President Trump Is Winning

We can claim he’s insane, claim he’s unhinged, claim he’s feckless, but President Trump’s first week in office has been masterful. And our overly eager, overly clever, self-comforting retorts about how he doesn’t understand the machinery of government, how he lurches, how he can’t prioritize are the same kind of certainty and denigration that we’ve been echoing from the left for two years now. And all of that might be true, but to the people who sent the bull to the china shop, he is decisive, acting quickly on his most important promises. His latest Muslim ban and airport detentions are only the beginning. When nothing positive gets done and he inevitably runs out of communities to demonize, when he proves to in fact be incompetent at governing, he will turn to his crowd and say “see, I acted, but politicians got in the way.” And be cheered.

And his crowds will grow because people are willing, in fact eager, to believe that government is obstructionist and incompetent because for the past eight years Republicans have modeled obstructionist incompetence as a strategy. He doesn’t have to accomplish or ever enforce anything. Just like the general election and the primary elections before it, he is setting the terms of battle, and we are debating why Saudi Arabia is not on his immigration prohibition and whether re-instituting torture is acceptable. We’re losing.

His strategy is based on sleight of hand and a belief that the frustration and anxiety he rode into office will continue to overrule the slowly crystalizing clarity that he has no intention of actually helping the people who elected him. He only wants to look like he’s helping. His only actual actions (e.g. stopping the FHA mortgage cuts and reinstating the Dakota Access pipeline) will exacerbate poverty and expand his wealth. He’s already blaming Speaker Ryan and Congressional Democrats hoping that people will believe he’s the well-intentioned public servant being undermined by political insiders while he quietly expands and protects his own wealth (and that of his cabinet) and executes anti-American policies shaped by the backward ideology of his political thugs. He has filled his cabinet with former generals to appear strong but removed them from the National Security Council where they are needed to protect the country in favor of these same thugs. He only cares about winning and enrichment. His populism is a cloak ; his posturing over security is a cloak— he’s the wolf.

We must get out of the habit of trying to undermine his bluster with reality and start identifying it for what it is: lying, obfuscation, and condescension. He’s not getting facts wrong; it’s intentional and nefarious. We must oppose his actual actions AND not allow ourselves to be defined by our opposition to every bombast and hysterical proclamation — we must be for something. The answer must be “President Trump hates America and Americans” followed immediately by our own articulation of American values centered on equality, justice, and opportunity for everyone and by our own flood of serious proposals: criminal justice reform, advanced manufacturing, a new tax code, campaign finance reform, a constitutional amendment for nonpartisan redistricting — real answers to the real corruption of which Trump is a symptom, not a cure. To promote better priorities, we must take the next steps from media and attention and marching. More civic engagement is good. Building community and awareness is good, but these are our first steps. We have to talk to people who don’t agree with us. And we must be visible to our leaders, not just loud — show up at town halls, ask for meetings with staffers in your Congressional offices. Our leaders are people who live in bubbles of their own surrounded by donors, lobbyists, and other politicians. We must invade these spaces if we’re going to change their perspectives and priorities, and then be ready to do more than describe the water, we must work to actually shape their priorities and map paths forward. Come to the table with ideas and ready to help, not just oppose.