The key is activism, not persuasion

Two kids at the recent women's march in New York (photo by the Author)

Two kids at the recent women’s march in New York (photo by the Author)

I’ve been giving a lot of thought about the rise of Trump, and even though I rarely write about explicitly political matters on this blog, this will be one of the exceptions. I think it is necessary. WARNING: unusually strong language ahead, either deal with it or go somewhere else for the day, we’ll be back to normal programming later in the week.

Let me begin by giving you my unsolicited opinion about Trump personally and what is happening in Washington more broadly.

First, the man himself. I never met him, so my judgment is based on what he says and how he acts. The guy is not a political ideologue, and probably doesn’t believe in the Right anymore than he used to believe in the Left (remember, he was a friend of the Clintons and a frequent participant to Democratic events in New York). He is simply a narcissistic and pampered bully, ignorant to the point of ridiculousness. That may or may not make him more dangerous to America and the world than, say Dick Cheney. I don’t know. It’s an empirical question, and we shall find out during the next four years.

Second, the full Republican takeover of Washington, with control of the Presidency, the Senate, and the House. It is an unqualified disaster. This is not because I disagree with almost every single one of their proposed policies (disagreement is the juice of democracy), but because the current conservative movement has taken to heart the famous quip by Groucho Marx: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others.”

(While we are on the subject of Groucho, this is a good depiction of the Republican attitude to pretty much everything Obama has tried to do during his Presidency. And no, I’m not an Obama fan, by any stretch.)

Please, don’t tell me I’m “biased.” If by that you mean I have reasoned, empirically informed opinions about values and politics that are different from yours, sure, I’m biased. And proud of it.

Also, don’t insult my intelligence by “reminding” me that “the Democrats do it too.” Yes, unsavory behavior, corruption, and incoherence have always characterized politics, of any stripe, and always will. But if you mean to imply that therefore all parties and politicians are equally bad, just go fuck yourself, you’re either an idiot or a demagogue.

Now that we’ve cleared the air from any misunderstanding about where I stand, let’s continue, assuming you are still reading.

I’ve been told that to mobilize against Trump before he had even taken office and done anything was simply the attitude of a sore loser. If that’s what you think, you simply have not been paying attention.

Our objection (I’m speaking for millions of people, at least three more millions than have actually voted for the Orange Comb Over) is that Trump and the current Republican agenda will turn the clock back on this country by decades. Many of the civil liberties and social gains that people have fought so hard to establish will be lost or greatly diminished. This doesn’t just include health care, the apparent first target, but also decent education, environmental policies (concerning global warming, endangered species, clean air, etc.), equality under the law, access to abortion and contraception, and so on and so forth. EVERYTHING.

And it’s not just what Trump and his minions (or are they his puppeteers? It isn’t clear, yet) will be able to do over the next four years. It’s also, perhaps more importantly, about his Supreme Court picks, which have the potential to shape our society for decades to come. And not in a good direction. At all.

I’ve been told many times that I need to understand and empathize with the people who have elected Trump, that I need to keep the dialogue open, otherwise I’ll show myself to be as close minded as the evangelicals who voted for him (though at least I won’t be as hypocritical: seriously, this is a guy who upholds family values and Christian morality? Fuck you too).

Now, my answer to that suggestion is going to be slightly more nuanced than the preceding part of this post. First off, yes, we need to understand how a Trump Presidency was made possible to begin with. There is no learning, and especially no countering, without understanding.

This is not the place for an in-depth analysis — of which there have been many since November — to answer that question. Let’s just say that it involves taking seriously American history (from its genocidal and racist beginnings to the rise of the so-called religious right under Reagan to the 2008 financial meltdown); the sociology of 24h-news channels, which brought us that unqualified instrument of propaganda known as Fox “News” (and, of course, scumbags like Rush Limbaugh); the corporatization of politics; globalization and its nefarious effects on the livelihood of so many people (again, refrain from insulting my intelligence, I know it’s complicated, and I know that some people are slightly better off then they were before, somewhere in the world — but you are kidding yourself if you don’t think that it is all about corporate profits); the increasingly inexplicable failure of the Left to do anything about all of this (not just in the US, but in Europe); and the far more understandable lack of competence and/or guts of the so-called Democratic elite (seriously, the first thing we do after a crashing defeat is to re-elect Nancy Pelosi to “guide” of the House minority?). And much, much more. As I said, it’s complicated. (And a very interesting take on it can be found here.)

