Tuesday was a shock, but we can’t let this election paralyze us. Henry Waxman has written an open letter to friends and supporters on how to move forward. Read it in its entirety below or on Medium.
It’s an understatement to say that the election result was a shock to all of us. But while a shock can be excruciatingly painful, it’s also a sharp prod to action. And action is what all of us must take in the months and years to come.
Because while elections have consequences, losing one does not automatically mean losing on the issues and values we care about. What it does mean is that we must regroup, recalibrate, organize and fight harder than ever.
In my more than four decades in Congress and public life, I’ve lived through many losing elections whose consequences looked dire. After the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan operated with an actual Senate majority and a de facto House majority. After the 1994 election, the Newt Gingrich Republicans took control of Congress determined to ram through their extremist agenda. During most of George W. Bush’s first six years in office, he had a Republican Congress, too.
During these dark times, we couldn’t block all the damaging legislation that came before us. But we still achieved some important victories. In the 1990s, we killed a cap on Medicaid, stopped legislative efforts that would have gutted the Clean Air and Water Acts, and protected against attempts to shred the social safety net. We also destroyed George W. Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security and undo President Clinton’s enormous public lands conservation legacy.
So over the next four years, we will have opportunities to defeat or change some of the most wrongheaded policy initiatives offered by Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. And we’ll have opportunities to make progress.
To seize these opportunities, here’s what we have to do:
Play strong, tough, honest defense. We must mobilize to expose the harm many of the initiatives congressional Republicans have proposed would do to Trump’s core constituencies, as well as to the American people as a whole. We must fight on behalf of all Americans to ensure they have access to affordable health care, protection from climate change, and a fair shot at the American dream.
Proactively frame the dialogue so the American people understand what’s at stake. We must match our inside lobbying game with an equally strong outside game and strategic media outreach to raise awareness and apply pressure. Our efforts will be designed to cut through the usual rhetorical tropes and instead focus on the impact on human lives. For example, when they try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, we talk about the 20 million Americans who would lose their health insurance, and how we could end up worse off than we were in 2008 when nearly 50 million Americans were uninsured, health insurers could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and women paid higher premiums.
Organize, organize, organize. We all have a voice. By working together to build coalitions, mobilize Americans, and create new avenues for public expression, we can and must ensure that all voices are heard.
Exploit Republican divisions. One thing Trump has done brilliantly is expose the gaping chasm between the party’s establishment and his base. These schisms are more likely to be exacerbated than bridged over the next four years. This creates opportunities to reach across the aisle to moderate, practically-minded Republicans to join together to stop wrongheaded policies and pass initiatives that do some good. One possible example is reforming the Renewable Fuels Standard to ensure that biofuels actually benefit the climate.
Focus on the private sector. Harmful actions by Trump and Congress can be counterbalanced in other ways. At Waxman Strategies, we’re always looking for solutions that can be implemented even when government is not on our side, harnessing economic, grassroots and other forces for the greater good. For example, 10 years ago, international campaigns persuaded the world’s biggest cattle and soy companies to refuse to buy from producers engaging in deforestation. This was the primary driver behind Brazil’s whopping two-thirds reduction in deforestation, which has reduced climate pollution by more than Europe and North America combined. By focusing on results and thinking creatively, we can still make progress even when government is recalcitrant.
Maximize the next two months. Barack Obama remains president until January 20th and there is still much he can do on the environment, conservation, climate, telecommunications, health care and other areas. We must make an all-out effort to achieve unfinished objectives wherever possible.
Above all, please know this: I — and our terrific team at Waxman Strategies — stand ready to work with you, plan with you, and fight with you to achieve our goals in this turbulent, uncertain and radically altered environment. Through proactive media strategies. By working the halls of Congress and the regulatory agencies. By building coalitions and mobilizing allies. And by deploying my experience from similar periods in American political life for your advantage. We can and will be a force for the values we share and the policies we support.
Let’s keep our perspective. There are always ups and downs in politics, and nothing is ever easy. Change is a constant and the unexpected is a given. What counts is our ability to adapt to new realities and stay ahead of the curve, while fighting both strategically and fiercely for the causes, the values and the people we represent. If we follow these principles — together — we will get through these next four years and emerge even stronger for the battles ahead.
As Hillary Clinton said in her gracious concession speech, “This loss hurts. But please, never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” Amen.
We look forward to continuing to work with you in the months and years to come.
All the best,
Henry A. Waxman