Are you angry about the white nationalist takeover of the U.S. government? If so, you are definitely not alone. The first few weeks of the Trump administration have been marked by huge protests, furious crowds at congressional town halls, customer boycotts of businesses seen as Trump allies. And Democrats, responding to their base, have taken a hard line against cooperation with the new regime.
But is all this wise? Inevitably, one hears some voices urging everyone to cool it – to wait and see, to try to be constructive, to reach out to Trump supporters, to seek ground for compromise.
Just say no.
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Outrage at what’s happening to America isn’t just justified, it’s essential. In fact, it may be our last chance of saving democracy.
Even in narrowly partisan terms, Democrats would be well advised to keep listening to their base. Anyone who claims that being seen as obstructionist will hurt them politically must have slept through the past couple of decades. Were Democrats rewarded for cooperating with George W. Bush? Were Republicans punished for their scorched-earth opposition to President Barack Obama? Get real.
It’s true that white working-class voters, the core of Donald Trump’s support, don’t seem to care about the torrent of scandal: They won’t turn on him until they realize that his promises to bring back jobs and protect their health care were lies. But remember, he lost the popular vote, and would have lost the Electoral College if a significant number of college-educated voters hadn’t been misled by the media and the FBI into believing that Hillary Clinton was somehow even less ethical than he was. Those voters are now having a rude awakening, and need to be kept awake.
Outrage may be especially significant for the 2018 midterm elections: the districts that will determine whether Democrats can take back the House next year have both relatively well-educated voters and large Hispanic populations, both groups likely to care about Trump malfeasance even if the white working class doesn’t (yet).
But there is a much bigger issue here than partisan politics, important as that is, given the evident determination of a Republican Congress to cover up whatever Trump does. For democracy itself is very much on the line, and an outraged populace may be our last defense.
Trump is clearly a would-be autocrat, and other Republicans are his willing enablers. Does anyone doubt it? And given this reality, it’s completely reasonable to worry that America will go the route of other nations, like Hungary, which remain democracies on paper but have become authoritarian states in practice.
How does this happen? A crucial part of the story is that the emerging autocracy uses the power of the state to intimidate and co-opt civil society – institutions outside the government proper. The media are bullied and bribed into becoming de facto propaganda organs of the ruling clique. Businesses are pressured to reward the clique’s friends and punish its enemies. Independent public figures are pushed into collaboration or silence. Sound familiar?
But an outraged populace can and must push back, using the power of disapproval to counter the influence of a corrupted government.
This means supporting news organizations that do their job and shunning those that act as agents of the regime. It means patronizing businesses that defend our values and not those willing to go along with undermining them. It means letting public figures, however nonpolitical their professions, know that people care about the stands they take, or don’t. For these are not normal times, and many things that would be acceptable in a less fraught situation aren’t OK now.
For example, it is not OK for newspapers to publish he-said-she-said pieces that paper over administration lies, let alone beat-sweetening puff pieces about Trump allies. It’s not OK for businesses to supply Trump with photo ops claiming undeserved credit for job creation – or for business leaders to serve on “advisory” panels that are really just another kind of photo op.
It’s not even OK to go golfing with the president, saying that it’s about showing respect for the office, not the man. Sorry, but when the office is held by someone trying to undermine the Constitution, doing anything that normalizes him and lends him respectability is a political act.
I’m sure many readers would rather live in a nation in which more of life could be separated from politics. So would I! But civil society is under assault from political forces, so that defending it is, necessarily, political. And justified outrage must fuel that defense. When neither the president nor his allies in Congress show any sign of respecting basic American values, an aroused public that’s willing to take names is all we have.