So. Here it is. My contribution to the “Donald Trump is President, what do we do now?” genre. Please share if you like it, I hope you’re constructive if you do not, and let’s all work to make things better either way. Thank you.
So Donald Trump gets to be President of the United States, which feels like something out of a bad parody but is in fact terrifyingly true. Set aside the awfulness of what he claims this week are his beliefs, and you’re still left with the fact that the man is utterly unqualified – a largely failed, multiple-times bankrupt real estate swindler whose main claim to fame is being a sort-of rich guy who played a richer guy on a reality TV game show.
For me, that’s the rubicon-crossing element right up front in this: That it’s the exact sort of story we used to tell to make fun of how venal and trashy our public discourse had gotten, that a hackneyed B-list celebrity could run for high office and win. Now that it’s happened, even if Trump is some kind of cultural anomaly who happened to be the guy occupying this role at the lucky point where there was an opening for his angle to work out… what’s to stop the continuation of it? There’s no longer a lack of precedent for fringe celebrities, pop-demagogues, other reality TV people etc to swoop into the political scene and do well enough to muck things up even further – and at this point they’re pretty mucked up.
The whole spectacle has been making me physically sick since election night, but the fact is I’m more bothered by what inevitably comes next. Of all the problems with Trump, the most serious long-term is that his election-year persona is so cartoonishly awful that it has the effect of obscuring how base-level awful the “normal” state of the Republican Party is. The most ridiculous things Trump promised his supporters (a walled-off Mexican border, a ban on Muslim immigrants, mass-deportations, etc) are going to be difficult to enact legally even with Congress nominally on his side, and that’s if you assume that he sincerely believes in such things and did not simply adopt whatever outlook tested best with his voters – the man is, after all, a charlatan.
The fact is, the most immediately damaging things that will come of a Trump presidency are the things that would have come had any Republican been elected: The Supreme Court will (at minimum) return to its largely deadlocked state or flip to nominally-conservative, which will imperil the Affordable Care Act and leave many without access health insurance – I’m not in that boat, but only because I live in a state with its own ACA-esque system, so now if I ever want to move I have to limit my options to places where I can actually afford to live with a chronic illness. It will also mean that Red State lawsuits aimed at taking power away from the EPA, “Affirmative Action” and other vital systems that effect both small and long-term systemic change. States that want to pass discriminatory laws against gay marriage, transgender bathroom access, etc will likely find themselves much less challenged to do so.
Even if, in a best-case scenario, Trump were to commit some impeachable offense (or simply get bored with pretending to be a politician – both of which are not implausible) his waiting replacement is Mike Pence, a religious zealot who actually subscribes life-long to most of the vile positions Trump seemingly acquired as a matter of political expediency. ANY Conservative becoming President at this crucial historical moment was going to be destructive on about the same level, Trump merely brings the added “bonus” of being embarrassing and incompetent at the same time.
Oh, and also that the few areas where he doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional Republican, its uniformly for the worse: He wants to engage peacefully with brutal thug dictators like Putin, and he favors (or claims to favor) an “anti-globalism” isolationist trade policy of “America first” restrictions on jobs and outsourcing (lets see how long that lasts, though) and import/export tariffs that can only conceivably drive up consumer goods prices (at the minimum) and make foreign-made goods harder to acquire here even if they are superior to the domestic alternative.
And yet, so we’re told, it’s that last part that won the day and is supposed to make Trump voters more worth taking seriously. As the dust settles and the corporate media looks for a way to A.) not admit their ow wrongdoing in treating Trump “fairly” by breathless coverage of Hillary’s myriad non-scandals and equivocation about his very real ones and B.) report on the next few years in a way that’s not ratings-killing depressing, the narrative already taking shape is that the outright racists, misogynists, xenophobes etc that enthusiastically backed Trumpism were just a loud minority, and that the “real” reason he succeeded is because he tapped into the angrier, more proactive version of the “anti-establishment” groundswell that propelled Bernie Sanders in the Democrat primary. That the hangers-on of the blighted rust-belt, the apparently disenfranchise white working class – abandoned by Reaganomics in the 80s and ignored by “urban coastal elitist” liberals in the age of globalism – saw someone whose election could blow up “the system” and decided to do just that.
