I have a confession to make to all of you. I suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). It’s been nearly fourteen months, and I still can’t get used to the sound of “President Trump.” Every time I turn on the TV to see “The Donald” speaking from a podium carrying the seal of the President of the United States, flanked by Secret Service Agents, it still feels like I’m living through a real life episode of Punk’d or The Simpsons.
My blood pressure rises every time I read a story about the minions of his Cabinet decimating every agency and policy aimed at providing for the common good, seemingly just for kicks. Scott Pruitt – the EPA administrator – denies the existence of climate change, deleted years of scientific data from agency websites, and is turning the agency into an arm of the fossil fuel industry. Betsy DeVos – the Secretary of Education – is trying her damnedest to destroy public education, make college even more unaffordable, and enrich herself and her cronies in the student loan and debt collection industries. Jeff Sessions – head of the Department of Justice – immediately reinstated the banned practice of civil forfeiture when he took office. The practice, opposed by 80% of the American public, allows police departments to seize property and cash from you on mere suspicion that it is involved in a crime, and you are guilty until proven innocent. So much for “justice!”
It’s hard to imagine a more asinine set of policies, and a more enraging cast of characters enacting them with seeming impunity.
And yet, the world has seen – and continues to see – much worse. Journalists who criticize the government risk assassination in Russia. Facebook and other popular social media sites are blocked in China. The only media source in North Korea is propaganda directly from the state, with internet access blocked throughout the country. If one accesses dissenting information of any kind and is caught, the gulag awaits.
Thankfully, our democratic traditions and institutions have proven quite resilient. The courts have largely upheld the constitution and prevented Trump from exercising the dictatorial powers he would no doubt love. The media, much to Trump’s chagrin, continues to operate freely. Protests have been taking place all over the country, organized largely via social media by a populace with uncensored access to the internet. Congress came together in a bipartisan fashion to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate Russian meddling to the 2016 election, including possible collusion on the part of the President and members of his administration.
In the deepest throes of my despairing TDS symptoms, I’m ripe to buy into hyperbole. Our institutions seem to be crumbling beyond repair. The free press and independent judiciary seem to be under attack and in grave danger. White supremacists are emboldened and seem to be getting their way as a matter of Presidential policy.
To be abundantly clear: I’m NOT suggesting we ignore Trump’s dangerous authoritarian tendencies. They are real, and any thinking person who believes in democracy should be concerned with a President who jokes that maybe, like China, we’ll have a “President for Life” someday. But, we need to recognize that we are a long way away from living in a true autocracy. The checks and balances written with such genius into our Constitution are doing their job. Yes, they are under stress, but this is the sort of stress they were designed to endure. As long as we, the people, keep up the pressure and stay engaged, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
The key is engaging the right strategic ways. We shouldn’t waste time on impeachment, for example. Let’s imagine for a moment if Robert Mueller finds indisputable evidence of collusion. Does anybody really believe that the Republican Congress will impeach and convict the President? Even if by some miracle they do, does anybody really think we’d be that much better off with President Mike Pence?
Neither should we entertain notions that American is “doomed” and there’s “no going back” from this catastrophe. It’s true that we are drifting through oligarchy and that our institutions are under stress. But that’s the extent of where we are: our institutions are under stress, but still functioning. Most importantly, while they may be influenced by unprecedented amounts of money, we still have free and fair elections. Why else would the Russians, or anyone else, care to try to intervene?
And guess what?: 2018 is an ELECTION YEAR. Oh, you don’t like Donald Trump’s policies? There’s an easy solution! Make sure that Democrats take control of the Congress. To be clear: I’m not saying that you have to like the Democrats, or even support their agenda (if they even have one besides #NeverTrump). What I am saying is that, no matter your ideology, if Trump’s authoritarian tendencies concern you, putting the legislature in the hands of the opposition party will likely be the nail in the coffin of most his ridiculous agenda. It won’t prevent everything bad that can happen at the executive branch, but it will totally change the game and drastically limit his power. Here are five ways that a Democratic victory can radically change the dynamic. Among other things: Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid will be safe from budget cuts and attempts at repeal; also, Trump would lose his ability to appoint ultra-conservative judges to the Supreme Court and other federal courts with the simply rubber stamp majority vote of his party (huge, because this appointments last a lifetime). What’s more, if Democrats can take back governorships and state legislatures, great progress can be made at the state level over which the federal government will have no control. Take the example of the 20 states and 50 cities which have already pledged to uphold the Paris Climate Accord, in spite of the Trump administration’s withdrawal.
A major caution, however: no matter how much buyer’s remorse is out there, if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that Democrats shouldn’t be taking this election for granted. And I have news for the Party and my fellow TDS sufferers out there: if all we’re doing is shouting “RESIST!” and talking about how horrible Trump and the Republicans are, we are going to be disappointed in the 2018 results. Why? In the words of the pioneering psychologist Carl Jung, “what you resist will not only persist, but will grow in size.” In case any readers haven’t noticed, hating liberals is just as much a pastime of the Trump base as loving Trump unconditionally. The two are inextricably linked. Seeing progressives pissed off only emboldens and empowers them, and only contributes to their love for Trump. There is nothing the alt right likes more than an enemy, and there is nothing our reality TV star President is better at than ridiculing and belittling his opposition.
What we need to do instead is focus on what we do want. We need to have an alternative vision to #MAGA and talk about it. The American public will by and large support a progressive agenda on a whole host of issues. Among them: health care, climate & environment, wages, paid family & medical leave, immigration. . . the list goes on and on.
If Democrats (and those who find themselves, to whatever degree, more allied with them than Republicans) focus on these issues in 2018, they can’t miss. The Republicans will have absolutely no chance. If, instead, we decide to have a “Trump Derangement Party,” we will have at least two more years of Trump policies to clean up after. So stay positive, and stay upbeat. Remember to talk to your friends, family, and neighbors about the election. And here’s a fun challenge: try not to mention Donald Trump’s name at all! If nothing else, it will lower your blood pressure.
Here’s my promise: from now until November, whenever discussing the election, I will not mention Donald Trump. The media already repeats his name ad naseum day in and day out, and they’ve been doing so since before he ever launched his candidacy. Nobody has ever had more free media coverage than this President. He doesn’t need my voice adding to the echo chamber. To paraphrase President Obama, I’ll let Trump do his own advertising from now on.