Any fight against Trump must by necessity involve a struggle to reach the hearts and minds of those who support him. There can be no successful strategy against Trump that does not also include the one-quarter of the electorate that voted for him. There are many among that number who we might like to write off as lost causes. There are those who believe that facts are simply not real, those who, like Ben Carson, believe that religion must be used to interpret science because science might just be propaganda. This is frustrating, and perhaps we will never be able to convince them that what Trump is doing is simply wrong. Not a matter of opinion, not a partisan disagreement, just wrong. There may even be some who truly are lost causes. But as of the latest count, just under 63 million people voted for him. That is not a number that we can simply write off. This is a demographic of its own, and we have to address it as such.
As I sit here on December 18th, the eve of the true election day, and contemplate what fresh misery tomorrow will bring, I feel an odd sense of resolve about the coming fight. I do not believe for one second that there will be enough faithless electors to force this decision on the House of Representatives, much less that there is a potential outcome that puts Hillary in the White House. The time for denial is over, and many, if not most, of us have known this for a long while and have been facing things head on and organizing for the struggle to come. No, Donald Trump will be elected tomorrow, and he will be sworn in in just over a month. It’s not Bernie’s fault, nor is it Jill Stein’s or Gary Johnson’s, or even the Russians’. The fault lies squarely with the American people, and it is there that our focus must remain.
The 2016 campaigns divided this country more dramatically than perhaps any in modern history, and the result will be the election to our highest office of a man with no political experience, very limited knowledge of how the government functions, a fundamental disconnect with the average American, and a surprising lack not only of diplomacy itself, but also of any interest whatsoever in gaining a deeper understanding of how one conducts oneself with foreign governments and emissaries. He has chosen to fill his cabinet with men and women who are either equally as inexperienced in the fields which they will be directing, or who are grossly unfit to serve the institutions that they will head. Not only that, but he is surrounding himself with his children, including his son-in-law, and a white supremacist as some of his closest advisers.
In the short time between the national election and the one that will be held tomorrow, Donald Trump has managed to flout convention to such a degree that lawmakers and legal experts have warned that he could be violating the US Constitution merely by being sworn in. He has not only refused to divest his stakes in his various international holdings that many argue could lead to a violation of the Title of Nobility Clause (often called the ‘Emoluments Clause’), he has also met or spoken with foreign political and business leaders (e.g. from India and Argentina) to ensure that Trump projects that have been stagnating in legal negotiations suddenly receive the green light. Finally, Trump’s international blunders have already threatened to upset the relationship with China that we have fostered for nearly 40 years, and he looks set to reward Putin’s land grabs and power plays with a lifting of sanctions, lucrative oil contracts, and a laissez-faire approach to Russian involvement in the Middle East.
The one unifying theme of all of this is that it is unprecedented—no matter how you spell it. And we have been using this word to describe it since long before the polls opened on November 8th. We have discussed Trump’s unprecedented attitude toward propriety, women, minorities, the rules of debate, and the use of social media. We have been appalled by his unprecedented attacks on journalists, on fallen soldiers and POWs, on peaceful protestors, and on people he generally dislikes. We now deride his unprecedented style of leadership, from his refusal to take daily intelligence briefings or hold press conferences, to his lack of concern with his ‘alt-right’ [fascist] supporters and his apparent witch hunts against scientists. We shout him down in one loud chorus, and the word we often find to voice our disgust is: ‘UNPRECEDENTED!’
There’s just one problem: his supporters are using this very same word, and they’re doing it to praise him. All of the articles we post, all of the evidence we cite, all of the arguments we make lead to a deceptively simple conclusion: this is without precedent. Its hidden complexity lies in the fact that, although everything about our current situation is indeed unprecedented, there are two very different ways of interpreting this word. When we seek to find common ground with Trump supporters, we imagine that showing them how unprecedented this all is will make them understand that it’s also wrong. In reality, however, we are only fueling the fire that we are trying to fight. It is precisely this aspect of a Trump presidency that appeals to his base, and the louder we decry that it is unprecedented, the louder they will cheer it.
What we have to accomplish in the coming months and years will require more than we may realize. While we are fighting against Trump and all that he tries to do, we must also be on the front lines with the very people we might rather dismiss. We have to come to terms with the fact that they are a force themselves, and although there is diversity among them, just as there is diversity within any group, they represent a demographic all their own. They may be privileged, but they see themselves as disenfranchised; they may be delusional, but they feel threatened. They are angry, and they are afraid. They are true-believers in the post-factual reality, and while they are by no means a monolith, they rally behind Trump for one major reason: he promised them that he would do things differently, and although he has already broken many of his promises and looks poised to break many more, the promise of being the un-president is one that he will likely keep.
Let me be clear: this is not a plea for coming together in a spirit of healing. This is not an entreaty to get along and let bygones be bygones. Everything will not be alright, and the nightmare that we are living is very real. This is a call to arms. There must be more than a fight against authoritarianism; there must also be a battle for the hearts and minds of those who refuse to believe that it is coming. Defying Trump, denying him the ability to do all of the things we believe are terrible, will not be enough. We must target him and his policies, but we must also engage with the people who want him there. We ignored them before, to our detriment. To continue to do so is to fight the effects of fear and ignorance but to do nothing about their cause. We cannot leave them behind and hope that they will go away. They are a part of us, and ultimately we must find a way forward together.