The country just elected Donald Trump for president, and we are living a nightmare. So what now? A few thoughts.
Don’t Underestimate the Danger We Are In
After the initial shock, the natural impulse is to assume that things will be okay. After all, liberals were fearful when George W. Bush was elected, and conservatives were fearful when Barack Obama was elected, and yet the country survived. Millions of lives were affected by these presidencies, as they always are, but America didn’t collapse and democracy continues.
All of that is irrelevant. Make no mistake: America has faced nothing like this in anyone’s living memory. We have elected a dangerously ignorant man with an authoritarian spirit, an impulse for vengeance, and an indifference to the norms that typically constrain a president. This man inherits a virtually unchecked surveillance state from President Obama, and already he has leveraged FBI resources and foreign intelligence services to help overcome domestic political opposition.
These facts make Trump a unique threat to American democracy, exacerbated by the capture of nearly every Constitutional check and balance by Trump enablers: both chambers of Congress are held by Republicans who bent the knee to Trump during the election; the Supreme Court will immediately return to a conservative majority, and may be transformed into a radically activist right-wing body for generations; 34 of 50 state capitols will be held by the GOP. If Trump begins an assault on American freedoms, there will be few actors in a position to stop him.
We can’t afford to wait and see if Trump turns out okay. His danger is qualitatively different from anything any of us has ever faced, and we have never been given a reason to believe Trump is anything other than an opportunistic, ignorant criminal who abuses every power he's granted. Even if Constitutional democracy survives his misrule, Trump has promised to drag us back to a world where whites terrorize minorities with impunity; the federal police is wielded to undermine domestic dissent; the United States openly props up dictators abroad; nations assure mutual economic destruction through punitive trade wars; workers are left powerless; and the sick and needy are left to die on the streets.
Every day that passes normalizes the situation a little more, and you can expect the media will realign itself to accommodate this insanity as the new normal. In three years, you’ll be seeing Wolf Blitzer give both sides equal time to argue whether a Muslim registry is in the American spirit; the New York Times will pen a mealy-mouthed editorial declaring that the DOJ’s policy requiring all blacks to wear see-through pockets is “a troubling proposal that may brush against Constitutional norms.”
Stay vigilant when acceptable discourse drives off the rails, and never grow complacent about what this man can do to us.
Recognize the Clown Armor
Six months ago I identified the trait that would allow Trump to slip into the presidency: Clown Armor. I still think it's the best concept to understand the man's resiliency. While Trump is a malevolent buffoon, his inherent clownishness means that his frightening behavior isn’t taken seriously – until it's too late.
On Thursday, for instance, Trump sent a Tweet that accused protestors nationwide of being paid media plants:
Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2016
The next morning the Tweet was replaced with one praising the right to protest:
Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2016
LOL, what an idiot, right?
NO. It's easy to be sidetracked by the incompetence of the messaging, and ignore the horrifying reality that our president-elect’s first instinct was to slander opposition protestors as professional provocateurs. That is something dictators do, not American presidents. We should not be comforted by Kellyanne Conway's attempt to paper over Trump's tyrannical instincts. The first Tweet is real. Take it seriously.
But Don’t Get Discouraged
Recognize the danger, but don’t let it paralyze you. It should inform us. Find articles and information from people who have been through this already, such as in Putin’s Russia. America has been through some tough moments, and I refuse to believe that she’s too weak to resist Donald Trump.
Be terrified. Be angry. Don’t be resigned. Pledge, today, to do something concrete to resist Trump. Donate to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Planned Parenthood. Call your Senator and representative and tell them to stand up against Trump, especially Congressman within the GOP. Research which local progressive and Democratic groups exist locally that you can join in person.
Also remember that America didn’t change on Tuesday. Many people (especially white folks) just got an awakening to the level of hate and prejudice that still exists our country. But this is still the same America it was on November 7, and our country is center-left and trending progressive. Only a quarter of eligible voters chose Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton will likely end up with more votes than any presidential candidate not named Barack Obama – and people across the spectrum hated her.
