The following is my commentary on means of taking on the new administration, based on bullet-points suggested by Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King.
1. Don’t Use His Name: this is a regime, and he is not acting alone.
Not only does Trump have an administration of like-minded people helping him (and in cases like Steve Bannon, actually helping to shape his own thoughts and actions), but he is also acting in concert with the Republicans in Congress and the Republican administrations of some 33 state governments. Even before the confirmation of the Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos), and of the new head of the EPA (Scott Pruitt), Republicans in the House prepared bills to abolish both agencies, in keeping with the Trump campaign promise to eliminate them. Were a magical force to suddenly lift Trump away today, the intent, force, and mechanism for executing these actions would remain unhindered. This is not about one man in one office. This is about a mentality held by an entire political party, and endorsed by a significant minority of Americans, the people who voted for him. Trump is in many ways more a response to conditions in our political and economic system than a singular phenomenon that he has imposed all by himself upon an entire, 230-year-old, Constitutionally protected political system. Don’t focus upon the removal of Trump, but for a greater victory in the fight against the ideology of our opponents, and in the fight for the support of those who decided to vote for them.
2. Do not argue with those who support him–it doesn’t work.
There is a core of supporters of the new administration who are, and will always remain, both ideologically attached to their choices and unable to accept arguments that are based on indisputable facts (which they do, in fact, dispute in favor of preferred, unverified, misstatements and untruths). However, this is a strategy that needs to be used with caution. There were many people who voted for the Republicans (and for Trump specifically) who have in the past voted Democrat (and for Obama), and who are just finding their way to the dark side in their perception (real or not) of changing realities that inhibit their freedom of action. The Hillary campaign was often criticized after the electoral defeat for not speaking out to the many former Democratic voters who chose to vote for Trump and other Republicans, and for neither answering their questions nor fighting for their vote. This is about the hearts and minds of the people, and Trump voters are a strong but rather less cohesive group of the people than we often like to perceive them to be. We need to talk to the ones who are only just barely Trump voters, who found their way to the Republicans through a path of desperation, rather than strong-hearted enthusiasm, and who do stop when presented with a factual argument to at least consider the other side. Shutting people like them out of our political conversation and consideration is partly how we got here in the first place.
3. Focus on his policies, not his appearance or mental state.
Since there is a clear lack of maturity and social responsibility on one side, we need to continue to be the adult in the conversation. Remember your umbrage at Trump’s characterizations during the campaign of opposing candidates based on their appearances? It is easy to call the other side out for being hypocrites. It is harder to not be a hypocrite yourself. If a man or woman should be respected for the work they do and not for their appearance, then that goes both ways: we should deplore the Republicans not for their appearance but for the lack of qualifications of their candidates; for the threats that their policies pose to our democracy, diversity, and national security; for the continued contempt that they heap upon ethics rules to distance politicians from private business and the conflicted interests that ensue from such connections; for their suspicion and hatred for fellow Americans and for those choosing to become fellow Americans. We must choose to be bigger than that, and not just leftist versions of the “deplorables.”
4. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.
Many people voted Republican last year because they were angry and afraid. Instead of fighting back with more anger and fear, emotions which distance all sides from using rational arguments and facts, and which enable “us” vs. “them” schema which replace positive policies with blame games and punitive sanctions, we should employ positive messages about how we the people are really going to “make America great again.” We represent greater numbers, more unified than ever; but we lost massively in the recent elections and we need to win even greater numbers before we can see any measurable degree of victory. We do that by attracting people to our side, not by repelling people from us or by helping our opponents to solidify as we do so. Be the reason why others should join us, and not the reason why they do not.
5. No more helpless or hopeless talk.
We can do this. We do have the numbers, and a more unified force than ever. However, this is going to be a long war, not a short battle. This year, there will be local elections throughout the country, for mayors and city council-members, for county administrators, and there will be a few special elections here and there to replace the occasional death, resignation, etc., of local, state, or even national officials. In 2018, many governors and other state legislators come up for election; as well as all of our US Representatives, and one third of our US Senators (the so-called “Class I” senatorial seats come up for re-election in 2018). We can start working now to put local, and then state, and finally some national representatives into power who are fighting for us rather than against us. Before any of that happens, though, we will lose battles. Despite a seemingly overwhelming outpouring of public outcry after the election, the simple fact is that for now, the Republicans rule the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office. They will get their nominees through, perhaps all of them, and if not, then virtually all of them. This does not mean we should not fight tooth and nail for each appointment, make them fight back to win them. We need to get right in their faces, every single day, and make them fight back for the things they think they can just go ahead and realize without difficulty. The media has already noted that the administration is having one of the hardest battles getting their appointments through in recent history, requiring for the first time ever a vice-presidential tie-breaking vote in the US Senate to put an appointment through. That sends the administration, and people on our side, and perhaps most importantly, people torn between the two forces, a strong signal that this administration does not by any means represent the people fully, no matter what the electoral results were. We need to keep pushing that, every day. Call your senators, regardless of whether you share their party or views. Call your representatives. Make calls as often as possible, every week or even every day if you can. Be specific, be frequent, and be heard. Find out what local elections you have coming up in your area, and involve yourself. Remember that some 90% of American law happens at state and local levels. These things affect you directly. Start fighting now to win them back. Ultimately, we can win some local elections this year; win some state and national seats back in 2018; and start building a greater movement for 2020. This is doable; but only if we actually set out and do it. Have faith, have purpose, and fight.
