I hold no hope Trump will surprise us and govern rationally or benignly. The cast of characters he has nominated to high positions, the confrontational tone of his inaugural address, his flaming narcissism, and his hatred for those who dare criticize him tell us all we need to know. Matt Taibbi put it best:
So, you know, I think that, to me, is what really stood out about this last year, is Trump himself, he is just such a unique figure in our time. He’s kind of the perfect foil to reflect everything that’s excessive and vulgar and disgusting and tasteless and cheap and greedy about American culture. He is the perfect mirror to reflect everything about our society.
As Taibbi suggests, it’s not just Trump we need to fear. Those 62-odd million who voted for him scare the crap out of me.
It will get ugly. And overcoming the ugliness unavoidably will entail things getting even uglier in the short-term, a sacrifice I’m willing to see us make. Here are three hopeful scenarios I see as possibilities:
The World Saves Us
One of the scarier aspects of Trump are the mini-Trumps seeking power in Europe and the followings they’ve attracted. If France elects Marine LePen this spring and Germany elects a new leader of the same ilk, what is now dark will become far darker.
But there’s hope it won’t go that way.
Which means the number of world leaders aligned with Trump ultimately may be no more than a few, with the remainder sharply opposed. Under that scenario, America could approach pariah status on the world stage.
That is something mainstream conservatives won’t accept. They don’t like Trump now, but they’re taking a hands off approach right now. An America approaching pariah status on the world stage, however, would explode that dynamic. Conservatives in Congress then would heed the advice of conservative writer Peter Wehner in his thoughtful piece in today’s New York Times, Why I Cannot Fall in Line Behind Trump:
Donald Trump has not only spent much of his life stepping outside of traditional morality; he seems to delight in doing so. If I am right about Mr. Trump, and Lewis is right about history, then it is unlikely that President Trump will use his power benevolently. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Because Republicans control Congress, they have the unique ability and the institutional responsibility to confront President Trump.
What this means is that Republican leaders in Congress need to be ready to call Mr. Trump on his abuses and excesses, now that he is actually in office. It is a variation of the Golden Rule, in this case treating others, including a Republican president, as they deserve to be treated. They need to ask themselves a simple, searching question: “If Barack Obama did this very thing, what would I be saying and doing now?” — and then say and do it.
I’d qualify Wehner’s diagnosis a bit. His prediction that Trump likely will fail to use his power benevolently is quite the understatement. That’s almost a certainty. But it will take more to make Congressional Republicans act responsibly. Trump’s non-benevolent use of power would need to threaten their little world. So, for example, an extremist policy on immigration or the continued mass incarceration of young black males would not move those Congressional Republicans, even if they personally were not of the same mind. But conduct that threatened to tank America’s standing in the world and the extreme wealth of their sponsors along with it? That would be beyond the pale, even for them.
A Quickening in the Collective Resistance Movement
Ordinary Americans in the past have risen to the challenge and achieved great victories. The labor movement, the civil-rights movement and the anti-war movement come to mind.
More recently, collective confrontation of injustice has failed in a meaningful way. The most significant human rights victory in America recently — same-sex marriage — was achieved not through mass protest or even through the exercise of voting power. Rather, it was achieved in the courts, and just barely at that. The Occupy movement, so hopeful at the outset, was extinguished after only a few short weeks. Successful movements do tend to wax and wane before finally achieving critical mass, so Occupy may be dormant, not dead, but it’s on life support at best.
Yesterday, however, we saw millions take to the streets in peaceful demonstration.
Has the sleeping giant finally awakened? Time will tell. But the potential is there. Make no mistake; this would not be pleasant in the short-term. Think of what it required for Egyptians to remove Mubarak from power. It would take a lot to spark such an uprising here. After all, the suffering of everyday Americans does not approach that of Egyptians under Mubarak. But if anyone could spark such an uprising here, Donald Trump would be the one.
On the other hand…
And to not get carried away…
Those women who marched largely were white and privileged. To many, it was a social event and little else. I hope they surprise me, but I doubt they will be there when it counts, putting their bodies on the line — getting pepper sprayed, tear-gassed and arrested — in solidarity with those who stand to lose most under a Trump presidency.
Black America Finally Says “Enough”
One recent movement in America still is very much alive — Black Lives Matter.
There’s a less noticed movement also taking hold in Black America, which I think of as Black Wealth Matters, for lack of a better term. That movement overall is synergistic with Black Lives Matter. it is threatening, however, to the Black establishment in America, which is led by the likes of Al Sharpton, John Lewis, Jim Clyburn, and Donna Brazile.
In the Obama years, the Black establishment succeeded in isolating the voice of the Black Wealth Matters crowd, most notably that of Cornel West.
That may change. In the Democratic primaries, may Sanders supporters were baffled by the level of support for Clinton among Black voters. Overall, the numbers were staggering. Indeed, Black votes may have been Sanders’ undoing. That was a reflection of the power of the Black political establishment.
Less noticed, however, was the divide within Black America. Black millennials were far more supportive of Sanders, many in a vocal way. They rejected Clinton’s neoliberalism and the economic oppression it has inflicted on Black Americans. They are led by a group of young thought leaders like Yvette Carnell, Antonio Moore and others. Those are not household names. Individually, their followings are miniscule. Collectively, however, they’re gaining traction, or so it seems.
These thought leaders are raising uncomfortable questions about the wealth that was stolen from their ancestors and never has been returned. Those questions may be uncomfortable, but they need to be asked and, ultimately, answered. They’re also exposing uncomfortable truths, such as the practice of showering wealth upon a minuscule fraction of Black Americans as a means of creating the illusion of economic opportunity.
This movement is in its infancy, so there’s no way to know whether it will succeed and, if it does, what exact direction it will take. I’ve been paying close attention to it, however. I know this: These young thought leaders, as well as older ones such as Cornel West, are pragmatic and bold in their thinking. They will question any premise. such as whether today’s Black political establishment is truly acting in the best interest of Black Americans, or selling out for their own personal gain. Their ideas are threatening to most in the political establishment, both Black and White, but not to millions of potential White allies.
My hope is that ultimately this group will lead us in the direction Martin Luther King, Jr., was going in the final years of his life. MLK is remembered, deservedly so, as the leader of the civil rights movement. In the end, however, he’d become something bigger — a champion of human rights, speaking out against the evils of both capitalism and militarism.
Ultimately, the struggle we face is about economic injustice. Black Americans, for centuries, have borne the brunt of American economic injustice, so it only makes sense that they lead the fight against it. Yes, Black Americans have their own agenda in some respects, such as reparations for slavery, Jim Crow and mass incarceration. Ultimately, however, economic justice for Black Americans will mean economic justice for all Americans. So this movement — Black Wealth Matters — will evolve into something a critical mass of Americans can get behind.
Of all the possible outcomes flowing from Trump’s rise to power, this last one, were it come to pass, would be the most silver of silver linings. Here’s hoping.