The Catastrophe

This was a catastrophe. It’s one I didn’t see coming. I joked when he announced his candidacy, even as he gained momentum I said he couldn’t win the nomination, and after that I predicted a landslide. I wasn’t totally complacent. I recognized the race was tightening, I canvassed (though not as much as I should have), I posted semi-apocalyptic Facebook statuses imploring people to vote. I took the damage he could cause seriously, but I still didn’t quite believe he could win. I thought my knowledge of political science was worth more than it was. I was out of touch. I thought that for all America’s problems, it couldn’t be this bad.

I’m not going to be feeling the brunt of this catastrophe. I’m not in one the groups that will be hardest hit by Trump’s actions. I’ll also be out of the country for much of his first term, and there is a significant part of me that regrets I won’t be here to fight back.

The damage will be huge. Any last chance we had to get on top of climate change has been obliterated. Obamacare will almost certainly be repealed; benefits for the poor will be eviscerated. Mass deportations will be one of his first priorities. The police will become more militarized and aggressive, and we can expect incarceration to increase significantly. He will name Supreme Court justices that roll back progress. The legitimacy the office of the presidency offers will be extended to Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, and misogyny. And this is just what we know he will do. To name just a few of the things it seems entirely possible he will do, he might cause a global economic crisis, a relatively tame provocation could cause him to start a war, and it is difficult to think of a president you would trust less with nuclear weapons. He has already refused to accept electoral defeat, and if he loses in four years he will have the power of the federal government under him.

So yes, Tuesday night was a catastrophe, and now there is nothing we can do except fight it with the seriousness it deserves. This seriousness is think every day about what you are doing to fight back seriousness. This is maintaining the same urgency we feel now once the Facebook posts have dried up seriousness, watch less TV so you can read up on organizing seriousness, don’t spend excess money on Fridays so that you can donate to the ACLU seriousness. It’s keep an eagle eye on the government for the next four years seriousness. It’s get to know some Trump supporters seriousness.

Fighting this with the seriousness it deserves requires not letting our hearts outweigh our heads. We have to analyze this carefully and humbly, and accept painful conclusions. We have to figure out what went wrong and how we can respond most effectively. This won’t be done overnight, so I’m hesitant to offer prescriptions. I am confident that we should take anti-establishment thinking seriously, and we should take economic anxiety seriously. But it would be a fatal mistake to overlook race. He gained political prominence claiming President Obama wasn’t a citizen, not by talking about trade; he didn’t launch his campaign promising to “drain the swamp” but instead by saying Mexico was sending rapists. The rise of the far right in Germany and Sweden should make clear that a more egalitarian economy won’t cure us of racism. Accepting the role of racism also doesn’t mean writing off Trump voters. We should know better than to think that there is a dichotomy between racists and non-racists, and the rapid decline of homophobia should remind us that individuals can and do turn away from bigotry. Working towards these changes will be both exceptionally challenging and exceptionally necessary.

Fighting this also doesn’t mean turning away from our liberal democratic ideals, even though the Republicans have consistently violated democratic norms and Trump took this even further. Yes, Clinton won the popular vote and yes, there was significant voter suppression, but we can’t change the result of this election. That doesn’t mean the winner is right. American democratic winners have supported slavery, they have supported turning away refugees from Nazi Germany, and they supported the criminalization of homosexuality. Winning elections doesn’t grant you a monopoly on truth and legitimacy. If Trump tries to do the unconstitutional things he has promised we will jump on it. If he uses democratic means to achieve unjust ends he may well succeed, but we don’t lose our rights to pressure our representatives and to protest in between elections. When it does come to elections in 2018 and 2020, we must win.

To do this well we will have to have a big tent. Third party voters must be welcome, disaffected Republicans must be welcome, and yes, we must welcome even Trump supporters that turn away from him. One of the most hopeful moments I’ve had in recent days was reading a piece by the Irish writer of a blog about my favorite English soccer team. That’s how big a tent we need.

This, I hope, is the most dangerous moment in our lives. I think it will take decades to come back from this catastrophe, but we have no choice but to try. Students around the world protest dictatorships when they know they may be killed for it. When a bomb falls in Aleppo people run to the rubble so that they can climb in to save whoever is left. If they’re still fighting, so can we.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the aftermath of World War II in the last few days. The world had been through the Great Depression, the Holocaust, and two world wars that together killed close to 100 million people. Much of the world remained colonized. And although massive problems remain unsolved, the world went on to become more peaceful and prosperous than it has ever been, lifting billions of people out of poverty. So the first lesson of World War II is that the world has come back from worse. But the second lesson is that we have to do whatever we can to make sure it doesn’t get to that point. 78 years ago today my grandfather was arrested by the Nazis. Even on the way to Buchenwald, he did not foresee how bad things could get. The vast likelihood is that President Trump won’t cause anything so disastrous, but there is absolutely no way we can wait to find out.

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