Seven reasons for optimism on a terrible day for America
I’ve been reeling this week, like so many people, from the imminence of Donald Trump, who will take the oath of office this morning. That this lying, bigoted, ignorant, self-dealing narcissist will follow one of the most principled, visionary, intelligent, dignified and decent of our Presidents makes the crisis ahead of us feel even worse. I’m laced up for the fights ahead, but sadness, anxiety, anger and fear have often got the better of my more hopeful and positive side. So for myself as much as anyone else, I made a list this morning of seven things that give me hope as I think about the weeks since the election and look ahead:
- There has been steady resistance to the “normalization” of Donald Trump. The hero John Lewis says he is not a “legitimate” President, and a storm of what is now predictable Twitter abuse follows, but sixty Democrats follow his lead and boycott the inauguration. When not only Hollywood stars and A-list musical acts, but Rockettes and high school marching bands refuse to dignify his accession to the Presidency, Trump’s outrageous unfitness is kept far from the new normal. We must stay freaked out.
- He is far from invincible. A minority President — the famously thin-skinned Trump is particularly sensitive about that, and has taken to touting the number of counties he won — has seen his support shrink steadily since Election Day, as voters see their hopes dashed that the prospect of office would sober Trump up. Many are getting wise to the con job he ran on them, as a parade of billionaires and extremist ideologues parade before the Senate for confirmation. He will enter the White House with public support between 34 and 40 percent — the lowest for a new President, who usually enjoys a honeymoon — in recorded history. We must exploit those vulnerabilities.
- Democrats seem to be in fighting spirit. They stayed united on the Affordable Care Act, and have been tenacious and effective in exposing the conflicts of interest, ignorance and arrogance of the Trump cabinet nominees. They are doing a good job of relating all of this back to a unified message that hits at Trump’s perceived strengths: that his corruption and extremist appointments betray the people who wanted to “drain the swamp” and undo a rigged system.
- There are glimmers of Republican resistance. Only a handful of Republicans who care about their country and are willing to buck the party’s increasingly extremist base are needed to stop the worst of Trump’s policies and appointments. Though it was appalling to see Maine Senator Susan Collins, who is what passes for a Republican “moderate” in the current environment, introduce civil rights opponent Jeff Sessions at his Senate hearing, Marco Rubio, John McCain and others have shown some spine. Meanwhile, never-Trump conservative intellectuals and journalists like Michael Gerson and Jennifer Rubin have been steadfast voices of critique.
- Democrats might be learning the right lessons from their loss. I sit in a lot of post-election post-mortem discussions, and I think the political operative class is beginning to understand that all the sophisticated modeling and analytics in the world get you nowhere if disconnected — as was too often the case in the 2016 campaign — from what is happening in the field. Talking to voters and potential voters, having actual conversations with people in their communities and at their doors, treating politics and organizing as a year-round, year-in and out activity and not a pre-election parachute exercise — this may be finally sinking in.
- Millions of ordinary people are joining the fight. When “non-combatants” in the political and ideological wars, from your elderly aunt to your mechanic, are eager — even desperate — to know how they can take a stand in this critical time, something very important is happening. We see it in the surges of support for membership organizations like the ACLU, MoveOn.org, and the Sierra Club. We see it in the women’s marches that will turn out unprecedented numbers in cities all across America tomorrow, to put the Trump Administration on notice. We see it in the response to “Indivisible,” the how-to guide for influencing Congress, which began a few weeks ago with two former Congressional aides in their basement and has spawned the spontaneous launch of many hundreds of local “Indivisible” groups — our Tea Party? — around the country.
- We may just be at a transformational moment. Few were prepared for the ascendancy of Donald Trump, and however successful we are in standing up to him, much damage will be done because of the vast powers of the Presidency and the zealots who surround him in the West Wing like Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn. Whether from the digital brownshirts who attack Trump’s critics on the spur of a tweet, or the unstable finger on the nuclear button, people will suffer and die. But this moment of awful disruption for America and the world can be the dawn of a moment of renewal for progressive values and citizen activism, a time in which we can truly take back our country from those who would pillage the public sphere and trash the Bill of Rights. With the fabric of American democracy at stake, we must rise to that moment.