Second, yes, all this learning and soul searching has to be accompanied by a degree of sympathy (I don’t think empathy is the right word) for the people who voted for Trump, out of their frustration, disappointment, ignorance and racism. I believe like Plato that people (at the least most people) do evil out of ignorance, not malice. (You may prefer Hanna Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil, which is related, as I explain here.) Trump supporters are genuinely convinced that they did the best for America, even though what they did is likely going to fuck America and the rest of the world for a long time. It is not the case that all, or even perhaps most, of Trump voters are ignorant or racist, though it is indubitable that education levels did play a major role. And it is also clear that a good number of them are overtly racists. We have never lived in a “post-racial” America, and in fact Obama’s Presidency was, somewhat ironically, the best demonstration of just how racist America still is. The only difference with Trumpism is that it is now kosher to be racist (and bigoted, and sexist, and just plain ignorant) in public. Indeed, it is encouraged.

Still, I do sympathize with the many people in middle America (and in Britain, and across Europe) who have lost their jobs or are woefully underemployed, who have no health care, who can’t send their kids to a good school, who don’t have a pension (remember those?), and who plainly see no better future ahead, at all.

Then again, as one of my favorite philosophers, George Carlin, famously put it, it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. And we have tens of millions of people in America who are asleep, and many hundreds of million more across the world who are being sold the same dream that benefits the same few people — people like Donal J. Trump, for instance.

So yes, understanding and sympathizing we must. Dialogue? Not so much. This is not because I don’t think dialogue is a good thing for a vibrant democracy. It’s because I don’t think we have a vibrant democracy. You see, dialogue, to be effective, has to build on certain shared assumptions, for instance that we agree on the facts (global warming!) and then reasonably disagree on what to do about them. Dialogue is also based on a minimal commonality of values, as in when we say — and truly believe — that every citizen has the same right as every other one.

The problem is that we increasingly live in an Orwellian society, a strange combination of Big Brother a la 1984 (one caveat, George: BB is not just the government, it’s increasingly also international corporations), and Animal Farm (where some animals — the pigs, of course — are “more equal” than others).

The thing that pundits and well meaning commentators all over just don’t seem to have gotten is that dialogue, in the current political climate in both the US and Europe, simply doesn’t work. (For a micro-example of that, see this recent post, and don’t neglect the comments, where conspiracy theorists have amusingly and ironically come out of the woodworks.)

What then, revolution? Well, that’s what the Right was talking about, quite openly, throughout the Obama Presidency, and even up to a few hours before the election of Trump, in case things didn’t go their way. The problem with revolutions is that they rarely bring about positive change, even when they start out with the best of intentions. Just look up the history of the most famous one, the French Revolution of 1789, followed by the Reign of Terror and by the Napoleon’s empire. (Right, you are thinking of the American one, which — despite a lot of patriotic claptrap — was started because people didn’t want to pay higher taxes. Yes, the outcome was good for us white men. Not so good for Native Americans and Blacks, and it took almost 150 years for it to begin to be okay for women.)

Okay, so revolution is out. So is dialogue, for a bit. Education takes generations, and at any rate the little that is left of public education in the US will soon be destroyed by Trump & co.. Then what?

Organizing, that’s what. Resistance. There is a reason why many of the advances in social rights and civil liberties in the US (and, again, in Europe) have been made during the time when labor unions were strong, or when oppressed minorities were capable of organizing themselves while nurturing ties with political allies in the majority (the MLK-LBJ relationship is the obvious example). And there is a reason why Republicans ever since Reagan have systematically demolished labor unions and made organizing increasingly difficult (to the point that some Republicans are now suggesting that peaceful protests should be illegal).

But of course, two can play that game. In the same way in which the Tea “Party” learned from progressive activism of the early part of the century, so we can learn from the Tea Party (and our forerunners, the people who, by way of their sweat and blood, brought us things like women’s vote, labor laws, social security, medicare, bans on racial and gender discrimination — and the weekend!).

So I invite you to download, read, annotate, and widely share the Practical Guide to Resisting The Trump Agenda, put together by former congressional staffers who have actually seen (indeed, have been the target of) conservative activism over the past several years. I have already joined a local NYC chapter, and I may start my own informal group soon.

Also, I urge you to donate money to organizations that work hard to improve the very things that Trump wants to undermine. There are many organizations and many causes, but, just as an initial suggestion, I donate to the following:

The American Civil Liberties Union, for the work they do on behalf of freedom of speech and other civil rights.

