Your Hand-Wringing Will Not Save You
In my life, I’ve had the tremendous luck of making perceptive, intellectually curious friends who work in a wide array of fields. Most of the time social media is a joy for me, filled with moments and insights from the lives of poets and hackers, screenwriters and entrepreneurs, lawyers and sculptors.
But I’m sorry, you guys. We are five days into the Trump presidency, and some of you are really starting to piss me off.
I’m not talking about conservative trolls: My social bubble is so privileged that I don’t have that problem. I’m talking about some of the lefties on my side, stuck in a hamster wheel of despair and making sure they share that despair for everyone else to deal with.
I’m talking about the WTF posts. I’m talking about any time someone posts something like “OMG could this even get any worse”. I’m talking about the “Fuck 2016” meme, now morphing into a “Fuck 2017” meme, which at this rate will end up as a “Fuck the 2010s” meme, if we all live that long.
I’m talking about cynicism and fatalism and helplessness in the place of anger and love and action. I’m talking about people who feel powerless to stop the walls from closing in, so they’re going to console themselves with how skillfully they can describe those walls as they get closer.
Many of my friends are fundamentally analytical people, as am I. We have an instinct to gather all the available information before forming a precise theory. It’s practically an occupational hazard for academics, but it’s also a natural response from anybody who likes learning about the world.
But now we need to cut it the fuck out. You’ve run out of time to perfect your thesis. You may or may not feel ready, but the fate of the Republic is being decided. Right now.
People tell you who they are, but we ignore it
Donald Trump was elected President eleven weeks ago. Let that sink in: Eleven weeks. Enough time for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s. Some people write novels in less time than that. You have had eleven fucking weeks to start thinking about who you are under a Trump Presidency.
All of us wanted another candidate to win. Some of us were hoping that Trump doesn’t mean everything he says, or that he’ll be hemmed in by moderate members of his staff or by Congress.
But really, what you were hoping— and I know because I was hoping this too — is that you wouldn’t have to spend meaningful time or energy away from your own personal goals, whether you were going to advance your career or raise your children or climb Machu Picchu. You were hoping this wouldn’t be a problem, or that someone else could solve it for you.
That desire to pull back into your private life feeds into your hesitation. For some of you, it’s part of why you’re posting terrible news but not finding out which members of Congress to call. And it’s part of why you’re waiting for one more piece of information to synthesize.
Trump wants you to keep waiting. Through instinct and luck he has stumbled on a technique that you could call “rhetorical shock and awe”. He keeps attacking with a dizzying array of unpredictable outrages, perpetually keeping you off-balance. By the time you’ve absorbed the last offense, he’s moved on to ten more. Eventually he wins.
He did this to his primary opponents. He did it to Hillary. And now he’s doing it to America, and the world, and you.
Bias to action
In tech startups, people sometimes use the phrase “bias to action” to describe how to act when you never have all the information. It’s the mindset that an okay decision, executed with conviction today, is often better than waiting to make a perfect decision tomorrow. It’s especially important for early-stage entrepreneurs, who dive into chaos and imperfection and try to emerge with a thriving company. But it’s relevant for everyone who cares about democracy under Trump as well.
If you know how to tell what news is real, and you have been reading about politics since the election, I’ve got some news for you that’s both good and bad: You already know most of what you need to know about the Trump administration. You don’t need to read that next article about how horrible things are. Sharing it with your friends might not help them either.
What’s left for you is not to gather more information. What’s left for you is to act.
Let a million snowflakes bloom
I’m not a political expert of any kind, but I actually think Trump is stoppable. His net approval rating is zero. His irritation about the Women’s March led him to lash out in ways that will probably hurt him. There are few legal avenues of resistance, but we can still slow down or stop large parts of his agenda.
But if you hoped this would happen without you, you were mistaken. American democracy is facing the largest threat of our lifetimes. Our own leaders are lost and irresolute. The only way we can tell everyone that Trump has no mandate is to show up, again and again and again.
Some people have been talking about a Tea Party of the left, a movement that would look like Trump’s shock-and-awe tactics in reverse. When he attacks reproductive rights, we will resist. When he attacks climate science, we will resist. Same for religious liberty, for accountable policing, for peaceful dissent, and everything else we hold dear. This seems like the correct response to me, but it means that every last one of us has to find their way to the barricades somehow.
You’re one person, and you can’t defend everything. So just pick one issue that matters to you and get involved. Whatever your cause, there are already a dozen organizations waiting for you to show up. Find one you trust and take the actions they recommend. There’s nothing wrong in switching to a different issue or organization later, just pick one for now. Talk to your friends and your family and your neighbors, compare notes about what action seems effective, and what action you can sustain.
I know some of you have been holding back. You’ve been feeling terrible about this country and hoping someone else would fix it. So I’m going to speak to you like a child now, because apparently you need it:
Enough. Enough with the self-pity, and the fatalism, and the despair. Stop feeling bad for yourself and for this country. Start actually doing something.
You want to be treated like a citizen? Maybe it’s time you started acting like one.
The Republic needs you.
Are you ready?