The following guest post is by my friend Ned Staebler. Today, Ned presents us with sage advice on how to move forward in the new America with a “man” like Donald Trump at the helm. It’s a good segue from the “PROCESSING TRUMP” series I have been running.
After one of the most turbulent weeks in American history, this morning I read an Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristoff titled ‘A 12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump.’ It read to me as exemplary of the well-intentioned but impotent liberal political thinking that frankly has lead us to this terrible situation in the first place. To repeat the world’s most tired and overused cliché, repeating the same actions and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
Earlier this year, I asked the question: “They Didn’t Stop Hitler. Will We Stop Trump?” – a metaphor more apt than ever and yet directly in violation of Kristof’s Step #3. Well, last week we had a chance to Stop Trump with a bright blue exclamation point on Election Day. Though we as a nation failed that major test, the fight for our Democracy is not lost – and before you reject my reference as alarmist, (a) remember last Tuesday and (b) read #1 below.
In fact, the fight has just begun, and as discouraged or scared or just plain tired as you are right now, YOU MUST PICK YOURSELF UP AND FIGHT! Sorry about the yelling. But, it seems that you didn’t hear me before, and the stakes are even higher now. Our Democracy is even more at risk. We must fight.
But how? Lots of people have asked me that this week, so here are 10 actual steps you can take to defend our Constitution and keep our Republic:
1. Don’t accept this as normal. From the beginning, the media and pundits have referred to Trump as ‘an unconventional candidate’, but let’s be clear. If the last week has proven anything, it’s not that he’s ‘unconventional,’ it’s that he’s antithetical to the very foundations of our democracy. In the campaign, he refused to release his tax returns or outline his potential conflicts of interest. He attacked the freedom of the press repeatedly, threatened to shut down parts of the internet, and in what should have been a deal breaker, he refused to agree to accept the outcome of the election. I’ll deal with several of his other attacks on the Constitution below, but suffice it to say that he has no regard for the fundamental underpinnings of this country. And, after this election, he has made that even more plain. He and his team have avoided the press entirely, appointed the self-proclaimed mouthpiece of a movement of racists, misogynists, and bigots as his chief advisor, sought top secret clearances for his children, refused to divest himself of his financial holdings, and began floating proposals to register Muslim immigrants. THIS IS NOT NORMAL.
2. “Treat every poisoned word as a promise.” Leil Leibovitz absolutely nails it in his piece in Tablet. I remember as a kid being completely flabbergasted that people didn’t believe Hitler (Sorry, Mr. Kristof) would do the evil things he did. OMG, people, he wrote his plans in a flipping book while sitting in jail for actually trying to do them the first time… Yet, in 1934, eight years after Mein Kampf and after the plebiscite the New York Times described as giving him “dictatorial powers unequalled in any other country, and probably unequalled in history since the days of Genghis Khan” the Times still ignorantly asked in the very same article: “The question that interests the outside world now is what Chancellor Hitler will do with such unprecedented authority.” Really? Really? He told you… in the book… that he wrote… where he said what he was going to do…
Similarly, we must hear and heed Donald Trump’s words. When he and his team says they will register Muslims, commit war crimes and torture, weaken or withdraw from NATO, or give nuclear weapons to Japan or Saudi Arabia we should believe him. Perhaps some of this is just bluster and lies designed to rile up a xenophobic and Islamophobia base. But, wouldn’t you prefer to be prepared for the worst and have it not come to pass than to be unprepared? Besides, vocal and adamant opposition might make him reconsider or at least temper his atrocious plans.
3. Don’t mainstream this as ‘Politics’. Kristof and others have followed the dangerous path of trying to relegate this threat to the realm of politics. They implore us to call our elected representatives and urge them to oppose this impending fascism. Yeah. That’s fine. We should do that. Our representatives generally have a broader platform and greater influence than us. They need to be on the front lines of this battle. But, don’t be confused. This is not a political battle, and we shouldn’t ask for their help solely in their roles as legislators. We can’t let it be acceptable that basic human rights and the pillars of our democracy are subjects for debate on the floors of the Senate, the House of Representatives or various State legislatures. Let them debate trade policy and tax rates, transit and infrastructure. But, if we allow the underpinnings of our system to be up for debate, we slide down a slippery slope.
4. Don’t rely on our Institutions alone. Several times in the past week I have had friends tell me that they had faith in the institutions of our Democracy. “This is still America,” they say. Well, that is exactly what I am worried about. These friends, all white and mostly male, forget that those institutions have failed various segments of our population, usually minority and impoverished communities, time and time again. The criminal justice system is a clear example of an American institution that has been twisted and distorted by the power of institutional racism and fails to protect the rights of Americans on a daily basis.