The International Rescue Committee, for the outstanding job they do on refugees issues.

Planned Parenthood, for their work on women’s reproductive health and rights.

While you are at it, support some decent (they don’t have to be perfect!) news outlets, from the New York Times to the Guardian, from your local NPR station to the BBC. We sure are going to need a strong press over the next few years.

This is America, put your money were your mouth is. Skip a cappuccino or a kale salad and vote with your dollars. Get your ass out there, organize, and resist!

277 thoughts on “The key is activism, not persuasion

  1. saphsin

    “I’m not sure what other arguments you think you laid out and I haven’t addressed.”

    Then I’ll repeat myself, I laid out why I thought your argument in support for the NYT was poor. (they publish investigative reporting and it’s explain. other alternative media I recommend consist of editorials)

    You could’ve done the following:

    disagreed with my rebuttal
    agreed with my rebuttal but proceed to explain why you think of differently than me anyways because of some other difference in opinion
    concede to my rebuttal

    Anyone of them is fine in a casual conversation about disagreements. You didn’t do that and just lashed out in frustration and told me to do whatever I want.

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  2. Massimo Post author

    Saphsin,

    One last time then. There is nothing wrong with my general argument that we should support investigative journalism, and you agree.

    I further listed some of the outlets that I support. You focused on the NYT because you see it as particularly flawed. I don’t. Not in the sense that is isn’t deficient, but in the sense that, in my judgment, it isn’t deficient enough.

    Given our specific disagreement about the NYT, but our more general agreement that investigative journalism should be supported, I really don’t see why we keep arguing. About what, exactly? You support your preferred outlet, I mine.

    I haven’t lashed out in frustration, and I apologized if that’s the way it came across. I just reached a point where I didn’t see an advantage in continuing the argument, so I suggested that we each do what we think best.

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  3. saphsin

    Alright then my disagreement is that the NYT is too deficient to be relied upon (too deficient, not saying it’s not useful or not worth reading) and that could be backed up, but I’ll just not continue arguing about it.

    Personally, I would always recommend at least 2 alternative sources with NYT together. The Intercept (investigative reporting) and ZNet (editorials) come to mind.

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  4. Albert Kim

    “Given our specific disagreement about the NYT, but our more general agreement that investigative journalism should be supported, I really don’t see why we keep arguing. About what, exactly? You support your preferred outlet, I mine.”

    I have good reasons for doing so, if we’re to give advice to an informed and active citizenry, my studies of how corporate media influences democracy and public opinion sets it out to make a huge difference which sources we recommend to regularly read.

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  5. synred

    Here is the thing, we can be open to talking to politics in a civil manner or not or just be frustrated and call bullshit on each other

    Actually, these discussions have been clam compared those on things like ‘free will’. There’s even been some convergence which rarely happens for philosophical subjects.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Albert Kim

    “Actually, these discussions have been clam compared those on things like ‘free will’. There’s even been some convergence which rarely happens for philosophical subjects.”

    People have trouble for some reason understanding that semantics are the root of conceptual confusion. How can you talk about free will without properly defining it?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Michael Fugate

    ZNet looks like a bunch of old white guys and The Intercept is owned by a gazillionaire tech merchant.

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  8. Albert Kim

    What’s wrong with a bunch old white guys? (though that’s an unfair representation) and The Intercept is funded by a rich man, but it’s not corporately owned and pressured by advertising requirements and market incentives.

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  9. Michael Fugate

    Really – it’s unfair? Enlighten me.

    As for the 2nd, sounds exactly like those who voted for Trump – just doing it out of his altruistic nature to make news great again.

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  10. Albert Kim

    Massimo I think I understand where your frustrations are coming from. I’m not sure if the last comment is supposed to be a serious political opinion or just trolling.

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  11. dbholmes

    Given some recent responses to my posts on Nader and a specific comment about sources (to someone else) I feel it is important to clarify some things (but not re-litigate)… I’ll split this into three replies…

    1) The only reason I got into the Nader/Gore issue, was because Massimo made a statement that was dismissive/critical of third parties in general (within the given US system), and in support of that idea had a follow up comment strongly tying Nader to Gore’s loss and to the disaster that followed.

    My argument was against: a) the strength and directness of attributing Gore’s loss to Nader, b) linking Nader to any of the disasters that followed, and c) the idea that attribution could be used to indict third party voting in general.

