Optimism in the Age of Trump — Is There a Reason to Hope?Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Politics Features Donald Trump
Doomsayers, we made it pretty easy for you this time. The United States just elected a candidate a lot of us have been rolling our eyes at—or downright afraid of—for the last two years. There are the diehard Trump supporters out there who’ll eat up every word the guy says but, for the rest of us, we can all agree he’s made us panic and laugh at least a couple of times. The fear, the anger, the sadness, and the disappointment a lot of people are feeling is legitimate. The guy’s reprehensible. But when President Obama says we should give the man a chance, that we should root for him to succeed for the sake of Americans, that we should carry on hoping even now, I begrudgingly agree with him. We’ve got a lot to worry about, a lot to be hyper-vigilant in preventing, but there is some cause for a tempered and cautious brand of hope going forward.
Here are a few reasons why our fear could do with a little less trembling.
Blockage and Cooperation
If you’re a Democrat, a liberal of any stripe, a third partier or even just someone who likes a bit of gridlock in their government, Tuesday was an especially bad day. The Republicans control two branches of government at least for the next two years and it’ll probably lead to them controlling the third. The last time this transition happened was in 2003 during the Bush Administration and we got the Iraq War out of it. Even more unsettling, the last time the Republican congressional majority was this big alongside a Republican president was in 1928 and, well, we know what happened in 1929. If you think it’s unfair to blame the Depression on Republicans, that’s fair. But don’t forget: they’d controlled the executive and legislative branches for nearly ten years prior too.
Still, the GOP of 2016 is not the GOP of 2003 or 1929. Donald Trump and the average Republican congressperson are at least a little at odds with each other. As late as October of this year, the party’s general viewpoints did not align with his on quite a number of issues. Not to mention, a number of Republicans just can’t take him at all and were, to varying degrees, vocally against him throughout his campaign.
You also have a decently-sized Democratic minority in Congress who detests this President-Elect with as much, if not more, passion and resolve as any Republican detested President Obama. They will obstruct and obstruct and obstruct, guaranteed, and they’ll now have an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” alliance with select Republicans.
Electing the most divisive president in recent memory may reopen dialogue and unify aspects of Congress. How’s that for irony? It’s optimistic thinking but it’s not blindly wishful either. In this world-turned-upside-down, Barack Obama and Jeb Bush, Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow, Republicans and Democrats, are now united by a common opponent. That’s the sort of broken ground where meaningful dialogue becomes not just possible but likely.
He Needs to Be the Best President, You’ve Never Seen a President Like This Before
Not to mention, you have Trump checking and balancing himself. He’s a remarkably inconsistent person when it comes to policy. This isn’t to say there isn’t huge cause for concern when it comes to women’s and LGBT+ issues or that he’ll soften his thoughts on immigration and the treatment of minorities. It does mean he’s still somewhat pliable. He isn’t so ideologically locked and loaded on everything that there’s no chance he’ll never budge should the will of his own party, the opposition or the general will of the people differ from his own.
On some things, he’s very predictable and frightening. In other realms, there’s still reason to cross our fingers and hope he’ll be a different kind of president than we’re expecting. For instance, his selection of Mike “Conversion Therapy” Pence as his Vice President and his opposition to gay marriage spell hard days ahead for LGBT+ people. But then there is also clear evidence that his personal stances and actions prove he’s, at the very least, far more of an Islamophobe than he is a homophobe.
He’s also changed his mind on abortion and related reproductive rights issues over and over, with some wondering if his new pro-life stance was more a posture to gain a wider base of conservative voters than something indicative of newly formed ideological stalwartness. Admittedly, the “punish women for abortions” remark rings loudly in everyone’s ears. But there have been a multitude of Trumps on this issue as there have been on many others so it’s difficult to know for absolute certain what we’ll get when he’s signing laws at the Oval Office desk.
None of this is to say people’s concerns or protests are invalid. They are and the recent cabinet rumors just confirm these fears even more. Even where Trump may potentially be more liberal, he’s surrounding himself with people who are decidedly not. There is plenty of cause for alarm but there is also some cause for a very wary and cautious kind of keeping our fingers-crossed.
Say what you will about the guy but he really figured out how to work a crowd and now his crowd is a lot bigger. It’s pretty uncontroversial to say he’s something of an arrogant narcissist and arrogant narcissists need to feel like the crowd they’re talking to thinks they’re as great as they are in their own heads. His self-obsession makes me think he’ll soften on some issues once he realizes what it truly feels like to be the most disliked incoming president in recent history. Now, he won’t be getting applauded every time he says “Build a wall” at his own rallies or at the Republican debates. That lack of applause makes me think he’ll end up looking for new ways to feel the public’s approval.
Hillary & The Establishment
Okay, we can all admit it now. Most of us refrained from saying it because we were so afraid that this would end up happening. Now that it has, it shouldn’t really bother us to ask some of these questions really loudly and really often: why in the hell was Hillary Clinton the Democrat nominee? Why in the hell have we accepted status quo neoliberal and neoconservative policies for this long? And how in the hell do we do better next time?