And, at this point, my faith in America’s political institutions is no stronger. Yes, clearly our democracy is stronger and more rooted in tradition and the public’s consciousness than that of Weimar Germany, but how have our sacred institutions been doing so far? The Republican Party failed to stop Trump even with an arcane nomination process of winner take all states, unpledged delegates, caucuses, and open and closed primaries. The Democratic Party clearly failed on election night though the pundits and pollsters of the Fourth Estate assured us it would be fine. Remember, it was those same reporters and editors who gave Trump billions in free media during this campaign. Don’t hold your breath that the Electoral College will have any better results, if it even attempts to protect us from a demagogue. But, that’s OK. Our institutions draw strength from the people, not the other way around. This challenge serves as a good reminder of that.
5. Do, Do, Do! No, I’m not suggesting you listen to the 1980 song from the Police with a similar title. Though, Sting’s point that “the simple can be so powerful” is apropos here. Rather, this is the call to action. Whatever you do, DO SOMETHING. Doing nothing is not an option. What should you do? Well, generally speaking, you should do whatever you’re comfortable doing. There is no magic, one-size-fits-all approach to defending our civil liberties, and it’s actually more effective to have the resistance coming from multiple channels. Here’s the challenge: Do what you’re comfortable doing, but take it past your comfort zone. Be a little more aggressive with your tone. Be a little more generous with your pocketbook. Be a little more vocal or a little louder or a little more colorful or a little more insistent or a little more confrontational. Trust me, a little discomfort now will save us all a lot more discomfort later.
6. Determine your biggest asset. This is important. Spend a little time thinking about what your greatest strength is and focus on it. Do you write well? Write a blog. Can you sing, dance, or play an instrument? Put on a performance and donate the proceeds to the resistance. Do you like making phone calls or writing letters? Have you got extra cash? Do you hold a position of influence in your church or local nonprofit or business community? Whatever it is, figure it out. Then think about how you can use that asset to make your voice heard and to share your message with others. I’m sure that you’re far more creative than me. Be original, be persistent, and be relentless. The stakes are high.
7. Make a donation. If, in the item above, you decided your net worth was your biggest asset, then this one is for you. But, even if it wasn’t, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Our voices are loudest and most clear when we use them together, and donations are an easy way to demonstrate solidarity. There are some great organizations that can help to amplify our message. For starters, try the ACLU who came right out the day after the election and told Trump to get his act together or he’d face the firepower of a fully armed and operational network of activists and litigators. There’s also the Southern Poverty Law Center which ‘is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society’. Lastly, I’d recommend Planned Parenthood whose mission of providing access to quality health care, education and information to individuals and families is in serious jeopardy today.
8. Protest with a purpose. Heading out to the streets is a time-honored and highly effective method of getting your voice heard. But, don’t expect to do it without controversy and complaints from those whose status quo you’re challenging. You already hear it – “They’re doing it wrong by blocking traffic. Martin Luther King would never have protested like this.” Don’t believe the hype. The whole point of a protest is to cause people unwilling to pay attention to or take action against injustice happening around them to wake up and listen. If you’re not disrupting their daily routine, that ain’t going to happen. King’s civil rights movement routinely blocked traffic and used economic disruption as a tactic.
But, here’s the important part. You must have a clearly stated purpose to your protest. If you’re just marching, it makes it too easy for detractors to label you however they’d like, and most likely they’ll dismiss you as sore losers. Pick a mission – Fire Bannon or No Registration, for example. Then, it’s important to make a plan, considering all of the possibilities including what you’ll do if things go wrong. I don’t want to dissuade you from taking to the streets, but be careful! You also might want to download the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app to safely upload video of any potential incidents with police to the cloud.
9. Be vocal. This might be the easiest suggestion and the hardest. It’s easy because it requires nothing from you but a little bit of courage. It’s hard because it requires nothing from you but a little bit of courage. What do I mean by “be vocal”? In short, stop letting things slide. This is how we got here in the first place. When bigots and misogynists don’t get pushback for saying the things they do, they get emboldened and the ideas get mainstreamed. Our kids hear them and think it’s acceptable talk and behavior. Similarly, when someone is standing up and doing the right thing we need to support them. If we don’t they and others will be less likely to do it again. So, go ahead. When that vaguely racist uncle at Thanksgiving dinner says something about how Trump just wants America to be for Americans again, give him hell.
10. Don’t be a hater. Finally, let’s keep our eyes on the prize. There is strength in numbers, and we need to stick together. Every minute we spend criticizing each other is one we aren’t spending defeating Trump and protecting our rights. So, if you think that someone wearing a safety pin is embarrassing themselves, that’s certainly your right. If you think it’s more about appeasing their guilt than showing actual solidarity, you very well might be right, and if you think they need to do more, please tell them to. But, if we’re going to believe Trump about all the horrible things he says, I think it’s only fair to give the benefit of the doubt to potential friends as well. The election was just another battle in what is unfortunately likely to be a very dangerous and bloody war. We’re going to need all the help we can get.
[CC photo credit: Kyle J. Schultz | Flickr]