    My position was that reasonable analysis of the given evidence leads to a conclusion it was too close to call what would have happened if third parties had not been present in 2000, though there is a suggestion it would have gone worse for Gore. More importantly, if one consistently holds a position against third parties because of their effects, that would have meant Bill Clinton never would have won.

    While I was not exactly happy to see Massimo telling Socratic that Nader was a factor “period”, that is at least a softer, arguable position. There were many factors, and sure Nader was one, as were the other two semi- to fully liberal third party candidates in Florida who ALSO had enough votes to cover the gap (so why Nader?), which in turn were just a few among many, much more important factors in Gore’s loss.

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  12. dbholmes

    2) (This is to Massimo), I find it curious that you have dismissed information or analyses that have been presented on the topic, with nothing more than a demand for more scientific analyses.

    To start with, the raw data is out there, not that complex, and does not take that intense of work to run a decent analysis. You have criticized people in the past for making such high demands for evidence (not everything requires such), instead of dealing with arguments put forward. Many of the links you cite each week (not to mention your own posts) are not in peer-reviewed journals and yet you recommend them, right? So why dismiss these out of hand?

    Second, while you have mentioned a tantalizing (and I will still be trying to get it) journal article, you have not quoted anything from it that suggests one can conclude Nader (in specific) was a major factor in Gore’s loss, and if he were not there (or any third party) Gore would have done better.

    So your argument to Socratic kind of came off like a guy bluffing he has a full house, while never showing his cards, in order to deny the three of a kind set down in view.

    You don’t have to prove anything… we can stay settled with where things are… but I thought it was important to note.

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  13. dbholmes

    3) The whole point of this is not to cheerlead third parties.

    It is to argue that it is important to get out of these anti-third party mind traps. They have to be viewed as potential allies on an issue by issue basis, and if Dems see third parties gaining traction they will go nowhere insulting their voters. Instead the questions have to be asked: what is wrong with the Dem candidate/platform, and how can it be adjusted to appeal to those voters?

    This last year the Dems even treated other Dems as third parties (“independents” to be yelled at) rather than understood and catered to. These were, and will continue to be, fatal mistakes.

    Perhaps another way of putting this is that in the US system, third parties are not a threat to a major party unless one is doing something wrong.

    You don’t get far by yelling at the canary in the coal mine.

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  14. dbholmes

    Hi Michael Fugate, do you have a specific problem/criticism of the Intercept? I’m not a fan of all the reporting but much of it seems pretty good. Do you dislike journalists like Scahill?

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  15. Massimo Post author

    Db,

    That’s a strange accusation to make. I gave you a peer reviewed article, which in my mind trumps (ah!) some blog off the internet. It is up to you to go and check it out, and then tell me why I should trust the blog instead. I’m not bluffing, but I can’t do all the work for my readers, I’m already spending an inordinate amount of (unpaid) time on this blog as it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Michael Fugate

    No db, the problem is that it is supposedly “better” than certain other sources. It has its biases like any other news source. Scahill is fine, I listened to him on Pacifica for years, but last time I looked he was still human and humans have biases. The idea should be that we look at what all sides are discussing, not just a narrow left base. This is why we are where we are – Trump is in trouble if he only surrounds himself with toadies and listens to himself.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. dbholmes

    Hi Massimo, it wasn’t an accusation, it was an analogy describing what it looked like.

    That article can have all the gold in the world, but if you aren’t sharing what it said (besides the blurb which is an acknowledged, isolated fact) then why am I supposed to think/treat it as saying anything pertinent (or contrary) to what else was posted by others that I can get access to?

    Heck, I don’t even know it it is attempting to answer the question we were discussing. All it seems to be getting at (from the abstract) is the mode of voting which drove sets of voters.

    I AM going to get the article, IF I am able. But I (and no one else) can tell if it supports your position until they get access, or you (or someone) spills more quotes.

    I’m hardly asking you to do all the work for me. 🙂

    I should also point out that peer-reviewed journal articles don’t always trump (ee gads!) online articles. First, because (as I said) not all issues require scientific analysis and peer review to be useful. Second, not all peer review mean that something is quality.

