On Reaching Out And Giving Chances

It’s now been a week since the unthinkable happened and we are now faced with a Trump presidency. For me this was an outcome I believed never could happen. Trump was so demonstrably wrong for the job that I could not conceive that any person of sound judgement could vote for him. Clearly I was either wrong or there are far fewer people of sound judgement that I thought. Those who have had the misfortune to be facebook friends with me have had to suffer through days of long posts on the subject. This is also likely to be long but the intent is a bit different.

Trump says he wants to be a president for all Americans. He wants us to come together. They are good words. I want the same thing. But, that’s pretty much where the agreement ends. 

Trump helped make the divide in this country worse than it has ever been by running the most divisive campaign I’ve ever witnessed, perhaps the worst in American history. He did this by using racially charged rhetoric. He did it by targeting the members of an entire religion. He did it by having a white nationalist run his campaign. He did it by an utter and complete disregard for the truth. He ran on slogans and didn’t have any substance.

Before people start chiming in with Clinton’s faults and to be sure there were many, this isn’t about her. This is about the kind of campaign Trump ran from it’s beginnings to it’s finish. He denied saying things that he was on record as having said. He lied at a rate that I did not think was humanly possible. People seemed surprised but one cursory glance at Trump’s career showed that this is who he has always been. He has always lied. He has always been a misogynist. He has had a history of discriminatory business practices. He has always been unable to cope with criticism. These are undeniable though Trump denies them. 

Now, after months of demagoguery, he says to us, “Give me a chance.” His supporters say, “That’s just the politics of the campaign. It isn’t how he really feels.”

Seriously? Anyone who believes that is living in a state of serious denial.

If that isn’t how he really feels then he is the most opportunistically vile man I’ve ever seen. If he does believe then he’s just vile. There isn’t a lot of upside here. He did these things and unless you live in the same truth-free bubble Trump lives in you can’t deny it.  He gave voice to the nastiest parts of our society and he made it the calling card of his campaign.

If he wants a chance then he has to immediately change his ways. He has to govern from the center and not the alt-right. Has he shown any signs of that?

The first name on his list of appointments was Steve Bannon, the guy who ran his campaign.  If you have managed to miss that name for the last few months (as Paul Ryan claims to have), he is a proud card carrying white nationalist. They call their movement the alt-right, but it’s white nationalism. It’s anti-woman, anti-black, anti-semitic, anti-gay, anti-muslim. Pretty much if you can put “anti” in front of it and it’s a word that relates to diversity then that’s Steve Bannon and his white nationalists. Look at his website Breitbart and you will be appalled. I refuse to link to it but if you think there is any chance that Bannon is a good human being then you need to look. This is a group that would make Hitler and Mussolini proud.

Throughout the year of the campaign, hate crimes have been rising. They spiked immediately after the election. Yes, some were against Trump supporters but they were 20 times more likely to be against Muslims, immigrants, African Americans and the LGBT community. The people committing these crimes are thrilled that Trump will be president. Many are acting in his name. They see him as one of their own. These are the people that the hateful speech of his campaign has made bold. These are the people who are thrilled that one of their own will be president.

What is Trump’s response? It took five days and all he can say is, “Stop it.” He claims he wasn’t even aware it was happening which doesn’t say much about the guy who will be protecting all of us when he’s only focused on tweeting about the protests against him. I don’t expect his words to have much effect but we’ll see. His attitude seemed dismissive of it being an important issue. When they continue, as they are all but certain to do, we’ll see if he will react. If he continues to be dismissive then that says something about who he cares about protecting.

He still insists that he wants to eliminate a woman’s right to choose. This is not a centrist view. This is an extreme right wing position.

He thinks he’s reached out the gay community by saying that marriage equality is settled law and there’s no need to change it but his transition team is filled with virulently anti-gay people, starting with his VP. The list of potential Supreme Court candidates his campaign listed is filled with anti-choice and anti-gay names. Trump is either naive or deliberately trying to defuse opposition. Could he change the list? Sure, but his transition team is fillled with people like Ken Blackwell who belongs to a hate group. This is not reaching out. This sends a very clear message. It’s hard to trust someone that is more focused on the criticisms of the New York Times than he is on his own transition. 

He still says he supports so-called religious freedom bills which only dress up discrimination in religious language. Trump says he would support a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to discriminate.

