Strategies for Opposing Trump’s Agenda
A number of articles have appeared in recent weeks with calls to action for concerned people who wish to oppose Trump’s destructive agenda. We clearly have good reason for serious concern – his cabinet nominations have telegraphed policies that will do enormous harm to geopolitical stability, efforts to combat climate change, and the US economy.
I have reviewed a few dozen of those articles and solicited advice from knowledgeable friends and analysts, and in this post I’ve compiled a list of my favorite recommendations, adding a few of my own.
Strategy One: Focus on a Positive Alternative
I believe it’s safe to say that the election has shown that blistering critique, even when trenchant, has limited political utility. One must construct and broadcast a coherent counter-narrative and alternative strategy which people can believe in.
Instead of focusing on negatives such as opposing the dismantling of climate protections and regressive tax reform, for example, in the long run we have to advocate on behalf of positive solutions, such as making a persuasive case for renewable energy investment and clearly articulating the economic benefits of progressive taxation. Obama was very good at this, Hillary, not so much.
I believe in the long term this is the more effective political strategy. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago observed in the New York Times that Donald Trump in some ways resembles former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is also something of a populist demagogue and media celebrity. He warns that the politics of outrage and protest are counter-productive, noting that Berlusconi was only defeated by politicians who disregarded the sideshow, treated him as an ordinary opponent, and focused on issues.
I also believe this is the most sustainable form of political engagement on the human level. There is a substantial psychological difference between a sustained critique of ideas you oppose and the active support of ideas you believe in, and it can make a big difference in remaining committed.
Strategy Two: Remain Involved
In today’s climate, one can’t help but remember the words of William Butler Yeats, who wrote that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”
It is tempting to turn away from the horrifying barrage of public discourse and disengage from a political climate that is hyper-polarized, noxious, and, at times, seemingly broken beyond repair. However, doing so leaves the country’s political culture in the hands of the profoundly cynical and the maniacally zealous, and this is indeed part of a clear, concerted strategy of the Republican party to undermine civil discourse in the US. The more people are driven from the public square in horror and disgust, the more they cede political power to fringe interests who ram through extremist policies that are routinely at odds with what the American people say they want in public opinion polls.
Of course the danger of burnout is very real, and everyone needs to pay attention to their limits, so please, yes, pull back when necessary for the sake of your sanity and well-being. But if people of conscience do not keep an eye on what is going on and turn out at the polls, then we have lost utterly, and our democratic process has broken beyond repair.
Strategy Three: Give Wisely
Give what you can afford to organizations that you support – many of my favorites are included in the links on the right sidebar, but I’ll call out a few for special mention: the ACLU, the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood. These organizations are going to be on the front line in coming years of fighting destructive policies.
Many organizations prefer small monthly gifts to large periodic gifts, as it helps for regular budgeting. There are different schools of thought regarding whether or not it is better to give a little to many organizations or a lot to a smaller number – I favor the latter approach personally, but it may be something you wish to think about. It also makes sense to think about whether or not there are organizations that you are committed to supporting in the long term.
I strongly suggest that when it comes to projects that are extremely ambitious, but which stand a very low probability of success, that you take care not to spend too much time and money pursuing them. There are a lot of ideas out there about how to drive change, and our resources are limited.
You may believe passionately in advocating for the secession of your state or lobbying Electoral College delegates to vote against Trump, and there is nothing wrong with pursuing these objectives. But we have to be realistic – they are long shots. Planned Parenthood or the NRDC can put your time and money to use today, right now, and directly help people who urgently need it.
Strategy Four: Stay Informed
An ill-informed electorate is an ineffective electorate. Keep up with the news, and be sure to focus on sources that are credible, and that invest in investigative reporting, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Pro Publica. Please subscribe if you can – they need and deserve financial support.
I recommend limiting your exposure to strongly partisan or editorializing news sources such as Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Glenn Greenwald, Democracy Now!, Occupy Democrats, and so forth. It is not that I disagree with where they are coming from, but their first commitment is generally to persuading readers of their point of view. The dangers of confirmation bias are well-known, and especially where we feel the most certain, we must be the most cautious and self-critical.
Same goes with the Jon Stewart tradition of reportage. For every ten minutes you spend with John Oliver, think about spending twenty with the Economist.
Try to be a responsible consumer of news. The GOP has been very effective at transforming the media into an unwitting ally by essentially duping them into going along with any faux-controversy they put enough time and energy into. Remember the 140 hours of sworn testimony that went into a Republican-led inquiry into the White House’s alleged misuse of their Christmas card list?. (ht Paul Krugman)
Whenever we click on those stories, we’re participating in the climate of public interest that fuels this manipulation of public opinion. Don’t buy into the latest outrage, and do what you can to push newspaper editors not to legitimize them with excessive attention.
It is up to all of us to work together to minimize the spread of misinformation.
Strategy Five: Think Strategically
To some substantial degree, this comes down to knowing yourself and your situation. In my own process of deliberation, I started by looking carefully at the things I care most about, and deciding which ones I particularly wish to focus on.
Once you have a sense of the values that you most wish to support, then it makes sense to ask “What are the levers that I can pull that will make a difference in these areas?” In my case, one area where I felt I could make a difference is by doing what I have always done by disposition – digest a lot of information and communicate my findings.
We have to be realistic about what we can do. The GOP currently controls the Senate and the White House and will soon control the Supreme Court. In nearly half of the states, the GOP holds the governorship and controls the state assembly. What does that leave? Where can we most effectively apply pressure?
My own initial conclusion is that the left must function as an opposition party, and work hard in the next several years to resist the push to roll back laws and policies such as the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulations.
One way to do that is to think about holding the line at the state level. California, for example, currently has strong emissions standards that have an impact over what happens nationally – auto manufacturers do not want to make one model for California, and another for Wyoming, so all of them meet the higher standard.
My prediction is that a major battleground in the upcoming years will be court battles over whether or not federal agencies can force individual states to lower their protections. As such, I’m supporting organizations that will be on the front line of fighting those court battles, such as Planned Parenthood and the NRDC.