Tomorrow will bring to a close the first two months of the Trump presidency, so this is a good time to sit back, review the whirlwind of events and non-events that have characterized this disaster, and ask what we ought to be doing in the days, weeks, months, and – God help us – years to come. Several of you have commented on a loss of intensity and urgency – Tom Cathcart called it “resistance fatigue.” DML remarked, “Life intervenes.” Lord knows this is true of me. I have been utterly consumed for the past two weeks with such important decisions as where to hide the can of spray cooking oil so that our kitchen countertops are pristine when potential buyers walk through. [For those who are curious, this is this the fifth dwelling I have put on the market. I broke even on the first, made a modest profit on the second, made out like a bandit on the third, took a bath on the fourth, and will lose my shirt on this one. I am doing my best to leave this world with the same net worth I had when I entered it.]
The launch of the Trump era has been hideous in every way imaginable. Some of the bad things are atmospheric, some are really bad but are pretty much beyond of our ability to affect, and some are already showing signs of the effect of the nation-wide grassroots activism sparked by the election.
The most immediately visible and egregious of Trump’s doings are in some ways the least serious, at least in the short term. Trump is a narcissistic sociopath who is constitutionally unable to distinguish truth from fantasy. He is a vulgar braggart who cares about absolutely nothing save his self-image and his ability to bully and humiliate others. He and his family are using the presidency to enrich themselves as openly, blatantly, and quickly as they can. Quite apart from policies and governmental actions, the Trumps are the polar opposite of the Obamas. That our former First Family should be graceful, restrained, educated, utterly free of all scandal, and BLACK, while the current First Family is boorish, corrupt, mired in scandal, and WHITE, is an irony almost too delicious to credit. But if that were the worst of it, we could easily survive the Trumps. Bad manners are a venial sin, the amount of money the Trumps are pocketing is chump change on a national scale, and his compulsive lying is more visible, more manic and uncontrolled, but in the end not markedly more dangerous than that of previous presidents.
A good deal more serious is the character of the administration Trump has assembled, more serious because Cabinet Secretaries are in a position to do real harm to millions of vulnerable people. Trump has chosen an opponent of public education as Secretary of Education, a climate denier as head of the EPA, a neo-Nazi as his principal advisor, a flaming racist as Attorney General, a Secretary of State fresh from central casting who seems utterly clueless about any country that does not have oil in the ground, a Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs who can do brain surgery and little else – this is a right-wing Republican’s wet dream. These people will, by their actions and inactions, cause a vast amount of misery and death, and at least in the short run, there appears to be very little we can do about it.
A third cause for concern is Trump’s conduct of foreign and military policy, a sphere in which presidents have come over time to exercise almost unchecked power. A number of commenters on this blog seem simultaneously dubious about Trump’s link to the Russians and sanguine about his apparent desire to exchange the European Alliance for an American-Russian world duopoly. I confess myself to be rather puzzled by these attitudes, but I am weary of arguing the matter, inasmuch as neither we nor our fellow activists on the left can do much at all to affect Trump’s behavior in this regard. Someday, someone will explain to me, without yelling at me, why Trump chose just one clause in a Republican Platform in which he showed absolutely no interest, that concerning Ukraine, to have his campaign representatives change. Those same folks will also, I am sure, explain why we should weaken our ties to England and France in order to strengthen our relations with a failed kleptocracy propped up by oil. But there is no point in dwelling on the matter because, as I say, we can do virtually nothing about it so long as Trump is president.
At the moment, I am genuinely terrified that Trump is going to launch a preemptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. This would result in scores of thousands of South Korean deaths, a consequence that would not concern Trump at all and would also result in a big jump in his tanking approval rating here in America. It would also result, probably, in a great many deaths of American service personnel [and American civilians in South Korea], which would also not trouble Trump. Please, please, do not respond that Obama has ordered drone strikes, as though that were comparably evil. I am still enough of an old school Benthamite utilitarian to believe that the violent deaths of twenty thousand count more heavily than the violent deaths of several hundreds.
One rather interesting consequence of a Trump presidency appears to be that America will lose its role as a world leader [as they say.] Already, European nations are apparently re-thinking their habitual ceding of pre-eminence to America. Whether exchanging the American president for Angela Merkel is trading up or down remains to be seen.
Which brings me to the one sphere in which we can have a measurable effect, indeed in which we already have had a measurable effect, namely domestic legislative action. The current attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican dream act threatens genuine human harm on a national scale. I think it is clear that the protests against the effort in the home districts of Republican Representatives and the home states of Republican Senators are dramatically weakening the chances that the bill will become law. This really is a place where we can all do something to change our world. The same is true of the budget the Republicans may get around to proposing, if they can ever get the health care anvil from around their necks.
Now, let me address the problem of resistance fatigue. I have many times written about this problem on this blog, and I have written and spoken about it for decades in a variety of venues. It is relatively easy to motivate crowds of people when excitement is running high, the wolf is at the gate [if you will forgive me], and the blood stirs. Witness the astonishing Women’s March just eight weeks ago. But then the lights are turned off, the blood pressure drops back to safe levels, and, as DML reminds us, life intervenes. What to do?
The wrong thing to do is to intensify the appeals, hit the bold button, make accusatory demands designed to shame the weak-willed into maintaining their previous pitch of resistance. That simply never works, not even in the short run, and certainly not in the long run. Very soon, we delete the urgent messages unread and go about our business.
The secret, as I have so often said, is to find something useful to do that one enjoys doing. A mass movement is a landslide, not brain surgery [and in this case the brain surgeon is on the other side.] It takes organizers and followers, fund-raisers and sign carriers, writers of chain letters and brave souls who will chain themselves to the gates of a State Legislature. It requires a few who will stand for public office and a few more who will help to organize an election campaign. Even something as trivial as my Friday Lists may encourage a few folks to pick up a phone or make a donation or go to a meeting, if only to have something to report.
Perhaps we should take our lead from fitness gurus who always say that it is better to find some sort of daily exercise you will stick with than to make episodic trips to the gym for a workout that leaves you crippled for a week. The body politic requires no less than the body physical.