Imagine my narcissism. I’m pretty sure that I helped the singularly most unqualified candidate for the presidency win the office, defeating — by a very slim margin in crucial states, and with a losing share of the popular vote — one of the most qualified, a woman whose election alone would have been one of the great moments in American history. And I’m sorry.
Let me explain how I know I helped Donald Trump get elected.
This spring, an Irish friend invited me to a bar in Helsinki, Finland to have a beer with his friends, an American expatriate who’d married a Finnish woman — a leading cause of immigration to the Nordic nation. Like almost everyone we knew, we laughed about Donald Trump. Then like people from liberal nations all over the world, they sought assurance from any actual American resident they could find we wouldn’t elect this maniac to replace Barack Obama. I felt it was my job to assure them, and they seemed thankful for the slight relief.
After a couple more beers, I did something ridiculous. I revealed my secret identity: I’m @LOLGOP, I explained, a nobody who makes dumb jokes about conservatives on Twitter.
The American expatriate pal seemed a bit amused but shifted to get comfortable in his seat again.
“You know,” he said. “They laughed at Hitler.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I let him know that the way the intelligentsia and artists had laughed at Hitler and perhaps had enabled him had become, briefly, a popular subject of conversation among liberals online. Then I recalled the chilling moment in the musical Cabaret when the facade of hedonism and decadence is shattered by the crowd rising in near unison with the Hitler Youth to sing “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” — revealing both the chauvinistic allure and implacability of the movement that transformed one of the most advanced civilizations into one of the most savage.
“Good,” the expatriate. “I’m glad you know that.”
But I forgot it.
I spent the next half a year mocking Trump’s hypocrisy, inconsistency and comic unfitness for office and the delusion of anyone who imagined otherwise. And — worst of all — I invested tens of thousands of words in the cause of explaining that Donald Trump just could not win.
We were too smart to be conned by him, at least compared to GOP primary voters. Our immune system would seize upon him, I promised anyone who’d listen, with great vengeance and render him into his proper place among history’s great punchlines.
I was wrong and did the exact opposite of what my duty was: I should have been warning you that he could win and what would happen to this country if we were unable to stop him. I should have been knocking on doors every chance I got and encouraging others to do the same. I doubt my trickle of influence would have meant a damn thing, but at least I wouldn’t have been Donald Trump’s accomplice.
I doubt I’ll ever forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made, but — like you — now all I can do is fight back.
Here is what I think we need to do next.
1. Admit to yourself that Trump and the GOP are much more powerful than we imagined.
Just about every candidate who got in a fight with Donald Trump over the last 16 months lost. He tore down their careers, their personalities, their families. And he helped destroy their approval ratings. You can say that Bernie Sanders is still the most popular politician in America who isn’t Michelle Obama and he could have beaten Trump. Maybe. Trump wouldn’t have had FBI Director James Comey, Wikileaks, and Vladimir Putin on his side in the war to destroy Bernie. But he had a plan and it involved name-calling, of course. There’s a unique power in a man fueled by a monstrous lust for power who has none of the worries most of us possess when it comes to money or conscience. We’ve never experienced anything like this before in American history. Trump cloaked his financial obligations and is promising to continue as president with his business interests still directly controlled by his family. He not only embraced Putin’s foreign policy goals, he justified Putin’s authoritarianism as a model of governance. And he figured out how to get the Republican Party and its vast network of power and influence on the side of Putinism with the simple promise of their choices of Supreme Court Justices and generous tax cuts for the rich. The Koch brothers’ Kochtopus allegedly “sat out” this election, except for the tens of millions of dollars they helped pour into the Senate elections, including decisive wins in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. You’d think their “libertarianism” would be offended by a president who rages against the rights of anyone but himself, but their family’s history of abetting despots seems more relevant than ever. Even the Comey letter, a disgraceful intervention into a free election, appears to be the result of right-wing influence within our own government trying to destroy a candidate for president. And the assault on voting rights — which was almost completely ignored by the media — may have provided just enough help in the margins to keep a significant number of minority voters home. We assumed demographics would destroy a party that relies almost entirely on white voters. But we have to face the reality that we “may be in a reinforcing feedback loop of growing inequality and Republican rule.”
