Not so long ago, I was more frightened by Ted Cruz than by Donald Trump. I saw Trump as completely erratic and without strong beliefs in anything but himself, whereas I knew the threat of Cruz’ reactionary vision. After Trump was elected, I worried that the real Republican strategy was to help Trump be elected, then to impeach him and install Mike Pence in his place. Pence seemed like another version of Cruz but more in keeping with the Tea Party and the current Congress, which would make him more dangerous. Together they would tear down civil rights, health care, climate advances, and so many other hard-fought progressive victories. But Pence is also preferable to Trump.
There is a good chance that Trump is rapidly moving this country towards authoritarian government. Lest you think I’m being hysterical, that there are too Constitutional and cultural restraints on this kind of move, wouldn’t you wager that, under Trump, authoritarian governance has 10% potential? If so, we need to prepare ourselves.
Almost all modern images of an authoritarian future begin with 1984, which is now the best selling book at Amazon.com. At core, Orwell’s vision targets information control (through “Newspeak”) leading to mind control (through “Thought Police”). Big Brother speaks and the population must believe him—or else. In a parody of Nazi and Communist propaganda, 1984 tells us that “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” In other words, you can invent any version of the truth and impose it on an intimidated populous. Trump means to intimidate us.
Trump’s talking head, Kellyanne Conway, offers a contemporary application of this logic by framing lies as “alternative facts.” Trump’s investigation of voter fraud, which would lead to voter suppression might represent a concrete intervention by the ‘thought police.’ And he’s pushing the investigation in the face of virtually everyone, including the most right wing Republicans, like Jason Chaffetz. Trump, the bully, will try to push past all opposition.
Trump’s binge of executive orders, without the consultation of Congress, or attorneys to check their legalities, or the cooperation of the people who would be charged with implementing them—without any effort to build consensus—speaks eloquently to his disregard for democratic process. The use of a private security service may auger the development of a personal militia. So, too, the threat to bring federal troops to Chicago. Bringing the Voice of America onto American soil may enable direct propaganda. I could go on but I think we can agree that the seeds of tyranny are being sown and the need for a massive response from all those who believe in democracy is urgent.
What, then, is to be done. An opposition movement is already emerging, led by Bernie Sanders “Our Revolution,” by the organizers of the Women’s Marches, by MoveOn.org, by the ACLU, and by People for the American Way. There are news organizations, like Politico, Think Progress, Slate, The New York Times, and the Washington Post that are gearing up for the opposition.
Almost everyone agrees that the long game requires organizing at the local and state level. There is no other way to reverse the impact of gerrymandered districts on equal rights and protections under the law.
We need to organize to build a sense of solidarity, strength, and forward motion—and to gain confidence through numbers. We need to turn ourselves on the way we did during the twin fights for civil rights and the end to the Vietnam War. Just marching together with so many thousands this last weekend furthered the sense that we are a movement. Opposition to Trump and right-wing Republicans may unite progressive forces far more powerfully than the fight for specific issues like equal educational opportunity and climate repair.
We need to build rapidly and intentionally—before Trump’s authoritarian potential is entrenched. To do so, we need to know ahead of time, how and when to act, and we need to act in the most leveraged ways. Here are a few suggestions.
First, we need to draw some clear lines in the sand so that we won’t have to figure out how to respond each time Trump transgresses democratic process and principles. Crossing those lines will indicate that Trump has gone too far, and we must act.
Second, we must oppose every transgression. I read today that the Democratic Party is contemplating a “scorched earth” approach, which means opposing almost everything that Trump proposes. It means refusing to normalize him. It means giving up the folly of trying to negotiate with him—or with the Congress. It means every bit the same kind of cross-the-board opposition as we saw from Senator McConnell and the Tea Party. We need to act in this way for its own sake and in order to buy time for the Progressive opposition to gain strength.
Third, we need to utilize every possible way to oppose conflicts of interest that are already rife in the Trump administration. His world-wide holdings make the United States incredibly vulnerable. How much money and how many troops will we have to dedicate to protect them. We need to have Trump in court every day, every day.
Fourth, we need to speak truth to power. We need to say what we see. We need to deny the Trump-Bannon-Conway lies and disable the disinformation machine that they have been building. Bannon tells us to “shut up.” We have powerful communication tools. We must speak up.
Fifth, we need to paint the picture of Trump as Big Brother. He has survived all of the other portraits—sexist, narcissist, liar—you name it. But not Big Brother, which should frighten both left and right. Neither want their rights of free speech and free action abridged as much as he intends. Or maybe, in order to challenge his narcissism, Trump should be portrayed as Little Brother.
The most important strategic aim is to keep Trump off balance. Any serious challenge to his fragile ego (his TV ratings or finger length) throws him. We saw that when Hillary Clinton defeated him in debates and beat him in the poplar vote. We see that now when he is confronted with the far greater size of the Women’s March. He and his Inauguration organizers were “losers.” Trump can’t stand to be a loser. When he is threatened in this way, he lashes out, he blusters and blunders. He makes mistakes. He will make mistakes that lead even Republicans to call for impeachment.
Impeachment must be our short term goal. It will not lead immediately to the realization of progressive goals but it will buy time. And it will fire up a united Progressive movement. That seems to me the best we can aim for right now.