Wor­ried about Trump’s Amer­ica, for­get­ting Trump’s Amer­i­cans

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Car­los Lozada

Op­po­nents of Pres­i­dent Trump face two bat­tles. The first is against the new ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies and choices — on im­mi­gra­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, the en­vi­ron­ment, the Supreme Court and na­tional se­cu­rity. This is the bat­tle al­ready play­ing out in street marches and court­room mo­tions, in fed­eral bu­reau­cra­cies and leg­isla­tive bod­ies. To those wag­ing it, this is the most ur­gent fight, as Trump’s cam­paign prom­ises morph into ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and ap­point­ments. This bat­tle is what is be­ing called, a bit melo­dra­mat­i­cally but with un­der­stand­able zeal, the re­sis­tance.

The sec­ond fight dif­fers in its ob­jec­tives and time frames. It is more amor­phous and eas­ily for­got­ten, but no less crit­i­cal. This is the fight over the cul­tural and eco­nomic forces that pro­pelled Trump to the pres­i­dency in the first place. It is a bat­tle about jobs, mo­bil­ity and op­por­tu­nity; about prej­u­dice, anger and re­sent­ment; about un­der­stand­ing, em­pa­thy and imag­i­na­tion. This bat­tle is not about say­ing “that’s not who we are” — it’s about de­ter­min­ing whether Amer­i­cans torn by pol­i­tics, class and cul­ture can still make com­mon cause about any­thing.

Pub­lished in the days lead­ing up to the 45th pres­i­dent’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, two new books pur­port to show a path for­ward for lib­er­als in Trump’s Amer­ica. “What We Do Now” is a col­lec­tion of es­says from lefty lu­mi­nar­ies — leg­is­la­tors, aca­demics and ac­tivists “an­nounc­ing them­selves as the new Amer­i­can re­sis­tance move­ment,” as the in­tro­duc­tion de­clares. “The Trump Sur­vival Guide,” its lesser am­bi­tions clear from its ti­tle, warns of the dam­age Trump might in­flict and of­fers sug­ges­tions for how in­di­vid­u­als can cope and push back.

These are the first of what will be count­less books hop­ing to guide, chron­i­cle or sim­ply cater to the anti-Trump move­ment. And if these early works are any in­di­ca­tion, the pres­i­dent’s an­tag­o­nists may be ready for the first bat­tle but ill-equipped for the sec­ond. Their vi­sion tends to be di­rected in­ward, their pas­sion­ate ap­peals aimed at those al­ready in­clined to think like them. That’s one way to do this, I sup­pose. But if po­lit­i­cal re­sis­tance is go­ing to mean fur­ther so­cial re­trench­ment, then the di­vi­sions that be­queathed us Trump — and that seemed to catch the left by such sur­prise — will only so­lid­ify. They will be­come more re­sis­tant.

Along­side pro bono im­mi­gra­tion lawyers, a for­mer act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral and the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union has be­come one of the re­sis­tance’s early heroes, and its lead­ers are well rep­re­sented in “What We Do Now.” ACLU Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor An­thony Romero writes that Trump’s var­i­ous pro­pos­als would vi­o­late the Con­sti­tu­tion’s First, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth amend­ments, and he pledges that his or­ga­ni­za­tion will “muster all the le­gal ar­gu­ments we can to de­rail the pres­i­dent-elect’s patently anti-civil lib­er­ties pro­pos­als.” Mean­while, David Cole, the ACLU’s new le­gal di­rec­tor, re­calls how Amer­i­cans re­sponded to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism and de­ten­tion poli­cies fol­low­ing 9/11: “They protested, filed law­suits, wrote hu­man rights re­ports, lob­bied for­eign au­di­ences and gov­ern­ments to bring pres­sure to bear on the United States, leaked clas­si­fied doc­u­ments, and broadly con­demned the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions as vi­o­la­tions of fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional and hu­man rights.” As a re­sult, Cole writes, “the course of his­tory changed.”

He is con­vinced that the same can hap­pen now. The Women’s March on in­au­gu­ra­tion week­end show­cased the mag­ni­tude of the dis­con­tent, and the de­ci­sion by a fed­eral judge this past week to halt the de­por­ta­tions of trav­el­ers from sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries un­der a Trump ex­ec­u­tive or­der shows how this new re­sis­tance can cou­ple mass protests with nim­ble le­gal ac­tion. (The ACLU ar­gued the case.)

Some of the 27 con­trib­u­tors to this vol­ume dare to ad­mit that they might work with Trump on some mat­ters. Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren (D-Mass.) as­serts that she will fight Trump “ev­ery step of the way” if he en­gages in mass de­por­ta­tions, strips away health in­sur­ance or lets loose the wolves of Wall Street. How­ever, “when his goal is to in­crease the eco­nomic se­cu­rity of mid­dle-class fam­i­lies . . . I will push aside our dif­fer­ences and I will work with him,” she writes. And NAACP Pres­i­dent Cor­nell Wil­liams Brooks says that it’s re­ally up to Trump: “De­pend­ing upon the new ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fidelity to both Amer­ica’s ideals of lib­erty and the NAACP’s agenda for jus­tice, we will ei­ther be at its side or in its face.”

But many of the con­trib­u­tors are fo­cused on forg­ing con­nec­tions solely among those who al­ready ab­hor Trump, as though the rest of Amer­ica of­fers lit­tle more than a steady sup­ply of de­plorabil­ity. “This is the only way for­ward: lo­cal, in­ter­sec­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion across move­ments to pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties from hate, racism, and ex­ploita­tion,” writes Cristina Jiménez, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the im­mi­grant rights or­ga­ni­za­tion United We Dream, in a typ­i­cal pas­sage. “Our jour­ney for­ward has to start with recom­mit­ting to our core val­ues as pro­gres­sives,” writes NARAL Pres­i­dent Il­yse Hoge.

