With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton,…
How does an unhinged, thin-skinned, son of a Scots and a
Klansman, born into privilege and wealth,
a thug who loves only himself,
his money and his station,
become the next leader of this nation?
There are many reasons, including the false equivalency of the media (Clinton’s emails being equivalent to dozens of Trump’s disqualifications), FBI Director James Comey’s late-breaking vague “emails” allegation, racism, sexism, anger at neoliberalism, the rise of fake news, people’s tendency to vote on feelings rather than on policy, the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act (and the voter suppression it has enabled), lowest voter turnout since 2000, and several others.1
But the questions we face now are how can we understand this next phase, and most importantly what can we do?
If you have ever asked “Why didn’t people protest and stop Hitler’s rise to power?” you now have an opportunity to answer that question for yourself. What will you do now? President-Elect Trump ran an openly bigoted campaign, calling Mexicans criminals, alleging that Muslims are terrorists, arguing for racist profiling, and bragging about committing sexual assault. Now, after the election, hate crimes are on the rise, and he is assembling an administration to enact his plans. What will you do?
White people need to step up
As you might imagine, the less a person looks like me (straight White man), the more she or he is frightened right now. So, I am reaching out to all of my friends, colleagues, and students — but especially those who are most vulnerable. I talked to my students Thursday (these were my first post-election classes), and told them that if they need to talk, I will listen. If they need to cry, I have tissues. If they need help finding resources, I will help them. I told them that, whoever they voted for, I know — from our conversations over the semester — that they know we’re all part of the same human family. And so I told them to look out for each other, and especially for those who don’t look like me. If you see someone getting harassed, this is the time to step up.
This is especially the time for White people to step up — and not only because White people elected Trump. Yes, I know, if you’re a White person reading this, you’re probably not one of the people who voted for the angry talking yam. But if you have White privilege, male privilege, cisgender privilege, straight privilege, class privilege, the privilege of being abled, any unearned privilege at all, you need to use that privilege to stand up for others. Indeed, the more privilege you have, the greater your obligation to use it.
This Is Not a Drill
There are already reports of hate crimes and racist graffiti around the country. This is likely to increase under a Trump presidency. As long as I live in this country, I will defend all people’s rights to life, liberty, and happiness. All people must be treated fairly under the law. All people must feel safe. I will defend those values until my dying breath. I will never yield. I invite you to join me.
But be aware of what you’re signing up for. Given bigots’ propensity for violence and the widespread availability of firearms, opposing the coming tyranny is likely to place us in harm’s way. We may be shot. We may be jailed. We may be harassed. The NSA, the FBI, and the CIA will soon be working for Donald Trump. I understand why people may hope that Herr Gropenführer’s openly racist and sexist campaign rhetoric was merely bluster and that he will govern differently than he campaigned. But autocrats — and he campaigned as an autocrat — tend to follow through on their threats. It would be naïve to hope that President Trump will adopt values that differ markedly from Candidate Trump.
But we must not stand by while fascists threaten our fellow citizens. Silence is complicity. We must not be silent. We must stand and fight.
If you see something, do something.
If you hear words that are racist, homophobic, sexist, Islamophobic, call it out for what it is. If you see someone getting harassed, intervene. Maeril has created an excellent bystander’s guide to Islamophobic harassment which is a model we can adopt to oppose any type of harassment.
Go to her Tumblr post to read more about it.
We must not normalize Trump.
This is not an ordinary transfer of power, in which one party’s candidate takes office after the other party’s candidate loses. The President-Elect is openly disdainful of democratic norms and social norms. As president, his hatred, his lack of regard for anyone but himself, his sexism, his bigotry, his mendacity will all begin to seep into the body politic, gradually undermining democratic institutions.
Stay outraged. Do not adopt polite euphemisms that disguise oppression. Language risks normalizing tyranny. I saw a CNN headline yesterday on potential Trump Chief of Staff, an anti-Semite and spouse-abuser: “The Alt-Right Man for the Job?” The “Alt-Right” is White supremacists’ term for themselves. It’s not a joke. Whomever wrote that headline is colluding with the fascists. To call Trump’s proposed Environmental Protection Agency head Myron Ebell a “climate contrarian” or “climate skeptic” is to propagate a lie. Climate change is real. If the human race is to have a future, we need to combat it as aggressively as we can. Mr. Ebell is an anti-science, conspiracy-theorist who is funded by the coal lobby. He’s a professional saboteur, and a crackpot.
