Last night’s debate was, in many ways, almost besides the point. Trump’s implosion over the weekend did far more to impact the outcome than any debate ever could. But when the most repugnant candidate for President in our nation’s history will still garner somewhere around 40% of the popular vote, it's clear we have a problem. Sure, some of Trump's supporters probably do belong in Hillary's basket of deplorables (although her estimation that every other Trump supporter is a bigot is mainly an unwillingness to confront her own lack of vision, likability and tangible achievement).
The vast majority of Trump's voters are not inherently racist, sexist or homophobic. They're incredibly frustrated -- they feel like the system is run by elites and therefore rigged against them, and they feel like there's little opportunity or chance to improve their income and their lives. Trump's likely loss should not be taken as a sign to breathe a sigh of relief and forget it ever happened. If we don't address the underlying problems Trump's supporters so clearly feel, we're always going to be vulnerable to demagogues like him.
There's no easy solution to the frustrations felt by Trump's voters but here are three steps that should help.
Open Up the System to Everyone
Politicians aren't stupid. Their primary goal is to win office and stay in office, they know that very few people vote in most primaries and elections, and they base their decisions on the views of the relatively few people who do bother to vote and donate.
The good news is, most politicians are very adaptable. If more people vote, they'll recalibrate their actions and decisions to appeal to the broader electorate. Most Trump supporters do not vote in primaries and general elections for Mayor, City Council, Governor, State Senate, State Assembly and Congress. And so their concerns about not being heard, about elites governing for elites, about a lack of real economic opportunity, about scourges like heroin and meth being relatively ignored and so many other issues are real -- but they're real in part because they don't bother to vote in most elections.
We have the ability and technology to make it possible for everyone to vote in every election on a moment's notice -- by enabling people to vote on their phones. The current system is rigged because it presents a fundamental challenge to most people who decide that being late for work or late to pick up the kids or late to get home and make dinner isn't worth voting in local elections. So they go unheard.
Give them the chance to truly participate and elected officials will become far more attuned to their concerns, far more aware of their issues, far more sensitive to their needs. Give people not just the right to vote -- but the real opportunity to vote -- and that sense of being ignored will feel a lot less severe.
Open Up the Economy
Trump correctly identified the anxiety many people feel but his prescriptions for solving it are awful. No one wins a race to the bottom and by closing our borders, trade and minds, that's exactly what will happen (if we're trying to just compete on price, we'll lose every time).
But we can win a race to the top. Bring in the world's best and brightest. Let them come here with new ideas and new technologies, create new jobs and encourage them to keep those jobs here in the United States by restructuring the corporate tax code so it's competitive with other countries, lifting restrictions on leveraging our natural energy resources, and by fundamentally improving our nation's physical infrastructure (ports, airports, roads, bridges, tunnels, power grids) and our intellectual infrastructure (accepting higher standards like Common Core and taking the politics out of education by no longer providing taxpayer funding for teacher union political activities).
Recognize That Government Can't Do Anything
When we have a nation with a divorce rate of around 50%, high rates of serious drug addiction, families without sufficient structure and balance, and values that far too often prioritize immediate gratification ahead of sacrifice and hard work, of course we're going to lose our competitive edge. Government can't solve those problems. People have to solve them themselves by changing the way they think, behave and act. Refusing to do so only sets you up for failure.
While virtually every one of Trump's policy ideas is wrong and while virtually everything that comes out of his mouth is dishonest, inaccurate or offensive, the anger and frustration he's tapped into isn't going away anytime soon.
If we want a country that rejects appeals to bigotry and embraces its highest purpose, we need to act like it. Give people real opportunity. Give them the chance to vote. Expect them to behave like adults. And only then will we have the kind of country and the kind of democracy we all deserve.
Bradley Tusk is the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings the parent company of Tusk Strategies, Tusk Ventures, Kronos Archives, the Ivory Gaming Group and the Tusk Montgomery Family Foundation.
Prior to creating Tusk Strategies in 2010, Bradley served as Mike Bloomberg’s campaign manager, guiding Mayor Bloomberg to a third term. In 2016 he advised Bloomberg on a potential presidential run.
Earlier in his career, he created and ran Lehman Brothers’ lottery privatization group. His career in the public sector began at the New York City Parks Department in 1995, acting as spokesman and then senior advisor to Commissioner Henry Stern. Bradley then served as Communications Director for U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, before becoming Special Advisor to Mayor Bloomberg at City Hall. From 2003-2006, Bradley was Deputy Governor of Illinois.
Bradley received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1999. He serves on the boards of Creative Time, StoryCorps, and the New York Advisory Board of the Trust for Public Land.