Embrace the Bad News

Stop running around in circles. Stop rending your garments. Stop wailing. Stop stomping your feet. Stop having fainting fits.

If you are still doing any of these things, either literally or metaphorically, STOP RIGHT NOW. Picture me as Cher in Moonstruck: *Slap* Snap out of it!

It is an indulgence and the longer it goes on the less it will be a perfectly reasonable human response and the more it will instead become the behavior of spoiled, ineffectual, soft and privileged people who aren’t used to any sort of adversity.

You don’t have the energy for this. Stop feeding the beast with your flesh. Stop feeding their fire with your oxygen. Make them provide the fuel for their machine of lies and destruction.

And for the record, this is not to say that we shouldn’t take to the streets, often and loudly. We need to scare them as much as is in our power, take over the news cycle as often as we can and make sure that others know they aren’t alone. But that can’t be the strategy.

I know it’s hard. Just as you manage to calm yourself a new affront to truth, decency, rationality, and humanity is thrown in your face.

Oh my god — he’s muzzled the EPA! It’s outrageous — he’s enshrined the Hyde Amendment! They’re monsters — the NEA and the NEH are on the chopping block!

And so we rail.

But you’ve got to stop. Just stop.

Take some deep breaths. Get really, really calm. Preternaturally calm. Scary, icy calm.

Now, embrace this. I don’t mean just listen to it. I mean internalize this as a truth that you cannot avoid — one of those truths like the death of someone you didn’t think you could live without and now must.

Everything is going to get very, very bad and it’s going to last for a long time.

We are used to thinking in short term bursts— 2-year congressional terms, 4-year presidential terms, the week delay to get your package from Amazon, the 3 days without hot water until the repair guy can come.

Look, even the paragraphs in this essay are short so that long blocks of text don’t overwhelm the readers’ eyes.

But if you’re serious about resisting and fighting back, then you need to get very calm and take stock of the situation realistically, with clarity. Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves about what will come — not may come:

1. The ACA will be repealed.

It will be replaced with some version of the Empowering Patients First Act, which will take millions of people off of insurance and over-burden the system, creating a sicker population, particularly among the poor, reducing individuals’ ability to complain because they will be more occupied with day to day subsistence.

This is already happening and cannot be stopped.

2. Social welfare programs and institutions will be starved of funds and staff or will be eliminated.

The cuts of sequestration will go even deeper so addicts, abused women and children, and the mentally ill will no longer get even the current meager assistance to be housed, clothed and fed. More will be on the streets. Society will appear more lawless and unstable, thus necessitating the harsh imposition of punitive order.

Planned Parenthood is the most obvious and immediate target of this but it is a red herring. As everyone gives money to PP, 10,ooo other programs that are less known and harder to encapsulate into a soundbite are already on the chopping block and will disappear without being notice by any except those who depend on them and those who run them.

3. Police will become increasingly oppressive as the laws they are tasked with enforcing become increasingly oppressive.

Law and order policing, the need to see a return on military investment by selling unused military equipment to police forces, and capitalist demand for for-profit prisons, will use the results of #2 above as the rationale for greater oppression.

The policy that the federal government recently adopted of no longer using for-profit prisons, and the trend towards lowering sentences for drug offenses and not pursuing drug arrests, have all been reversed or soon will be. Corporations like Walmart, Whole Foods, and even Victoria’s Secret depend on captive, below minimum wage labor; and GOP state legislatures depend on the use of for-profit prisons so that they can continue to not tax their wealthier citizens and businesses.

This will be the apotheosis of the prison industrial complex now that all three branches of government provide full support.

4. Regulations that protect citizens from poisons in their food, drugs, and environment will be weakened or removed.

All of this will be done in the name of creating jobs and wealth, although the resultant sickness, contamination and obesity will actually burden society more, creating expenses that will be pointed to as the reason why the government doesn’t have the money to enforce onerous regulations.

As government no longer occupies the position of protector, some private citizens, such as the Gateses, will step in and altruistically adopt certain standards and fund projects that promote those standards and practices. But this will further undermine society because it will return us to a pre-modern order where private initiatives rather than state regulation determines quality and safety. The only ones who will benefit are those who have the freedom to make choices.

5. Public education will be balkanized even more.

Betsy DeVos will likely not be sworn in and this will be seen as a victory. But whomever comes after her will probably be more qualified to implement the same philosophical approach to public education.

Those who will best serve the state, either in prison or out, by working at minimum wage or lower, will be provided with the most basic level of education necessary to be laborers and consumers. Of course, this is what’s already happened, so the thought that stopping DeVos will somehow make a different, is actually the most perfect example of why we must stop screaming and running around in circles playing a game of Cabinet Whack-a-Mole.

