Donald Trump is no joke. He is not a fool. He is not a buffoon. He is not a mere provocateur. Calling Trump stupid misses the point. Calling him obscene grazes the surface.
Donald Trump’s campaign was a bird choking in a coal mine. His presidency threatens to collapse bedrooms, living rooms, communities, our nation, and even our world. Trump’s presence will aggravate, depress, denigrate, sicken, and oppress millions every hour from now until he and Pence, and all the rest are an awful memory. Their backwash of negation, diminishment, and hate is already fierce.
To continually take in the daily reality we face, to endure the resulting mental and emotional distress and to then act coherently will be very difficult. It will often seem easier, more self affirming, and less painful to make believe Trump is bad but not too bad, abnormal but not too abnormal.
It will often feel gentler for one’s own self and one’s own agenda to dismiss Trump as another Nixon, Bush, Clinton, or Obama – but not another Mussolini, much less Hitler. It will often feel more civil to call him bearable, to wring our hands and turn off our ears and eyes to the choking sounds and putrid odors emanating from Trump’s acts, and to assume civility’s return.
It will often feel less painful and more “mature” to minimize and regularize, to protest now and then, but without persistent urgency, and to live our lives trying not to contribute to the madness but also without trying to win positive change and link the many sources of opposition to produce a real movement.
It will often feel less personally disruptive to passively travel the easy road to hell than to face reality and powerfully and unrelentingly fight back.
Some will feel I am exaggerating. Let’s spend a moment on that. It should not require more.
Bad things are commonplace. Indeed, we have long been frogs slowly boiling. Now, however, and this may be the one mistake for his own agenda that Trump is making, Trump is turning up the burners as high as he can. Examine his Cabinet appointments and his words. Strip away the now nearly eliminated rhetoric meant to obscure outrageous policy and to attract depressed, angry, and disenfranchised supporters, but not, of course, to sincerely aid them in the slightest. What’s left? What’s flaunted in our faces?
Trump wants to disenfranchize and infantilize but not lynch pretty much all non whites in the U.S. He wants to pedestalize, kitchenize, grope, and brutalize, but not rape all women in the U.S. He wants to deunionize, traumatize, robotize, and penurize, but not starve every working class non professional in the U.S. He wants to stunt science, stifle history, transcend civility and Trump truth. Most deadly of all, Trump wants to burn every last fossil fuel and deny every last shred of ecological sanity.
Trump wants to rewrite “This land is your land” to become “This land is Trump’s land.” He doesn’t care if we all sing. He cares only that he is in the saddle and we are being ridden.
Again, am I exaggerating? Is this American paranoia or Amerikkkan Fascism. Not either, yet. But are we vigorously slip sliding in the latter direction? Yes, we are. Not the population, the government.
What must we see to realize what dangers lurk? Does Trump have to goosestep? Maybe next month. Does his cabinet have to burn books in public squares? The month after.
We are not slip sliding to hell because the whole population took leave of its senses. They didn’t. Nor because Trump’s voters, in the main, took leave of their humanity. They didn’t. We are slip sliding to hell because a perfect storm of Democratic Party system-defending and change-decrying hubris, plus progressive and radical danger-denying strategic inflexibility, plus disenfranchised change-desiring worker mis-voting, plus ignorant popular racist and sexist preening, plus limitless mainstream media profit pursuing, plus social media attention demolishing madness, plus likely also a lot of electoral corruption and voter suppression, led to a voting calamity that handed trifecta power to a bunch of historically and ideologically off the chart thugs and their Party partners.
Trump isn’t hiding or sugarcoating his agenda. When Trump said during the campaign that he could get away with anything, he meant, look, I am a massive bully and this country has no idea how to deal with the likes of me. I know I got less than a quarter of eligible voters. I know that only a fraction even among those who voted for me really want me to do what I really want to do. I know that only a handful even of that small fraction clearly understand what it will mean if I get to do what I want, and still favor it. But so what? That is my genius. I marshaled nothing into everything. I am in the Oval Office. My allies stand with me. Every meeting I attend, one opinion will dominate – mine. Let’s go!
If Trump in power doesn’t scare you, if it doesn’t cause you to feel you have to do anything within your means to help impede, stop, and then transcend his brand of inhumanity for yourself, for your kids and for their kids, for all of society and indeed for all the world, then you have either turned your mind off hoping to navigate calamity without suffering its clammy tentacles, or your mind was turned off long ago, and in either case you need to wake up and hear the bird warning us: do something, do something, he will beat the crap out of you.
I suspect that even more than understandably wanting to go to sleep so as to dream in peace and wake up when the nightmare ends, not knowing what to do is what can now slow, stop, and deaden anti Trump resistance which is, at the moment, most certainly very alive and growing impressively.