A person like Trump can only be elected president when things are really, really bad. This is the left’s fault as much as the right’s. The right-wing politicians and media outlets have spent eight years peddling an unforgiving narrative about Obama, Clinton, and both parties’ inefficient style of governance. At times, the attacks were unfair and baseless; at others, they were fair and ignored. In the wake of Tuesday’s result, this has become the left’s great sin: they just didn’t know how to listen to the ground and Trump did.
Since they didn’t listen to the white working class, Trump had them all ears. Since they didn’t take any of the right’s criticism, since they thought every conservative voter was as much of a bigot and a blockhead as Bill O’Reilly, they wound up pissing off even the decent ones. My parents voted for Trump because they honestly didn’t know where else to go. I know they aren’t racists or sexists. But they’ve been treated as if they were for years by certain factions of the left and their concerns about the growth of federal government power have been consistently shunned as too far-flung to be taken seriously. Now, the last two administrations have stretched the glove of executive power far wider than we’re used to as a country, and that same glove is going to be worn by someone who’ll turn out, worst case scenario, to be an authoritarian psychopath.
We can sit around and wonder what it would’ve been like had Bernie won. We can spitball about what it’d be like if the left hadn’t sold out to corporate interests, elected a scandal-ridden war hawk and abandoned the working class voters they swore to protect. We can ask what it’d look like for the right to recast themselves as a more compassionate, humane and intelligent party as wary of monopolistic corporate greed as they are of government power. Or we can immediately start taking action to create this sort of change. Trump can only win in an environment where everyone’s a little guilty; otherwise, there is legitimately no logical, ethical or political reason for a person like him to exist.
This could lead to a continuance of the status quo but the amount of press already flooding mainstream media outlets about how the Democrats are largely to blame for this farce, it seems like change is on everyone’s minds now as a necessity. If Trump’s presidency is anything like his candidacy (and it will be), he’ll so purely represent the worst things about America that the other side will, hopefully, turn themselves toward truly working to exemplify the best.
They Got What They Wanted and It’s Going to Suck
If you’re a better person than me, you won’t feel the inevitable wave of schadenfreude once Trump’s base realizes his plans and heart are not for them. He’s “draining the swamp” by hiring a bunch of GOP insiders and lobbyists. For those conservatives paranoid by the astronomical national debt, he’s going to balloon it to an absurd degree. For those hoping for manufacturing jobs to come back to America, they’re forgetting his protectionism will cause prices to rise and that automation is as much a reason for job loss as the globalization he hopes to stave off. If he follows through on his plans for massive deportation, he will, again, damage the very economy he’s so boldly promised to revitalize. As a whole, his economic plan is likely going to be a disaster for the middle and lower classes.
There’s also the fact his most outlandish promises won’t come to fruition. Mexico is still not paying for the wall and there are plenty of figures on the right wing who’ve said it’s more “metaphor” than anything else. Tighter border security and stricter punishments for undocumented immigrants: sure. The wall: possible but unlikely. As for the Muslim ban, it’s possible due to the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act for the President to act unilaterally on this front but it’s also prohibited by the Bill of Rights. He could do it but you already have promises from the ACLU and skepticism or downright opposition from both parties in Congress about allowing such a bold and brazen display of discrimination to come to pass. For God’s sake, even Dick Cheney is against it.
We’ll see what ends up happening. This is a presidency guaranteed to be characterized by fascist tendencies as much as farcical ones. Some solace can be taken in both will be combatted by the Constitution, both political parties and a variety of other powerful groups.
The Trump years are here. There’s no way out. We blew this as a country. Nearly every institution and every individual is complicit in one way or another. Things got really bad on a lot of fronts and we all got really cocky. We all thought it could never happen. Even his own supporters were shocked by the result of this election. But most people I’ve talked to and most articles I’ve read admit we all at least sort of saw this coming.
The worst case scenario: we let this become even more normalized than it already has been. We settle for this, we take it lying down and we let the republic go the way of the dodo bird. The best case scenario: we see the glass as half full and we see this as a reset button. We should never stop seeing Trump as a harbinger of chaos, bigotry and idiocy. But we should also never forget the environment we created in the years leading up to him necessitated his creation as a political entity. With his election, everything about what is possible within the confines of American democratic institutions changes. But if they can get worse than before, they can also get better than ever.
It’s not the end of the world. We’re all still here and most of us will still be here in two years when Congress is up for reelection and in four when he is. In the meantime, there will be good and bad parts about being alive in America. It’s going to get worse, make no mistake. But we should keep our heads high, our eyes vigilant and our ears attentive to protect the rights of minorities, Muslims, women and the LGBT+ community as the Trump-Pence administration is sure to treat like dirt. After he’s done rubbing his short-fingered vulgarian, Cheeto-dusted fingers all over this country, I’m confident we’ll be able to make America great again. For that matter, why wait? Let’s start right now.