Plenty of con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists and in­tel­lec­tu­als on the right are just as ap­palled by Trump’s as­cent. Yet they are ab­sent from this book, as though prin­ci­pled con­ser­va­tives are not also, in the words of the sub­ti­tle, seek­ing ways to stand up for their val­ues in Trump’s Amer­ica.

There is much talk of “con­ver­sa­tions” in “What We Do Now,” but the talk­ing tends to be one-sided. “En­sur­ing dig­nity and a fair shake for all means en­gag­ing in au­then­tic con­ver­sa­tions to find real com­mu­nity-based so­lu­tions,” writes Hoge of those pro­mot­ing dis­parate pro­gres­sive causes. “The val­ues that unite our com­mu­ni­ties are not in con­flict; they’re in­ter­twined. Rec­og­niz­ing these in­ter­sec­tions is crit­i­cal.”

Such con­ver­sa­tions, how­ever, are re­stricted to the cho­sen. Aside from gen­er­al­i­ties about how Trump sup­port­ers may have voted for him out of a “depth of alien­ation,” and how no one should “draw broad-brush gen­er­al­iza­tions” about Amer­i­cans’ char­ac­ter be­cause of the elec­tion, there is lit­tle ef­fort in these pages to un­der­stand, let alone reach out to, com­mu­ni­ties be­yond the ones the writ­ers rep­re­sent or en­dorse. Cam­paign Zero co­founder Brit­tany Pack­nett calls out white peo­ple as nec­es­sar­ily “com­plicit” in Amer­ica’s cul­ture of hate and mocks their sup­pos­edly well-mean­ing con­ver­sa­tions on race. “You don’t get to just have con­ver­sa­tions any­more,” she writes. “You don’t get to just wear a safety pin and call your­self an ally. You don’t get to just talk while the rest of us fear for our lives be­cause dis­crim­i­na­tion, rape cul­ture, and xeno­pho­bia just won the White House.”

Au­thor Gene Stone at­tempts to as­suage those deep fears in “The Trump Sur­vival Guide.” He en­cour­ages dis­traught left­ies to vote in lo­cal elec­tions and the 2018 midterms, donate to lib­eral causes and ac­tivist groups, vol­un­teer on school boards, con­serve en­ergy, stand up to bul­lies, preach in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity, in­struct be­nighted rel­a­tives on the ben­e­fits of Oba­macare, com­plain about Trump on so­cial me­dia, book­mark Al­ter­net and ThinkProgress, and read books by Ta-Ne­hisi Coates, Rachel Mad­dow, Naomi Klein, Glenn Green­wald, Ar­lie Rus­sell Hochschild and Robert Reich. Ba­si­cally, ev­ery­thing that con­sci­en­tious up­per-mid­dle-class Democrats were al­ready do­ing.

Per­haps this is the way to “sur­vive” the Trump era — re­sist the red-state philistines by clos­ing your life and mind off from them, and re­peat “this is not nor­mal” again and again. But such ad­mo­ni­tions will not help you un­der­stand why tens of mil­lions of your fel­low cit­i­zens would see the world any dif­fer­ently than you do or have pri­or­i­ties other than your own. It is pos­si­ble to worry so much about Trump’s Amer­ica that you for­get about Trump’s Amer­i­cans.

In his in­tro­duc­tion to “What We Do Now,” co-edi­tor Den­nis John­son writes of the wide­spread “de­spair,” “grief” and “disil­lu­sion­ment” that fol­lowed the elec­tion. There is anger, too. “Stay OUT­RAGED,” writes Linda Sar­sour, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arab Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of New York. “Per­pet­ual out­rage is what’s go­ing to fuel our move­ment right now.” There is but glanc­ing thought given to the de­spair, grief, disil­lu­sion­ment and out­rage that pre­ceded the vote, that may have com­pelled peo­ple who once (or twice) sup­ported Barack Obama to cast their lot with Trump. If the re­sis­tance is to grow be­yond the al­ready con­verted, if it is to en­gage in that sec­ond bat­tle, it will need some of those peo­ple, too. You know, “stronger to­gether” and all that. Two es­says in “What We Do Now,” tucked at the end of the book, take on that chal­lenge. Novelist Dave Eg­gers shares his post-elec­tion trav­els through Ken­tucky, Penn­syl­va­nia and Michi­gan, where he talked with vot­ers, stu­dents and im­mi­grants about their hopes and mo­ti­va­tions. And Nato Thomp­son, artis­tic di­rec­tor at Cre­ative Time, calls on artists to “cre­ate work that chal­lenges the forces that brought this sit­u­a­tion into ex­is­tence and will con­tinue op­er­at­ing through­out Trump’s pres­i­dency.” And to do that, you have to break out be­yond those who think or feel like you do.

“The ca­pac­ity to pro­duce a more nu­anced dis­cus­sion that cuts across ide­ol­ogy, ge­og­ra­phy, and po­lit­i­cal party will be as es­sen­tial as ever,” Thomp­son writes. “Whether artists ad­dress in­equities in the cities or even dare to take the trains to­ward the land of strip malls, churches, and box stores, their work must re­ject the knee­jerk re­ac­tion to re­ject other voices — and in­stead take into ac­count the se­ri­ous com­plex­i­ties of what makes peo­ple who they are.”

That vi­sion is ir­re­sistible. That is how we find out who we are.


Con­gres­sional Democrats, in­clud­ing Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), cen­ter, speak on the steps of the Capi­tol on Jan. 30 to de­mand that Trump with­draw his ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion.

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