For progressives, especially those in Wisconsin, our democratic institutions and public-policy beliefs have never seemed as undermined as they do in 2017.
That’s true even if your memory, as mine does, spans half a century. I disagree with Vice President Joe Biden, who tried to calm us after Donald Trump’s election by recalling that 1968 was also a really bad year from which the country recovered.
True, 1968 saw widespread riots, assassinations of progressive heroes, an escalation in Vietnam and the election of Richard Nixon. But even then, there was an underlying maturity among public officials and a respect for facts. Neither exists today. (Remember it was Republicans who forced Nixon to resign after Watergate, an act of apolitical patriotism unthinkable in today’s GOP.)
We face existential threats associated with a petulant and incurious president, a Congress controlled by the tea party and a state Republican Party bent on completing its work turning Wisconsin into Mississippi with cold winters. All are protected by court majorities in Madison and Washington that behave like GOP political arms, which, I guess, they have become.
But you know all that, and probably spent part of the holidays mourning and, quite possibly, pointing fingers.
Well, enough of that. It is time to resist in ways that are strategic, smart and passionate without being hysterical. This is no time to avert your eyes. Here are five concepts to consider:
Look beyond yourself. Yes, many of you are white liberals nauseated by Trump’s presidency, but imagine if you were African-American, Latino or Muslim. The nature of the threats to each of those groups is different, but what is consistent is that any of them cannot help but feel less welcome than before.
Now more than ever is the time to support people of color with both your time and money. Redirect some of your charitable giving from groups you think Trump’s backers might also support and send it instead to a crucial national cause such as the Southern Poverty Law Center or to one or more of the terrific advocacy groups operating here in Dane County. Get out of your bubble of white privilege and get to know people unlike you on their terrain and on their terms. It’s never been more vital.
Educate, don’t aggravate, yourself. Resist the temptation to avoid news and instead become a voracious consumer of serious, fact-based journalism and analysis. If you cannot find time for the entire spectrum of issues, learn everything you can about one. Perhaps climate change, gun control, prison reform, reproductive rights, trickle-down tax policy, Wall Street malfeasance, whatever. You will emerge informed and probably more passionate, equipped and inclined to try to influence change.
You can create the time by swearing off the hyper-partisan cable television bickering that too many of us apparently indulged in before the election. Cable networks made huge profits last year, according to the New York Times. CNN was up 76 percent year over year in prime time.
Aren’t you happy for the success of the network that gave so much “free media” to Trump and aired so much pointless chatter, the kind with four or eight predictable partisan faces on one screen?
Stop the friendly fire, now. One story genre I now regularly bypass is any with the word “lesson” in the headline. With the prospect of a U.S. Supreme Court majority that could reverse racial progress back to the 1950s and overturn Roe v. Wade, do we really need to keep arguing about Comey or emails or the purity of Bernie Sanders’ message?
What difference does it make now?
As I’ve written previously, Russ Feingold, who was more closely aligned with Sanders than Hillary Clinton on trade and Wall Street regulations, also lost and to a wildly mediocre incumbent. Yes, obviously, it is time for a generational shift in progressive leadership, but the overriding imperative is that these new leaders connect broadly with the interests and dreams of all Americans except those racists, misogynists and xenophobes who made up an important subset of Trump’s support.
Run for office; promote those who do. The best way to really change the city, state and nation is to get directly involved. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who disdainfully dismiss politicians. You know, like the neighbor who holds local office, listening to constituents and attending long, difficult meetings for almost no pay.
Well, if we are going to get our government back, progressives of all ages need to get into the arena, run for local office or at least help someone who is. Think about the statehouse, especially if you could bring a broad expertise and see it as more than an extension of your work on behalf of some specific cause, although that is OK too.
Republicans have spent decades peddling the propaganda that government is always ineffective and corrupt. It’s a lie they tell because they hate government. If you’ve come into regular contact with elected officials, you’ve seen the sincerity and earnestness of most. Get directly involved in politics yourself.
Protest (and support those who do). It is thrilling that more than 200,000 people are expected to gather at the U.S. Capitol for the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. The idea began with one woman’s social media invitation to her friends. Let’s continue to remind Americans that this president jokes about grabbing women’s crotches and hires people determined to turn back the clock on all women’s rights, not only their reproductive ones. If you’re a woman too young to have experienced the “Mad Men” era, well, it’s back.
Let’s let peaceful protests on this and other fronts — as well as an outpouring of financial and social media support for protesters — dwarf the racially fueled tea party attacks against President Obama eight years ago. If protests are frequent and gigantic, even hostile elected officials might notice. And if your age or gender makes you an unusual participant, all the better, because your impact might even be bigger.
Remember, we are playing the long game. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously observed: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”