“Resisting,” Talking with Republicans, and Remembering the Mandate of the 2018 Election—All at the Same Time!

When the Mafia-backed entrepreneur and con man Donald Trump captured a majority of electoral college votes—although, of course, not the majority of actual votes, and that is before we inquire how the count may have been affected by “abnormal” Russian propaganda, “normal” Fox propaganda (overlapping with the Russian part), tampering with voting machines in swing states (unproven to my knowledge but plausible), plus “normal” gerrymandering and voter suppression—I went to the local “women’s march” and made my vows to be part of “resistance.”

I use scare-quotes because  “women” and “resistance” are imperfect words to capture the depth and breadth of alienation from Trump’s policies. The women’s march I attended was at least a third male and part of a remarkable worldwide outpouring of anti-Trump revulsion. It mainly included Bernie Sanders supporters and others who are even more alienated from centrist Democrats; by no means did it narrow solely to “women’s issues” or signal clear support for Hillary Clinton.  Nor did Trump’s electoral success reflect much of a conservative shift on the ground, although it did boost the morale of some on the right. Mainly the election represented a broad and clear leftish mandate—partly made of people who are fed up with the weak compromises of Clinton’s centrism and Obama’s hollow rhetoric of hope/change, and partly made of Republicans who chose the candidate who spoke more about economic populism than anyone else in their field—and at times more than Clinton.

One might ask whether Trump was ever really going to break with “normal” Republican trickle-down policy—but by the same token we might ask if he was ever going to pursue  policies more racist than “normal” Republicans, either. Clearly his racism, sexism, and economic populism all were salient—but I worry that leftish pundits overplay the racism/sexism analysis when the economic part was more decisive. By extension, since Trump has blatantly betrayed his rank-and-file base at this point, the upshot doesn’t translate neatly into “resistance.” In part it does. Still the left should dial back some of its sweeping contempt for (resistance to?) the supposedly monolithic racism of Trump voters—since for starters six million of them earlier voted for Obama—and think harder about tapping into a majority mandate for change. (Is this “resisting?”—the logic seems subtly different.)

As to my own resistance, I also attended several other rallies and vigils. But as often happens in Knoxville, worries crept in about when such demonstrations dramatized weakness more than strength. One day when I felt such ambivalence and couldn’t attend in any case, I decided that writing my Congress-people—all of them conservative Republicans, but each with a self-concept of being thoughtful and principled, with non-trivial differences from Trump—was neither more nor less futile as a form of resistance compared to protesting in the streets. Not that I pose this as a zero sum choice! I simply decided that my efforts to resist the sickening future that Trump represents would include a stream of writing to these legislators. In part this dovetailed with the advocacy of Indivisible, but mainly I fell into a habit of sending emails every few days.

I have not shared many of my letters with many people, because usually they have seemed redundant amid the flood of punditry that we swim in. Still I have found it personally useful to write down my thoughts, which often go beyond the sort of messaging Indivisible promotes (“please vote for Bill XYZ tomorrow”). No doubt the personal value is measured partly in catharsis, channeling my daily dose of outrage into words. In part the exercise forces me to imagine speaking to someone who has principled disagreements. It presses me to articulate arguments in a more respectful and pragmatic register than sharing the latest media links of celebrities attacking Trump.

(Not that I see a zero-sum choice there either. Today it’s LeBron James!)

But my study and teaching have made me mindful about a dynamic that runs deep.  Conservatives welcome (even foment!) disrespectful hostility from the left, especially if the left is seen as swinging wildly, because they use this as rocket fuel for their own agendas. There is a fine line to walk between cathartic outbursts that can be deployed as weapons against you, on one side, and excessive tactfulness shading into passive despair, on the other. This can become a lose/lose dilemma, and I certainly have no magic method to thread the needle. It is largely out of the left’s control anyway, since Fox News can always find someone to quote out of context if they can’t cherry-pick a representative voice. Still, I believe that writing my Senators may have helped me a little on this front.

Occasionally I have been tempted to polish and circulate some of my arguments. Although they risk redundancy, sometimes their quality seems on par with published commentary that I read. And sometimes I get my personal catharsis from reading other people’s catharsis—so perhaps others could benefit if I put mine out there to return the favor?

Such was my thinking about my response to Trump’s budget proposal—his second stage after an opening gambit of tax giveaways for the rich, during which “we” come to regret that “we can no longer afford” anything except deficit spending for the military (plus, in the background, an outrageously overpriced, cruel, and inefficient health care system.)

I will post this as an open letter tomorrow. Today I simply wrap up with the comment that opposing Trump’s budget should be an easy call for almost everyone—definitely including Trump’s base, and even extending to utterly selfish Republican billionaires provided that they care about their own children.

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