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  18. astrodreamer

    I would never say that I ‘believe in astrology’ after applying the least bit of critical thinking to the concept of belief. I could only say that I entertain and am strongly fascinated by the idea. I have found it an important friend, if unreliable and disreputable. It’s the emblem of continuous human interest in the liminal since prehistoric times. Nor am I convinced that the possibilities suggested can ever be realized in the limited sphere of knowing that our equipment allows. If I ‘believe’ it is in an exploratory and Baysian way. After all, haven’t we just been treated along with your relative to a lecture on belief as a dimensional category. Why now do you press me to wear a Credo around my neck?

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  19. Michael Fugate

    Albert, I am still trying to understand how an editorial pool that consists entirely of old white men is a good thing in 2017. I realize this is the norm in the west, but it shouldn’t be. If someone is going to suggest a news source as better, than say the Guardian, then it better be actually better.

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  20. brodix

    One of the more interesting sites on the Middle East is Moon of Alabama and I thought the latest article presents an interesting picture of how a lack of clear objective, driven by emotion, can devolve.
    Rather than posting a link to be stuck in moderation, the last few paragraphs;

    “In various areas of Syria different configurations of enemies and allies are fighting each other. The situation seems to get more complicate by the day as Turkey and the U.S. are permanently changing their positions and intentions. While U.S. supported “moderates” in the north fight the former allied al-Qaeda, the “moderates” in the south receive resupplies despite their intimate local alliance with al-Qaeda. ISIS is fought by the U.S. in coalition with the Kurds but not in coalition with its NATO ally Turkey. Meanwhile ISIS is supported by the U.S. in its campaigns against the Syrian army.

    Turkey is hopelessly lost. It barely controls the “moderates” in the north and any fighting against al-Qaeda and ISIS will find a brutal terror echo in Syrian cities. Its campaign against al-Bab is stuck but with mounting losses. How long will it take Erdogan to finally give up on his neo-Ottoman dreams about new Turkish land in Syria?

    One might hope that the new U.S. administration will find some sense and engage in a coalition with Syria and Russia to eliminate all Takfiris on Syrian ground – ISIS, al-Qaeda and any “moderate” Islamist group that rejects to make peace. But the Trump administration is not (yet) organized at all. Some groups within it see their priority in fighting Iran which is needed to make peace in Syria as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan and maybe even in Yemen. Others want to fight ISIS and al-Qaeda, others see Russia as the biggest enemy. Fighting all at the same time is simply not possible. But is there someone who can set the priorities? A compromise strategy within the administration will be a chaotic mishmash of tactical measures that will contradict each other. That is what I expect to see.”

    The situation becomes more interesting by the day.

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  21. Michael Fugate

    The other thing interesting about the Guardian is they have been suggesting conservative articles one should read. I have often tried to read across the spectrum – no matter how appalled I might be – even before this, but it makes me dissect my and their arguments. For instance, I find religion fascinating and no matter how hard I have tried to wrap my mind around it – it has no appeal. The Guardian has linked to several pieces on First Things which I read regularly. It is interesting that both right and left misuse history and many Christians have no clue what the Gospels advocate. It also makes me laugh when they confuse theology with Christian theology and of course truth – which they will inevitably capitalize.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Alan White

    As much as I try to stay minimalist here–Astro:

    “I would never say that I ‘believe in astrology’ after applying the least bit of critical thinking to the concept of belief. I could only say that I entertain and am strongly fascinated by the idea. I have found it an important friend, if unreliable and disreputable. It’s the emblem of continuous human interest in the liminal since prehistoric times. Nor am I convinced that the possibilities suggested can ever be realized in the limited sphere of knowing that our equipment allows.”

    This passage tiptoes on the very same kind of tight-rope of ambiguity that typifies astrology–almost meaningful, almost assertive, but devoid of anything that we can make head or tails of. So my hats off to you. You have meta-astrologied astrology.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Albert Kim

    Michael Fugate

    Not sure what you were implying about what I was claiming. I spend my time reading a wide coverage of sources, I merely pointed out what to recommend if people had a few sources to choose from if they were to read some daily journalism. Of course Scahill is perfect, and of course not everything in The Intercept is on spot. I said the Guardian has some benefits over NYT because it was a little less constrained and open to other journalists who have different views from the political mainstream, not that it didn’t have any of the flaws you mentioned. Watching what the Conservative Media says is of course useful.

    Not sure what you’re trying to do by giving the least charitable interpretation of my comments.

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  24. synred

    . >The idea should be that we look at what all sides

    All sides? Not possible! You have to apply some ‘bias’? Like ignoring people with a history of making shit up.

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