6. Support artists and the arts.
This is one of those areas that Republicans love to target. Art represents a minuscule proportion of public funds, but they reserve a disproportionate share of their ire towards such things. Artists are by their nature independent, self-thinking, and often pioneers working outside of established norms. Republicans hate it when we spend money on cultural venues that are sometimes unfriendly to them (which is really, from their political perspective, just plain common sense). For all of these reasons, art is a good way to fight back. In fact, until we actually start winning elections, it is one of our few principle weapons. We are fighting the cultural battle in comedy, in music, in theater, and in all other cultural venues; pushing our message of diversity and unity forward, convincing the people consuming culture of our righteousness in the battle. And this has worked strategically for some time. The progressive move of television and movies toward normalizing multi-cultural families, homosexuality, and other social realities unappreciated by the Republicans, has helped shape younger generations’ acceptance of them as normal. Cultural warfare does work; and as our principle weapon open to us, must be openly embraced and utilized to its full measure.
7. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it before you post it!
The information superhighway is often difficult to navigate, giving us access greater than ever imagined to articles, arguments, films and video, etc. This also, however, has decidedly moved our information sources from those easily subject to vetting and even peer review, to new sources completely unchecked by any standards. New internet media can “cite” whatever other “sources” they want, propose any theory they want, present any misstatements or untruths they want. Many Americans who have had little or no actual training in verifying sources simply do not understand what the difference is between a racist hate site that demonstrates how some ethnic group is taking over or unfairly uses the system against us, and a site like the New York Times or CNN or a peer-reviewed scientific or academic journal, when all of these can be easily accessed just by clicking on a link. All of these seem to be some person expressing some idea; and thereby ends the distinction between “fact” and “opinion,” and between the scientific value of a theory ( a verified explanation of observations, that has passed the test of independent experimentation) and the public’s use of the word “theory” to mean a simple, unverified guess. To fight against this trend, we have started to employ the expression “fake news.” This term was used originally to describe certain sites deliberately providing arguments and information they know to be false, on purpose, often as a deliberate parody of extremism. The term then was generalized to be simply a synonym for propaganda, for biased media that may well be believed by those generating it, and presented not to deceive but to argue a point, but not objectively fair or accurate. Now the expression has been co-opted by the administration’s information warfare staff as a means of combating against actual, vetted news sources like the Times, Washington Post, and CNN. While it is true that some of these sources show a liberal bias (the Times being one of the most recognized targets of this accusation), they have also been critical of all parties and all candidates, and they are useful sources of verified information unlike sites like Steve Bannon’s infamous Breitbart News site. But there are many, many “fake news” and propaganda outlets on the left, as well as on the right. Beware of what you cite when you make arguments and cite sources. Beware of what you believe before you pour your outrage all over the internet and invalidate the actual arguments that we on the left can make about the new administration.
8. Take care of yourselves!
Do not let yourself get swallowed by “resistance fatigue.” As we fight, do make sure that your physical, mental, and social health are not impaired. Spend time with your family, sharing activities besides fighting. Pet your cat, take your dog for a nice, long walk. Swim, run, work out. Enjoy a nice meal without focusing on whatever the administration did today that angers you so. Take time away from the fight to make sure you are okay; because we do need you to come back reinvigorated and ready for more. At night, before you go to sleep, if you are thinking about what is happening politically, remember all that we have going for us, and focus on our positive forces instead of on the negative actions of the other side. Go to sleep thinking, “We can do this.”
Call and visit your public officials, both elected and appointed. Organize – call your friends, ask your family to help, find your allies in your social circle, and move them towards doing more. Join mass forces in the street as absolutely often as you can. If you can, donate to groups on our side, fighting the good fight. Online petitions frankly do little; they are mostly just means of getting you to a donations page. Click if you like; but “slacktivism” will not accomplish much. Our government needs to see us out there and fighting en masse; the thing that terrifies them the most is the possibility of losing the next election. “Clickers” are often not voters; so be a regular and visible threat of actual electoral change.
Headline image, ©2016, Sparkpolitical.