Do not adopt the language of your oppressors. Monitor your own language, listen skeptically to others — especially to the media’s.
Phone and write your representatives as often as you can.
Your representatives need to hear from you. Don’t waste time with Tweeting and Facebook.
The most effective things you can do are (1) phoning them and (2) writing a “snail mail” letter to them. Send these to the district (state) office, rather than to DC.
Emily Ellsworth, who worked in Congress for six years, explains it all in this Twitter thread.
What should you focus on? Professor and political strategist Lisa Corrigan made these suggestions on Thursday:
- Ironically, the neocons will have to moderate him or coalitions between outraged non-Tea Party Republicans and Democrats will work to stall his bumbling policy initiatives in Congress. This doesn’t leave a ton of room for Democratic Party maneuvering.
- Campaigning is not governing. He said a bunch of dumb shit that will not come to pass, even though it freaks you out.
- The backlash against him as a president will increase in the first two years, so down ballot Dems in Congress will have a huge opportunity in 2018. Send them money early and often. Trump will be a huge target.
- Obama has 100 days to ram through a bunch of executive orders, which is what I would advise him to do.
- And dude needs to get Merrick’s confirmation done. ASAP. It looks like that *might* be easier now that the GOP is freaked about a Trump presidency. Or not. Because #gridlock.
- The Democratic Party doesn’t like the evangelicals but there will be lots of them who are not supportive of Trump’s worldview and a political revolution, if it happens at all, will come from the evangelicals. They have the money and the organizations.
- Democrats need to talk about a new vision for American labor. NOW. And use it as a competing frame.
- If Dems give up education, all is lost.
For coping under a Trump presidency, my advice would be to focus on items 3 (supporting down ballot Democrats in 2018), 6 (finding common ground with evangelicals), 7 (new vision for American labor), and 8 (education). Focus your energy here.
And remember: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. More voters opposed Trump than supported him.
The Cycle of Progress, Backlash and Progress
In the U.S., backlash follows progress just as surely as night follows day. In response to the racial egalitarianism that inspired the Civil War and Emancipation, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws terrorized African Americans for another century. After the Civil Rights Movement comes the Nixon Administration. After our first Black president, a president endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.
This does not mean “Oh, history moves in cycles, and will thus move us back in the direction of equality.” We move towards equality when people fight for it.
In other words, sure, wear that safety pin as a gesture of solidarity. But we need more than gestures. We need action. Now.
Join the Movement
Trump’s elevation to the highest office in the land took many of us White people by surprise because we like to think that most — not all, but most — White people are better than that. We like to think that we’ve become a less racist society, that White supremacy is on the wane, that the future will be brighter. This is a mark of our White privilege.
5’7″ Black Male (@absurdistwords on Twitter) has a great thread on this subject, written the morning after the election. As he says,
I’m talking to you now surprised white people. I wanna bring you in for an empathy moment.
This feeling you have right now. Amazement that the country could be so short-sighted, that it could embrace hate so tightly? Welcome.
This despair and dread you feel. The indignation, the bewilderment, the hurt, powerlessness, the fear for family and livelihood? Welcome.
That knot in your stomach, that feeling of heartache? That uncertainty about your safety? The deep sense of fundamental injustice? Welcome.
For many marginalized people, this spike in distress you feel this morning is what we feel EVERY morning.
That feeling of “How could they possibly…?” is precisely what we feel with every incidence of excused violence, disenfranchisement, denial
I do not say this to diminish what you feel today. What you feel is real and valid. I’m giving you an opportunity to truly empathize.
For it is the lack of that empathy that allowed America to shrug as the marginalized shouted warnings.
Today the imaginary wall that divides your experience from ours has come down. You have the chance to commune with the rest of us.
So, to those calling to start an anti-Trump movement, a better option is to join those already fighting oppression. Rather than building a new pro-democracy from the ground up, get connected with those groups already doing this work.
Here are some organizations to join and to support
Jezebel has compiled a list of “A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support.” Here are a few highlights (plus one not included), but follow the link for the full list.
For those with the means, I challenge you to follow my friend Katherine Fusco’s lead, and choose your organizations, and then commit to give regularly. Can you commit to $5 a month? Great. How about $10? Even better. If you can sign up for a recurring contribution that will help the organization by giving it an ongoing source of income.
As long as there has been oppression in the U.S., there have been organizations fighting that oppression. Join them.
