Okay. What Do We Do Now?
Ordinary Americans are about to see a catastrophic rollback in their rights and their economic security, and for many people things will be far worse than that. Real people need our help, in communities across America. How do we mobilize?
For all of us in the progressive movement in America — really, for anyone who believes that every American deserves respect and dignity — this election has been a blow. We desperately need to dissect what happened and begin building a coalition that can win, and that work is happening elsewhere. Here, though, I’m going to speak more practically: about what happened; about what we can do together right away (both professionally, and as ordinary citizens) to protect the most vulnerable from immediate danger; and about how we gird our progressive organizations and institutions for the long battle ahead.
Reckoning with the new reality
Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. He didn’t win the popular vote, and organized voter suppression indisputably influenced the outcome, but he will win in the Electoral College. This is the system we have, and under that system, he was legitimately elected.
This is alarming and even disgusting to many of us. Trump bragged about sexual assault, caricatured the lived experience of black people in order to stoke racial anxiety, and attacked and dehumanized immigrants and non-Christians — not just incidentally, but as core political strategies. And it worked.
But that’s not the worst of it. The Republican majority in the House and Senate have vowed to “dismantle” the Obama legacy that we’re so proud of: healthcare access for millions, environmental protections and some action (finally) on climate change, consumer protection against corporate abuses, federal rights and protections for lesbian and gay and transgender people.
They’ll succeed in much of this — way more than we like, although still less than they think. (Trying to unspool Obamacare without breaking the healthcare sector is going to be quite a feat. Why do they think healthcare reform took two generations?). And they’ll nominate, and confirm, one or more Supreme Court justices who will do further damage to the social fabric.
Anger now, but action soon
The currently ongoing demonstrations are bringing out tens of thousands of people to express their contempt for the campaign, the election results, and the man who won. And thank God! This is the time for anger to be at the forefront, not just because it’s organic and real and what many of us feeling, but because it will mobilize and activate others who were on the sidelines (or were content up to now merely to give money, but not to speak out).
Anger is cathartic. It’s one way to reach and energize new people who feel the same way we do. But it’s not enough. Real people — their lives, their health, their dignity — are depending on us. And as soon as possible, to the greatest degree we possibly can, we need to be channelling our anger into action.
The actions we’ll need to take
Today is the day to think about who in your personal and professional life is most vulnerable — immigrants, people of color, the economically insecure — and join together with others who believe as you do, to make a plan to stand on their side. That plan needs to (first and foremost) help protect them from the worst of the coming storm, and (then) help bring them into a coalition that will safeguard and extend the human values we all agree are fundamental in “real America.” That’s what progressivism is: using the power of the community to make sure individuals can live in safety and dignity and economic security, and that their collective voice protects them from the depredations of grifters, self-dealers, and narcissists.
Maintaining the rule of law against the immense pressures we’re about to face is going to demand hard work by our best institutions, But it’s only through the rule of law — through the force of the courts, and through our pressure on Congress and our state and local governments to ensure the Executive Branch abides by the law — that Americans’ safety will be ensured in this terrible time. We need you to be part of the pressure that makes sure that the presidential transition, and the changes to come, are subject to the rule of law.
The leaders of the new Congress have already pledged to dismantle many of the legislative and regulatory achievements of the Obama years that we’re so proud of. But that will take time, and they are not immune from political pressure. We need your voice, the words of your pen and keyboard, your organizations’ advocacy in Washington and state capitals, to hold legislators accountable to their constituents and to America. (And if, over our vociferous objections, Republicans deny healthcare to 18 million people, or tear apart 3 million immigrant families, we need you to make sure everyone knows who is responsible for that.)
We need your voice and energy and advocacy to press state and local governments to step in with legislation and enforcement to protect the cultural norms we can no longer count on the federal government to protect, like equality of opportunity and safety for difference. So write, donate, yell; obstruct when necessary; make your voices heard, personally and professionally.
Ultimately we need your energy to build an electable alternative to Republican national government; but that’s a conversation for next week or next month, and can be more ably convened by others. This week, today, our priority is to protect those who need it most, as the American federal sector gradually turns more hostile to human values and human services over the next year.
Trumpism isn’t just a policy agenda
What we’re facing as progressive activists isn’t just a legislative program we disagree with. It’s an attempt to legitimize the rollback of tolerant cultural attitudes, and their replacement with the most terroristic values of a white-dominant, male-dominant, nativist-dominant culture some of us thought had faded away. It’s already started; in the week after Trump’s victory, hundreds of incidents of white terrorism large and small have been reported and confirmed.
This will continue. People will be harassed, hurt, and likely killed in the name of our new president and in response to his words. Humane values like diversity and mutual respect will be mocked from the very halls of power. It’s very likely that the incompetent self-dealers in the new Administration will abuse the public trust, loot the public purse, and make a mockery of their responsibilities. It’s going to be an ugly four to eight years for America, and a dangerous time for the world.
But as this all plays out, remember that the negative values our national government is expressing represent the views of only a quarter of Americans at most. Hillary Clinton, and her optimistic vision, beat Donald Trump by a large margin (over a million votes) in the popular vote, and almost half of eligible voters didn’t even express a preference. There’s plenty of momentum behind the forward-looking work we all do. And the unavoidable social consequences of four years of government by an odd assortment of self-promoters, antisocial crusaders, and nihilists will only help the progressive movement come roaring back.
We’ll get through this together
We’ve been in similar straits before. In 1980, and again in 2000, the progressive movement suffered devastating setbacks, with terrible consequences for Americans across the board. We can argue whether Trump is objectively worse (I think he is), but those days felt pretty terrible at the time: people of color and LGBT people and the poor were routinely dehumanized and mocked; women saw their autonomy over their own lives and health curtailed as a matter of course; the government ignored the AIDS crisis and left Americans to suffer and die; a thousand people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced in New Orleans; the Twin Towers came down and our then-President committed America to a series of pointless wars that have inflamed tensions all over the world and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
We recovered in 1992 and we recovered in 2008. And we’ll come back in 2020 or 2024, more confident and more powerful and more inclusive, with a stronger coalition that appeals to more people. Thanks in part to the daily work done by you who are reading this, and thanks in part by the lessons we learned in earlier eras, all of America’s communities of interest (including but not limited to women, people of color, LGBT people, and immigrants) are better organized and more easily mobilized now than they were in 1980 or 2000.
So let’s have our moment of anger. But then move past it (or at least be able to set it aside) and start doing the work that needs to be done. Start today, if you can. Thank you for reading, and best of luck to all of us.