And on that point… Egh, I just don’t know, folks.
The thing of it is, my immediate instinct is to be introspective and wonder if there’s truth in that. The fact is, as someone who is urban, coastal, liberal and frankly proud of the various ways in which I’ve been described as “elitist,” it’s not hard to see how maybe that COULD be the case: I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t generally given much thought to the supposed “victims” of the changes that the globalist, post-national economy have brought about in the world. I live on a safe blue coast as part pf a major city, so for me “globalism” is an almost entirely positive force: My tech/entertainment-adjacent job isn’t going to be shipped overseas. My local infrastructure isn’t crumbling because young people are fleeing to blue cities where the jobs are, it’s being built up because it IS the blue city young people are fleeing to. Immigration has never meant more competition for scarce jobs for me, it’s meant vibrant and diverse communities where a lot of my closest friends come from and the overall presence of which gives me a sense of connection to the ideal of a borderless, unified world. That diversity could be a threat to my identity would never even occur to me, because comfortably existing as a global person IS, in large part, my identity. And regardless of how arrogant this sounds, I believe that this outlook is really the only proper one for a person who hopes to exist happily in the 21st Century.
But, on the other hand, it’s understandable that the opposite isn’t true for everyone – particularly if you were born into the regional homesteads of what Trumpism calls “America’s forgotten people” and aren’t able (or interested in) uprooting yourself to the cities or remaking yourself as a 21st Century person. And in my angrier, more callous moments, I’ve been as guilty as anyone like me of looking askance at the economically blighted Red States and their complaining populace with abject contempt: “I’m a proud citizen of the society of the future, those places are the past, why are we wasting time and resources propping any of that up when everyone knows the action is here?” And no, the fact that I’m “right” in the macro-economic/societal-evolution sense doesn’t make the dismissiveness less mean-spirited or callous in practice.
I struggle with a base impulse, born out of being mistreated and bullied by my peers for much of my upbringing, to dismiss whole swaths of humanity out of hand because, well… there’s A LOT of bad in the world, and a lot of bad people; and when a subset of humanity seems to be giving me a good reason for that dismissal (say, by embracing backward politics, or hatred, or simply by being culturally vacant i.e. “nothing worthwhile comes from there”) I tend to take it. Have in the past, probably will in the future. It’s a personal failing – and so (probably) is the fact that most of the time deep down I still think I’m “right” and just need to be “nicer” about it.
Especially since, when I DO look past my own self-interest, what I see first are the morally-righteous net-positives of globalism: An increased secular social-liberalism that’s made life immeasurably better for my gay, queer, transgender, etc, friends. A decreased power-base for white supremacy (in the form of white-as-default societal view) and increased opportunities for women to attain political, social and market power. A more diverse, interesting, enriching community to live in. If it’s already easy for a “liberal coastal elitist” like me to casually dismiss the anti-globalist concerns of “Flyover Country,” it gets even EASIER when you can point to people who’ve historically had to endure much, much worse than a downtick in local blue-collar factory jobs who’re benefiting and say “No, you’re demonstrably wrong, the way things are going is good because look at how much it’s helping all of these worthy, awesome people.” And in terms of broad cultural narrative, well… angry white guys versus marginalized women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, disabled persons, etc? Guess who’s going to come off like the villain there even if they don’t personally think themselves to be. Yeah, exactly.