The most important Constitutional check on the presidency is the American people. Donald Trump lost the popular vote handily, and will enter office as the least popular nominee in history. The man has no mandate to lead a country that doesn't want him. The votes are there to challenge Trump. They just need to be leveraged.
The Existing DNC Leadership Must Go
The current leadership of the DNC has failed, utterly. The party has been decimated, and there is a glaring lack of young talent being groomed for future leadership. Even before this election, in the eight years of Obama’s presidency the Democrats lost over 900 state legislature seats, 12 governorships, 69 House seats, and 13 Senate seats. For eight years, Obama’s charisma masked the hollowing of Democratic power in this country. As for the Clinton campaign itself, they badly fumbled a very winnable election by alienating or ignoring key constituencies yet seem incapable of rationally analyzing why they lost, solely blaming the Comey letter. Realistically the letter probably did swing the election, but it should never have been that close to begin with.
The existing DNC establishment has lost any moral claim to run the party. They turned off millions of potential allies. They should never be allowed near another campaign again. It’s time for fresh blood.
The Progressive Left Should Not Dismiss the Political Process
Most people who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary are focused on opposing Donald Trump. But many feel disgusted with the Democratic Party and want nothing to do with it. They feel compelled to reject the party after perceiving the DNC as rigging the primaries against their man.
I don't want to re-litigate the primary fights, beyond stating that assertions that the primaries were "rigged" are wildly overblown. (A party that just got blown out by a joke campaign and couldn't get women to vote against a serial sex abuser isn't capable of rigging 50 state primaries.) I’m also not going to command that all disaffected Sanders voters put aside their grievances and rush to the next meeting of their local Democratic Party chapter.
But I am going to suggest that they do so, because the party needs to be rebuilt, quickly. The DNC leadership is not some shadowy cabal. It’s where all the kids who ran the debate team and Model United Nations went after college. The people who run the party are the people who show up to all the meetings, and if the Sanders left just starts consistently showing up, they'll have a voice in the party process.
Occupy Wall Street withered to nothing while the Tea Party effectively runs the country, and it's because the Tea Party understood from day one that they needed to engage with electoral politics. (They were nudged towards this understanding by big-money interests who wrongly believed this movement could be contained.) Cynically declaring the whole process futile will just neuter your ability to meaningfully engage the opposition.
And that means the Democratic Party. There’s no time to be fucking around with Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or any other third party nonsense. The Greens have been around since the 1990s and the Libertarians since 1971, and they haven’t done shit. They’re not going to do shit, just like no other third party has done shit since the 1850s. A third party would just splinter the opposition. Yes, a lot of craziness is happening now, but don’t bank on another crazy thing happening. If you want an apparatus that can reach the actual levers of power, it has to be through the Democratic Party. This includes running for office. The Democratic party needs bodies in the capitols.
If you truly can't bring yourself to work with the Democratic Party, that's fine. A diffuse opposition hitting from different angles is better than a single point of attack. Just please recognize that we are all on the same side, and that our true enemy is the regressive right.
The Left Must Find a Way to Reengage With Labor
The state of Nevada got the Latino vote out for the Democrats better than anyone else. Why? Because they had groups like the Culinary Union bringing the manpower and databases necessary for effective ground work. The left needs to reengage with labor and reenlist their support.
The Rust Belt states that Clinton just lost were part of the Democratic coalition because of labor and Progressive politics – “Progressive” in the 1920s sense, not the 2016 sense. The Democrats should keep a socially progressive platform, but they also need to focus on recapturing the mantle as America’s labor party.
In doing so, the party must expand its definition of “labor.” The labor movement shouldn’t just be about blue-collar manufacturing jobs; everybody works, and the vast majority of us are employees. The gig economy, the office workers, the free-lancers, the part-time service workers – these jobs are labor and labor needs an advocate.
