What a first week! President Trump has issued a flurry of executive orders to “make things happen.” Between the inauguration address and his actions that have followed, he has made clear his agenda: establish the world as a dark, dangerous place, flush with horrors that only he can combat. And those horrors include everyone from certain countries in the world, including allies on our continent and across the oceans; the American press; anyone in the intelligence community who tells him things he doesn’t want to hear; and rule of law, both American and international.
A complicating factor, of course, is that none of this is new. The hatred and bile Trump espouses buoyed him throughout his campaign. While many voters fell into the “anyone but Clinton” camp, and Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million voters, he won the election. None of the fact-checking and pleas to help prevent this chapter in our country’s history stopped him. For those of us who see him setting the stage for our worst fears to be realized, we seem to face a choice: tilt against the windmills of a Trump presidency, unchecked by a gleeful Republican majority; or duck and cover, hoping enough people come to their senses and little enough damage is done for us to start the recovery in four years.
There is a third way. Trump won the presidency through a politics of division. He exploited fissures within the Democratic party and frustration within a fragmented populace. To fight back, our path forward must focus not on tearing Trump down, but on building a country that can resist his worst impulses and push his fear-fueled policies down under the weight of a people who rise above. To resist Trump, we need to help make a nation whole again.
Focus on What Matters
The United States press faces two lines of attack from President Trump—the leader of a nation that holds freedom of the press as a sacred right enshrined in the First Amendment. First, he throws out a Gish Gallop: a burst of misinformation so wide-ranging that even the best reporters struggle to keep up, much less refute all of the alternative facts presented. And as if this were not enough, Trump is directly attacking any outlet that contradicts him, threatening to revoke privileges or refuse access to what his administration has deemed the opposition.
In this atmosphere, chasing after all the chum Trump throws out will not work. Instead, drive to the heart of what matters. If we chase every alternative fact his administration pushes, we spread ourselves too thin to make an impact. The dispute over inaugural crowd size? It may be low-hanging fruit, but it is there to distract us from his more ominous moves: replacing national security experts with the hate-filled agenda of Steve Bannon, removing immigrants legal and otherwise, and attacking a press our founders considered so critical that its freedom was enshrined in the First Amendment.
When presented with ridiculous distractions, bring it back. We are not a nation made great by shrinking on itself. Our most shameful moments have come through division: legal and extralegal attacks on those of other races, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientation. We have worked to improve the rights of women, racial minorities, religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community, and we have an administration that wants to take us back to the “good old days.” Moves made to limit freedoms and push people back into subservience cannot be abided, and we cannot turn from that fight like rats following a constantly-moving piece of cheese.
Pressure on Congress
Within the ranks of the Republican party, many of our senators and representatives care deeply about our country. We have seen concerns emerge not only from Democrats but Republicans as well about some of the worst cabinet nominees, and about policy choices enunciated through speeches and executive orders. They remain mostly united at the moment, in part because of political mistrust across the aisle. While some certainly care more about their power than doing the right thing, the majority want to leave our country better when they leave office.
With this in mind, we need to apply pressure to the men and women elected to serve us. The goal should never be about finding the weak, but rather inspiring courage. When John F. Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, he acknowledged a duty to party and to constituents, but singled out for praise individuals who fought not for what was popular, but what was right. Many of our congressional representatives ache to do the right thing. We must call these people, and call them to their duty to do just that. Show them that we recognize the dangers and the threats to freedom unfolding before us. Encourage them to listen, to speak out, and to act for the good of our country.
Sounding the cry of freedom within collections of those who agree with you already matters—but it will reach its limits. We must strive to inspire those already on our side, of course; moving from thought to action requires a nudge, and concerted action necessitates that nudge. It allows us to lay the foundation of an effective resistance to the governmental force rising before us.
From here, though, we must act to heal the divisions that helped create the conditions we are fighting. Trump has called for unity, but his idea of unity is falling in line, and keeping your mouth shut if you disagree with anything he does or is. Through Steve Bannon, he has called the press the “opposition party.” He belittles anyone who opposes him and diffuses criticism through the sheer volume of his lies and his outbursts.
This is not the America I love, and it falls short of what even most want among those who helped his rise to power. We must begin with points of agreement, adding to our forces those who may have voted for Trump or a third party candidate but recognize the dangers he poses. Reach out and build the bridges we need, the infrastructure within our population that we need to rise up. Donald Trump is one man, surrounded by a collection of sycophants and would-be puppet masters who want to use him for their own ends. Against the power of a people who care enough to make our country truly great, his Orwellian agenda will fall.