What now?

Perhaps, like me, you’re still reeling from last night’s election result. Perhaps that mix of shock, revulsion, and anxiety — not to mention real concern for your fellow citizens — is still rattling in your skull. If so, take your time, get it out of your system. And once you’ve come to grips with the reality that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States…

What now?

Let’s start with some advice from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t panic. As I said yesterday, the USA has survived adversaries bigger, tougher, and a hell of a lot smarter than Donald Trump. We’ll get through this. Not unscathed, not without casualties and pain (which will fall disproportionately on minorities), but the country will make it.

In particular, remember that the U.S. Constitution is specifically designed to prevent the leader from having too much power. Yes, Trump’s party now controls both houses of Congress, but not by a terribly wide margin. (The Senate is especially close.) Yes, Trump will likely pack the Supreme Court with as many conservative justices as he can manage, but the Court’s rulings are less partisan than its reputation might suggest. Yes, the power of the Executive has been growing steadily ever since George Washington — but then, a lot of other powers have, too.

And because the U.S. Constitution is the greatest check on Trump’s power, it follows immediately that our strongest weapon against him is respecting our own institutions as a democracy. In particular, it means accepting that he really is going to be our president, rightfully and legitimately.

Trump claimed over and over, without a shred of evidence, that the election would be rigged. That was dangerous and childish. We’re better than that. The election was not rigged. Our election rules are flawed, yes, but they were followed correctly. That’s a good thing.

I was reading news reports of protesters with signs like “Time to Revolt” and “Not My President.” Both are probably just venting emotion, but if we want anyone to listen, we should choose our words carefully. “Time to Revolt” plays straight into Trump’s hand, while “Not My President” is simply inaccurate — or at least it will be on January 20.

But let’s be honest — passively accepting the democratic process is the easy part. We’re good at passive. If you want to make a difference and stand up to whatever crazy horrible nonsense Trump has coming our way, here are the best options I see right now.

  • Keep voting. Keep participating. I imagine some people will see this election as proof that their vote didn’t matter. I think it’s proof that our votes matter enormously. Yes, it sucks that Hillary won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, but let’s be honest, her edge in the popular vote was razor-thin anyway. And it’s not like you can suddenly be surprised that the Electoral College exists. It’s been around, in one form or another, since the Constitution itself.
  • Volunteer. Find a cause you believe in and work for it. If you believe in education, tutor someone. If you think you could help at a food bank, give it a shot. Even if it’s not directly related to politics, every good thing you do makes our country a little stronger, a little more resilient, hopefully a little smarter — in other words, a little more Trump-proof.
  • Donate. I plan to give a lot of money in the months and years ahead to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is dedicated to opposing the sort of Bill-of-Rights-shredding nonsense that Trump keeps going on about. Don’t like the ACLU? That’s fine — somewhere out there is a group worthy of your money. Even if all you can afford is twenty bucks a year, that’s better than nothing.
  • Learn. A little knowledge can be dangerous — so learn a lot. What exactly do the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say? What has history taught us about saber-rattling and persecuting immigrants? Trump’s platform is based largely on lies, half-truths, and distortions. Crime is up! …except crime has actually been declining for decades. Muslims need to report terrorism! …except they already are, with remarkable zeal. Obama founded ISIS! …except, you know, not.
  • Protest. Some people see protesting as somehow wrong, or un-American. Actually it’s about as American as you can possibly get, being enshrined in the First Amendment. And nonviolent protesting isn’t rioting. It’s just gathering with signs and/or pamphlets and/or whatever to spread a message to fellow citizens. I’ve done it four or five times in my life. You get permission from the city authorities, you do your thing for a few hours, you go home. It’s even kinda fun — and I’m a huge introvert. So if something really bugs you, why not get a group to together and MAKE SOME NOISE? At a reasonable volume, of course.

What not to do:

  • Don’t give up. Cynicism doesn’t mean you’re wise; cynicism means you’re bad at logic. Apathy means handing even more power to the people you didn’t like in the first place. Not everyone has the time or energy or ability to fight the (nonviolent) good fight, but don’t let it be because you think it doesn’t matter.
  • Don’t demonize the other side. Trump called Hillary “the devil,” but we don’t need to sink that low. As my friend Ben recently said, most of Trump’s supporters aren’t voting for him because they hate a whole bunch of people, they’re voting for him because they’re worried or frightened or angry. That doesn’t excuse what they did, but it means they’re human. (So is Trump, incidentally.) I’ve done — and believed — a lot of boneheaded things in my life, and I’m sure I’ve got more ahead of me. Better yet, try not to think of “them” as “the other side” at all. We all have blind spots. What can we learn from voices outside our echo chamber?
  • Don’t tell yourself this is okay. I’m all about peace, reconciliation, and staying positive. But let’s not kid ourselves. Something horrifying has happened. As a straight white upper-middle-class native-born non-Muslim male American citizen, I’m not terribly concerned about my own well-being. But a lot of people in this country — and outside it, too — have reason to be very concerned. Trump wants to torture people. He wants to kill people just for being related to suspected terrorists. He wants to institutionalize religious intolerance. These are not things I suspect, they are things he has said. This is not okay. None of it is okay.

I need to think more about all this. I promised myself I’d make a strong effort to oppose Trump in the general election, but in the end, I didn’t do a whole hell of a lot. I really don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

After all — someday my son’s going to ask me about these years.

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