The events of this past week — which include but are not limited to a religious ban affirmed by the Supreme Court, a direct assault on unions, the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, and our president’s decision to ramp up his anti-immigrant demagoguery — have confirmed that the worst fears about a Trump presidency are coming true before our eyes.
We are dealing with a regime that is OK with migrant children being locked in cages, OK with American children being shot up in schools, or living in poverty while billionaires buy another estate, OK with those who worship the "wrong" God being cleansed from our national destiny, OK with the government taking control of women’s bodies and criminalizing their reproductive choices. A regime that spews lies and demonizes our free press as “enemies of the people," even as an aggrieved federal employee with a grudge against his local newspaper slaughters journalists in their place of work.
This is a regime in which a morally depraved EPA director can set about systematically destroying environmental regulation and ignoring the documented science of climate change, as if the balance sheet of a cabal of fossil fuel donors mattered more than the fate of the planet, in which our judiciary is being packed with partisans openly devoted to corporate interests and willing to provide legal cover for an assault on vulnerable communities.
The government that once fought a War on Poverty is now run by demagogues and plutocrats waging an open war on those in poverty.
Watching this unending and shameless display of greed and cruelty is exhausting. People of good faith are feeling horrified, helpless and hopeless.
We have to stop talking about our feelings and start taking action.
These feelings are entirely understandable. But they are precisely what an authoritarian government seeks: a population too depressed to translate its anguish into political action.
If we, as members of the resistance, get trapped in this loop of impotence, the abuses of power will get worse, as will the abrogation of people’s rights. The climate of paranoia and victimization and violence will envelop us.
We no longer have the luxury of sitting back and lamenting to our friends, of feeling sorry for ourselves.
Like all demagogues, our president stokes the passion of his followers by inflaming their grievances, to the exclusion of their mercy. He has convinced his supporters that their feelings are more important than the material circumstances of those he nominates as his enemies.
We who oppose him mustn’t fall into the same trap. We have to stop talking about our feelings and start taking action.
This will require us to stop blaming others — the media, the corporations, the "other side" — and start holding ourselves accountable. We should be asking ourselves the same question history will pose: in this moment, when we could see all around us the perils of inaction, what did we do? We need to turn to our neighbors, at school drop-offs, in houses of worship, in the supermarkets and on sidewalks, and ask: what are you doing? And: what am I doing? Men of desperate action have long ruled the American imagination. Yet their strength, as Joseph Conrad reminds us, is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.
We are those others.
So please, let’s stop waiting around for someone else to save us. The millennials will save us! The courts will save us! The dying out of Fox News viewers will save us!
Wake up, comrades. That’s not just wishful thinking, it’s self-indulgent complicity.
The only thing that will save us is converting our feelings of anguish, fear, rage, etc. into political activism.
Not just to vote, or rant on social media, or share video clips of comedians, but to make an action plan: to protest, to canvas, to volunteer, to donate time and money, to register voters, to drive folks to the polls, to talk to voters — especially younger ones — about the stakes of the midterms.
We are up against people who use fear to shift attention away from a politics of economic uplift and toward one of racial resentment. We can’t stop that. We can only focus on the essential truth in a democracy: that it is predicated on political action. There are far more people of conscience in this country than people animated by fear and loathing.
The only question we should be asking of ourselves and our neighbors is: What are we doing?
We should all be afraid right now — afraid of what America has become for our most vulnerable citizens, and afraid of what it will become if we don’t take immediate action.
If you have children, or if you even know a child, think about the world they will have to grow up in. And recognize that we are complicit in the dangers and sorrows they will encounter if we don’t act.
Moral progress is inconvenient, but it’s not impossible. Every great social movement in this country came in response to injustice: abolition, suffrage, the labor movement, the New Deal, the Civil Rights movement.
Every one was predicated on a moral awakening that resided within citizens who decided — individually and collectively — that they were no longer content being the objects of history, the passive recipients of bad news, that they needed to rise up and become the subjects of history. The only question we should be asking of ourselves and our neighbors is: What are we doing?
That is our mission. No more wallowing. No more excuses.