Reflections on An Unexpected Election

This year has not turned out as many of us imagined, in many ways. I didn’t think my Cubs had a shot at coming back in the World Series, down three games to one. In fact, prediction site deemed their comeback less likely than Donald Trump winning the presidential election.

Especially as it relates to the federal programs that we care most about, I increasingly believe it’s too early to know how to react to a Trump presidency. Mr. Trump repeatedly mentioned his infrastructure proposal during the campaign. Even if it focuses on tax breaks for developers and investors, could such a proposal be a boon for the youth we care about if it includes a Section 3-style requirement that recipients provide job training and employment opportunities to low-income residents?

Similarly, I have been doing some research into the immediate threats posed by a Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice. When it comes to deportations, this interactive from the Times does a good job comparing the varying numbers that Mr. Trump has mentioned before and after the election and the realities of mass deportations. The takeaway: a focus on undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes brings the total facing deportation well under 1 million.

Setting aside exactly how many immigrants Mr. Trump may deport, it’s hard for me to see how the executive branch could unilaterally make good on his promise to block federal funding to sanctuary cities. Barriers include unclear definitions, even among cities that self-identify as sanctuary cities; limited authority at the federal or even state level to interfere in how federal funding distributed by statutory formulae flows; and the many barriers to clawing back already-obligated federal funds. This Dallas Morning News piece tracks the confusion that has followed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to use funding as a stick.

In the legislative branch, S. 3100, which was introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and failed to achieve cloture earlier this year, illustrates another approach to cutting off funds. The bill would have created a federal definition of “sanctuary jurisdiction” and amends two federal statutes to make these jurisdictions ineligible for grants under these statutes. The bill includes an attempt to claw back Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars – see the amendments under Section 4(b)(2)(B) in the bill – but I’m not sure if there’s a cut-and-dry answer to how the federal agency would force a State to force a city to give back CDBG funds that were disbursed before the new law came into effect.

All of that said, this new environment presents many new challenges for NYEC, as an organization and members individually, such as:

  • Finding a balance between messaging and recommendations that speak to a Trump Administration, to more traditional Republicans in Congress, and that continue to reflect the significant improvements and investments we know are needed.
  • Showing solidarity with other programs and systems that help poor people when they are threatened, for example if massive Medicaid or TANF cuts are proposed to pay for new defense spending, tax cuts, or an Affordable Care Act repeal.
  • Developing new allies in rural areas, and messaging that speaks to the effectiveness of our programs, especially to Republican members who increasingly represent rural constituencies.
    Educating members of Congress who are new or have not traditionally focused on our issues, but who now have the ear of Mr. Trump and his advisors.
  • Regularly acknowledging and addressing the fears that pervade the populations we serve, and that afflict many of us personally. Even here in the DC area, I have had several conversations since the election with colleagues and friends who have been threatened and whose cars, property, and churches have been vandalized. The church with which my church shares a youth ministry had its Black Lives Matter poster defaced.

Another challenge I have taken on is to speak to as many Trump supporters as possible, and to seek out long-form interviews with others. Rightly or wrongly, this election hinged on some constituencies (rural residents, members of law enforcement, residents of the South and Midwest, to name a few) not feeling heard or respected. It may sound clichéd, but only by doing more listening can we bridge these divides.