Let’s start with some facts:
Democrats were not going to flip the Senate.
Beto O’Rourke was not going to win Texas. Andrew D. Gillum was not going to win Florida.
No wave was coming to turn every red district and state blue.
But if you had said any of this to the average, politically involved, tweeting-about-how-important-it-is-to-vote Harvard progressive, they would have looked at you in horror, like you had two heads and a blue tail.
Never mind that it was nearly impossible for Democrats to flip the Senate. Never mind that Beto never overtook Cruz in the polls. Never mind that Florida has not made a decent electoral decision since the beginning of time.
Okay, that last one is a joke. (Mostly.)
But the rest stand, and still, none of these facts mattered for Harvard liberals, who live in echo chambers so powerful that they transform hope into fact.
Everyone knows that Harvard students self-segregate into ideological echo chambers, whether through partisan student organizations, closed cultural groups, or even friendships. But during these recent midterm elections, I’ve seen that self-segregation results in blindness. Entrenched in their political silos, students forget the dynamic realities of this country.
For progressive students seeking political change, this is especially troubling, since change is impossible without understanding the realities which limit it. Yet many act as if these limitations simply do not exist.
Just to be clear, I myself am (more than) progressive. I would love to have more progressives in office (seeing Beto knock that smirk off Lyin’ Ted’s face would be the cherry on top). And I admire the work of of all candidates and volunteers during this election season. Campaigning is hard and often thankless, but it is important. Those who work overtime in contested districts deserve praise for their perseverance and their determination to keep fighting in a democracy in which the rules are not always fair.
So my goal is not to undermine the hard work of those working towards flipping counties and states, and I don’t wish to say that this is impossible. But students have forgotten (or perhaps choose to ignore the existence of) the realities which limit the dream of a blue country — that America elected Donald Trump with eyes wide open, that the map is red counties, coast to coast, that most Americans do not identify as liberal.
And when progressives ignore the electorate, they forget that their policies do not reflect constituents, and they lose elections. This week, Twitter was in an uproar after voters rejected Beto’s progressive policy platform. How could Texans not want universal health care, a ban on assault rifles, a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals? But this shock reflected a complete lack of understanding of the fact that, forget deep-red Texas, such policies are not even unanimously desired in the country. Not even close.
Not only do students not understand how deeply split the country is, they don’t understand the other side’s reasoning. I can count on one hand the number of Harvard progressives I know who know conservative arguments on any major political issue. Even less are able to rebut these arguments. And almost no one recognizes that strong arguments on the other side that can reveal major flaws in the progressive framework and that these flaws must be addressed.
Instead, echo chambers convince Harvard progressives that with their genius, they can bring the entire country along to their blue revolution.
So students get caught up in a fantasy of saving this country from conservatives, and they forget that millions choose conservative politics and politicians year after year. Then, instead of trying to understand these voters, student activists create imagined versions of red states and counties, in which all voters need is enlightenment provided by those with Harvard educations in order to see the truth. The Harvard student swoops in, the voters are enlightened, and bam — the state goes blue. It’s a savior complex, rooted in arrogance. In the long run, it achieves nothing.
Because these states are red for a reason, and deep-seated ideologies are fueling the voters on the other side. Often, these ideologies are rooted in staunch racism as well. How many white voters voted for Cruz — the same group that allowed Trump to win? How many rejected Gillum — for reasons that were often explicitly racially motivated?
For those who are other, this racism is impossible to forget. We know what this country is; we were not surprised in 2016. But for ivory-skinned-ivory-tower Harvard liberals, none of this registers. Only their determination to make-America-blue is real.
And even though the system is not always fair, with gerrymandering and institutionalized voter suppression in many places, this does not mean that every election progressives lose is rigged. Rather, every election includes the hundreds of millions of Americans who are not progressive. It includes hundreds of millions of Americans who are convinced either by their conservative ideologies or by their deep rooted racism. We need to understand that these people exist, that there are plenty of them, and that they will not “turn blue” on a Harvard whim.
When progressives don’t understand this, we lose.
So let’s step out of the ivory tower. I know it’s nice here. I know celebrating is tempting. But if Democrats really want to unseat President Trump in 2020, they can’t be content with gaining some ground in midterms (which is common for the party opposing the president). Winning is going to take more than blind hope. Winning is going to take understanding the realities that aren’t so rosy.
So if you’re a progressive who wants change? Step one isn’t phone banking or tweeting or even registering to vote. Step one is seeing America as it is — red, blue, and everything in between.
Shireen Younus ’20, a Crimson Editorial Comp Director, is a Government concentrator in Pforzheimer House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.