There are only 59 days til the end of the Obama presidency and the start of the Trump administration.
What are we going do to? Like many of you, I’ve spent the last week in various stages of disbelief and anger. Yeah, the 2016 election was a punch to the gut. But at this point, I’m trying to look at what’s ahead in the most clear-eyed manner as possible. Denial is not what we need now.
I have zero faith that the vision of “making America great” actually includes me or anyone who’s not a white, straight male. And because I only fit one of three of the aforementioned categories, I have to take him at his word. America, you elected a racist, sexist, xenophobic sexual predator. That says something about you. I can’t afford not to take that at face value. As others have written, we cannot afford to normalize any of what’s coming. Trump has already told us who he is. And many of his supporters, their friends and families, have show us what they really believe the Age of Trump stands for. Hundreds of racist incidents have happened since Election Night. Everything from Nazi swastikas to a lunchroom full of middle-schoolers chanting, “Build the Wall!” to boys grabbing girls’ genitalia, “if the president can do it, so can I”. More recently, A Brooklyn Heights playground named in honor of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys was defaced with pro-Trump propaganda and a Nazi swastika. The backlash is real. As The Atlantic‘s Vann Newkirk tweeted:
We’ve seen backlashes against our meager gains before. This is that. Your faith in American institutions is ahistorical.
— Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths) November 19, 2016
Voicing his disappointment, comedian and tech entrepreneur Baratunde Thurston said this:
Sad part: I believed in this country. Against the historical record. And I was wrong. America is being real America right now.
— Baratunde (@baratunde) November 9, 2016
We’ve all been supporters of candidates who lost in the past: Gore, Kerry come to mind. But this is different. What Donald Trump represents is significantly different. I can’t over-emphasize this enough. I’m less surprised that 63% of college educated whites came out to support him over Hillary, just deeply disappointed. It’s astounding that they couldn’t really hear what he was saying: the racism, sexism, xeno- and Islamophobia he spewed. By all means, feel free to read those articles that urge us to empathize with the misunderstood and ignored Heartland voter. And, yes, perhaps as the late philosopher Richard Rorty noted, the Left is facing the consequences of ignoring the working class (if the Left ignored them, the Right cynically manipulated them with its dog-whistle politics). Thanks to Bernie, Hillary was on her way to addressing that. But now I agree with Slate’s Jamelle Bouie that they don’t deserve our empathy. They elected a man whose administration will put millions of American citizens in danger. Right here at home. When some of us are unsafe, we all are, and we have all the people who voted for him to thank for that.
Economist Umair Haque put it this way:
Fascists are grand masters of marketing compared to liberals, who only ever persuade rationally. It is emphatically not going to work now.
— (@umairh) November 13, 2016
Couple that with the people he’s empowering in his administration, and we are faced with a real and present threat to our country. His vice president is staunchly anti-abortion and has worked to defund Planned Parenthood and believes in “conversion therapy” because he thinks being gay is a choice. His chief strategist is a white nationalist. His pick for attorney general is described by The Intercept as a “career racist”. His pick for head of the EPA is a known climate change denier. And it don’t stop: Congressional Republicans are already moving to build a wall and are seriously looking into rounding up and deporting undocumented people with criminal records. You’re kidding yourself if you think it will stop there.
Violence will take many forms: physical, psychic, legal. Everything from Deportations to repealing the Affordable Care Act, Lily Ledbetter, and on up to mounting attacks on Roe v. Wade. Klan celebratory parades.
We can lay the blame several places. Let’s start with the education system. It doesn’t teach civics. So people with half information make crucial voting decisions based on what they feel., not what’s in the best interests of the country. For example, I’m glad chef Eddie Huang had a dialogue with this young woman, but she’s flat-out misinformed.
And all of us center-left/progressive folks deserve blame, too. For not doing more leading up to the election. I count myself in that. I could’ve done phone banks. I could’ve gone to a swing state like I did in 2008.
But I didn’t believe that a majority of my fellow Americans would elect a racist, misogynist, xenophobic sexual predator who may have actually compromised our national security by consorting with the Russian government. I also believed that women would send a strong message to Trump. But White women ignored all his misogyny and said, yeah, he’s okay. In fact, 63% of college educated whites voted for him.
I know too many of progressives who were all in their feelings, whining about “I don’t like her as a person.” “She’s just another neoliberal.” Oh, yeah, we had our convictions. Good for you. Yes, there’s absolutely a critique of neoliberalism, as well as critiques of some of Obama’s policies (drones, Guantanamo, the surveillance state, his general bias towards Ivy League pedigrees, to name a few). But too many on the left took their eyes off the ball. Republicans stayed focused: The Supreme Court (this alone will have reverberations for generations to come). ACA. Ledbetter. Deportations. Privatized social security. Your convictions blinded you to the big picture. I’m quoting the New York Times’ Paul Krugman here: “…elections determine who has the power, not the truth.”
In the end , the GOP is getting its way. All thanks to a combination of white people, protest voters, the disengaged (or misguided, depending on how you see it) 47% of eligible voters who stayed home, and GOP vote rigging. What we’re faced with now may turn out to be worse than any neoliberal scenario. Thanks, fam, but we’re getting the exact opposite of what any of us wanted.
Look Ahead, Not Back
What’s done is done now. At this point, it’s about protecting the things that really do make this country great. Things like its diversity. Things like freedom of expression. Things like our (slow) march towards equality, justice and dignity for all. But Trump’s ascension feels…wrong. Because it is. Not only is Trump installing and empowering people with clear, regressive agendas, but he’s operating with unprecedented conflicts of interest. It’s about to be a kleptocracy up in here, people.