2. Realize that you can’t sit this out. There are risks for you and your family.
The newly elected president of the United States is already attacking the New York Times, again. Ask the few Republicans who remained steadfastly against Trump what sort of abuse and threats they’ve faced. Trump fans have been directed to take on the press and they’ve done so joyously, targeting minorities, women, and Jewish journalists with particular viciousness. And among the hundreds of people Trump has attacked via Twitter, he’s never once taken on the white supremacist forces that back him. Instead, he’s graciously retweeted them dozens of times. Soon, he will have the power of the greatest military and law enforcement machine ever assembled by humanity. First, it seems, he’ll go after the DREAMers — young undocumented Americans brought here as kids. Next, the Muslims? National stop-and-frisk? A new drug war? A 21st century “Alien and Sedition” Act? We are facing something entirely unprecedented here. Trump has campaigned on abridging our rights and as a writer who studied actual Putinism reminds us, the first rule of surviving in an autocracy is “Believe the autocrat.” He’s going to do what he says. Life is hard enough. You may not want to get on his or his lackeys’ radar. But you have to recognize that not everyone has that choice. And you may not have it forever.
3. Realize that millions of your neighbors cannot sit this out.
Millions are threatened with deportation. Millions will lose their health insurance. Millions of poor people will find that their few reproductive rights will begin evaporating. Most of the advances of the LGBTQ community are now at risk. The rights of free worship, free speech, and free assembly have all been questioned and threatened. We know Trump will lie to justify anything he needs to do to maintain his self-esteem. And he’s making allegiance with nationalist, ethnocentric right-wing movements across the globe. We know he will accept no defeat and may begin to attack the foundations of our government that do not bend to his whims. In 2004, after George W. Bush was re-elected, the left was distraught. But we never imagined that there might not be a chance to elect a new president in four years. Now we have to accept that the prospect of American democracy being quickly eroded is very real.
4. We need to fight, everything.
For now, our institutions exist. There is still another Senate election that will be held this year. Every vote that Trump cannot count on in the Senate is a hedge against his power, until he abandons the normal bounds of our Constitution. Republicans can do many horrible things with 51 votes in our upper house. But a number of Republican Senators have proven resistant to Trump in the past and would likely not want to surrender the filibuster to him or give him a free hand to appoint anyone he choses. So let’s make him pay for every unpopular policy choice he embraces and build a fortress of resistance around the cornerstones of the middle class. We need to scream about the trillions in tax breaks he’s about to give to the richest, who have never been richer. We have to defend Medicare and Social Security from any cut proposed. Defunding Planned Parenthood is coming. The pain and dismay will be real. And then never let voters forget what’s been taken away from them. And we need to make sure Democrats know they should not vote for any repeal or replacement of Obamacare that takes health insurance away from one American. The way to do that is with phone calls. The way to do the rest is more complicated.
5. You can’t rebuild liberalism yourself but you can get out and be a part of what does.
Tweeting and Facebook aren’t enough. I’m speaking to myself mostly here. Getting off my ass is paramount. Volunteering at Planned Parenthood or the ACLU is a start. Getting involved in politics directly, in your precinct committee or county party is essential — as is traveling out of the circles you normally travel in to understand how many millions of people who were smart enough to vote for Barack Obama cast a ballot for Donald Trump. The right wing has professionalized politics with think tanks, non-profits and publications that are supported by hundreds of millions of dollars. (You can’t counter that alone. Unless you’re a rich bigwig with influence in the national Democratic movement. In that case, get to work.) We have to find a way to replace the crucial ballasts of unions and strong public education to make it clear to working people of all races that only one party has their interests in mind. Peaceful protests are fantastic if they are the beginning of a grind. A daily grind. A weekly grind. A monthly grind. Whatever you can grind. Get out. Being with people matters. (Again, mostly speaking to myself here.) We cannot forget that the Congressional maps will be redrawn in the next 5 years. We can’t let this opportunity, if our system, exists slip by. We need to elect Democratic governors in states like Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania to have any hope of winning Congress again and fixing what Trump and the GOP are about to do.
I’m sorry for the horrors I did too little to prevent from being unleashed. Now I have to do better — and I hope we can do it together.
IMAGE: A boy holds a sign during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 13, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach