As we begin 2017, the question of how to face the prospect of our first demagogue president leaves me searching the Earth, mostly through Google, for what to do next. We failed in our responsibility to keep this man from power. Now I pray for the wisdom and strength to help limit that power as much as possible — and I’m not sure I even believe that prayer works.
Actually, I’m not even sure advice works.
“I always pass on good advice,” Oscar Wilde once said. “It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.”
Will Rogers just said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
But shutting up sounds like a terrible idea right now.
New Year’s resolutions are probably the only kind of useful advice there is — they’re the advice that we give to ourselves. Statistically, such resolutions are almost useless. We usually break them in weeks, if not days or hours. But if there’s anything that 2016 has taught us, it’s this time can be different. Also: It really can happen here.
So these are the resolutions I’ll do my best to honor in 2017. I hope you’ll find them useful as you do your best, which I’m sure will be better than mine.
1. Think of the people Trump will hurt.
I’m so liberal I don’t even want Trump voters to lose their health insurance. A lot of people disagree with this sentiment and want to see these voters get what they voted for. And I get the urge to let them stew. But the problem is we’re all in this together. You can’t take away Trump voters’ health insurance or Medicare as we know it without taking it away from millions of others, including ourselves. And you can’t take it away from Trump voters without taking it away from their kids and parents who didn’t buy Trump’s promise that he will replace Obamacare with “something terrific,” or his barely questioned pledge to protect Medicare. America already spends more money than any other nation on health care and we’re the only developed nation that leaves millions uninsured. The GOP is about to make those problems far worse — and people will die because of their decisions. Which means Trump’s broken promises will be a huge asset in winning back the states he barely won.
2. Be humble.
No one knows for sure how to beat Donald Trump. Everyone he directly opposed saw their popularity crash and reputation slandered. Replaying 2016 is necessary to figure out how to win in 2018 and 2020. We need to figure out what went wrong and what we stand for, without letting the recriminations tear us apart. Yet we don’t know know whether Trump is our Berlusconi, our Putin, or something much worse.
3. Be careful not to help him.
You don’t have to retweet Trump. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. “When you repeat Trump, you help Trump,” UC Berkeley Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics George Lakoff writes. “You do this by spreading his message wide and far.” Focusing the debate on the issues normalizes the debate and give us a chance to frame the arguments we want to make.
3. Fight with your friends, not with your friends.
Something pretty amazing happened in Michigan this winter, after Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1988. Progressives backed Republicans down from a series of far right measures that would have sped up their effort to turn this purple state red — an objective Republicans eagerly pursued after Mitt Romney lost the state by 9.5 percent in 2012. How did it happen? “To fight back, a broad coalition of unions was formed to organize an aggressive lame duck strategy,” Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, wrote. The Tea Party was the culmination of a four decade-long effort to astroturf a movement that could overwhelm the power of organized labor. But the left still has the bones of the institutions that built the middle class, if not the meat. Building on those alliances is a shortcut toward a popular democratic uprising against Trump.
4. Be mindful of how totalitarianism builds.
“The problem, the personal problem, was not what our enemies did, but what our friends did,” wrote Hannah Arendt, the Jewish philosopher who escaped Nazi Germany and coined the concept of “the banality of evil.” As she recalled, “Friends ‘coordinated’ or got in line.”
5. Go outside.
Arendt also wrote: “Totalitarian government, like all tyrannies, certainly could not exist without destroying the public realm of life, that is, without destroying, by isolating men, their political capacities.” Social media is no substitution for activism — and if it feels as if it is, it’s probably worse than doing nothing. Showing up at meetings, knocking on doors and speaking out in places where other humans can actually hear your voice, no matter how small the crowd, is part of keeping democracy alive.
6. Recognize that Republicans have gerrymandered reality.
Yes, this is going to be hard. Trump barely won, yet he could become the most powerful Republican president since before the Great Depression. He will be greeted by a Congress that has been gerrymandered for his pleasure, along with GOP control in the states unlike anything we’ve seen in 80 years. Add to that a stolen Supreme Court seat and a chance to appoint as many as three more justices. Republicans have foundations, think tanks, and a media complex unlike anything on the left. Trump’s agenda has become pat conservatism with some untested trade policies. The right probably will go along with anything he does and support it with massive resources, as long as he gives them the tax breaks, regulation slashing, and Supreme Court picks they want.
7. Do practical things, like make a Google alert for your Member of Congress.
Add your Member of Congress’ phone number to your phone contacts. Heck, why not your state representatives, too! There’s a ton of practical advice in this inspiring guide — Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.
8. Remind yourself that we don’t know how bad this is going to get.
Giving up is not an option but we have to face the reality that we have no idea how Trump will use the powers of the presidency. If he uses them the way he uses his Twitter account, he’ll callously destroy lives with lies and calumny — and zero consequences. Who knows how our institutions will hold up? But we still have a Constitution. If you get arrested, the only words you need to say are, “I want to speak to a lawyer.”
9. Be sure to remind people that Trump is a minority president.
There are more of us than of them. Millions more. Pointing out that Trump is the biggest popular vote loser ever elected president in modern American history isn’t just good for morale, it helps chip away at the right-wing appeal to dominance upon which he has constructed his entire appeal. So make a resolution to call him “Mr. Minority President.” Say it loudly, proudly, and often.
10. Take care of yourself and the people you love. And keep it.
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Copyright 2016 The National Memo