The central strategy of Trump's campaign was to target racial grievances through dog-whistles. (Anyone who says different is acting willfully blind.) Outside of the cities, a strong pro-labor message has historically been the Democrats' best appeal to rural lower- and middle-class voters. Time to expand that message.
Create Mechanisms for Government Employees to Safely Leak Documents
The press is not ready to hold Donald Trump accountable; during the campaign, the media was at a loss as to how effectively to deal with Trump’s constant pathological lying. I believe that Trump, given his complete indifference to institutions and the truth, will instruct government agencies to provide misleading data to support his image. I also expect him to run an entirely opaque administration, resist disclosure at every turn, and misuse the resources of the police and surveillance state.
The opposition must develop and publicize portals in the spirit of Wikileaks – but less beholden to the Russian intelligence community – that allows government employees to safely blow the whistle on the Trump administration. Obama unfortunately created a precedent of punishing whistle-blowers, but they will be critical to stopping Trump. This means that disgusted civil servants cannot quit, they must stay and be ready to tell the world about what they see.
Find and Appeal to the Republicans that Respect Institutions
#NeverTrump still lives. David Frum in particular has become a national treasure:
“It would be horrible if X were true, so X cannot be true” is a very common but very dangerous tendency of human thought.— David Frum (@davidfrum) November 12, 2016
Let’s have a fresh start and forget that the president-elect remains committed to a religious test for the rights of citizenship— David Frum (@davidfrum) November 12, 2016
Let’s have a fresh start and never mind that the president elect is a confessed serial sexual assailant— David Frum (@davidfrum) November 12, 2016
Let’s have a fresh start and believe that it doesn’t matter that the president-elect owes hundreds of millions to the Bank of China— David Frum (@davidfrum) November 12, 2016
There are still Republicans who want nothing to do with Donald Trump, and there are definitely Republicans who respect the longstanding institutions of the United States. Only a handful of them are needed to prevent Trump from running wild. They may not be allies, but they are in play.
Further, traditionally in the United States there has been a long-running fight not just between parties, but also between the various institutions of government. In recent years these cleavages have been swept aside for partisanship's sake, but with the GOP in total control of the federal government and most states there is space for these fault lines to reemerge. Imagine a Congressman who worked as a lawyer for decades, who ran for office, who spent years raising himself to the august position of Senator of the United States. This person of dignity does not put in a lifetime of work just to take orders from Donald fucking Trump. There will be fights between the Congress and the president, and the left must be ready to turn these battles to our advantage. I presume Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are taking the temperature of every Republican colleague as we speak.
Play to Trump’s Vanity
Trump is an insecure, narcissistic star-fucker. Trump wants to be glamorous, and to be loved by glamorous people. It makes him feel good. This is a weakness.
There’s simply no way Trump likes Steve Bannon, Newt Gingrich and their ilk. These are classless garbage people, as Trump well knows. He likes being around them because they are flattering sycophants that propelled him to the presidency (JESUS FUCK HOW DID WE LET THAT HAPPEN?!?), but he doesn’t give a shit about these people. Trump has spent his life chasing the beautiful elite, and he would ditch his right-wing slime parade in a heartbeat if it meant partying on Leonardo DiCaprio’s boat.
The beautiful and famous members of the left should start a full court press of weaponized flattery. Trump has no core beliefs, and he doesn’t feel beholden to the Congress – the instant he perceives them as trying to tell him what to do, he’ll get defensive. Get Democrats to charm the fucker, maybe we can steal him away from his dirtball handlers.
Expect to WIN
Trump and his people want to drag us back into the darkness. We won't let them. Fuck them. The future belongs to us.
Tobias G. Snyder is a lawyer based in San Francisco who can't figure out how to casually slip in that he got his B.A. and J.D. from Harvard. Since 2009 he's practiced general commercial litigation in New York and San Francisco, starting in Biglaw before jumping ship to a smaller shop. He likes writing and/or ranting about the law, the news, and politics, but -- uh -- not like the 10,000 other bloggers doing the exact same thing. Those guys are all chumps. Please follow him on Twitter @tgsnyder.