As for the 2016 election, Hillary clearly respected the long-standing tradition of accepting the results and wishing the new administration success. But she did not back away from what she stands for and her campaign positions. By contrast, President-elect Trump in less than 24 hours went from “lock her up” to praising her service and the many ways the Clintons have served the country’s interests. It is no wonder why so many look at politics with little interest and no respect. Frankly, it’s still too early to tell just what kind of president he wants to be—in one breath, he positions himself to be a diplomat ready to bring the divided country back together, but then he uses the other hours of the day to bring a mixture of far-right extremists and typical Washington insiders on to his team. As his extreme positions spark hate and create division among his base supporters and the more compassionate members of the American public, from a policy perspective, it has become clear that his populist persona during the campaign may end up being a front for the same special interests—that have run the state of Kansas into the ditch throughout the past few years—to soon have their way in Washington, D.C. And, given the struggles we’ve had in our state, watching the entire country go through the same self-inflicted disaster, especially when our national economy was close to turning the corner from one of the worst recessions in our history, will be difficult and frustrating to watch. And we can only hope that our country can come around to the realization, after way too many examples of failure—including right here in Kansas—that trickle-down economics simply doesn’t work and begin to correct course in the midterm elections before it’s too late.
As to the political lessons I take away, there are many, but it really boils down to just a couple that are significant. First, the national Democratic Party desperately needs a 50 state strategy similar to what Governor Howard Dean has been pushing for some time. The reason should be obvious, but I guess it isn’t. When the focus is only on the states needed to win the Electoral College, it should not be too surprising that so many states elect Republican Governors and Republican-controlled Legislatures. This leads to Republicans controlling reapportionment, which leads to maps that favor Republicans staying in power, which then leads to too many states failing to attract the talent that, over time and with experience, leads to quality Congressional candidates. The second lesson is that we have all too often forgotten Tip O’Neil’s simple advice that “all politics is local.” People see issues and priorities from their own perspectives and often respond poorly to ideas that don’t seem to address their main concerns. Many feel left out and ignored. Millions, frustrated with their economic status, were trying to say “it's the economy, stupid.” If the campaign message doesn’t resonate, you often fail to get the results you want. And, in the future, candidates who hope to stand up for middle class and working families will need to make it clear how their policy platforms will more adequately address issues of economic inequality and help build more bridges for frustrated citizens to get help re-tooling their skills and finding a place in the 21st Century economy, rather than vote against their own interests by supporting candidates whose policies only benefit those at the very top.
Finally, my best piece of advice for future citizen engagement efforts would be for passionate activists to pay close attention to the issues you care about. Perhaps it is an area of progress from the past eight years and the administration of President Barack Obama that you hope will continue, or it could be an issue that affects your family's livelihood or future generations. Whatever those core issues are for you, now is a more important time than ever to speak out and support those causes in any way that you can. As discouraging as the current climate may be, people do have the power to bring about change, and this will be absolutely critical to our future.
I plan to keep an eye on several issues throughout the coming presidential term and will occasionally have thoughts to share on my blog. But, for now, my interests and focus returns to the state of Kansas and building on the success we had with our coalition of Moderate Republicans and Democrats coming together for the best interests of Kansans. We now have an opportunity to be a model for the type of bipartisan problem solving and engagement that it will take to move both our state and country forward.