Day One and Onward

America under Trump: where to go from here

This is not a post-mortem on why Trump won. Many have written insightfully on that already. Instead, this is a set of principles on where to go from here. It’s mainly aimed at people who already oppose Trump, but there’s a note at the end for the new President’s current supporters. I hope you’ll consider these ideas, and I invite you to share your own.

1) Do not normalize Trump. He’s not just another Republican. Trump is an authoritarian. This isn’t an insult. It’s a description in political science. If Trump had been elected in a foreign country, that’s the term everyone from the CIA to the World Bank to Amnesty International would use to factually describe what’s going on.

2) Don’t give Trump the benefit of the doubt. Between this campaign and his forty-year career, Trump has shown himself to be a shameless and breathtakingly cynical liar. I’m heartbroken to say that we cannot assume good faith the way we could for his recent predecessors of both parties — who were all basically people of good will. Trump is not. Trump is the boyfriend who’s already cheated seven times. If we believe him that he’s only slipping out at 2:00 AM to buy milk, it reflects more on us than on him.

3) Fight normalcy bias. It’s too psychologically draining to spend every waking minute in the knowledge that a vengeful and unstable clinical psychopath controls 1,367 nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert. So we have a powerful incentive to convince ourselves that he can’t really be that bad. But I’ve talked to too many exiles and survivors from times and places where people convinced themselves the same thing until it was too late. Don’t go numb. Stay on guard, stay alarmed, stay engaged.

4) Don’t be reflexive in opposition to Trump. We should hope he does not abuse his office, and should applaud good things he does. Those who oppose Trump should never wish harm for America, even though it would validate their criticism. As distasteful as it is to root for the success of such an odious man, we must not welcome the suffering of fellow Americans just because it’s politically convenient.

5) Do not allow yourself to despair. Politics isn’t like a football game that ends with a winner and a loser at 00:00. It’s a never-ending story, where no success is secure, and no failure is final. It’s easy to fold in disappointment and exhaustion, but Trumpists are already planning their 2018 purge of moderate Republicans. Unless anti-Trump forces can take back Congress at the midterms — which will be exceedingly difficult — Trump will enter the third year of his term with a blank check to restrict civil liberties and consolidate his power. Get back in the struggle, and make sure that everyone you know who opposes what’s going on translates that into a vote. Keep each other fired up. We have 649 days. Don’t waste a single one.

6) Persuade without confrontation. Trump is moral poison, who leads good people to support bad things. Many people I know and love and admire, who held their noses and voted for him with great reluctance hoping he’d be pro-life, now find themselves defending and dismissing sexual assault and promised war crimes. Here’s the problem: once they pulled the lever for Trump, they shouldered a sense of responsibility for him. It would be painful and embarrassing to conclude that he’s a monster after all, so they now face enormous psychological pressure to rationalize and defend everything he does. Arguing head-on just makes this worse. Don’t make it a contest of egos. Don’t start arguments with Trump supporters hoping they’ll have some dramatic “come to Jesus” conversion right then and there if only you can find a clever enough argument. That’s just not how this works. Instead: ask questions about their values, listen, and provide information without judgment. Make sure they know that when they turn away from Trump, you will welcome them and not hold their former support against them. There must be no “Told ya so!” but rather a sincere “Thank you. We’re in this together.”

7) Above all: if you oppose what’s going on, be visible. The most powerful weapon of authoritarians is the impression of unanimity. They want you to feel isolated. They want you to believe that everyone else is going along with them. They want you to feel that resistance is futile. The greatest service you can do your fellow citizens is to stand up and be counted in opposition. Let others see that there is no unanimity, no universal consent. By your very visibility, you break the lie the authoritarians are telling. That just might inspire someone who’s just a little less brave to stand up with you. Seeing two people will inspire a third to stand, and onward until the lie collapses. For example, I kept politics strictly off Facebook for 9 years, but stopped when I realized that my silence was helping Trump isolate conservatives who opposed him but felt alone. So stay respectfully vocal on social media. Talk to your neighbors. When his supporters bring it up at dinner parties, don’t stay quiet and stare at your napkin — do not fight them, but make sure people know you don’t agree. It will be exhausting. Utterly exhausting. At some point this might cost you a friend or a date or a job, but you will preserve your integrity. On day one and onward, visibility is your highest form of patriotism.


A note to the President’s supporters:

If you voted for Trump, I do not question your motives. If I loved you before all this, I still love you today. But I ask one thing of you — decide now, in advance, what lines Trump must cross to lose your support. Write them down. Preferably, state them publicly. Signal to President Trump — and to your many neighbors and fellow citizens presently afraid — that you will not give him a long leash. That you will not stand by him if he abuses civil liberties or goes against the Constitution.

For example, if Trump ignores a major judicial ruling against his agenda, can you promise to stand against him? If he Tweets “joking” encouragement to assassinate one of his critics? Tries to repeal the 22nd Amendment and stay for a third term? What about if he orders the military to deliberately kill civilians? If you think that’s all totally implausible, you should have no problem designating those as lines you will not tolerate being crossed. And to inform yourself about whether he crosses those lines, please at least read the conservative Wall Street Journal — don’t just take the word of Breitbart, Sean Hannity, Sean Spicer, and @realdonaldtrump.

The election is over. The options are no longer Trump or Hillary. The options are holding Trump to his constitutional obligations, or failing to do so.