A College Democrat’s New Year’s Resolutions

Written by T.J. Clark | @theteedge | 12 January 2017 at 8:23PM

Happy New Year, friends! I hope this break from school has allowed you some time to unwind in the company of beloved family and friends. I know I’ve enjoyed my time away. With 2016 at a close and 2017 just beginning, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the past year. Admittedly, 2016 was not a banner year for the Democratic Party. I’ve often wondered what things I could have done differently to get more Democrats elected. How many more doors should I have knocked? How many more phone calls should I have made?

To correct some of the mistakes I made in 2016, I’ve drafted a list of New Year’s resolutions for 2017. My hope is that these resolutions will help me be a better American this year and help our party better serve our country. I hope they’ll serve you the same.

1. Take Heart in the Good

Already, 2016 is receiving almost unanimous condemnation as a terrible year. Though that may be true, I think it’s important to find the silver lining in even the darkest clouds. Don’t forget that 2016 was the year a major political party finally nominated a woman to be President of the United States. It was also the year that three exceptional women were elected to the United States Senate from Illinois, California, and Nevada. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act; an act that enshrines the legal rights of sexual assault survivors into law. Even later on in 2016, we saw peaceful protest succeed when the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was suspended. On a personal note, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years (Sorry Cleveland fans).

There’s no question 2016 was not a perfect year. But, as Americans and Democrats (and Cubs fans), 2016 offered our country a lot of good. In many ways, 2017 is going to challenge Democrats in ways we’ve never been challenged before. Republicans have promised the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the deregulation of Wall Street, and the continued lowering of taxes for the richest among us. President-elect Donald Trump has promised even worse. And though we will fight, we won’t win them all this year, so it’s especially important that we take the bad with the good. In 2016, we’ll mourn our losses, but find ways to celebrate our victories. We have to. Too many Americans are counting on us to stay motivated for us to be defeated.

In 2017, I resolve to take heart in the good.

2. Focus on the Issues that Matter

I am a sneering person. I am quick to scoff and roll my eyes. I rely on cutting humor to a fault. In conversation, I am prone to mock peripheral mistakes instead of concentrating on the core of my friends’ arguments. These are faults I recognize in myself first, but I’ve found them among Democrats as well. They manifested themselves throughout the campaign. Early on, instead of taking Mr. Trump’s misogyny towards Megyn Kelly seriously, we collectively scoffed. During the primaries, when Mr. Trump said he would default on the $19 trillion national debt, we all rolled our eyes. In the general, when Mr. Trump insisted that he knew more about ISIL than the generals, we responded by sending sarcastic tweets.

If we’re going to oppose President Trump effectively, we cannot be distracted from the important issues. When President Trump tries to distract us with celebrity appearances, outrageous comments, and misspelled tweets, we must remain focused on the issues that matter. No amount of Kanye West appearances can distract us from his corrupt conflicts of interest. No matter how many “big league” comments he makes, Democrats must concentrate on the hateful rhetoric he peddles. Regardless of all the “unpresidented” tweets he sends, we will be fixated on his failed economic policies.

The Democratic Party is offering the American people plans that would rebuild the American Dream for the 21st century. We’re advancing policies that will provide more economic opportunity for more Americans by make higher education affordable and wages fair.  To inspire our countrymen with our ideas, we must spend less time sneering and more time informing. That is how the Democratic Party can win Trump voters again.

In 2017, I resolve to focus on the issues that matter.

3. Spend Less Time Talking and More Time Listening

People’s politics are developed through personal experience. I know this, yet I am guilty of ignoring people when they speak. When speaking with friends, I often catch myself thinking of the next thing I’ll say instead of listening to what’s being said. This is one of my worst habits, and one often shared by other Democrats. Too often we’re focused on making a point instead of earning a vote. This leads to us speaking past our friends and not with them.

We think of messaging as a one way street, forgetting that listening plays a vital role in strengthening the message of the Democratic Party. That said, listening is not always easy. For a blabbermouth like me, it’s excruciating. But, in this vast American community, we can only come to understand the experiences and concerns of our neighbors if we listen with intent and hear them out. In the era of the CEO president, Democrats can stand out with a bottom-up approach to governing. For Democrats, town halls and tough discussions shouldn’t be confined to election season. We should renew our commitment to listen to Trump voters while continuing to reach out to groups like Black Lives Matter.

