The Case for Optimism in the Age of Trump

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The Case for Optimism in the Age of Trump

Look, this is bad. Today marks a very low point in American history—though nowhere near rock bottom. But it’s bad. We might be in the middle of a coup.

Russia aggressively intervened in our election, and now our President-elect is changing one of the few bipartisan agreements that has proven to work in Washington. Russia is not our friend, but they should not be our enemy either, yet the further Trump and Putin push their luck, the more that becomes the case. Liberals and conservatives who sympathize with them as an ally we can consistently work with are ascribing American ideologies on to a government that is anything but. Vladimir Putin prefers the 19th century order as opposed to the 21st. He wants to rebuild the Soviet Union and beat America, Canada, and the Nordic countries to the wealth of resources being opened in the Arctic by climate change. He has supported extremist opposition parties in every European country over the past decade, and now most certainly did/has in the United States in an escalating campaign to delegitimize all Western institutions. This is a soft war, and Putin just got an ally in the White House. This is bad.

Women’s rights certainly seem in the crosshairs in this new administration. The confirmation hearings of the people who will control federal policy have largely been certified shit shows. Massive debt that would make our past two presidents blush is sure to pile up. Donald Trump pushed us into a golden age for white supremacy. People will die because of this administration’s policies. This is really, really bad.

But so was George W. Bush’s entire presidency. Bill Clinton destroyed the banking firewall built after the Great Depression which, to seemingly only his surprise, helped lead to the Great Recession, and is one of the people most responsible for the existence of the phrase “private prison company.” Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been a complete disaster, as he owns Russia’s influence in this election more than any other American outside Trump Tower. Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and a countless number of presidents conducted secret wars which damaged the future standing of the federal government in our eyes more than any invading army ever could. America’s history is littered with cases that are really, really bad.

But we’re still here. Living in the greatest era in human history. There has never been less global warfare. Capitalism has unchained billions who used to live on pennies per week—despite coming at the cost of deteriorating the middle class in the advanced economies investing around the world. There is an international order built off centuries of progress which cannot simply be undone by four years of a meat-filled bottle of spray tanner bumbling his way around Washington.

And if you ponder the motivations of all the prominent actors in D.C., gridlock seems to be the most likely outcome. The Democrats are going to break every fundraising record they have off Donald Trump. It’s probably unreasonable to expect the Dems to match their much more determined opponents’ level of obstruction over the last eight years, but they no doubt have plenty of cover within their own party to do everything they can to stop Donald Trump’s policies. The Senate is close enough that they can simply filibuster the Republicans into madness (and likely illicit an effort from Trump to destroy it, something the GOP has been very hesitant to even talk about).

The Republicans have interest in this gridlock too. Trump may not believe in polling, but the Marco “I don’t trust him with the nuclear codes, but I’m still voting for him” Rubio’s of the world sure as hell do. Donald Trump is the least popular incoming president ever, and the Republicans in Congress practically volunteer to be held hostage by their base. If Republican voters’ opinion of communism ever rose above 50%, D.C. lawmakers would don a bunch of Che Guevara shirts and start quoting Marx. These people have proven to be spineless individuals who strictly adhere to the polling of the day.

Congress only reserves about a third of the year to actually get things done, so it doesn’t take a whole lot of obstruction to muck up the engine in our nation’s capital. Donald Trump is doing serious damage to the Republican party, and they all know it. Letting the Democrats take the heat for blocking the agenda is the easy play, as they can score cheap political points from it as well. The GOP could oppose Trump on some issues that play with their base—allowing both parties to come out of the next four years as an alternative to Trumpism. Defeating the Democrats is a short game, as it means teaming up with Donald Trump—and hitching their brand to Trumpism more than they already have accelerates the death spiral the party currently finds itself within. There are a lot of elderly men currently contemplating their legacy as the overseers of the death of the GOP. It’s a narrative whose legitimacy is nearly two decades old. That’s the one good thing about having an average age in Congress that makes an AARP meeting look like a high school dance: at a certain point, short term thinking doesn’t make any sense. Once you’re dead, all you have left is how the future remembers you.

This is bad. The next four years are about damage control, as we have George W. Bush and Barack Obama to thank for dramatically widening the range of ways in which Trump can damage America. Fighting his executive orders is going to largely be the citizenry’s job. Trump is not going to sign a law giving himself less power, and given his ability to pack lower courts that Republicans in Congress have been holding open, the effectiveness of that check is murky right now. We need to make it clear where we oppose him, so America’s corporate overlords know exactly where the line is—as they are one of our only levers of power against this administration. As much as we are subject to our oligarchs, they still need us more than we need them, for there is no other nation that provides the voracious level of consumption needed to satisfy their insatiable greed.

The despair we all feel is based on our current political environment. But it has changed before, and it can do so again. We are stronger in numbers, and we can fight back and win—as evidenced by the tsunami of phone calls to Congress that killed the GOP bill to weaken the ethics committee in a matter of hours. This summer’s theme was “don’t boo—vote.” For the next four years, it’s “don’t tweet—call” (Or tweet Congress’ phone numbers AND call, ideally).

We must prepare for disaster, as we can only do so much, but we have not been pulling our equal weight in American politics. The media make themselves an easy target, but they are simply a product of our creeping corporatism combined with a general populace completely disinterested in the entity created to maximize our livelihood. It is incumbent upon the politically motivated among us to round up our apathetic friends, and convince them to fight for their future. It will require a lot of patience on our part, and a willingness to accept that you will have fundamental disagreements with people on your side, but just remember that the long view of history has proven that the odds are both of you are probably wrong.

When a society abandons the idea of active self-governance, corporate oligarchy ensues. It’s practically an invitation. If the populace subsequently abandons the concept of unimpeachable facts, Donald Trump becomes president. This is largely on us. Washington went off the rails a long time ago, and a deep state exists that we will never be able to fully reign in, but this is our government. At some point over the past century, we decided that we’d rather hire contractors to take care of it, instead of handling our business ourselves.

Day one of our new job starts now. The resistance is real, and our nation’s survival depends on its success. This is bad, but we can do this.

Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business, media, and politics editor. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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