…to our Grave New World. Come January 20th, our president will be a misogynistic bigot, with the attention span of a  “a 9-year old with ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder].” He arguably owes his election to a media feeding frenzy over his opponent’s mishandled emails and to help from a foreign dictator to whom his ties remain as mysterious as his taxes, and whom he seems to trust more than he does U.S. intelligence agencies.

So much of this is so surreal. It’s like a bad, unbelievable movie. Or like a brilliant one: the Peter Sellers political satire, “Being There” – though that film featured a much more benign would-be president. Our own real-life drama is like something out of The Twilight Zone – or, worse yet, Black Mirror.


…there’s a silver lining in these depressingly dark clouds: the prospect of electing a more effective progressive than Clinton come 2020 and regaining ground before then.

But wait: a more effective progressive? Didn’t Hillary herself fit that bill? Where’s the silver lining in waiting four years, for some as-yet unidentified savior to rise from some uncertain streets?


Let’s start with the effective part. Due to both continuing congressional Republican intransigence and her own political shortcomings, President Hillary Clinton might well have had a very troubled term.

Don’t get me wrong: My respect for Hillary’s toughness, experience and policy wonkiness grew through the campaign. But we’re not electing a Policy-Wonk-in-Chief as president. We’re electing, among other things, a Politician-in-Chief. And she’s now lost two campaigns she should have won (even taking into account Obama’s appeal in 2008 and the emails and the Russians in 2016).

It’s fair to say, then, as one leading Clinton ally did, that her political “instincts are suboptimal” – as are her skills as a candidate, a communicator and many other political roles that make for a successful presidency. For instance, given her bulky political baggage, it would not have been political rocket science to forego those lucrative, damaging (though apparently anodyne) Wall Street speeches.


Which brings us to the progressive part of what President Hillary Clinton might have been. The development professional in me would have cheered her devotion to women’s equal rights around the world, as well as other ways in which she would have tried to shine. But with economic inequality arguably the driving issue of our age, Clinton’s deep Wall Street roots contradict her supposed commitment to real financial reforms and cement her connection to the status quo.


Again, don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly not saying that Trump’s victory was a blessing in disguise, nor that Clinton might not have done a lot of good, nor that I’ve covered all the reasons (not least simple sexism) that she lost. And I’m in no way denying that there are dismal days ahead – though I still hope against hope that Trump could yet surprise us in some positive ways.

Instead, I’m saying that the country could unseat Trump and elect a better president than Clinton four years from now. Certainly, her loss in November dispels the notion (something I’d assertively accepted) that tilting toward a mushy middle ground is necessarily the way to win the White House.

Furthermore, with a Republican President Trump rather than a Democratic President Clinton in office, the historical pattern of the president’s party losing by-election seats could mean we get a better Congress come 2018.

Yes, I’m reaching for a silver lining here. But it’s not an impossible dream. And it’s far better than giving in to a nightmare. Which brings me to…


At a recent holiday dinner, a friend offered an astute admonition: Previous generations of Americans have had to struggle to get here, overcome adversity, battle for justice; now it’s our turn to take up the fight.

How to do so? By whatever steps suits someone: donating, writing, speaking, organizing, marching, fighting for specific populations or principles, seeking local or national victories where one can, reaching out to allies despite deep differences, reaching out to the many Trump supporters motivated by something other than malice. I’ll offer some specifics some other time.

There’s no guarantee that any such steps will make a difference. But it’s clear where this country is heading if too many folks abstain from action. In other words…


Thankfully, 2016 is finally behind us. The new year confronts us with an unprecedented state of alienating affairs, but also with an old, reliable reality that dates to the founding of our republic: Democracy takes work.

And democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s our turn to prove that point.










Based in Oakland, California, Stephen Golub writes, consults and teaches about international development, with a particular focus on justice, democracy, human rights and governance issues. Currently teaching part-time at Central European University in Budapest and previously at the University of California at Berkeley, he has worked in over 40 countries and with such organizations as Amnesty International, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Ford and Open Society Foundations, the U.K. Department for International Development, the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank

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