‘What are we gonna do now?’
— The Clash, ‘Clampdown’
Tweeted the president-elect on New Year’s Eve, “Happy New Year to all, including my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”
Not sure if the man who became president on Jan. 20 actually meant the last part, but it is true that Trump’s election left a lot of people stunned, confused and at a loss for how to deal with four years (at least) of a Trump administration. My homie Franklin D. famously said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, but in Trumpworld, many people will have good reason to be legitimately afraid that their lives will be hurt, ruined or even ended as a result of what happened on Nov. 8. I was joking in the newsroom the other day that I’m about 40 percent sure that I will, because I am a journalist, be killed in the next four years. Which is awful, sure, but down a whopping 60 percent from Election Night.
But these are the times that try our souls and as Eisenhower reminded us back when Russia was the bad guys, we Americans are not descended from fearful people. So, in response to The Donald’s taunt, are there some things that those who want to fight in the coming years can do? What follows are some suggestions I’ve collected from various sources, near and far.
First, I’d like to address what some readers might be thinking — that an editorial like this forfeits my journalistic objectivity in re President Trump. Maybe so, but I promise I’ll do my best to be fair in evaluating and covering whatever he may propose and how it will affect our community. But based on how he acted before he got elected and how he’s acted since he got elected, I don’t hold out a lot of hope he’ll be a very good president. That’s my editorial opinion.
Broadly speaking, Twitter is, if I may borrow a Monty Python line, a vast bowl of pus, but if you prune your follows carefully and can resist getting into it with rando trolls, some useful things may be found, like the tweets of Sarah Kendzior. She’s a St. Louis-based journalist who’s extensively covered the rise of authoritarian regimes in the countries which made up — and may yet again make up — the Soviet Union. She sees in Trump’s behavior almost exact parallels to the rise of rulers in something like half a dozen countries which end in “stan.” Her piece on thecorrespondent.com, “We’re Heading into Dark Times: This Is How to be Your Own Light in the Age of Trump,” is a must-read. I especially liked her suggestion that people write essays (presumably on paper, not the Internet, as you-know-who is about to be in charge of the National Security Agency) about who they are and what believe in and what they would never believe in; what they will accept and what they won’t. Keep it for reference, she suggests, when you find yourself being asked or pressured to do something or believe something that feels wrong to do or believe.
Also useful on Twitter are the posts of Emily Ellsworth, a former Congress staffer who points out again and again that the best way to influence what goes down on the federal level is to not Tweet, not share snarky memes on Facebook, not even write your congressperson but call your congressperson on the phone. (This already has been proven to work in the recent 180 on the House Office of Congressional Ethics, as the turnaround on the gutting of that office’s powers was prompted not by a Trump tweet, but thousands upon thousands of pissed-off people making phone calls.) Her tip document, “Call the Halls: Contacting your Rep the Smart Way,” is available for download at callthehallsguide.com.
Also making the rounds online is a document entitled “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” Written by former congressional staffers, it details how the Tea Party used grassroots techniques to block Obama and offers suggestions for how those methods might be used, in a “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” sense going forward.
Locally, Zephyr Teachout, who lost her race for Congress rather decidedly to John Faso, has decided to stay involved in things. According to an interview with Hugh Reynolds, she’s working to help reorganize the long-down and perennially out Dutchess Dems from her adopted home of Clinton Corners.
Teachout, too, advocates direct and persistent contact with representatives. In a Jan. 2 post on Facebook, she wrote that showing up in person at people’s offices was even more effective than phone calls, and pointed out that five years of ceaseless advocacy got Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York. “Take the fundamental constitutional right of petitioning your government, and use it,” she wrote. She also noted that it could be more effective to take Trump out of the equation. “Remember the power inherent in NOT talking about Trump, whose power comes in part from attention,” she wrote, “and instead in focusing on Congress and State Houses.”
Also hailing from the woodsy and bucolic Town of Clinton is Joel Tyner. Joel and I both broke into civic life — he in politics and advocacy, myself in local journalism — about 25 years ago. So for a quarter-century, he’s been pushing back against conservative stuff in a county far more right-wing than Ulster with a constancy and ceaselessness which one cannot help but respect.
So I asked Joel, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nod for Congress back in 2012 but has been elected a few times now to the Dutchess County Legislature, if he would share his insights about being a dissident against heavy odds.
“Trump’s corruption, fascism, racism, and misogyny are real and need to be fought at every level,” said Tyner. “However, I am taking a lesson from his campaign lies about his pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ and make sure ‘the working class strikes back.’ I’ve launched ‘Working Class Dutchess’ on Facebook to build support for county-level policies that really would help local working-class folks — like $15/hour, a publicly owned local bank, more daycare for working mothers, helping mobile home owners form co-ops to buy the land they’re on — and, of course, free Dutchess Community College tuition.”
Tyner added that he’s going to focus on bringing more scrutiny of what he calls “pay to play” conflicts of interest in county government, where, he alleges, county contracts go to those making campaign contributions to the proper parties.
Just this week, KingstonCitizens.org released a Google Document which aims to, Rebecca Martin wrote, “[outline] Trump’s initiatives for the first 100 days of his being in office and disseminating their context to better match initiatives, policy and laws as they pertain to New York State, Ulster County and our locality. It’s a ‘living’ document that we will work on throughout 2017 with volunteers to provide insight so that your civic efforts might be more focused and pointed.” It may be found on KingstonCitizens.org’s homepage at, naturally, kingstoncitizens.org.
Finally, my own suggestions on self-care in a stressful time. As it became more clear on Election Night that Trump was going to win, I posted on my own Facebook page this: “My advice is be good to each other and increase the good things we do for others. Ramp up donations to your local food pantry, for instance. Be supportive, be optimistic. Take active measures to contain freaking out and do what you have to to stay balanced in your own headspace. Panic and despair are not helpful in facing the kinds of challenges that may lie ahead.”
I still believe this. Keep in mind that back in 2009, a bunch of disaffected people who could not in any way accept the new president found common cause and organized themselves around an old pre-Revolutionary War act of political theater and a flag with a rattlesnake on it. They never gave up. Eight years later, after a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, they got their guy in the White House. Nothing is impossible.