It could have gone either way. Not the election, my reaction to the rise of Trump.
Historic is not quiet the right word for the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. After a campaign where no serious poll, data scientist, or journalist had more than a one-in-four chance of The Donald winning on Election Day; where the candidate seemed to consciously alienate all constituencies except white working class males without a college degree; and where the popular vote was won by Hillary Clinton, over half of the voters sit stunned at the result. Donald Trump more than drew to an inside straight in the Rust Belt, with the House and Senate following the countries’ lead, all of government rests in Republican hands, an inside Royal Flush.
As I watched the results come in, my stomach turned in advance of the prediction models supplied by Nate Silver and fivethirtyeight.com. I left my election party early, called my echo chamber, tried to sound it out, P-R-E-S-I-D-E-N-T T-R-U-M-P. I grabbed a bottle of wine and hallowed out my stomach to match my heart. I had left it all out there on the field for Hillary (and more so against Trump), contributing time and money and advocacy but that didn’t matter, the democracy had spoken and began dismantling much of what I believe in.
As I write this recollection of events, I think here is where I could have gone the other way in my reaction. I considered it. I thought of the wisdom of the ancients and the First Lady, I thought of jujitsu and using their momentum to undo them, I thought of leaving my workflows and written advocacy for an inner journey. I thought of a simple life of poetry, meditation, and running. I groped for a way to the Tao, to get swept up in Flow.
I don’t think that’s what I’m going to do. As much as this is an opportunity for reflection, it is also a stage set for reaction, even revolution, if the push of the campaign comes to the shove of autocracy. Historic and political analysis and reflection will consume more of my time in the coming four years, what I write below is just a start.
An Uncertain Future
I tried to tap the futurist in me for answers to the only question that matters, “what will he do?” Like the polls, uncertainty is great. There is a non-zero chance that he will – through mistake and machination – become an American autocrat. Trump did not seek responsibility or come complete with conservative ideas, he rose (as he always has) by engaging in zero-sum, winner-take-all bullying of opponents supported by a tiny cadre of loyal demigods. The list of things he is for is outweighed by those he is against, and those things he is against are some of the tenants of liberal democracy.
At the top of those items President-elect Trump is against, and the greatest source of his populist power, is trade and our obligation to our creditors. While it may be true that his supporters still have not overcome the deflation of the housing bubble (the Middle Class’s largest credit base) and its continued wealth and income stagnation, it can also be true that the economy has continued to recover, adding wealth and stability to the Western world. Global finance is the most complex system at work today, and as such, minor modifications to its mechanisms can have dangerous effects. More than President-elect Trump’s woeful ignorance of the history and economic science behind this system, it is his arrogance that he can manipulate markets with “hard ball” tactics that raises the threat level. More than his hand on the nuclear button it is President Trump’s unsteady hand on the till that is the greatest tipping point into autocracy.
In an attempt to wag the dog and regain strength in economic tumult, the infrastructure construction project would be diverted into the Military-Industrial Complex. If foreign wars on terror aren’t already ramped-up before Trump’s mercantilist monkey wrench is thrown into the global economy, off-budget money will be ground up in the war machine. Congress will readily approve these budgets even as new alliances are formed with Russia and other dictators, the legislative branch further ceding power to the Imperial Executive.
The fourth-estate, the free press, will continue its excellent work in revealing these as immoral strategies but to a smaller and smaller audience. Feelings and not facts will be purported as news by outlets like Breitbart and by a plethora of partisan pages on Facebook. The only truth that both media outlets will share will be Sunday’s scores. Liberties to assemble, speak, and to the press will be demonized as unpatriotic in a time of war – The House Un-American Activities Committee will be reformed.
To be sure, this is the darkest scenario. But it is not unbelievable given two facts: 1) Donald Trump is unqualified and temperamental and 2) Donald Trump has risen to power largely on his promise to drastically change the economic system that has made the country, in his words, “a disaster.”
Avoiding a Calamity or How to Regain Power
With the most dire predictions of autocracy outlined above and non-normal scenarios waiting in the wings (rising domestic turmoil, litigious and liberty overreach, climate or terrorist impacts, and/or impeachable revelations), malaise and outrage are understandable. For many liberal democrats and conservatives alike, the rise of Trump has laid our many layers of privilege bare to the power of an illiberal state. However President Obama’s true legacy, the pinnacle of the long arc of democracy, the rise of liberty among the broadest coalition of individuals ever assembled in human history will serve as a bulwark to the racist, bigoted, mysogonistic, and xenophobic autocracy Trump might create.
We must stand with minorities like those represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Trevor Project.
Donald Trump has shown complete disregard for women, reproductive rights, and the right to choose, and standing up to his bullying will be done by organizations like Planned Parenthood or the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Help these organizations as much as you can. It’ll make you feel better and it’ll likely help. Get involved.