If you win, it will not be enough, but it is all you are going to get, so you will have to accept it for what it is.
What will I be doing? Well, I hate going door to door and talking to people I do not know, but I can give money, and that is something, even if it is not the most important thing. So I have given $2,500 to Bernie’s campaign, and I will give regularly to a movement if he will start it. I can write, so I will do that. Lord knows, writing is pretty low on the list of desiderata, but somebody needs to do it, and I am pretty good at it. What matters is doing something rather than nothing. If we are to be successful, we will need, at a minimum, ten million people marching together. Don’t worry if you are not one of the parade marshals. Think of social change as being like a landslide. If one big tree becomes uprooted and rolls down a mountainside, that is an interesting event, but it does not change the mountain. But when a hundred thousand trees, bushes, boulders, and pebbles roll down the same side of the hill, the mountain is changed forever.
So much for my sermon. Can I get an amen?