Politics

More Democrats Should Be Talking Like Harry Reid Right Now

He acknowledged the terror many Americans are feeling.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid speaks during a news briefing at the Capitol on Sept. 20 in Washington.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

In a little more than two months, an unstable authoritarian who has run on a platform of registering, policing, and deporting racial and religious minorities will become president of the United States. As a country, we have no template for responding to this. The temptation among mainstream journalists and politicians is to treat Donald Trump as a normal Republican. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama failed to strike a note of defiance in their postelection speeches. People magazine, whose own reporter was assaulted by Trump, has a gauzy cover story on “President Trump.” Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren issued a sort-of olive branch, saying in a statement to the Boston Globe, “President-elect Trump promised to rebuild our economy for working people, and I offer to put aside our differences and work with him on that task.”

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It is true that, to preserve America’s tradition of peacefully transferring power, we have to acknowledge that Trump will be president. But to preserve our morality and our sense of reality, we also have to acknowledge the incredible danger we are now in, and the terror many of our people are feeling.

Retiring Sen. Harry Reid did that in his perfect statement on Friday. “We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows,” he wrote. “Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. Every news piece that breathlessly obsesses over inauguration preparations compounds their fear by normalizing a man who has threatened to tear families apart, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who has directed crowds of thousands to intimidate reporters and assault African Americans. Their fear is legitimate and we must refuse to let it fall through the cracks between the fluff pieces.”

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All over this country, the deplorables are wilding. “US Hate Crimes Spark Anxiety in the Wake of Trump Win,” says a Financial Times headline. Reports CNN, “Fears of heightened bigotry and hate crimes have turned into reality for some Americans after Donald Trump’s presidential win.” Fliers at Texas State University said that in the wake of Trump’s victory, it’s time “to organize tar and feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this diversity garbage.” Social media is full of people describing Trump-inspired threats and attacks.

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Trump has taken time to denounce the protesters filling city streets to express their horror at his election but not the people committing violence in his name. He has not, for example, said a word about the Trump victory parade that the Ku Klux Klan is holding in North Carolina. In this climate, Democrats need to lead the resistance. This is true for strategic as well as ethical reasons; consider how much power Republicans amassed by resisting everything Obama tried to do and channeling the rage and terror of those who abhorred him. Going forward, the only criteria for judging Democrats will be what they do to protect those in Trump’s crosshairs. Reid’s statement should be a model for them all.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.

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