Next people will say, “Don’t worry. The Republicans won’t let him go too far. After all, they spoke against him during the campaign.” 

This one is the ultimate form of wishful thinking.

First, all the Republicans have fallen into line. Paul Ryan is doing his best to pretend that the last year never happened to the lengths of pretending he has no idea who and what Steve Bannon is (“I’ve never met him. I don’t know anything about him”). Uh huh. It seems that Ryan, like Trump doesn’t watch the news. Second, the modern Republican Party was already an extremist party. It’s 2016 platform is explicitly anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-immigrant. The only reason they don’t look extreme is in comparison to the campaign Trump ran. These issues got very little media coverage except around the time of the RNC convention. Expecting them to protect the civil rights of anyone who isn’t one of the Right People is yet more wishful thinking.

Many of the people who voted for Trump think it’s about the economy. Most of them don’t believe that any of the scary predictions we have made will come true. But the people they voted in have a very clear agenda. They haven’t been shy about saying it but they got enough Americans to believe it wasn’t  real. Even if Trump himself may not be as radical (I have my doubts about that but I’m willing to concede the point since it’s ultimately irrelevant), the people around him are almost universally enemies of civil rights except for white, straight, male Christians.

So, give him a chance? No, not until he has shown me he isn’t trying to destroy the very things that are what make America actually great. He is the one that won and he is the one who must earn my trust and the trust of anyone who values civil rights. He’s got a steep uphill battle to do that. It’s hard to trust someone who lies and will clearly say anything. It’s hard to trust someone whose words and actions do not align. 

People say we should be reassured because he’s now softening on some of his campaign promises. Again, it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t seem to have any relationship with the truth. Even if he is backing off the promises the only thing I’m sure about Trump is that he’s looking out for Trump. In the meantime we must watch.  He must reach out to us and it must be with more than words. He’s proven his words are worthless. Only his actions will bring trust. 

We can expect the first of these actions soon with the release of his intended cabinet appointments. If it’s the people from the list of names we’ve seen so far (climate science deniers, oil executives, serial quitter Sarah Palin, etc.) then we will know exactly where we stand. It will be on opposite sides of an ever widening gulf and Trump will be the one doing his best to continue making it wider.

I don’t want to end on such a negative note. The next few years look bleak, to be sure. We must be ready to use every peaceful means at our disposal to oppose any actions that give legitimacy to the alt-right. We must organize. We must be vigilant. We must be ready in 2018 to elect progressive candidates. And, if you believe in the power of prayer, then pray that the progressive wing of the Supreme Court stays healthy and doesn’t give Trump any additional opportunity to appoint more than the one candidate from his list he seems certain to get.

Most of all, stay involved. Don’t tune out. This is a setback worse than 2004 (just see how devastated my posts are from back then) and despite the fact that it’s worse because we thought America had changed for the better, it is only a setback and we will overcome this. If I made a mistake in 2016 it was of complacency and overestimating that Americans would see through Trump. The truth is that even if they did see through him they didn’t care. I’m not going to go into my analysis of why and how he won. Others have done that and better than I could. Instead, I’m focused on learning from our mistakes and learning how we can build a bigger, and stronger coalition so that people will not be so desperate for change they turn the keys back over to the group that ran the economy off the cliff in the first place. If there is a cruel irony here that is it.

When Congress begins meeting in 2017 to begin advancing Trump’s agenda, pay attention. If there is something good in it then support it. If you think it is wrong then call your congressman and senator. Telephone calls are more effective than letters or emails according to former staff. Pick up that phone and let them know what you are worried about.

Pay attention at the state and local levels. This is where a lot of anti-choice and anti-LGBT legislation is going to come from. Expect more religious discrimination bills and more attempts to prevent women from exercising their rights. It’s already started in Florida and Texas. The organizations that fight this are going to need our help more than ever. Make donations, make monthly ones if you can.  But, do more than donate. Make your voices heard. Talk to the people you know who supported Trump and try to show them what the unintended consequences of their actions are. Go the marches that will be happening. Keep the attention of the media focused on these issues since the media has the attention span of a gnat. Actually most gnats seem to have longer attention spans.

Let’s work together and show Trump and his alt-right cronies that America is bigger than them and that American won’t stand for the prejudice and bigotry of their cause. And if, by some miracle, he surprises us all and turns to the center then let’s support that. I don’t expect it to happen but I’m prepared to accept it if it does. 

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