At first I was confused. So confused it made me want to go to sleep and wake up in a world that made more sense. Then I was scared for a long time. But after hours of restless thought and a series of scattered conversations, I think I understand a bit more what happened on Tuesday night, and why. So now, I’m angry. 

Let’s start with the basics. It’s important to note that not everybody who cast their ballots for Donald Trump did so because they like Donald Trump. Some do, and, in many of those cases, the long string of descriptors and indictments you’ve likely seen in a slew of wordy, didactic Facebook statuses about Trump’s horribleness, is deserved. But, in fact, when asked by the Pew Research Center in late October, 51 percent of Trump supporters responded that, more than anything else, they were voting against Hillary Clinton.

There were Trump voters in all 50 states who cast their ballots not because they were ignorant of the major flaws in their candidate or agreed with the terrible things he has said and done. They voted in spite of that, looking past the obvious and abundant negatives and seeing the potential for change. They did what a lot of liberals and Bernie Sanders supporters did when they decided to “come home” and support a Democratic nominee with a history of scandal and distrust of the media, whose views differed from their own. So thinking about Trump supporters as a horde of hateful, uneducated white supremacists and xenophobes is harmful to the conversation. Those people exist (and thrive) in his camp and for that there is no excuse, but they alone did not deliver him an electoral victory. Posting a Facebook status instructing anyone who voted for Trump to unfriend you in an attempt to retreat even further into your liberal bubble is harmful to the conversation.

In Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, white working-class voters had the choice between a candidate they despised, viewed as untrustworthy and who to them represented more of the same, and a wild card who presented an opportunity for change. It is absolutely essential to understand their point of view rather than run from them or call them names in order to ensure that this never happens again.

In the Democratic nominee, from the very beginning, these voters saw an embodiment of establishment politics that was not listening to them. Mitt Romney and George Bush’s GOP was the party of the wealthy, of young professionals and small businessmen who shared some of their core values but failed to bear the mantle of the working class. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s coalition was composed of young people, African Americans and Latinos. For all intents and purposes, the white working-class voter was forgotten and left out. Then Donald Trump descended from an escalator and gave them a voice. You may find irony, as I do, in the fact that a man who has spent his life ripping off contractors and litigating his way out of paying workers is now their champion. But in Trump, they feel heard. On Tuesday night, they made it clear that the Democratic Party cannot win by simply rebuilding the Obama coalition time and again while losing touch with the white working class.

So when I say that I’m angry, I don’t mean that I blame Trump supporters, without discretion and across the board, for the next four years. I disagree profoundly with the choice these voters made, but I’m beginning to understand more and more why they made it.

I cannot adequately express my anger, however, with the Democratic Party. I am a registered Democrat, I have campaigned and volunteered for Democrats, and my room is littered with T-shirts, stickers and posters in support of Democrats. But I will happily join the millions of liberals across the country who are saying, in no uncertain terms, that our party failed us. No one could have seen this coming? If a political party cannot organize to defeat the least qualified and most disliked candidate in the history of presidential politics (not to mention that it cannot obtain a majority in either house of Congress), what purpose does that party serve me?

One can speculate about what would have happened had Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden been the nominee, but Jan. 20 is not all that far away and we have bigger fish to fry, so hindsight can wait. Here I am, trying to understand what happened a little more today than I did yesterday, absolutely furious with my party and terrified what the next four years will hold. So let’s start with the basics.

Liberals are no longer burdened with the defense of the Clintons or NAFTA or the emails or the neoliberalist policies of the 1990s. Finally.

There is an enormous population of white working-class voters who feel like they haven’t been heard, and it’s time to find a way to bring them into the fold, not because it’ll make a winning coalition, but because those people are hurting and it’s the right thing to do.

There are at least two long years of being in the minority ahead, and names on Capitol Hill such as Sanders and Warren, Harris and Booker have work to do — filibusters to hold, aisles to reach across and moral high grounds to take.

In the most immediate future, we have to make people in our lives who have been shaken to the core by this election feel less alone. Tell them that Trump voters aren’t all racists and bigots, and that the republic will stand, by sheer will if nothing else. Liberals and progressives are not all moving to Canada. We’re staying right here to make sure that this country does not lose the progress that has been made, drawing lines in the sand, saying that civil rights and human rights and health care and the environment and the safety of friends and neighbors are non-negotiable. Fired up, ready to go.

Brett Graham can be reached at

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