Five reasons for progressive hope in the Trump era

By Tom Krattenmaker

USA TODAY, January 20, 2017

At the dawn of the Trump presidency, to be a progressive is to feel buried under an avalanche of wrong: the shocking election of an unqualified, undignified man to the White House, the unjust repudiation of an admirable Obama presidency and a period of substantial progress; a seeming victory for bigotry, nationalism, and ignorance.

Hope is hard to find. Yet hope is needed for people to carry on. The good news for true-blue progressives is that there are real reasons for hope in this time of fear and loathing, including the following five:


Despite all that went haywire in the November election, the underlying demographic trends remain — and they bode well for progressives. Even if the Trump administration brought all immigration to a halt today, Americans will continue to become more diverse in terms of race, religion, and other characteristics.

To the extent that today’s progressive movement is fueled by diversity and people’s growing comfort with it, the winds are blowing in progressives’ favor. Age, too, is a factor in this dynamic. Data show that the millennial generation is more diverse and, among whites, more at ease with diversity than older generations. As the members of this younger generation age, those progressive values will follow them to mainstream status. Or so the theory goes.

Trump phenomenon has little to sustain it

Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House is a phenomenon with the markings of a one-and-done. It revolves around a singular celebrity personality. Distinct from the Republican party, which sports organizational strength at the local, state, and national levels — and which the new president flouted all the way to the top — “Trumpism” has almost nothing going for it by way an infrastructure or movement. Its Electoral College success came despite Trump finishing nearly 3 million votes behind an unexciting Democratic opponent burdened by decades’ worth of accumulated baggage.

In view of all this, and the fact that the white Christians who propelled Trump to office move deeper into minority status with each passing day, Trumpism is an “-ism” with a bleak long-term future. Barring apartheid-light voter suppression or Democratic and progressive incompetence of epic proportions, it seems more than possible that future generations will see the 2016 election as the last hurrah for once-dominant American identity running on its final fumes.

GOP will bear the burden of governing

Is there more to Trump than bluster and hot air? Does the conservative GOP have something to offer beyond grievance and empty rhetoric? We are in the early stages of finding out. And if progressives are more right than wrong in their understanding the world, the answers could turn many voters against conservatives for a long time to come.

Exhibit A: health care. Confusion and national grumpiness about the Affordable Care Act have provided Republicans with endless political benefits. As many a quipster has noted, Trump and the GOP are like the dog that catches up with the car it’s been chasing: What do they do now?

Lest they go down as the party that took health care away from tens of millions of Americans, leaving many to die prematurely for lack of prompt and high quality care, they have to accomplish something they show little sign of being able to do: go beyond simplistic talking points and master an incredibly complex political and public policy challenge.

Good luck with that, GOP. And good luck answering to voters if you fail.

Progressive movement energized

It’s striking to hear so little “I’m-moving-to-Canada” nonsense from progressives post-election. Instead we find a grim determination to stay, and fight.

Obviously, this can go too far. Progressives would be foolish not to lend support if the Trump administration brings forward sensible policies that benefit people. But with so many progressive values and constituents under threat, a fighting spirit is what this moment requires — and what we see.

Take, for instance, the effort to flood Congress members’ offices with calls of concern about health care repeal. And the women’s march on Saturday, already being described as the biggest inauguration protest ever.

As the punk icon John Lydon famously sang, “Anger is an energy.” So is anxiety. There’s been plenty of both right now. The task is to channel them productively and sustainably.

All is not lost

Fueling progressive angst is the imminent undoing of the accomplishments and legacy of the widely admired outgoing president. But comfort can be found in knowing that an African-American named Barack Hussein Obama was elected president twice, and that he comported himself with dignity, discipline and class during his eight years in the White House.

Yes, that happened. As did society’s growing inclusion of many Americans who had long been excluded. Even if Trump and the GOP Congress are able to roll it all back, this progress will remain indelibly etched in the nation’s history.

“Yes we can, yes we did,” Obama declared in his farewell speech. And as progressives ought to remind themselves, yes we can again, whatever havoc this next administration might wreak.

A member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, Tom Krattenmaker is a writer specializing in religion in public life and communications director at Yale Divinity School. His new book is titled Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower.