Sunday, February 12, 2017

What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump's America

The election of Donald Trump has been a wake-up call for complacent progressive liberals who were sure that 'it can't happen here' would never happen here. America has had its brief love affairs with the right before--Father Coughlan, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace--but as Dennis Johnson says in the introduction of  What We Do Now, "Americans have always, ultimately, resisted the call to calamity by listening, instead, to what Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature.'"

My high school history teacher warned us that history is like a pendulum: it swings to extremes, settles in the center, but swings again. He predicted a new 'Victorian' age would follow the 1960s. And it did, and birthed the Evangelical Christian movement which was brought into the Republican party.

America established stunning progressive policies and elected the first non-white president. Concomitant, another movement was afoot which candidate Trump tapped into, and now in power, government is being dismantled by old rich white men in the name of the disenfranchised masses who put them in power.

What do progressives do now? "How can the defeated majority rouse itself to overcome its sincere grief and disillusionment?" Johnson asks.

Twenty-seven progressive leaders in brief essays offer strategies and hope for the struggle ahead.

Part One, Setting a New Liberal Agenda, begins with an essay on financial reform by Senator (and presidential candidate) Bernie Sanders. After the 'too big to fail bailout' three of the largest financial institutions are 80% bigger than before the bailout. Teddy Roosevelt, he writes, would say "Break 'em up."

Remarks to the AFL-CIO Executive Council by Senator Elizabeth Warren addresses the major issues facing Americans today, and reminds that 72% of Americans believe "the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful," including tax breaks for billionaires while rejecting a minimum living wage.

David Cole of the ACLU calls for an engaged citizenry and vigilant media and reminds that grassroots protests and activism can push change.

Racial Justice articles include Cornell William Brooks of the NAACP concerning voting rights and Brittany Packnett of Campaign Zero and Teach for America calling on white people to become aware of the privilege that protects them and to confront it.

Concerning Immigration,  Ilhan Omar, Somali American member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, reminds us that we are all emigrants and Cristina Jimenez of United We Dream addresses Undocumented immigrants.

Gloria Steinem's article under Women's Rights calls on media to take responsibility and rallies women to boycott Trump interests. Ilyse Houe of the NARAL reminds that "the history of social movements shows that the path to justice and equality is always marked by setbacks" and calls for women to take on leadership.

Civil Liberties articles include Anthony D. Romero of the ACLU calling to defend the Constitution and Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation addressing free speech and digital security under Trump.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben essay on Climate Change says science is not 'opinion' and "one man is preparing to bet the future of the planet in a long-shot wager against physics." Sierra Club director Michael Brune reminds that the president can't "alter the fact that both public opinion and the marketplace strongly favor clean energy" and calls to fight on state and local levels.

Religious Freedom is addressed by Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York who begins, "I am a Palestinian-Arab-Muslim-American, daughter of immigrants, a political activist, and a woman--basically, you don't want to be me in 2016." She calls for "perpetual outrage" at systemic and religious profiling and working on relationships. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum's pastoral essay on grief also reminds of small victories, She encourages education, strengthening personal faith, and connecting with others. M. Dove Kent, director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice shares what she has learned about turning fear into power: grassroots organizing, focusing on the local level, partnering for the common good, understanding paths to power, participation, reconsidering financial paths of support, and working together.

Economics writers include Paul Krugman of the New York Times who warns against the belief that America has a divine providence that always returns to justice. Quietism and turning from politics is dangerous. Economist and professor Robert Reich, with experience as Clinton's Secretary of Labor and working under Presidents Ford and Carter, offers a first 100 days resistance agenda. I found his essay the most focused on direct actions citizen can take, with 14 points. John R. MacArthur of Harper's Magazine wants to "make blue states blue again." He considers free trade deals impact on American workers.

LGBTQ Rights essays include Rea Carey of the National LGBTQ Task Force, writes, "Let's dust each other off and start our journey again...together." Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality calls to continue the fight for justice.

Media Malpractice 2016 by Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation calls for an accountable media that puts public interest over profit, and an obliteration of lines between news and entertainment.  Allan J. Lichtman of American University considers the misuse of polls by the media. I found his article of particular interest with its critique of the failure of Democrats and insight into what the party should do next and his call for a new way of campaigning with articulated policy. (Amen!) Author George Saunders addresses 'the Megaphone,' how ideas become dominant and change thought. "What I propose...is simply: awareness of the Megaphonic tendency, and discussion of same." In other words, Media Literacy.

Part Two is Reframing the Message. Linguist George Lakoff breaks down how "Trump used the brains of people listening to him to his advantage" through repetition, framing, familiar examples, grammar, and metaphor. It is a fascinating essay. He then considers how the media is complicate and how journalists can become more accurate in language. His example is that regulations protect public from harm and fraud; calling for an end of 'regulations' sounds less threatening that calling for an end to 'protections.'

Nato Thompson of Creative Time essay on the role of Artists and Social Justice reminds that artists articulate what it means to feel in this world and that their work is vital.

Dave Eggers' essay Travels Through Post-Election America in the Coda, to me, was particularly meaningful. He writes about his encounters with Trump America, including in Detroit, sharing people's stories. 110,000 Michigan voters did not choose a presidential candidate. Clinton lost Michigan by 13,107 votes. Those are telling statistics. Eggers writes, "Because the voting had split so dramatically along racial lines, how could an African American of Latino pass a white person on the street..and not wonder, "Which side are you on?"

That really got to me. It was my life after the election. Knowing my county went Democratic but my state put Trump in the White House, I felt, well, guilty. We went to a multi-cultural Thanksgiving community event at a Buddhist Temple where we heard grateful refugees tell harrowing stories.

I was extra nice to the people of color in line at Aldi, to the immigrant clerk at CVS. And I noted that others were also on better, more aware behavior. A man held a door open for me, respectfully, as if to say "I don't denigrate women." People were small talking. My community is small town like, but we usually proscribe to 'don't look 'em in the eye, don't talk to them.' I felt we were telling each other messages, making connections, countering the threat of hate.

Perhaps there is hope. If we can see each other, know each other, help each other, fight for each other. Maybe we will be stronger for this setback.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump's America
ed. Dennis Johnson
Melville House