We Have Been Here Before…
Americans like to think of their country as a democracy that offers equal opportunity to all comers. However, for most of its history, the United States has been a White supremacist police state that treated women as second-class citizens. The last fifty years have been an aberration, not the norm.
Our first president owned human beings. Our third president both owned human beings and raped them. (News flash: a slave cannot grant consent to the person who owns her. We can call Sally Hemings the “mistress” of Thomas Jefferson, but what that means is that she’s the woman he raped repeatedly.) Our twenty-eighth president, Woodrow Wilson, segregated the federal government, thought segregation was good for Blacks, and was a Ku Klux Klan apologist. Upon seeing the classic racist film Birth of a Nation (in which the Klan are the heroes), Wilson remarked, “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”
President-Elect Trump wants to institute a nationwide “stop-and-frisk” policy — which is both a proven failure from a police standpoint, and actively racist. He ran an openly racist campaign, calling for mass deportations. He is not the first racist president.
This is also not the first time that freedom of speech and of the press will come under attack. We need only look to the Sedition Act of 1918, or to McCarthyism, and to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
There are historical precedents for a lot of what we’re about to experience. But not everything…
… And We Have Not Been Here Before.
He is the first actively megalomaniacal president to have command of the nuclear arsenal, and a vast surveillance apparatus. He is the first president to lack experience in government or the military.
As far as I know, he’s the first demagogue president. He called for his opponent to be jailed, and twice insinuated that she be assassinated. He believes in revenge. The most powerful person in the world is a vengeful man who admires dictators. This is very, very dangerous.
How to Survive Autocracy
Indeed, as I write these words, I wonder whether it’s safe for me to write these words. Come January, we will have a president who ran as an autocrat (“I alone can fix it”), spoke disdainfully of freedom of speech, and maintains an enemies list. However, his incredibly thin skin also makes it impossible to gauge what may set him off. Just about any form of criticism seems to anger him.
Though I have not lived under autocracy before, I am becoming more aware of how even implied threats curtail freedom of expression. Though this criticism may later place me at risk, I think it’s better to speak up than to stay silent.
I would, though, advise you to study Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” Gessen is a Russian-American journalist who has opposed Putin. She knows what she’s talking about.
Here are her main points:
- Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization.
- Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
- Rule #3: Institutions will not save you.
- Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock.
- Rule #5: Don’t make compromises.… In an autocracy, politics as the art of the possible is in fact utterly amoral. Those who argue for cooperation will make the case, much as President Obama did in his speech, that cooperation is essential for the future. They will be willfully ignoring the corrupting touch of autocracy, from which the future must be protected.
- Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election.
But read the whole thing. You’ll need this. We will all need this.
While I’m offering advice on what to read, follow Sarah Kendzior on Twitter and read everything she writes. Kendzior is a journalist and an expert on authoritarian states. Here’s her piece from the morning after the election: “A fascist’s win, America’s moral loss.”
Resisting Tyranny is Patriotic
I have continued wearing my Clinton-Kaine pins in public because I want other anti-fascists to know that I’m with them. So far, I have not been challenged, but when I am I will say:
I wear these because I’m a patriotic American. I support all people’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All races, all religions, all genders, all sexualities. Whether they’re immigrants or native born. Whether they’re abled or disabled. Throughout his campaign, our president-elect has actively opposed these American values.
If they say, yeah but Trump has a black man and a woman in his cabinet, then I say:
they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Nearly all of his top picks are White men. Also, news flash: racism doesn’t only infect White people. It seeps into the minds of all of us. The person who says things like “I am the least racist person you’ll ever meet” is either lying to you or unaware of how racism works.
Fighting Trumpism is inherently patriotic. Remind people of this at every turn. You are the patriot.
Struggle is more reliable than hope
It’s hard to be hopeful right now. The mood resembles the days after September 11th 2001, with one crucial difference: the terrorists will now be running the government. We know that things are about to get much, much worse — but we don’t quite know how. We’re falling and have no idea when we’ll reach bottom, or even where the bottom is.
But do not give in to despair. Join the struggle because struggle is more reliable than hope. Struggle gets things done. Struggle organizes. Struggle makes the phone calls. Struggle votes. Struggle stands up for the marginalized. Sure, it’s nice to feel hopeful. Hope offers the warm illusion of that things will get better. It’s a nice feeling.
However, things will get worse more rapidly than we realize. Hope is a luxury. Struggle is a necessity. Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it best in his eloquent, necessary Between the World and Me:
So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.
And in that struggle, remember that you have allies. As Hillary Clinton’s campaign advised us, we are stronger together.
Take care of yourself, too
Watch Luke Cage or whatever your current favorite show is. Watch your favorite comedians or news/satire shows. Exercise. Take a walk, go for a run, play basketball, swim, do yoga. (I find that I feel a bit better when I exercise regularly.) Pray or meditate. The meditation app “Breathe” can be calming. In sum, turn to your wellness strategies — or devise some soon.
For me, the bright moments in this election’s aftermath have been all the supportive people in my community — here in Kansas, across the country, and around the world. As Clinton’s victory began to slip away on election night, I started getting texts and emails, with more arriving the following day. My friends and colleagues have been reaching out to each other, caring for each other. We have each other. We support each other.
An election like this shatters whatever faith I have left in humanity, and so it’s been vital to hear from good folks. The task now is to gather these bright fragments, and guided by them, stagger forward into the looming darkness.
We will prevail. We have to prevail. There is no other option.
Any suggestions? Anything I’ve left out above? Please feel free to add it below.
Thanks for reading.
Now, let’s get to work.
THE SOLE ENDNOTE:
1. I didn’t want to make “the reasons Trump won” the main focus of this piece, but here’s brief note on possible causes for any who may be interested.
- False equivalency: The media peddled the Clinton email story as if it were somehow equivalent to Trump pathologically lying about everything, swindling people at Trump University, failing to pay contractors, claiming to have written books (The Art of the Deal) that he didn’t, bragging about committing sexual assault, calls to assassinate his opponent, his racist “birther” b.s., his Islamophobia, etc. etc. When voters got unmediated Clinton, her poll numbers went up. For instance, after each debate, her poll numbers improved.
- FBI Director James Comey’s statement about emails that he (too late) recanted tipped the scales in Trump’s favor.
- White people/Racism. White working class voted for Trump, Black working class did not. White women voted for Trump, women of color did not. That Trump’s racism did not immediately disqualify him says a lot about the electorate.
- Men/Sexism. If Hillary Clinton were on tape, bragging about (let’s say) “cock-grabbing,” her campaign would never have recovered. There are many other examples of the double standard to which she’s been held, but this is the most symptomatic.
- The working class feels left behind because, on some level, they know that neoliberalism is a con. It doesn’t deliver prosperity to everyone. Hillary Clinton moved further to the left (thanks to Bernie Sanders), but she’s neoliberalism personified. I’ll take neoliberalism over fascism any day. But White working class voters were unimpressed.
- Fake news. There are people who believe that Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, that climate change is a hoax, that our southern borders are porous, that Obama is a Muslim, that Obama was born in Kenya, etc. And they can point you to many on-line sources to “verify” their fanciful notions. Social media just accelerates this misinformation avalanche. The Left and the Right dont actually agree on the same set of facts
- People vote on feelings rather than facts. If you look at Trump’s website, there aren’t a lot of specific policy details there. If you look at Clinton’s, there’s an abundance of them.
- Thanks to the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, Republican efforts at voter suppression (having fewer polling places in minority neighborhoods, resulting in long lines, for instance) are deterring voters.
- Voter turnout was low. I wouldn’t venture to predict how much of this was due to voter suppression (it may be quite a small number), but 47% of eligible voters failed to vote
- Did 3rd-party candidates have an impact? Given the tight margins, it’s probable that they did, but that’s hard to prove: we don’t know which way their votes would have gone or if they would have turned up at all.
- Could she have run a better campaign? Actually, I think she did as well as she could — a data-driven campaign and on message (just like the candidate). She brought in high-powered surrogates, including the Obamas themselves. Campaigned hard. Listened. But the data was off. She should have campaigned in Wisconsin. She should have done more in Michigan. But hindsight is 20-20.
- Should the Democrats have nominated Bernie? Now, that’s the $50,000 question, isn’t it? I think Trump’s better at channeling populist anger than Bernie. Bernie actually has some policy solutions, of course, but he’s also a Socialist Jew. Given the prominence of anti-Semites like Steve Bannon in Trump’s campaign (and Trump’s own racism), you can bet Trump & co. would have used that to delegitimize his candidacy. The answer is: we don’t know. Sanders might have succeeded. And he might not.
Image credits: Alt-Trump logo & safety pin by Sam Kuo.