UPDATED: 11 things you can do right now to protect freedom, democracy and the rule of law in the United States

Image source: Getty Images

1. Believe it can happen here

America is not magically immune to the rise of fascism, authoritarianism or any other dangerous “-ism” just because we have so-called “checks and balances.” Guess what? All those checks and balances are now ruled by a party that knew what Donald Trump was. They condemned him when they thought he couldn’t win, but as soon as it became clear that he could, they fell in line behind him like so many cowardly dominoes, almost to a person.

Listen to people who study authoritarian states for a living (or increasingly, in addition to trying to make a living, because the possibility of making a decent life for oneself in academics is practically null) and who say this threat is real. I like Sarah Kendzior. Her writing is depressing as shit and might seem hyperbolic, but she’s also been eerily prescient.

As unlikely as it seems, believe in the possibility that America might not have another presidential election four years from now. Believe in the possibility that the freedoms we take for granted can evaporate. History teaches us that they can.

2. Call your senators and Congressional representative about foreign meddling in the U.S. presidential election

Ask them to join Sen. Lindsay Graham in calling for an investigation into foreign meddling and a full audit of the election. It’s really easy. Find out who your state senators are here. Choose your state to see names and full contact information for both of your state senators. Find out who your Congressional representative is here by entering your zip code.

Make your call during business hours, and a friendly young person will most likely answer the phone. Here’s the script I used, courtesy of my friend Eric Garland:

“Hello, I am a constituent from [LOCATION], and I am calling to express my outrage and horror at the revelation by NSA officials that a foreign government has interfered in our elections. I am deeply concerned. This is a matter of grave and imminent importance to our national security. I’d like you to join Sen. Graham in his efforts to investigate. Thanks!”

I also tweeted to my senators and representative, just for good measure. I found them by Googling “[Senator name] twitter”, and their handles were in the first few search results.

3. Call the house oversight committee to support a bipartisan review of Donald Trump’s financials and possible conflicts of interest

The House Oversight Committee is a bipartisan committee that promises to, in their words, “exercise effective oversight over the federal government and will work proactively to investigate and expose waste, fraud, and abuse.” Call them at (202) 225–5074 and ask them to uphold that commitment by reviewing our President-elect’s financials and apparent conflicts of interest.

I’ve spoken with some people who got through to a person and others who were sent to voicemail. I called several times over the past two days and could only get voicemail, so I finally left a voicemail. I’ll keep trying to see if I can get through to a person. If you receive a message that the voicemail box is full, call back the next day. It should be clear. Here’s what I said, more or less:

I’m a concerned citizen from [LOCATION], and I’m calling to express my support for a bipartisan review of President-elect Donald Trump’s finances and apparent conflicts of interest. I believe the American people deserve to know that their President-elect doesn’t have any underhanded dealings or potential conflicts that will prevent him from serving our country to the best of his ability. Thanks!

I also tweeted to them here. There isn’t much time left, so do this ASAP. The committee breaks next week for Thanksgiving and makes a decision the following week, so the sooner the better! If you’re unable to leave a voicemail or reach a person during business hours, then here are links to their Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and YouTube. You could even try sending them a fax at (202) 225–3974.

4. If you see harassment, stand up to it

Reports of harassment have increased in the aftermath of the presidential election (yes, even after accounting for fake reports). If you ever find yourself witnessing harassment, stand up to it. Here’s a simple and informative cartoon about what bystanders can do to help. It focuses on Islamophobia but is broadly applicable.

5. Donate to organizations that protect freedom, the rule of law and vulnerable populations

Jezebel has a great list of organizations that are “pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-Earth, anti-bigotry.” Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are at the top of my personal list. Without Planned Parenthood, I would have spent my broke early twenties without access to birth control or preventative gynecological care.