So… yes, in the abstract, I “get” the concept of being someone who (correctly or not) feels like the transforming landscape of 21st Century America has left them behind and having a chip on your shoulder about it – even if my suspicion is still that there is a lot less actual “I did everything right and got screwed!” at play than there is “I’m mad because I’m not talented or clever enough to make it in a world that’s no longer arranged for someone like me to just coast on perceived labor-force necessity and resent having to adjust.” And I get (again, in the abstract) wanting to flip a symbolic bird or lob a symbolic brick at some vague idea of “the establishment” that you think was either actively out to get you or just didn’t care about you. I get anger. I get lashing out. Even if I think the place it’s coming from is utterly wrongheaded and grounded in unexamined-entitlement and ignorance… I get where that comes from.
Here’s what I don’t get:
I don’t get how, when confronted with an unprecedented mass of evidence and testimony that tells you, essentially: “Hey, if you throw that brick, it’s a chain reaction that hurts good people who never did anything to you.” Explain that to me.
I don’t get how the unlikely possibility that backing out of NAFTA (not actually going to happen, by the way) might eventually lead to some kind of factory job maybe popping back up in your general area is still “worth it” when a gay person tells you “Hey, the guy you’re electing President because you think he’ll make that happen is going to create a Supreme Court that takes my marriage rights away and ruins my life.” Explain that to me.
I don’t get how the momentary satisfaction of seeing Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver or whoever your “smug liberal who told mean jokes about my precious rural working class culture” target of choice is have to swallow the idea of four years under Trump is “worth it” when a Muslim person tells you “Hey, the guy you made President for the lulz wants to prevent the rest of my family from coming to live with me here because we’re the wrong religion.” Explain that to me.
I don’t get how the prospect of maybe (maybe!) seeing it become slightly easier to pick up this or that job because the migrant labor force growth has been stalled is still “worth it” when someone tells you “Hey, the policies you THINK are going to cause that are ACTUALLY going to be used as pretext to turn away war refugees fleeing a situation a thousand times worse than the suffering you think you’re enduring.” Explain that to me.
I don’t get how seeing this or that company (maybe!) put out one more “now hiring” sign is “worth it” when it happens because EPA regulations have been eased back and that company can now profit from poisoning the air and water that both you AND the “coastal elites” have to drink and breathe. Explain that to me.
I don’t get how the prospect of your regional H.R. manager maybe (maybe!) offering a few more overtime hours because corporate is “worth it” when it comes from no longer being required to spend money offering health insurance coverage to employees suffering from chronic illness – meaning those people will get sick and possibly DIE. Explain that to me.
I don’t get how showing resistance to the spread of an art/entertainment culture that isn’t precisely your “thing” is somehow “worth it” when you are told, again and again, that it means mental and physical harm coming to the people and communities behind that culture. Explain that to me.
I don’t get how casting a vote on behalf of buzzwords like “manufacturing jobs” (manufacturing what? For whom? At what cost? For how long?) is “worth it” next to the undeniable fact that gay and transgender youth who – I promise you – are living lives as harsh or harsher than yours despite the impression you may have formed from only seeing such people as idealized pop-culture fixtures on daytime chat shows are going to have psychological and physical violence inflicted on them by bullies and bigots who feel emboldened by the victory of a political movement you claim to support strictly out of “economic anxiety.” Explain that to me.
I don’t get how whatever you think Trump could conceivably bring to you, personally, is still “worth it” when you know (unless you are utterly oblivious) that his court appointments could mean that women nationwide will lose reproductive freedom and possibly their lives as a result of it. Explain that to me – unless your explanation involves some asinine superstition about the “personhood” of fetuses, in which case you and I had nothing to discuss way before Trump showed up.
Good, decent, wonderful people – people who matter, people who have value, people who bring good into the world, their communities and this country, people who have things just as rough and in most cases substantially rougher than you – told you “What you are voting to happen will cause harm to come to me”… and you did it anyway. How do you live with that? How do you face yourself? Explain that to me.
And just so we’re clear: I’m not asking for an explanation because I don’t know the answer. We all know the answer to every single item: “I am selfish and looking out for number one.” I know it. You know. I just think that all the “Not racist, just ______!” Trump supporters should have to own up to it, if nothing else.