The Democratic Party will better serve the American people when we lend them our ears to ask how we can help and render our service based on their experiences and their concerns. In this way, we can renew President John F. Kennedy’s legendary call to service. To paraphrase President Kennedy, Democrats should ask not what the American people can do for us, but should ask what we can do for the American people. If so, Democrats can renew what it means to be a public servant by listening first and talking second.

In 2017, I resolve to spend less time talking and more time listening.

4. Open Myself to the Concerns of Trump Voters

One of the most important takeaways from this cycle is the significance of the fabled Trump voter. Adjectives like “white,” “working class,” and “Midwestern” come to mind when we think about them. What probably doesn’t come to mind is “Obama voter.” Yet that is who they are. In 2016, President-elect Trump flipped 217 counties that President Obama won only four years ago. In many cases, these counties were primarily white, working class and around areas like the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. These are areas that voted for the Democratic Party for generations, but voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Although the Quad Cities are only a day’s drive away from my home in the Chicago suburbs, it’d be easy for me to just assume that the Quad Cities are a world away and beyond comprehension. But when we refuse to understand and assume the worst in our countrymen, we do not live up to our highest ideals. It’s not enough for Democrats to know these voters cost us the election and to atone for our party’s inaction by sharing a New York Times article about their plight. We must open ourselves to their concerns. We must care that it was their communities that shouldered some of the Great Recession’s greatest burdens. We must care that it is their communities that continue to be negatively impacted by economic modernization. We must care that our country’s opioid crisis is killing their mothers and fathers and sons and daughters by the thousands every year. The Democratic Party must show these voters that we more than hear their concerns, we must show them that we value their lives.  

In this process, we must remember that curing our nation’s ills does not have to be a zero sum game. We can renew our service to Trump voters while remaining dedicated to our roots in the African-American community and among young Americans. We can alleviate the pain felt in areas like the Quad Cities while staying attuned to the concerns of Latino-Americans and women. In our diverse American community, Democrats must find ways to serve all of our neighbors.

In 2017, I resolve to open myself to the concerns of Trump voters.

5. Never Give Up the Good Fight

In 2017, the most important resolution any College Democrat can make is the resolution not to give up the good fight. In 2016, Republicans captured historic majorities in Congress and in statehouses across the country. The fact is there are many tough days ahead.

President Trump will want to sign executive orders that put our environment and the futures of new Americans at risk. Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress will try to pass legislation that make affordable health care inaccessible and eliminate financial reforms designed to protect Main Street from Wall Street. President Trump and Leader Mitch McConnell will work to confirm a Supreme Court justice that does not respect a woman’s right to choose, but does respect a corporation’s right to influence our elections. Congressional Republicans will try all this while their statehouse cohorts try to enact their regressive agendas in states across the country.

It will be the job of Democrats to join most Americans and stand in opposition to all of this and to stand opposed the right way. We won’t express our opposition by obstructing the functions of government. Nor will we treat President Trump the way Republicans treated President Obama for eight years. We will be a loyal opposition; loyal to our country and to its people. We will make it our goal to offer solutions, not create more problems. We will be relentless in our pursuit to remember the forgotten and give a voice to the voiceless. We can do this because, to borrow the words of President Obama, we are unselfish, altruistic, creative, and patriotic. We believe in a fair, just, inclusive America and we are willing to carry the hard work of democracy forward. We will prove President Obama right this year.

In 2017, I resolve to never give up the good fight.

Although 2016 was not a banner year for the Democratic Party, know this: All is not lost. The Democratic Party has many sunny days ahead. We will recognize the mistakes we made in 2016 and correct them going forward. Listed here are some mistakes I made and how I intend to correct them. In doing so, I look forward to a better year and sunnier days for our party and our ideas.

I do hope you’ll join me in these New Year’s resolutions. I hope they’ll help us win back majorities in Congress and a Democrat in the White House, so we can return to serving the American people.

T. J. is a Chicagoland native studying political science and history. T. J. has been a Democrat since he was eight years old, when Howard Dean grabbed his attention and Barack Obama stole his heart. Most recently, he spent time with the Martin O'Malley campaign in Iowa. Teedge likes to spend his spare time reading history, arguing politics, telling stories, and rooting for the Chicago Cubs.

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