So what do we do about it? There are probably many more things to add, but here are nine things I’ll suggest:
1. Acknowledge the threat.
Journalist and scholar Sarah Kendzior put it like this:
I have studied authoritarian states for over a decade. Every scholar of authoritarianism to whom I’ve spoken believes that is where we are headed. You must take this threat very seriously and work very hard. This means looking forward. Yes, we are victims of a great injustice. Yes, our institutions are broken and from the founding of our country, our nation has often not fulfilled its obligation to protect the rights of citizens.
What we are facing now is even worse. You have two months to try to turn it around. This is not about the political parties, or about Hillary or Bernie and to some extent it is not even about Trump. It is beyond that. This is a fight for freedom and survival. Listen to those of us who have studied and lived in authoritarian regimes.
People like journalist Masha Gessen, who wrote, “I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now.” She goes into detail on these six points:
- Believe the autocrat
- Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
- Institutions will not save you.
- Be outraged
- Don’t make compromises
- Remember the future
Or there’s economist Umair Haque, who said this in a post on Medium:
In authoritarian regimes, here is what happens. The most violent personalities become the most powerful henchmen. The enforcers, thugs, and little tyrants that the average citizen dares not even whisper the name of. Not the kind ones, the good ones, the reasonable ones — if there be such a thing. But the monsters and the predators, those who find joy and delight in ruin and blood and terror. Who do not merely wish to shame their adversaries, or even to ruin them. But to really make them suffer, in the most terrible ways that the human mind can devise and imagine.
Do not look away or stop reading. I hope I’m being hyperbolic. But I want you to really see what has the potential to happen. So that we can stop it.
2. Protect the vulnerable.
If you see someone being harassed, intervene. Don’t assume that others will. If you’re going to, here’s a great, non-confrontational way to get involved.
More importantly–and this is for the White progressives reading this–speak up if you find yourself in a situation where the people you’re with start talking about others–minorities, women, LGBT, Muslims, Latinx folk, etc.–in a way that is offensive, speak up. They’re your friends, family or colleagues, and they’re more likely to listen to you because they know you.
3. Call your state and federal representatives.
Seriously, CALL them. This is based on the experience of someone who worked in Congress for six years. Facebook posts or tweets will generally NOT be read by elected officials. You can write letters, which will be read, but not likely answered. The best you can do is call them about specific issues and specific actions you’d like them to take. Like having Trump get rid of the white nationalist and former Brietbart CEO Steve Bannon. Here’s a call script specifically for that. Use it with your elected representatives. If you want to join an organized effort, check out this Google docs sheet for scripts and other tips that can help you take action.
4. Support quality journalism.
This means, put your money where your mouth and typing fingers are. Subscribe to the publications that you look to. They’re going to need it, as there seems to be an indication that Trump will do his best to sideline the press and keep them from finding out what he’s doing. For example, we already subscribe to the New York Times. But I also read The Guardian, so I should throw them $7/month. We pay that much for Netflix. Not to mention, there’s The Nation, Mother Jones, Harpers. And don’t forget your ethnic media outlets.
5. Support organizations that are already doing the work.
For example, I think we should all just start giving the ACLU $5-$10 each month. They’re going to need it. But there are plenty of other organizations out there. The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate groups and their activity. Planned Parenthood is under attack. Black Lives Matter still has work to do. Organizations that fight for the rights of Latinx immigrants and the undocumented are on the front lines given the GOP’s focus on immigration. Small dollars add up and enable these organizations to continue their critical work. As the old Depeche Mode song went, “Everything counts in large amounts.”
6. Hit the Trump family where it hurts the most: Their bottom line.
Marketer Shannon Coulter started the Twitter hashtag #GrabYourWallet to encourage people to stop patronizing businesses that support Trump. She’s compiled a list of retailers who carry Trump products, companies whose management has endorsed him, as well as a list of companies you can use that are alternatives to those in the former categories. There are also call scripts you can use to ask companies to stop carrying Trump products. The campaign is picking up up steam and press coverage. You can find the Google doc here.
7. Get active.
It won’t be enough for us to sit behind keyboards. But active participation doesn’t only mean protest marches. There are many ways to be active beyond sending money. Every issue that I’ve named, along with the organizations that focus all them, could use your presence, your expertise and your networks. Figure out which issue is most important to you and get involved So much is at stake, and there’s still only 24 hours in a day, so don’t spread yourself thin. We have to know ourselves and be clear where we can do the most good.
8. Artists, we need you now more than ever.
We’ll need inspiration. We’ll need help making sense of the many emotions we’ll be feeling. We’ll need help processing this new reality. Art, in all of its forms does that. That’s why, when authoritarian regimes come to power, the first thing they do is lock up (or kill) the journalists and artists. And, as was the case with #5 above, support your arts and cultural institutions. You see how Trump reacted over the Hamilton cast’s appeal to VP-elect Mike Pence? I take that as a taste of what’s to come, but it also reinforces the import role the arts can play this national dialogue.
9. Lastly, be some light in the world.
Remember this MLK quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that”? Put another way: Remember your values. I’m taking a page from a recent Sarah Kendzior essay that she wrote to Trump supporters who don’t realize that this administration’s policies are going to hurt them, too. What she wrote below is something we all should remember.
Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.
Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.
Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.
Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.
Kendzior ends with this:
But most of all, never lose sight of who you are and what you value. If you find yourself doing something that feels questionable or wrong a few months or years from now, find that essay you wrote on who you are and read it. Ask if that version of yourself would have done the same thing.
I’ll say it again: This was not a normal election. This is not a normal moment. We do not need to give Trump or his allies a chance to do the damage they’re planning.
Take a deep breathe: We can fight this. We have to. But we have to start now by getting our minds right and committing to the concrete steps we can take.