The thing that I don’t get and REALLY don’t know the answer to is where we go from here. While demographic math and the inexorable march toward post-national globalism (which, just so we’re clear, is not actually going to stop – it’s just going to have a bunch of red tape to manage at most) will still likely create an eventual political map where the people/regions who supported Trumpism this time will not be able to wield any significant political power… we aren’t there yet. The hope was that it would get most of the way there, barely, with a Clinton win this time and then the joint policy-changing movements of a Democrat president and Democrat-dominated SCOTUS would hasten it into full bloom – but that’s not going to happen now, and it’s going to take longer and require more granular, gradual work.
So until then, yes, it’s grudgingly true that liberals in the blue city strongholds and the blue coasts will have to at least TRY to take “Flyover Country” at its word that the open racists and misogynists aren’t truly representative and, if “reached out to” in some way, some of the supposedly disenfranchised working class “economic anxiety” voters can be peeled off to support liberal candidates who offer actual solutions to their problems…
But how does that work out, now?
Here’s the thing: Regardless of whether Trump follows through on anything he’s proposed, he proposed it and “Flyover Country” voted for him. They voted for taking marriage rights away from gays. They voted for mass-deportation of immigrants. They voted for a Muslim ban. They voted for the wall. They voted for “gay conversion therapy” (that one’s on Pence – who is, explicitly or implicitly, your actual President in terms of the work. Just watch.) They voted for abortion restrictions. They voted for breaking bread with Putin. They voted for white nationalism. They voted for isolationism. They voted for America to back out of NATO. They voted to tank the economy by trying to force an unviable manufacturing-sector revival that can’t be accomplished and an “America first” trade policy that corporations will weasel out of easily while passing any actual costs onto consumers.
Even if that wasn’t why they voted for him (or why they THOUGHT they voted for him) …they knew it about it and voted anyway. Which can only means two things: They wanted to inflict deliberate harm on their fellow countrymen, or they wanted something else and figured that getting it was worth inflicting that same deliberate harm. No matter what’s to be gained… how can ANYONE from the “harmed” part of that equation be reasonably asked to build bridges and heal rifts? How do you get there?
Oh, I can imagine the Democrat PARTY getting there: Gearing up a gaggle of their best “relatable white guy” stable (“On Bernie! On Biden! On Kaine and O’Malley!”) and “Blue Dog” Senate candidates and dispatching them to the rusted-out hinterlands on the pretext of “Okay, when the Union lunchpail vote was a thing, it was OUR thing – let’s get it back!” Sure. That’s probably Strategy #1 for the 2018 midterms. What I can’t imagine is the ACTUAL power-base coalition of 21st Century liberalism – Blue State/Blue State-aspirant Millennials, LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, religious and cultural minorities, women, people with disabilities, etc – going along with it. Why should they? How can that be reasonably expected of them?
This isn’t that fucking Black Jeopardy sketch. This isn’t a matter of differences of opinion about regional economic priorities and mutual pop-culture acumen. Asking current loyal, active liberals to shake hands and find common ground with theoretically-persuadable Trump voters is not asking Hank Hill and Cleveland Brown to agree on a movie night pick. It’s asking them to “make nice” with people who just proved that they AT BEST were willing to see them suffer and possibly die in exchange for the vague possibility that someone MIGHT turn “The Plant” or The Old Steel Mill back on at some point in the near future. And it won’t be The Democrats trying to mediate common ground between the two: It will be The Democrats shoving marginalized, imperiled people with actual problems in front newly-emboldened white people with largely imagined/exaggerated problems and asking the marginalized people to swallow not just their pride but their basic sense of self worth and convincingly ask: “What can I do to make my life worth protecting to you?”
Forget not knowing how anyone summons the will to do that – I don’t even know how you ASK someone to so much as TRY to do that.
Explain that to me.