Unless a miracle occurs sometime in the next two months, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States this January. If you’re a liberal like me, this is an alarming fact for all kinds of reasons. The election of Trump — who won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by anywhere from 1.5 – 2 million — is a signifier that our country is much more comfortable with what Trump represents than we thought. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and disdain for truth, competence and compassion have all been revealed to be a much stronger part of the American fabric than we were willing to admit and now we have to pay the consequences for that over the next four years. What do we do with that? How can we navigate a political climate that seems so hostile and stacked against us? I think now it is more important than ever to resist what Trump represents by actively embodying our values; we must be aggressively compassionate, open and honest, and welcoming of those who are different and disadvantaged.
We already know how cruel Trump can be. He announced he was running for President by attacking American immigrants from Mexico, saying that they were drug dealers and rapists. At one of his rallies, he openly mocked a journalist with a disability. Whenever he has a public argument with a woman, he inevitably goes to their appearance, their sexual behavior, or their relationships in an attempt to dismiss them. He has mocked war veterans, members of his own party, people of color, journalists, entertainers, anyone who has accused him of illegal or immoral acts — mostly through Twitter, his cudgel of choice. This is not an aberration. Many in the GOP establishment have been using misdirection, lexicographical engineering, and ad hominem attacks as the common method of debate for years, even decades.
Which is why it’s also no surprise at all that Trump is so brazenly, shockingly dishonest. He has lied about the things he’s said and done in the past. He has lied about the things others have said and done in the past. By now, it’s very difficult to be ignorant of the long history of Trump’s half-truths and falsehoods because they were a distinguishing feature of his campaign. Politifact has five ratings for claims made by Presidential candidates, the worst of which is “pants-on-fire” — a claim that is nt only untrue but obviously ridiculous. Over the course of the campaign, Trump has 60 claims with this rating — more than his “true” or “mostly true” statements combined. However, most of Trump’s supporters don’t care about these lies; they actually care about what these lies are justifications for — a xenophobic, racist set of policies that will make lives more difficult for just about any minority in this country.
That’s the worst part of Trump’s ascendancy. After decades of fighting for equal rights and protections under the law, the next four years could see most — if not all — of those advancements dismantled. Trump, like so many of the white supremacists who have supported him, thrives on isolation, humiliation and threats to dominate the conversation. He wants to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport undocumented immigrants immediately, without punishing the companies who have been taking full advantage of their labor all this time. He wants to ban any Muslim from entering the United States and “register” anyone of the Islamic faith already in this country. He has threatened to jail Hillary Clinton, his major political opponent of the last year, multiple times. He has threatened to sue or imprison journalists who speak against him, activists who protest his policies, other government executives and legislators who have declared defiance of his proposed federal policies.
Those who have asked us to wait and see what a Trump presidency will look like have no answers for all the news that has come out about his transition. Steve Bannon — a hard-right white nationalist associated with Breitbart News — was tapped to be his chief strategist for domestic and foreign policy, which will almost certainly mean that the worst parts of Trump’s racist and anti-globalist policies will be a central part of his administration. He wants Tom Price to head Health and Human Services, which definitely means that repealing or gutting Obamacare — and depriving millions of the most vulnerable Americans of health care — is a campaign promise he intends to keep. His pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is in favor of charter education over fixing the nation’s ailing public schools, corporatizing our education. His Secretary of Transportation pick, Elaine Chao, is married to Mitch McConnell. The man he wants for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, was a former partner at Goldman Sachs and hedge-fund manager. His Secretary of Commerce pick, Wilbur Ross, is a coal and steel executive who owned a company that lost 12 workers in a mine explosion and is also aggressively anti-free trade. The Trump administration will be stocked with pro-business allies with limited government experience, all with the singular aim of pushing government functions into the arms of the private sector.
There’s no question that Trump’s Presidency will present real hardship for me, people like me, my friends and family. The only unknown is how hard things will be; best case scenario, we have four years of an incompetent federal government that does a lot of crappy stuff that might be undone later, but worst-case scenario is the end of our democracy as we know it and a resurgence of fascist, authoritarian, white supremacist thinking. How do we get through the next four years, knowing that our lives will very likely be worse but not quite knowing how much worse they’re going to be?
