For a lot of progressive websites and publications, it’s become a holiday tradition in recent years to feature “how to talk to your conservative relatives about policy and politics” essays at this time of year – especially prior to Thanksgiving. The usual premise is that progressives can win a little peace and grudging acceptance from conservative relatives if they offer up some incontrovertible facts along with a few olive branches and areas of common ground. A few years back, we went so far in this space as to offer up “five fast facts that might help you win (and five areas of common ground that might help you keep the peace).” Last year, colleagues at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center propounded some “Thanksgiving talking points on taxes and the economy.”
Unfortunately, while such efforts and civility and dialogue may have made sense in the age of Obama, they mostly seem quaint and antiquated in the post-factual America of Donald Trump. Sadly, as we stand at the precipice of the Trump presidency, it’s increasingly clear that the battle over the future of our country and planet have as much to do with passion, emotion, anger and effort as they do with facts and data.
Simply put, the Trumpists will not be defeated through the use of reason or common sense. No matter how many times one patiently explains to ol’ Uncle Bob that the Affordable Care Act is actually saving thousands of lives per year or documents the scores of ways in which climate change is endangering our children’s future (or how Trump’s business “empire” actually resembles a predatory pyramid scheme), you are not likely to prevail in this year’s turkey table debate over whether the new president will “make America great again.”
So, given this reality, here’s a better plan for making this week a productive one when it comes to policy and politics – especially given the rapid pace of events in New York and Washington: Rather than attempting futile gestures vis-à-vis lost-cause relatives, seek out fellow progressives and make some Thanksgiving resolutions. Rather than debating Uncle Bob, seek out Cousin Sue and other fellow travelers and commit to championing the following ideas and objectives in the coming year:
#1 – Resist every backward step loudly and passionately
Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation magazine put it this way last week:
“The answer to what some have called Trump’s “whitelash” is not to retreat on social liberalism, ever; it is to double down on an economics that speaks to working and poor people.
The immediate response to Trump’s election is one of opposition—we commit to obstructing, delaying, and halting any attacks on people of color, women, or working people that may come from a Trump administration. But we must also understand why millions are angry and anxious, and why they voted for the cruel hoax that is Trumpism.”
She’s right, of course. The first and overriding resolution for caring and thinking people in the days and weeks ahead must be to fight like hell against what’s coming around the bend. We may not convince many (or any) of the troubled souls who’ve bought Trump’s snake oil, but we can slow the train down. Passing large, complex and draconian federal laws and regulations is devilishly hard and complex under the best of circumstances. Doing it while hundreds of thousands of people are in the streets and flooding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the phone lines on Capitol Hill is much harder still.
What’s more any victories achieved in early 2017 will pave the way for bigger victories down the road. It’s essential that the Trumpists learn early on that their electoral win was fleeting and mostly symbolic.
#2 – Double down on the fight against dishonesty and corruption
The most obvious of all the many Achilles’ heels that are sure to plague the incoming Trump administration is its blatant and outrageous corruption. After eight years of one of the most honest and scandal-free administrations in modern American history, the United States is about to experience the diametric opposite: a corrupt president who has premised his entire career on shameless, lie-based “deal making” and personal enrichment.
The implications of this reality for progressives are obvious: we simply cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by (and throw up our hands at) the volume of scandalous revelations that are sure to come. We must learn about them, understand them, share them with all who will listen and demand that the media and our elected officials respond.
Trump’s myriad conflicts of interest may seem like an impossible blur at this point, but unless progressives get lazy and undisciplined, they should provide a powerful vehicle to occupy and restrain him. Richard Nixon was an enormously powerful president after his landslide victory in 1972. A year later as the Watergate scandal unfolded, his power had all but ebbed away. Progressives would do well to remember this lesson.
#3 – Lift up five core causes
The progressive movement is sometimes rightfully criticized for being a mere conglomeration of dozens of single-issue groups that fares poorly in competing against the simple (and often simplistic) overarching messages of its conservative rivals. While it is obviously no time to abandon the progressive commitment to grasping detail, nuance and gray areas, now is a time to proclaim loudly, plainly and repeatedly our commitment to some key, guiding causes. Here are five that stand out:
- More freedom – We reject the premise of Trumpism that Americans must surrender their right to be who they are, give up control of their own bodies and be spied upon by Big Brother in service of some kind of endless “war on terror.” We demand freedom from want and fear and more freedom when it comes to what we think, say, believe and do with our own bodies.
- A diverse and integrated society free of racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination – As the world’s most successful melting pot and a nation built upon a commitment to the eradication of artificial and destructive Old World divides, we must recommit ourselves to a truly diverse and integrated society that welcomes the stranger and treats every person equally – regardless of his or her race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or country of origin.
- A just economy that works for everyone – This means an economy in which government works with the private sector to make sure everyone has an opportunity to find meaningful, living-wage work, build economic security for themselves and their family and enjoy a comfortable retirement. It also means an economy in which consumer rights trump the power of corporations, in which shared sacrifice is celebrated and the spiraling incomes of the billionaires in our society are taxed to finance strong and vibrant public structures.
- Genuine democracy – We must fight for a political system in which big money is kept in its place and the dreadful Citizens United decision that unleashed unregulated political contributions is overturned, in which voting rights are sacrosanct and dramatically expanded, in which gerrymandering comes to an end and in which elections are publicly financed so that vastly more candidates for office have a chance to compete.
- A sustainable planet – And, of course, all of these vital causes are rendered essentially meaningless if the natural environment we inhabit continues to be poisoned and to deteriorate at the rapid rates at which things have gone in recent decades or if endless war becomes the central tenet of our “foreign” policy. The long-term survival of the human species is dependent upon our reversing the disastrous path we are on in both of these areas and developing the will and capacity to act as courageous global stewards, rather than mere fearful and parochial exploiters.
The coming years will be painful and dangerous ones for the American experiment. We still retain the power and ability, however, to use them as a means to build a brighter and more just future. This Thanksgiving holiday—a holiday inaugurated during the administration of our greatest President—seems like a fitting time to get started.