The truth is, I don’t know what to say. That’s why this blog is a day late; I spent all of Wednesday evening typing and erasing, unable to marshall my thoughts.
With the inauguration Friday, the Women’s March(es) on Saturday, the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy which will limit access to family planning services and, as a part of that, abortion services, in developing countries, criticisms of the Women’s March not being intersectional on the ground despite their lofty goals, and the whole #SaveMelania thing, I was pretty sure I would be talking about women’s rights and abortion and intersection feminism and the duality of someone being both a victim and a victimizer.
There’s also his growing resemblance to Kim Jong Un. Angered by the low turnout for his inauguration, Trump insisted that the media was lying. He made his Press Secretary berate the press for reporting the low turnout, because the Park Service hadn’t released any numbers. Kellyanne Conway went on TV and said that Trump had not been lying, he was merely using “alternate facts”. Then the Park Service did come out with the numbers on Twitter, and they were promptly banned from using Twitter, even for reporting emergencies. It also came out that in his speech in front of the CIA Memorial Wall, as well as his first press conference as president-elect, Trump had planted people in the audience to clap for him and laugh at his jokes. And, finally, he declared his own Inauguration Day a holiday: National Day of Patriotic Devotion.
Let’s break this down. Trump’s obsession with the size of his inauguration seems petty, and maybe he’s genuinely vain enough for all of this fallout to be the result of a bruised ego. Regardless of his motive, the results are the same. By calling the media liars, he is reinforcing his supports’ distrust of the media. As Ezra Klein wrote on this subject, “The spat over crowd size is a low-stakes, semi-comic dispute, but the groundwork is being laid for much more consequential debates over what is, and isn’t, true.” By reinforcing their suspicions with things that don’t matter, he makes it far more likely that they will continue to doubt the media on topics that do matter. It would seem stupid to do this when the truth is so easily verifiable, but that’s the point: He is teaching his supporters to trust his words more than they trust their own eyes and ears.
He’s not only undermining their ability to determine the truth, but the entire concept of truth. Are there facts,or are there alternate facts? The groundwork for this has been being laid by right-wing radio hosts and FOX “news” commentators for years. People choose their news based on what they agree with, what confirms rather than challenges their worldview. They’re already choosing “facts”, but up until this point we all agreed that there were facts; we just thought the other side had them wrong. Openly admitting that there are two sets of “facts” undermines the meaning of the word, makes truth into an opinion. This is a bigger cognitive leap, but they’ve been preparing for it for years. There is already significant blurring between facts and opinions when I speak with right-leaning friends and family, and Trump is increasing that.
He’s also setting the stage for censorship. Banning the Park Service from tweeting about his inauguration size is petty, but his supporters have rallied around the action on Twitter; they have accepted that government agencies reporting things that Trump doesn’t like can–and should–be silenced. Between this and his manufactured crowd support, it would not be a stretch to say that he is engaging in low-level brainwashing. Here’s what happens when you’re a member of an audience: More often than not, when several people start clapping, you automatically start clapping. When several people start laughing, you also start laughing. It’s why they put laugh tracks in sitcoms. Humans are highly social creatures; put any group in a room long enough and they will start blinking in sync. We follow each other’s cues. When you’re the odd one out, not-clapping, not-laughing, it’s not uncommon to start questioning yourself: “Am I just overreacting? Maybe he doesn’t mean this the way it sounds. Maybe he’s not so bad.” This behavior is innate, which makes this manipulation tool particularly effective.
Finally, the National Day of Patriotic Devotion. It’s not so much that he made his inauguration a holiday. President Obama made his first inauguration a holiday too. But his was the National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation. The wording of both was about people coming together, but Obama’s was about acknowledging differences and seeking to overcome them. It was outward focused. Trump’s was about people uniting in support of the myth of American Exceptionalism, with him as its standard bearer. It was focused elevating himself rather than raising up others. It didn’t call to mind healing, forgiveness, and compromise. It invoked blind patriotism with a zealous undertone.