I think it is more important than ever for us to actively, aggressively uphold the virtues that Trump and his allies are trying to destroy. We must be courageous in the face of this adversity. We must be compassionate to those who are being targeted at any given time, and ferocious in our defense of their lives, liberty and our democracy. We must be open and honest with ourselves and each other, willing to own up to our mistakes and work to reverse any damage they might cause. We must prize accuracy and truthfulness, no matter how painful or difficult the facts might be. And we must forgive each other, work with each other to become better people, and to forge a better community.
I won’t lie — I’m very frightened about what our country is becoming, and what it will look like during the next Presidential election in 2020. The scope of what we must deal with is overwhelming. Equal rights for minority and vulnerable populations, fixing our unjust legal system, investing in education, ending our reliance on fossil fuels to combat climate change, promoting green energy and technology, embracing the rich tapestry of differences that makes America a true melting pot while also respecting a common law that allows everyone to pursue their individual dreams are all things that we must fight for. Sometimes, we will have to fight for many of these things at once. I honestly don’t know if I have what it takes for sustained resistance these four years. But I know I must try. It’s OK to be afraid, but it is not OK to allow that fear to keep you silent and still. We must speak loudly for ourselves and our fellow Americans. We must move to defend our democracy and our community. We must be brave.
We must have empathy for the people who are vulnerable. Islamic-Americans, American immigrants, Americans of color, LGBQT Americans, Americans with disabilities, American women, poor Americans both urban and rural, progressive Americans, American journalists and entertainers — all of them have been threatened specifically by Trump at some point during his campaign, and his Cabinet choices signal that he will make good on at least some of those threats. If at all possible, we have to actively protect those who are in the crosshairs of Trump’s policies and supporters to make sure they’re as OK as they can be in this trying time. Only by reaching out to help those who need it will we be able to repair the tattered fabric of American community; we can’t expect anyone else to do it. We HAVE to.
We have to develop critical thinking, analytical ability, and a sense of our own fallibility. We are not always right — sometimes, the facts we have to base decisions on turn out to be inaccurate, or we lead ourselves to the wrong conclusions through the trail of facts we build. The world is a complex, enormous place; we will never understand all of it, and that’s OK. Even experts make mistakes in their chosen field, and most of us will never be experts in public policy, sociology, philosophy or most of the things we need to be to understand why the world works the way it does. We can do our best. We can put our trust in those we believe to be correct. But hear me — they will be wrong at some point, and so will we. We have to respect our ideals and values well enough to know when we’ve fallen short of them, and compassionate enough with ourselves to make room for our mistakes. We can’t allow our ego to extend the damage our mistakes cause by doubling down on them. We won’t fool the people who matter most to us.
There will be hard truths to face these next four years. Our government might do things that are obviously, undeniably unjust but that we are also powerless to stop. We might find that it’s too late to save various parts of our environment that have been ignored for too long. We might see a wave of hatred sweeping the country and the rest of the developed world. Our lives may be changed irrevocably. But we can’t fall into the trap of denying these events, or thinking that we can go back to normal again if we just elect the right people. We must have clear eyes about our world and our place in it, and we have to do this to know the best way we can help make it the best world it could possibly be.
We must forgive each other when we make mistakes. For far too long progressives have torn their own communities apart for not being “woke” enough, for not doing the right things to protest injustice, for not being as far along in our understanding of our society as some are. We each have our own experiences and perspectives, and none of us ever come to the decisions and actions we make in a vacuum. While it’s true we must call out damaging attitudes, words and behavior, we must also do so with the goal of correcting them instead of excoriating the person responsible for them. We need our allies — even those who are still unaware of just how deep systemic injustice goes, or who are uncomfortable with certain forms of protest, or possess any number of imperfections. A community that demands ideological purity from its members is not a good one for realizing the dream of what America could be. There will be tension about matters of belief, and of policy — we will disagree with those who are in the trenches with us. But there are in the trenches, with us. We must be patient and kind to our fellow Americans who want to be on our side, but who don’t quite know how. Pushing them out and leaving them alone to discover the “right” way to ally only increases the isolation that we’re working so hard to combat.
In order to weather Trump’s America we must become our best selves quick in and in a hurry. We must remember what it means to be in a community of different but united voices again. We must be brave, compassionate, shrewd, patient, honest, open, and assertive. We can’t keep our heads down. We have to face this with all the strength and ingenuity we can muster. And we must do it together. That is how we make America great again.