So what can we do?
Preventing roll back entails preventing or reversing racist, misogynist, and even fascist appointments. Bemoaning Bannon, decrying Giuliani, or even weeping over Sessions is all warranted – but preventing or reversing them is essential.
Preventing rollback also means preventing treaty breaking, law canceling, and policy imposing that interfere with hard won past victories. But how?
The first steps are already occurring, though many more people need to become involved. Promising signs stretch from high school students walking out of classes, to Broadway play audiences booing the Vice President, from diverse marches and rallies occurring and larger ones being planned, to NBA teams boycotting Trump hotels.
But beyond current creative outpourings, Democrats in Congress and across the country will have to oppose Trump’s appointments and agenda. Some will do so of their own accord. Sanders and Warren are prime examples. But others will join the battle only if they feel they must do so to retain a semblance of credibility. They will join only to sidestep and try to co-opt a wave of steadily growing public dissent. Accosting Senators and Representatives in their offices in Washington, at home in their communities, and universally in print as well showing them massive marches and demonstrations that will keep growing if they don’t block Trump, can only help.
What else can spur ever more sustainable dissent? At the high income end, perhaps boycotting Trump products, and hotels – as some NBA teams are already doing, or making statements at symphony concerts and Broadway shows can directly impact him. Even if not, such acts will certainly help galvanize the broader public and other politicians. Expressing dissent, carefully and militantly but without recriminations of Trump supporters who ought to be joining the dissent will be critical. Writing letters to editors or friends, blog posts, articles, comments, and even wearing anti Trump t-shirts – and anything else that makes visible and tries to enlarge public anger at what has happened – can help. Creative outreach with video testimonials is another option, and serious rather than profit seeking journalism, is essential.
But what about moving beyond dissent to resistance and beyond resistance to wining a new world?
Trump wants to escalate deportations. A resistance response might organize sanctuaries at the city or state level or seek sanctuaries more locally at churches and perhaps universities or even by private homeowners offering to harbor prospective deportees to protect them. A slogan might be some clever variant of “if you take them, you have to take us, and none of us are going without a fight.” Imagine priests, local politicians, workmates, schoolmates, teachers, and perhaps even some employers saying and meaning that.
We could demand that friendly churches or campus centers provide housing and protection for potential deportees. We could guard such venues by gatherings of hundreds or even thousands of supporters taking shifts outside to block access. During the days and nights of the sanctuaries, we could hold teach ins and cultural events and otherwise use the experiences to build support, develop trust, and even enjoy the experience.
One of the dividing lines between temporary protest and resistance that persists and constantly goes forward will be serious solidarity. Will women outraged at sexism, blacks and Latinos outraged at racism, working class folks outraged at anti labor legislation and still more denigration, plus plain old citizens of every kind outraged at war and at insane policies threatening ecological stability, each operate independently? Or will they entwine in mutual support?
In response to white supremacist Cabinet and West Wing appointees, why not make their views incredibly visible and oppose their appointments, but also positively propose progressives who would be better in their post, and say clearly why they would be better. Why not create a shadow government. This would probably require Sanders to become its President, but, following that, it could populate itself throughout, and take stands on every major issue as each arises, to contrast clearly to Trump and also organize and fight for better outcomes.
In response to enlarged spending proposals for military and police why not show better ways to spend the funds? Why not demand positive changes in police budgeting, legal structure, and seek community oversight and control?
We could rally at and demand the use of military bases to build low income housing funded by Pentagon budgets. We could earmark the first houses built to the soldiers who worked on them. We could welcome police into neighborhood and even household meetings to discuss how to create safer communities and avoid racist policing. We could go to military bases and police stations too, and organize. Leaving these alone, to proceed wherever they will without trying to communicate and without offering better alternatives for the employees and for society, is a surefire way to aid Trump.
We need to find worthy goals and effective ways to fight for them that appeal to every crucial constituency, and that polarize none away from progressive participation, even as we steadfastly and specifically oppose Trump’s every racist, sexist, and classist move.
Once momentum grows and a degree of coherence, clarity, and inter issue solidarity emerges, we could build grassroots neighborhood and workplace assemblies.
But what about organization? If for the next four years we only have sometimes linked but often disconnected campaigns about all manner of separate issues but overwhelmingly aimed only at preventing reaction, at best we will reinstate the status quo we had before Trump won – which was nothing great, obviously. So why not establish at least one overarching, multi issue, multi tactic organization to not only fight against reaction but also propose and try to win elements of positive program and vision?
And if we do try to create that, wouldn’t it be better that the new organization implements powerful new means to welcome and enhance diversity, to celebrate and practice collective self management, and to chastise and structurally guard against sectarian, short term, and too narrow organizing?