Like any animal, he's better off in his natural habitat.“The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Government makes laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”- George Orwell
The New Yorker’s David Remnick dropped that quote into an article that’s blossomed into a familiar genre since Donald J. Trump got elected. I call them “panic pieces,” basically, lurid imaginings of the very worst things that will come out of a Trump presidency. I wrote one myself too, so I’m not pretending I’m exempt.
Also, and I want to underline this point because I know that someone will stumble on this post and dismiss it due to my privileged position as a white, straight male in American society. And, to be clear, I acknowledge the hell out of not just that reality, but also that I genuinely do fear the worst from a Trump presidency, and not for me, but for all communities of color, the LGBT community, and for any faith that is not mainline Christian. (My only claim to be a victim of discrimination of any kind grows from my strong leanings toward atheism. Trust me, that kind of “victimhood” wears light if you let it.)
There are protests happening in Portland, Oregon tonight, big rumbling marches that are locking up traffic and that grow from the premise that Donald Trump is “not my president.” Silly as I find that idea, I don’t mind the protests. Hell, my own mom is going “full Kaepernick” (i.e., she has no intention of standing during the national anthem for the length of the Trump presidency), and that’s her right, just as the protesters own their protests.
With all that going on, with all the raw emotions and anger going on across the country, I just want to pose one question: is this permanent state of high agitation making anyone calmer or happier? Is the eternal state of political mobilization doing the country any good, or is everyone just more pissed off all the time?
Steven Colbert posed a similar question when he signed off at the end of Election Night, and at the end of a political campaign that felt like it would never fucking end. And I guess that’s my underlying thought on the protests: does everyone seriously want to just keep going with this shit? To take the next step, by what mechanism do street protests make Donald Trump go away? Is he going to see the disgust and voluntarily step down? Will protests force another election? No. With that in mind, is there any point to keeping Election 2016 rolling through 2018 and into 2020? As I see it, no. And, again, that’s as a straight, white male, aka, the safest demographic in the country. Related: I absolutely adored this Election Night tweet:
“Other straight white dudes. Now is when we drop a shoulder & block for everyone on these monkey’s shitlist. We’re less vulnerable so step in.”- @jonrog1
My follow-up question to all the above is this: do you want to get mad, or do you want to win?
Donald Trump is the product of an angry society, one that operates under the delusion that each community can have the world exactly as they want it. A healthy society does not cough up a Donald Trump; a society that sees every issue as zero-sum produces Donald Trump. Trumpism thrives on division; it needs enemies to exist. In the same way that ISIS welcomed a Trump presidency, I’m guessing that Trump and the Breitbart shitheads revel in protests that shut down traffic and inconvenience the “regular,” apolitical people that they want to keep agitated. That, honestly, was the beauty of Colbert’s Election Night closer: panic, like the permanent campaign, benefits no one but those who profit from it, whether by jobs as campaign consultants, or as online rage monsters like the alt-right cocksuckers who, when you get down to it, no sane person likes or values.
The surest way to suffocate Trumpism and to send Donald Trump back to his tacky fucking penthouse is to create a society that sees him, and the worst of his followers, as barking-mad interlopers, as people riding into town, a la the Magnificent Seven (OK movie, btw) to shit on everyone else’s peaceful enjoyment of the best life they can create. That’s nothing more than the hard, hard work of creating a healthy society. Fuck it, that’s too high a bar; given his margin, a healthier society would be enough.
Picking through exit polls is the place to start this project. Slate’s William Saletan picked through the exit polls shortly after and there’s all kinds of enlightening stuff in there, details that, at least to me, demonstrate the wafer-thinness of Trump’s support. Here, I mean, one big misstep and he’s fucked thin. Saletan followed his up today with an elaboration on the original data, one where he directly addressed Hillary Clinton’s (clearly failed) attempt (nice try, though) at a clarifying moment during the 2016 campaign, the whole “baskets of deplorables” moment. Yes, this was seized on energize Trump voters, but that only goes back to the “sick society” argument; a healthy society, with a healthy sense of…(gritting my teeth, but it fits) self-esteem understands Clinton’s argument. As Saletan points out, there’s not much to do about two of those baskets – e.g. white nationalists and, to paraphrase his cringe-worthy choice of words, the “easily manipulated.” It’s his “fifth basket” who seem most promising for partnering up to build that better society. To quote him:
“And the fifth basket is people who were genuinely troubled by the way Trump treated women, or the way he talked about a Mexican American judge or the mother of a Muslim American soldier, but who voted for him anyway, or stayed home, because they couldn’t stand Clinton.”
As he points out, lump them in with the first two baskets, in particular, and “you’ll lose more elections.” Go back to Trump’s thin margin, however, and the opportunity becomes obvious. No, not obvious. Clear. As much as I agree that Election 2016 revealed the persistence of racism and - can I say especially sexism, because, holy shit, am I unsure as to how to rank the worst shit – no small part of it grew from a simple, and understandable desire to try something different. Sure, the “different” was a flaming bag of racist-accommodating nightmare, but everyone makes adjustments, brushes stuff under the rug, and so on. Accidental racism /sexism and conscious, rabid racism/sexism are different animals; only the latter needs to be put-down, and with extreme prejudice; the former just takes time in most cases.
I had most of this in my head before I read the Orwell quote up top. I’ve actually been carrying an idea around in my head for months, but haven’t managed to get it out, not least because it sounds some combination of cheesy and impossible. More than anything else, this country needs a moral renewal, just a basic sense that people should be decent to one another in spite of differences in faith and politics, and that to live and let live is the answer to most problems that doesn’t impinge on one’s own life. And, hell no, that’s not as simple as it sounds, but Orwell’s quote gets to the central idea: we all create the society we live in together; we establish the ground rules by our everyday behaviors, even the least among us.
Look, I know (literally) scores of people who are frustrated, and I understand that there are people who are terrified and, hell, yes, legitimately so. And I wish I had something more actionable to pass on than an impulse. One thing I do believe is that there are communities in this country who can and will take care of each other during the Trump years. That's how people have survived when the world was way worse than it is in the United States of America, 2016. I wish I could say that Trump won’t make this necessary, but I see his appointees and, based on those, it sure as hell looks like he’s going to follow through on his promises from the campaign trail.
People of good faith lost the battle and that sucks. The bigger thing is to win the war.