My Facebook feed for the past two weeks has been full of messages bidding good riddance to 2016, and for every “Let’s hope 2017 is better,” there’s been someone else posting “And [I’m afraid] things are only going to get worse in 2017.”
It’s easy to understand why people are facing this new year with dread. Via a perfect storm of well-documented and chewed-over factors, our nation is about to inaugurate a president who is a 21st-century American version of Benito Mussolini and who is absolutely capable of trying to mold U.S. government and society into even more of an oligarchy — a polity in which a powerful cadre of individuals and corporations dictate to the rest of the populace — than it already is.
The dangers of a Trump presidency, backed by a Republican Congress and a host of Republican-dominated governorships and state legislatures, are obvious. His Cabinet choices show not just disregard for but hostility to environmental protection, civil rights and liberties, public education, expanded access to health care, and any boundaries for financial institutions. Trump, I have no doubt, will continue to make scapegoats out of Muslims, immigrants, and people of color and will continue to lie to the victims of corporate greed who comprise much of his base.
People will die because of his actions. More and more children who live near sites of unfettered pollution will develop debilitating illnesses such as asthma and fatal cancers. When the Supreme Court, after Trump appoints a couple of new justices, overturns Roe v. Wade, women and girls dying from septic abortions will once again become a common occurrence in America, because at least half the states are ready to recriminalize first-trimester abortion the following day. Thousands of people will perish because they will no longer have access to doctors and life-saving therapies. And although the possibility is more remote, there is no guarantee that someone of Trump’s immaturity won’t be provoked into sending U.S. troops into combat or even using — or inviting — nuclear weapons.
So yes, the Trump presidency is a scary prospect. But we who oppose what Trump stands for and what he’s likely to do in office won’t form an effective bulwark against his administration’s worst depredations if we react by hiding, lashing out, despairing, or even hoping that Trump’s presidency will implode or be stopped by the realities of American law and global economics. This piece by a Hungarian academic lays out the parallels between his country, now a populist autocracy, and ours: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/i-watched-a-populist-leader-rise-in-my-country-and-that-is-why-i-am-genuinely-worried-for-america/2016/12/27/6b4cf632-cc65-11e6-b8a2-8c2a61b0436f_story.html?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.e05f665a293f. We need to start learning what to do and what not to do from people who have confronted, to use Fareed Zakaria’s term, the “illiberal democracy” in which we may be about to live.
Our anger must not be helpless; it must be channeled into resistance and practical aid to land and waterways and institutions and especially individual people who are being harmed by new or renewed government policies. The aid will involve donating money, because, to give two examples, money will be needed to feed hungry kids and help women travel to places where they can terminate pregnancies safely. But it will also include being present, showing up, for meetings, phone banking, lobbying, mass protests. It will include gathering the nerve on occasion to confront, on social media and face-to-face, not only people we know but people we don’t know whom you catch relying on fake news or letting their bigotry pollute civil discourse — always listening to why they think the way they do and responding by modeling love and compassion. It also means acting locally when local issues come up that endanger progress.
And we need to be very aware that our responsibility is to all human beings, not just the people who are like us, and that our activism has to include people who don’t necessarily look or live like us. For example, the current spike in anti-Semitic vandalism is upsetting and must be dealt with (see “acting locally”), but that doesn’t mean Congress is going to pass a new set of Nuremberg Laws next month. Rather than fear how illiberal democracy may affect us in an undetermined future, let’s fight against possibilities such as registries for American Muslims and internment camps for undocumented immigrants, not just because we could be next, but because we believe in an America in which every resident has equal protection under the law.
To wish you “Happy New Year” would border on the fatuous, so I wish each of you a new year in which awareness and inspiration bring the potential for joy.