Donald Trump is being sworn in as our 45th president. I’ve had two months to adjust to this new reality, and I still feel completely unprepared. It’s like spending all of high school learning Geometry and then graduating only to find out that all the rules you thought you knew have been thrown out. A squared plus B squared no longer equals C squared. Or something like that.
One of the most decent human beings to ever inhabit the office is being replaced by…
Trump’s victory did not exist within my realm of possibilities. Obviously, I was wrong. And in an effort to regain my footing, here are seven quotes to survive the Age of Trump.
1) “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” — Alexander Hamilton (maybe falsely attributed to him.)
I’ve always thought of this quote in terms of Trump. But, now I worry that the Democratic party could tumble down the same rabbit hole.
When you’re in the minority it’s easy to base your entire existence off of opposition. Just say “no” to everything. And then whenever things don’t go well, your opposition is vindicated. The GOP spent the last eight years doing this, and now they are the undeniable winners at every level of government.
But, they sold the soul of their party in the process. What do they stand for now? Opposition to women’s health care? Opposition to science? Opposition to combating inequality? To bank regulations? To public education? To infrastructure? To renewable energy? To Islam? In opposing everything that the Democrats put forward, they stand for nothing. And so the country fell for Donald Trump.
It’s easy to fall into the same trap. Over the last year, I spent significantly more time arguing against Donald Trump than I did arguing for what I believe in. Equality, decarbonization, human decency — all got set aside as I exclaimed shock and horror over the daily antics of DJT.
Democrats are now in the minority. Defining ourselves based on opposition is going to be even easier than it was during the election, as so much of what the GOP has put forward is reprehensible. But we can’t forget what we stand for. We don’t have the liberty of continually saying “no” just because Republicans might be finally saying “yes.”
2) “Tyranny does not begin with violence; it begins with the first gesture of collaboration. Its most enduring crime is drawing decent men and women into its siege of truth.” — Evan Osnos
On the other side of the spectrum, we must speak truth to power. Though we can’t define ourselves merely in opposition, we also can’t be drawn into the “siege of truth.” As the years roll on, it’s going to be tempting to normalize the Trump administration. Or at least to withdraw from the onslaught of misinformation.
I can already feel myself doing this. Despite his slate of cabinet appointees being historically unprepared for their jobs (with incredibly dangerous ramifications), despite his continued vitriolic outbursts on Twitter, despite his continued failure to divest from his company, despite the impending appeal of the Affordable Care Act — — I’m not as horrified now as I was on the night of the election. Our brains aren’t wired to exist in a state of perpetual shock. So we normalize. We contextualize. And we go on with our lives.
But, we need to be continually horrified. We cannot give up. We cannot give in. We cannot pretend as if any of this is normal.
3) “We create institutions meant to counterbalance our worst demons, temptations, and limitations.
Where short-termism and tribalism will tend to yield armed conflict, we create institutions capable of binding us together in long-term political and economic cooperation.
Where loss aversion and mistrust will tend to inhibit trade, we create institutions to structure and enforce the rule of law. (Markets themselves are human institutions, not, as libertarians have it, a state of nature.)
Where confirmation bias, saliency bias, the bandwagon effect, and various other vulnerabilities to fallacy tend to reinforce and myth and retard economic and technological progress, we create institutions to produce and rigorously vet knowledge, exposing it to dispassionate scrutiny and falsification.
We imbue these institutions with an authority that extends across various tribal lines. That is how society functions — with individual and group differences playing out against a backdrop of common institutional architecture.
Institutions are, almost by their nature, non-zero-sum. They are premised on the idea that some forms of sustained cooperation benefit everyone, even if everyone has to sacrifice some short-term interests along the way.
The message of every political demagogue in history is the opposite: society is a zero-sum game. Institutions no longer transcend tribal boundaries — they have become corrupt, weapons of a hostile tribe. Nothing transcends tribal boundaries. You can only trust the demagogue; only he is on your side.
When trust in institutions declines, when they lose the authority and social license they’ve been granted, no amount of individual effort can substitute. Until and unless new trusted institutions develop to bring stability, society decays and becomes vulnerable to authoritarianism.” — David Roberts
That long quote is worth reading twice. Or three times. The one thing standing between us and authoritarianism is the strength of our institutions. Demagogues win by attacking those institutions. And as our institutions fail, we turn increasingly to demagogues. It’s a feedback loop until “society decays and becomes vulnerable to authoritarianism.
This pervasive attack on our institutions is just as prevalent on the left as on the right. It happens every time any politician sends out a fundraising email asking for money so that they can stand up against our corrupt government, or the corrupt Wall Street bankers, or the corrupt media. It happens every time a politician says “I am the solution.
We must reject this demagogic appeal. Both in rhetoric and at the ballot.
Yes, there are corrupt individuals in every institution, and institutions often have major structural failures — so we need to remain vigilant in perpetually improving them. But, just like cleaning our home, it’s a job that’s never quite finished and acknowledgement of that necessary maintenance and improvement is a basic tenet of good governance.
But we can’t just sweep the entire system away and we can’t give in to the base appeal of those who claim that they can.
(*Edit, I realize that this argument is not fully hashed out, so I will elaborate in a future post.)
4) “And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the people.’ ‘We shall overcome.’
Yes, we can.” — President Barack Obama, in his final letter from the White House.
Yes, we can.” — President Barack Obama, in his final letter from the White House.
No message of the Obama presidency is more powerful than this one. We need to be hopeful. As anger and fear become valuable political tools, the only way to combat them is by spreading President Obama’s message of hope. My final column at CB was on the need for hope, so I won’t repeat it all here.
5) “Hope is fine. But you can’t live on hope. The name of the game is six votes.” — Diane Feinstein (as quoted in The Mayor of Castro Street from when she was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors).
This is the hardest lesson for me to swallow. In order to have the leverage to create change, we need power. While it’s the most obvious of the above lessons, it’s the one I always ignore. But the rest is meaningless without the votes. Without the power to influence change.
And so run for office (and read this Slate article!). Or support someone running for office. Or work on gaining the leverage (as a vocal constituent, a lobbyist, whatever) to influence someone who’s in office. It’s all about votes. There’s a million ways to get engaged in electoral victory.
6) “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.” — Voltaire
One of the most dangerous trends of this election has been our unwillingness to challenge our own perspectives. We now require an absurd level of ideological purity to be part of the tribe. Don’t you dare criticize Bernie Sanders. Or vote for Hillary Clinton. Or defend Cory Booker.
We should constantly be challenging our own positions. Look for contradictory info. Argue with friends. Let them expose flaws in our logic and then do the same for them. That is how we grow.
7) “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
We can be both non-violent and hostile at the same time. And the fight is eternal.
I’ll end it here.
In my attempt at putting these into action, I’ll be at the Women’s March on Washington tomorrow. Every community in the country will be having one (Kaua’i’s is at 11 AM at the airport intersection.) This isn’t so much about marching against President Trump as it is about marching in solidarity with women and children. And, in the words of their mission, “recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”