In line with his aspiring-dictator behavior, pages on Civil Rights, LGBT Rights, Immigration, and Disabilities were taken down, and the Spanish version of the website was removed. he threatened Chicago with martial law, signed an executive order for immediate construction of the wall between the US and Mexico, continued to lie about voter fraud despite the real problem being massive voter disenfranchisement, and mandated that the Department of Homeland Security publish weekly lists of crimes committed by immigrants. He is also blocking refugees from entering the country temporarily, unless they’re from Syria, in which case they are blocked permanently. He is denying visa to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, and he wants to reinstate “black site” prisons where the US tortured people in a blatant dismissal of the Geneva Convention as of our basic human decency.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s begun a war on climate change. He has banned federal agencies from tweeting about it, he took down the White House page on it, and resurrected plans for both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. He’s frozen all EPA grants, has ordered them to take the pages from climate change down from their website, and will require all scientific studies and data to be reviewed by political staff before publication. Congress is looking at defunding the Endangered Species Act, along with PBS, NPR, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. I’ll happily invoke Winston Churchill here. Even when you’re facing down nazis, you don’t cut funding to the arts.
And the worst part is, I’m sure there are egregious things that I’ve missed here. I am entirely certain that most of us don’t know the full scope of his first infamous week.
I don’t know if I referenced this in my last blog post, but some former Democratic congressional staffers put together a how-to guide for resisting the Trump agenda. This is based on their experiences working with Senators and Representatives, seeing day in and out what did or did not get their bosses’ attention and what did or did not change their votes. A decent portion of this knowledge comes from watching the Tea Party as work, and how effectively they pushed their elected officials to obstruct Obama’s agenda.
This guide, Indivisible, calls for the creation of Rapid Response Teams. Michael Moore, speaking at the Women’s March, called for the same thing. It’s a group of roughly 10 people from the same congressional district who work together using the tactics the guide provides for them to push their elected representatives back from the brink of Trumpocalypse. You make a plan to call someone every day. You organize as a group to go to your representatives’ offices and town hall meetings to draw attention to your causes. The one frustrating detail is that it’s entirely defensive. Trump is setting the agenda, and the best we can do is slow him down or stop him. We don’t get to argue for what should be; that’s for the next election. But every victory delayed, every atrocity averted, means less destruction.
So today, I spoke with a work friend, and we started a team. There are websites, here, here, and here, that can provide some guidance on the big issues to call about, but the word ‘rapid’ also means that we will make an effort to respond quickly if something arises unexpectedly. In the meantime, the Women’s March also has 10 actions / 100 Days, which provides examples of work that can be done to fight back.
This felt like such a little thing to do, until I started it. Quite honestly, it was the first time in days that I didn’t feel like I was being buffeted in political winds too strong to withstand or even attempt to combat. Seven days of sitting on a bus that is driven, repeatedly, over a series of cliffs with rapidly increasing heights while the bus driver constantly tells you that this is an improvement and not to listen to the screams of your fellow passengers, because they’re lying. It was like someone gave me a hand break. I maybe can’t stop the bus, but I have a thing I can try that may slow the whole thing down.
I encourage you to do the same. I cannot overstate the difference it made, mentally and emotionally, to have a task to which I can dedicate myself, and to have like-minded individuals to do it with me. Before I knew it, this one action spurred more. I read that Trump would be releasing lists of crimes committed by immigrants each week, and myself and a coworker immediately started discussing the logistics of creating a list of crimes committed by white men each week. (Which will be available on this blog, so please share when you see it!)
I keep thinking about what a constant annoyance the Tea Party was during Obama’s administration, how the obstruction of Republicans rankled me. They were distressingly effective, and their primary objection was paying taxes to help poor people. We are fighting for people of color, women, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, the disabled, queer people, trans people, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the disadvantaged and discarded men, women, and children of the empty American dream. Our task is larger, it’s more important, and the cost of losing is so much greater. We have so much more at stake here. Which, if you think about it, makes this much simpler.
We have to win. It is a moral imperative. Non-optional. Non-negotiable. An absolute certainty.
So let’s get started.