This election doesn’t feel good. I don’t feel good. It’s not what we wanted. This isn’t the grand repudiation of Trump and Trumpism that we thought this election could be. It’s more like limping over the finish line, bloodied and bruised than anything else, a pyrrhic victory instead of a triumphant return to normalcy.
There will be no doubt a lot of head-scratching, shifting of blame, diving into the misaligned polling, and sharp accusations lobbed in the coming weeks. All of the democratic factions will come out in force to offer up their weak takes as to what happened. Why was the blue wave more a blue trickle? Why after so much money and time and effort is spent, are the returns so little? What great reward can be gleaned from this night?
The buck will stop with Joe Biden of course. The blame will ultimately fall at his feet, some of it deserved, most of it likely not. The analysis will continue in the days and weeks and months to come. What i want to talk about right now though is narrative, and how insanely important it is to not only choose to feel good about what’s been accomplished tonight but also think about the story the Democratic party needs to tell in the coming fights.
Our fatal flaw was viewing Trump as weak.
I include myself in this sentiment. The truth is that he was never a weak candidate, yet Democrats consistently underestimate him. We made this mistake in 2016 and we made it again this year. Tonight is even more proof, but it’s something that should have been realized years ago. Trump is strong, not when it comes to policy but when it comes to optics. And that’s what politics is all about: optics. Trump has said he’s a fire-breathing dragon burning down a corrupt establishment. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true. He’s invoked this image convincingly and enough times to make it so.
Trump’s a dragon willing to burn it all down.
People like that. So even if trump loses which seems likely, his image and his ideology will remain, and it’s something the country and democrats need to deal with head-on. It’s clear what we have been doing hasn’t worked, so when red and blue meet again in 2022, something needs to change, radically even, or else democrats will get whipped again.
So how do we fight?
Seriously, stop underestimating Trump.
A common narrative for “democrats” who shall remain nameless is to blame Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden for failing to win well enough against trump, who in their view they characterized as one of the weakest candidates ever. This is a cynical take, divorced from reality. Trump is strong and he thrives on the whole world underestimating him. He excels when he’s labeled an underdog or dismissed outright.
People like underdogs. People are compelled to like that story. So when Trump consistently says he’s fighting against the big bad government — even when he, himself, is in charge — people like that. What democrats need to do is make clear that Trump and his Republican cronies are not underdogs. They have never been underdogs. Trump is a dragon. Trump is the final boss. Trump is Voldemort. Think of any big strong fantasy baddie. That’s trump and that’s Trumpism. They are the monster that has existed for thousands of years terrorizing the townfolk, and we are the knights coming to vanquish that evil.
Democrats must craft a compelling image of their own.
Democrats are in desperate need of a refurbished image. The adult in the room isn’t compelling to anyone. Making government boring again isn’t exciting or inspiring either. Going back to normalcy is deeply flawed too, because frankly, what was normal wasn’t that great for a lot of people to begin with. None of these work.
Fortunately, this election has made two things painfully clear. There’s no going back, and underdog stories are compelling. Obama used the underdog narrative repeatedly. Trump employed it successfully two times in a row. It’s the exact story that keeps propelling the squad to victory.
So the question is how do you slay a monster in fantasy? Not with a politician but the modern version of a knight, a gallant one who sets out on a dangerous quest to slay the terrifying dragon. The journey will undoubtedly be hard, the terrain will be unforgiving, and you will assuredly come back with scars, but through it all, you will secure victory.
That’s a story. That’s what should be the Democrat’s narrative. We are in a fight against overwhelming corruption, greedy power-brokers, and cruel nightmares. It’s a fight of good and evil, and good is perpetually outnumbered. It’s the last company of men being surrounded at the black gate, it’s the avengers making their last stand against thanos, and the alliance and horde coming together to face the burning legion. Democrats must reclaim that underdog narrative or they will continually be made into the boogieman.
Choose to feel good about this win.
So as we look out across electoral maps today, instead of feeling despair, feel hope. Realize that what we may have thought would be an easy quest was only ever going to be extremely difficult. Unseating an incumbent was never going to be a small task and the only way we were going to come back from this is bruised and bloodied.
But know this, the world is better off because of the work accomplished today. Democrats across the country should feel proud, take some time, and then get right back to work.
Originally published at https://robertpotter.co on November 4, 2020.