As someone who calls Nebraska, a deeply red state, home, I am sometimes too sympathetic towards President Donald Trump’s supporters. At times, I’m too willing to assign the best intentions even to the most extreme of them. Other times I’m too unforgiving. I’m sick of trying to rationally explain why they think and act and vote they way they do, even when none of it seems to deserve an explanation or make sense.
Regardless, I realize that just because I grew up in Nebraska doesn’t mean I know everything about Trump’s constituency, and neither does my reading of polls and studies about them. It takes effort to try to understand both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of this demographic, and I hope that columns like mine, one that I’ve tried to make as research-based but approachable as possible, help us accomplish this. This effort is especially necessary at places like Harvard, where so much of the student body—and the school’s most visible culture—is made up of well-off, liberal students from highly educated families in the Northeast. Republicans are rare and Trump supporters are next to nonexistent. Harvard needs to be a part of the discussion about a region and a people who, for several decades, were largely dismissed as politically irrelevant, but now demand our awareness and commentary, for their sake, and for our own. Our agency as Harvard students is powerful, and we should use it to benefit their communities and make us more informed and worldly. At a school whose motto is “truth,” we owe it to ourselves to learn as much as possible about the world we live in.
As Democrats, we can’t only focus on what’s wrong with Trump. We spend 24 hours a day of television and thousands of words in hundreds of op-eds reporting on and analyzing the President’s speeches, actions, and tweets. Trump’s behavior is worthy of our attention, but we can’t let his four-year term slip by without spending time looking at our party introspectively. In the wake of Trump’s startling election, we briefly realized this—when nearly every major poll and newspaper incorrectly predicted a win by Secretary Hillary Clinton, Democrats and political pundits realized that something was gravely wrong, not only with our polling, but also with our understanding of the political landscape of the country. That sense of urgency has disappeared. It’s hard to focus on our own faults when something goes wrong in the White House every day, but we should use the faults of Trump, the Senate, and the Republican National Committee to motivate us to recognize and fix our own.
Democrats have to find grounding, and we need a palpable objective other than criticizing Trump—not because it isn’t deserved, but because if we continue, we will otherwise find ourselves lost in 2018 for the House and Senate elections, and in 2020 for the presidential race.
Practically speaking, 2018 House and Senate elections could be massively fruitful for Democrats. Several Senate and House seats have the chance to go blue in the Midwest alone. Debra S. Fischer, a first-term senator from Nebraska whose voting patterns align with Trump’s over 90 percent of the time, will be up for re-election. In Missouri and Indiana, two senators, Claire C. McCaskill and Joe S. Donnelly, respectively, will also be up for reelection. Each is a Democrat, but their seats are listed as “toss-ups” by election-predicting website 270ToWin, underscoring the importance of those elections. House races in the Midwest are also important. In what 270ToWin places as the only “toss-up” election in any Midwestern state besides Minnesota in 2018, Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District will likely have the choice between incumbent Republican Donald J. Bacon and a Democratic opponent. There are fewer and fewer swing states and districts, and we have to take advantage of the opportunities that we have; other “competitive” House elections will take place in Illinois’s 6th and 12th districts, as well as Iowa’s 1st and 3rd.
To win seats, Democrats need several strategies, as well as a a leader. Since the election, there has been no one to lead the party in a unified resistance, or to pitch a plan of action. Democrats must also convince former Republicans that they have a place in the party. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote last week that, “More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: ‘I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.’” These “homeless” former Republicans have to be convinced that they should vote Democrat rather than either abstaining or voting for independents.
Voting participation continues to become more and more important. As we (hopefully) learned in 2016, it’s not safe to stay at home and assume that the election will work out the way we want it to. Especially in midterm elections, the turnout among younger and less-wealthy people is low.
While there are a ton of reasonable ways to contribute politically, and each member of the Harvard community and beyond should find where they can contribute. Some areas are more in need than others. Canvassing and campaigning in the Northeast is valuable, but we have to remember the communities that need it most: the forgotten cities and counties in the Midwest that not only have potential to turn blue, but are clearly in political distress. We have to remember what allowed Trump to happen—from his persona, to his appeal to evangelicals, to his exploitation of the Midwest—and we have to truly internalize it. Otherwise, we can’t move forward.
Kelsey R. Thomas ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is an English concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.