How to Respond to Trump? Fight for Democracy

Debates are swirling about what the appropriate response is to the election of the willfully ignorant, sexual assaulting, fascist coddling president-elect. The two most compelling arguments I’ve seen argue that our first responsibility is to fight for our democracy and resist reactionary attacks on our institutions and most cherished values.

In the Washington Post, I argued that this election was about our identity as a people and warned:

This election could usher in a new Republican Party that increasingly relies on the ugliest forms of populism and nationalism. It could even redefine the United States as a nation by taking the country down the road of illiberal democracy or even authoritarianism. This isn’t just alarming for Americans who are committed to democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law; it’s also critical moment for the world.

With the selection of the alt-right bigot Steve Bannon as chief strategist to the president, the threat to American democracy and our fundamental rights is clear (not to mention what people in Syria, Afghanistan, Central America, and elsewhere may be facing with an American president who does not believe in supporting freedom, democracy, and human rights).

Jonathan Chait has offered an excellent response to those thinking of simply fleeing: Forget Canada. Stay and Fight for American Democracy.

Never in my lifetime has the United States seen a period of darkness like the one that lies ahead of us. But we have seen periods of darkness before — segregation, McCarthyism, the internment of the Japanese, the Civil War, slavery. The American story is fitful progress punctuated by frequent reversals, some of which appeared at the time like they would last forever. None of them did.

The Trump years will be a horror. When I set out to write my long story in the magazine about Trumpism and the future of the Republican Party, I originally intended to focus on the immediate possibilities that lay before the Republican Party if it could capture full control of Washington. As this scenario grew less likely, I gave it less emphasis, but it is there. The Republicans will pass massive regressive tax cuts; they will take access to medical care from the poor and sick; they will deregulate the financial industry and fossil-fuel emitters.

And that is just the beginning, the best-case scenario. Trump is an impulsive, egotistical bully, intolerant of criticism and dissent and drawn to the ruthless application of power. Many liberals have been warning that American democracy is far weaker than we believed, and this was before any of us imagined a monster like Trump commanding the Executive branch. Trump will shake the Republic to its foundations. And the Republicans will shake it with him. If there is a central point I tried to drive home, it is that Trumpism grows out of a decades-long trend toward authoritarianism as the dominant tendency of Republican politics. I don’t know what American government will look like after four years of Trump — or if it will only last four years, or even if it will only last eight….

The depths of a Trump presidency defy our imagination. It is safe to assume it will not be popular. Trump and his party will probably respond with vicious anti-democratic measures. But fighting for democracy is part of America’s heritage, from abolitionists to suffragettes to the progressive reformers. Maybe you thought that fight was confined to history. It will go on.

In the Washington Post, Leon Wieseltier writes:

There is no economic analysis that can extenuate bigotry. The scapegoating of otherness by miserable people cannot be justified by their misery. Resentment, even when it has a basis in experience, is one of the ugliest political emotions, and it has been the source of horrors. Trump’s road to power was manifestly a foul road, even if it was supported by millions of people. Wisdom is never to be found in numbers. Trump’s success vouches only for his strategy. It says nothing about his probity or his decency. Those Americans who are ashamed that we have elected as our president a man bursting with prejudices and lies are right. Their shame makes America great again….

Having employed divisiveness as his primary instrument, the president-elect now implores us to put an end to our divisions. In the name of post-electoral comity, we are supposed to forget what we know. At this moment, therefore, it is important to affirm the reality, and the inevitability, and even the nobility, of some of our divisions….

The demons that have haunted our society for decades and even centuries, the vile illiberalism that currently disgraces other governments in the West, will now inhabit the White House. Difficult times are giving way to dark times, and dark times require a special lucidity and a special vigilance and a special ferocity about principle. We must not lose our faith in moral progress and in social progress, but we must remember that moral progress and social progress are not linear and unimpeded and inevitable. There will always be reversals and setbacks, because change rattles the world that preceded it. If you demand justice, prepare for instability, and for the exploitation of instability by political reactionaries who weaken the wounded with nostalgia and fantasies of exclusiveness. The struggle for reform is often succeeded by the struggle to repeal reform. Trumpism, insofar as it is coherently anything, is a great promise of repeal. If Trump succeeds in his repeal, then the fight for the repeal of the repeal must begin.

The proper response to Trump’s victory for the average American who believes in democracy and decency is not to flee. It is not to seek some artificial unity with racists, antisemites, and xenophobes, while our norms are dismembered, institutions are attacked, and values are assaulted. The proper response is to resist the imminent grave attacks on the common good. In such an environment, Christianity is either countercultural or counterfeit. Now is not the time for cowardly accommodation, but radical resistance to assaults on human dignity and free democracy. For those who have been lulled to sleep by the stalemates of divided government, now is the time to wake up and fight.