Apocryphal Chinese curse – May you live in interesting times.
Voltaire – We must tend to our garden.
As the omnipresent sounds and sights of progressives rending cloth and gnashing teeth over the past fortnight powerfully demonstrates, an ignorant, anti-democratic, immigrant-bashing, climate change denying demagogue won the Presidential election two weeks ago. With both houses of Congress in Republican hands, an open seat on the Supreme Court, and 33 states governed by Republicans, Trump’s power seems nearly unfettered. How should we respond? One is reminded of the old baseball manager riddle: Question: What’s your strategy when you’re down 13 runs in the top of the 4th? Answer: Pray for rain.
Nevertheless, there are probably a few things we can do. America’s two most prominent progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have suggested that they are willing to work with Trump within limits to the extent he focuses on “improving the lives of middle class families” and “rebuild[ing] the economy for working people.” But Sanders also promised to “vigorously oppose” Trump “to the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies.”
Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard accepted an invitation to meet with Trump Monday November 21 to discuss the violence in Syria. She indicated in an email to her supporters the following day that Trump appeared truly interested in her views and listened respectfully to her call for peace with Syria and the need to devote our resources to rebuilding our country. Like Sanders and Warren, Gabbard also reassured supporters that she would “not hesitate to express” disagreement with “President Trump.”
Sanders, Warren, and Gabbard are doing the right thing in my opinion. Demonizing Trump or pledging to limit him to one-term in office would almost certainly be counterproductive. Fundamentally a narcissist, the President-elect has shown that he is susceptible to flattery but lashes out the moment he feels under attack. Thus cooperation or even muted praise when warranted may reduce the likelihood that Trump will pander to his base’s baser instincts.
Moreover, a refusal to work with Trump to the extent he actually does propose commonsense job-creation plans – such as rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure – and to withdraw troops from the Middle East could prove fatal for Democratic election prospects in the future. If exit polls are to believed, Trump owes his electoral success to voters who desire change in the way government works – including a perception of excessive partisanship on both sides of the aisle. In order to demonstrate they put country over party, progressive Democrats would be wise to stake out policy areas where a dialogue with Trump could prove fruitful.
Certainly there are good reasons to be skeptical. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has written that Trump’s plan to rebuild America is really a massive giveaway to corporations that would receive property rights in, rather than payment for, the projects they construct. We must do our utmost to stymie privatization of our roads, post offices, and airports.
We must also be prepared to stand up and say no when Trump or his followers target minorities for persecution or move to deprive Americans of basic economic rights such as health care or retirement benefits. One of the more frightening of the many frightening proposals being bandied about by the incoming administration is to round up millions of undocumented immigrants. Kudos to the many communities, law enforcement officials, and school districts – including Montgomery County Public Schools – that have stated that they will not participate or provide any assistance to federal actions to arrest immigrants.
Although Trump has not called for a Muslim registry, he has not ruled one out either. The right response should the incoming administration call for Muslims, or individuals of any other discrete group, to identify themselves to the authorities: A broad coalition of faith and non-faith based groups muster their adherents and members to register regardless of religious affiliation.
As progressives, we should reach out to Trump supporters when possible. Many will respond to a call for true economic justice – medicare for all, free or affordable public colleges and universities, a true middle-class jobs program – especially if they do not sense patronization or condescension on our part. After all, a significant aspect of Trump’s appeal in the still depressed Midwest was his promise not to enter into the TPP and to abrogate previous trade deals which – whatever their benefits – have cost millions of Americans good-paying manufacturing jobs and exerted downward pressure on wages throughout the country.
In the wake of Trump’s election, the old adage think globally but act locally was never truer or as Voltaire said in Candide – we must tend to our garden. Voices on the left will have little to no affect on the new President and his advisers and appointees.
But we can exert pressure on local lawmakers to protect reproductive rights, to expand low-cost healthcare, and to continue our transition away from fossil fuels towards a clean green energy future. We can insist that our public schools protect minorities and we can we can reiterate to our children the importance of treating each other with respect and empathizing with the less fortunate.
A group for which I blog, Progressive Maryland, is initiating a new push to identify and assist progressives who wish to run for office. Certainly, we must create a pipeline of qualified and appealing progressive politicians.
Trump’s election is very troubling. There are good reasons to fear the damage of which he and advisers capable. Our duty is to try to limit their harm and, where and if possible, to steer them towards responsible, even beneficial, policies while cultivating our garden.