A Visit from Reality

trump-christmas

‘Twas Inauguration Day, when all through D.C.

Not a donor was happy for poor Hillary.

Protesters patrolled the Capitol with care,

In fear that The Donald would make it his lair;

The Koch bros. were sated, all smug in their beds;

While electoral tactics danced in their heads;

And Michelle in her sleeveless, and I in my tux,

Were resigned to the fact that reality sucks,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I stopped reading Lincoln to see what was the matter.

Away to the Oval I flew like a flash,

And told Secret Service to throw up the sash.

When what to my literate eyes did emerge,

But a gold-plaited Humvee with four passengers,

And a fat ugly driver so orange and put-on,

I knew in a moment he must be The Don.

Sycophantic as slugs, they all followed his lead,

And he boasted, and tweeted, and called them to heed:

“Now, Bannon! Now, Christie! Now Conway and Cruz!

Let’s get out of here before Dems make us lose!

There’s no way I can preside or build a big wall,

Obama can stay, let fake news take the fall!”

I have to admit, I was secretly glad,

If Trump did resign, I could govern like mad!

More laws and more speeches and what’s best—more me.

A philosopher-king I would finally be.

But I glanced at Malia and Sasha and Bo,

And I knew in my heart that we all had to go.

While hope wilts, progress halts, and Trump may derange,

In democracies we’re at least guaranteed change.

So I went right outside and blocked the car’s way:

“This country is bigger than you or me, please stay.”

He was dressed all in fur, from his foot to his hair,

And he looked like the child of some goblin and bear.

His tangerine face—how it glowed! How it sagged!

His neck I admit made me suppress a gag.

His droll little mouth was drawn up in a smirk,

But this job, we both knew, was not something to shirk.

He was bloated, stuffed, a triumvirate belly,

As warm and slick as a bowl of K-Y jelly.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He was shifty towards me, not visibly mad,

And after sizing me up, uttered only: “Sad!”

He sprang backward and to his team gave a whistle;

I thought about him with a nuclear missile.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of range—

Disrupting Conventions

[Co-authored with tkgilbert]

The much anticipated RNC is over and the reviews are in. Reactions range from fear, to dismissal, to raw political calculation. Unfortunately absent is any attempt to actually understand and confront the political situation we’ve reached. This range of responses to an increasingly deranged conservative movement have become a habit on the left, a habit which has only served to reinforce destructive trends in our politics.

Let’s be clear. Donald Trump is a blatantly racist, sexist, narcissistic demagogue whose election would arguably be a threat to civilization itself. Fear, denial, and dismissal are psychologically reasonable reactions to his rise. Satire and a bit of levity would be healthier options. But none of this is sufficient as a political response.

Nate Silver outlined two options for Clinton: either accept Trump’s framing and paint him as unfit to lead us in chaotic times, or ignore/dismiss it and count on beating Trump by turning out the Obama coalition. Either of these tactics might work to beat Trump the man and win the battle in November, neither is a political strategy for winning the war against Trumpism in the long run.

Trump’s rise is fueled in part by a denial of 21st century realities: pluralism, globalism, rapid economic and cultural change. Dismissal is the appropriate response here, as these are realities we must live with whether we like them or not (and both the left and the right have reasons to celebrate or reject these developments).

But it’s also fueled by shortcomings in the way progressives and liberal elites have responded to these changes. The left has embraced cultural pluralism without making room at the table for the white working class.  It’s delivered economic prosperity, peace, and cultural progress without political empowerment or real economic opportunity.

And deliverance is the operative word here: the left is still locked into a semi-messianic notion of economic and political “deliverance.” The path to prosperity should really be a thoroughly collective enterprise.

We can attack Trump as incompetent or psychologically unfit to lead. But you don’t have to believe Trump is capable of solving our problems to support him, you just have to think he’s capable of “disrupting” or destroying a political system which has been paralyzed, which places emphasis on political correctness over problem solving, which is beholden to special interests. Trump has already proven he can do these things by defeating the Republican establishment. This is the only way to explain some bizarre but real sources of Trump support.

We can attack the picture Trump paints of America as factually unsound and overly pessimistic. But you don’t have to live in fear of being murdered by illegal immigrants to believe they’re making your life harder or drowning out your voice. You don’t have to believe the President was born in Kenya to feel alienated from a new cultural majority which seems to be planning a future for your country that does not include you.

Progressives are on the right side of history. But we need to find a way of welcoming the white working class into our 21st century vision of a pluralistic society. We need to deliver political empowerment alongside our legislative and legal accomplishments. We need to acknowledge that although the Obama administration has represented a huge leap forward compared with the America of 2008, his original goal of forging a new kind of politics remains entirely unrealized.

That won’t be easy, but there is historical precedent. During The Progressive Era a century ago we confronted a rapidly changing country marked by economic inequality and the suppression of issues of racial equality. We achieved a complete transformation of our civil society: women’s suffrage, direct election of senators, the introduction of political primaries and the defeat of big city political machines, mass expansion of secondary education, trust-busting economic policy, muckraking journalism. We massively widened the political field to include all sorts of people who were empowered in ways that were previously unimaginable. There’s good reason to believe a similar transformation could be achieved today. For example, smart phone users have become the new muckrakers.

When liberals react in fear to the conservative movement they forfeit any possibility of a proactive response. When any of us dismiss our political opposition we feed the very alienation that’s led to Trump. When elites succumb to tactical political calculation they reinforce the suffocating political system that has left people hopeless and spiteful.

As progressives (and as Americans more generally), we’re obligated to view politics as dynamic and inclusive. To quote the senator from Batman vs. Superman, “In a democracy, good is a conversation.” We should demand that any conversation be fact based. We should demand it respect democratic norms. But it also must involve an actual effort to understand legitimate grievances even when they are expressed dysfunctionally, and to address them.