6. Boycott these organizations

This comprehensive spreadsheet contains a long list of companies that do business with and/or support the Trump family. Many major brands are on this list. Boycotts are painful like that, but just imagine the message it would send if hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of Americans, gave companies like Amazon, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Overstock the following message (taken from the spreadsheet):

Hi. I’m a customer / fan of your brand. Unfortunately I’ll no longer be able to shop there because you do business with the Trump family. If you were to no longer do so I would consider returning as a customer. Please communicate my feedback to store management.

If a representative claims that selling Ivanka Trump’s line doesn’t count, you can say:

Because Ivanka campaigned passionately for Donald and now has an official role on his presidential transition team, I feel her brand has now been politicized.

7. Pay for your news

Advertising-funded “journalism” is part of the reason we’re in this mess. Get your news from non-partisan, publicly-funded sources like NPR and BBC. If you can, support high-quality investigative journalism from sources like The Guardian, The New Yorker and The Economist (all far from perfect, but all far better than the train wreck that is cable news in 2016).

And for the love of God, stay away from Facebook’s trending topics. Their algorithm’s track record of distinguishing real news from fake news isn’t so good.

8. Help debunk fake news

Fake news is a huge problem in the social media age. It tends to spread faster and farther than corrections can keep up, and the more sensational it is, the wider its reach. For a thoughtful and well-written argument on why fake news is such a big deal, see this article from, of all places, Brian Phillips of MTV News (believe me, I’m as shocked as you are).

The short version: fake news flatters existing prejudices, incites bigotry and traps the reader in a filter bubble of his or her own unwitting creation. At its heart, fake news undermines our very autonomy by limiting our ability to make informed decisions and think for ourselves. It spreads confusion and misinformation and breaks down trust. It is designed to do this, just as other forms of propaganda are designed to do this.

Per Phillips:

Confusion is an authoritarian tool; life under a strongman means not simply being lied to but being beset by contradiction and uncertainty until the line between truth and falsehood blurs and a kind of exhaustion settles over questions of fact. Politically speaking, precision is freedom. It’s telling, in that regard, that Trump supporters, the voters most furiously suspicious of journalism, also proved to be the most receptive audience for fictions that looked journalism-like. Authoritarianism doesn’t really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies.

The best way I can think of to counter fake news is to help spread the truth. If you see an article that you suspect is fake, don’t roll your eyes and call the sharer an idiot. Instead, check reputable fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact, which offer non-partisan analyses and, where called for, debunking of rumors and political promises.

Even if you don’t succeed in convincing the sharer, you might help stem the spread among the rest of that person’s network. It’s something.

9. Donate to Foster Campbell’s campaign

Foster Campbell is a Democrat running for U.S. Senate in Louisiana. He’s behind in the polls and getting outspent by his Republican opponent. The election is on December 10, 2016. It’s a long shot, but if Campbell wins, the Senate will be 49 (D) to 51 (R). If 49 doesn’t sound like much more than 48, consider that with 49 votes in the Senate, Democrats will need to win over just 2 Republicans to gain a majority vote for any given bill. Believe it or not, there are still a few Republicans in the Senate who could be willing to challenge Trump’s agenda, and winning over 2 is certainly easier than winning over 3.

Read about his campaign and donate here.

10. Don’t get distracted by moral outrage

At the moment, my social media feeds are alight with self-congratulatory moral outrage over Mike Pence’s attendance of Hamilton. It feels good to see a bigot get “schooled”, but it serves as a distraction from bigger issues.

For that reason, we should expect to see more such incidents precisely because they distract from more important and concerning matters, such as Ivanka Trump’s presence at a meeting between PEOTUS and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or the appointment of a national security advisor who believes Islam “is a “political ideology” that “hides behind being a religion.”

You can and should be morally outraged by what’s happening in our country, but make sure your outrage is focused on what matters.

11. Share this list with others

Remember that you are not helpless. This is still a free country, and it’s our responsibility to ensure it stays that way. This list is a small start, but it’s a start nonetheless.

If you found it helpful, please share it with others on Twitter, Facebook, email or whatever medium suits you. Sharing icons are below.