6. The unwritten rules that have governed the behavior of politicians and oligarchs will no longer be followed.

Those who have never paid attention to those rules, were never taught them in school (because of the decades-long balkanization of education discussed in #5) and, therefore, have no understanding that they benefited from them, won’t care because they won’t know these rules have been abandoned. So when others complain, those complaints will be understood as privileged people complaining about the removal of unwritten rules that benefited them. Far from creating any urgent demand that these rules be respected, a greater number of people will celebrate that they’re now being disregarded and encourage the oligarchy (or kakistocracy) to abandon them even further.

7. The written rules will be changed so that censorship silences critics.

The undereducated don’t care about censorship because they don’t partake of the information economy in the same way as educated people.

And don’t misunderstand my use of “undereducated.” There are millions of college graduates who are undereducated. They obtained a college degree with the least amount of intellectual engagement possible, without having acquired or understood the importance of an appetite for self-education.

So the process of reaction set out for the unwritten rules of #6 will apply here as well. Any bemoaning of this kind of censorship will be characterized as unpatriotic and elitist whining.

But the most important form of censorship is already well underway and the ground has been prepared for further inroads…

8. The basic tenet of democracy — free and fair elections in which one person gets one vote and can cast it without fear or coercion — will no longer occur.

And this is the real crux of the matter.

Don’t be distracted by all of the horrific things that I’ve listed above. It is so unlikely that there’s anything you can do about them that it is an irresponsible expense of energy to try. I have one addendum to that — if you are already positioned, through your job or extensive volunteerism or activism that you do in that field, then fight the knowledgable, targeted fight that you have the expertise to.

But everyone else — stop.

You must accept that you’ve already lost all of the little battles (I know, they aren’t little; they’re huge). But compared to this one, they’re miniscule.

You must focus on a time scale where 2 years is the shortest range. That is the only chance that we have to stop a 20-year cycle of catastrophe.

If we can’t outrun the efforts to disenfranchise that are revving up right now, then none of the rest of it matters one little bit. The last chance we have to stop the complete authoritarian takeover of the state is in 2 years.

Within that 2 years, these are the things that we must concentrate on: voter rights and redistricting. If we aren’t able to change the pincer-like strategy of removing people’s right to vote and creating districts where someone’s vote doesn’t matter, then there is literally no way that any specific policy or legislation can be protected for the foreseeable future. And I’m talking generation-level future.

Think clearly about where we are:

  • The GOP controls both houses and the White House.
  • At least one, and most likely two, Supreme Court justices will be chosen by the current administration.
  • Republicans control both houses in 32 state legislatures.
  • There are Republican governors in 33 states
  • The incoming Attorney General does not believe that it is the role of the his office to actively protect the civil rights of citizens or to proactively enforce civil rights legislation.
  • In 2013, the central provision of the Voting Rights Act was overturned and now there is no federal oversight of state voting laws, anywhere. And the current federal government and Supreme Court don’t look like they would be inclined to go against state laws now anyway.
  • 20 states have imposed new voter restriction laws since 2010.
  • Since this latest election 33 more such laws have been introduced in 16 states

So this is where we must concentrate our efforts. NOT on specific programs or agencies. Not on particular appointments or budget lines, as heart-wrenching as it might be to see them under attack.

Imagine that there’s a dam protecting a valley. Over years of neglect, the dam has started to spring leaks. These leaks are causing flooding in the valley. As time goes on, the dam springs more leaks until it takes up huge amounts of labor to keep plugging them all. But none of that labor can undo the reality — the dam is old and weak and it’s going to fail.

The people have to make a decision. Do they keep expending all of that energy on the leaks? Or, do they turn their full attention to building a new dam, in between the old one and the largest part of the community?

In the short term, there is going to be a lot of damage done to their property. Their lives aren’t going to be the same. And even after the new damn is built, they’ll probably still have to spend the rest of their lives rebuilding rather than getting to enjoy the gardens they’ve cultivated and the patios that they’ve built. And all of the people who lived in the space between the old dam and the new will lose everything.

But if they waste their energies endlessly running back and forth trying to plug all the holes…well, you see where I’m going with this.

So, take a deep breath. Life as you know it is over. Don’t try to deny that by reacting to every affront as if each of them is giving you a new piece of information about how bad it could get. We’re there.

You can mourn. But do so while you also coldly and clearly look at what needs to be done. We must mobilize to such a degree that the increased efforts to disenfranchise cannot succeed. And we need to act quickly. The long history of liberal and progressive complacency, coupled with the intoxication of victory and the civic illiteracy of the opposition can all work in our favor. They won’t expect us to be effectual, and they might not notice for a while. If we all focus, collectively, on this one crucial thing, then there’s a chance.

It’s an outside chance, but it’s there.