Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Trumpocalypse and Rule #1

As a long-time Douglas Adams fan, I found inspiration for basic parenting technique in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Always impressed by the salience and cogency of the motto ("Don't Panic") inscribed on the cover of the book that gives the novel its title,  I presented this to my infant daughter as "Rule #1 of Life, the Universe, and Everything." Over the years it has proven a handy mechanism during temper tantrums, bouts of disappointment, and various and sundry emotional rough-spots.

Viewing the current political scene, it becomes plain to me that the efficacy of "Rule #1" extends far beyond the personal or domestic realm. Like many other observers I am deeply dismayed by the rise of Donald Trump in the ranks of the GOP, and view the prospect of his nomination as a singular political disaster the likes of which our nation has rarely witnessed in my lifetime. But viewing the scenes of violence in Chicago last night and reports of the Secret Service "swarming" to protect Mr. Trump in Ohio today, I cannot help but feel that the larger political response to the threat he poses is being detrimentally impacted by flagrant and tragic inattention to Rule #1.

As I have written in past posts, a Trump presidency would be cataclysmic for our nation and a defeated Trump GOP candidacy only slightly less harmful. As bad as both of these outcomes are, however, there is one that would be worse: if he or his supporters are violently injured in the course of the current campaign. Trump has, deliberately or not, turned his candidacy into an indictment of the legitimacy of our system of government. Nothing will make that challenge more persuasive, lasting, and effective than a violent attack upon him or his supporters. Such acts would "prove" to his supporters (and to neutral observers) that Trump's opponents, those of any party who claim to defend the inclusive, constitutional, democratic order that Trump derides, are moral cowards and intellectual hypocrites. Nothing would do more to undermine faith in our system of government and impede the working of its institutions.

None of this is meant to defend Trump or to minimize the threat he embodies. Whatever demurrals he or his campaign might make, Trump has deliberately fostered a climate of tension and violence at his rallies. The resulting scenes of chaos ostensibly argue for the kind of "strong" authoritarian leadership he claims to offer, thus further enhancing his appeal among the types of voters that have powered his ascent. Though these tactics are reprehensible, responding to them with fear and anger will only add gasoline to the fire.

Expressions of protest against Trump are all well and good, but expressions of rage serve no useful end. Donald Trump's greatest ally is, to borrow FDR's phrase, fear itself, followed closely by anger. To deprive him of that power, anyone dedicated to opposing him must embrace Rule #1- Don't Panic.   Anger only enhances his appeal, and violence used against Trump or his supporters is not only morally wrong, it is the height of strategic folly. The only way that the challenge Trump poses can be defeated is at the ballot box. If Trump is physically attacked he (or his movement, if he is killed) wins, in which case everyone loses.


Anonymous said...

Aaannnd he won.

Madman of Chu said...

Tragically so, Anonymous, tragically so. I still stand by everything I wrote in this post, however. Trump comes into the office of the presidency under the biggest trust deficit of any president-elect since the Civil War. The constant stream of invective that he let loose against Muslims, women, people of color, Latin@s, and others gives millions cause for anger and fear. I agree with Secretary Clinton that we owe Trump an "open mind," but the best that one can expect from an open-minded citizen at this point is a full-throated demand that Trump repudiate the bigotry of his campaign and restrain the actions of those of his supporters, whatever small minority of his coalition that they might be, who cherish racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic ideals. Words won't be enough in this regard. Action will be necessary to keep the pressure on Trump, otherwise (whatever his true feelings and character might be, which are frankly a mystery), he will inevitably come under pressure from elements of his coalition to translate bigoted words into bigoted policy. We must march. We must protest. We must write letters. We must donate to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU. But we must not forget Rule #1. We must not give way to panic. Violence at this juncture will only make the situation worse. Violence will drive Trump into the arms of the David Dukes and Alt-Right monsters who were so energized by his vicious campaign. I sympathize with the protesters carrying signs saying #Notmypresident, but they are being very foolhardy. Our best defense against Trump now is not to deny that he is the president, but to force him to act like one. If he is the president, then he is restrained by the Bill of Rights, and the independent judiciary, and the separation of powers, and a host of other mechanisms that can be used to prevent him from encroaching on and abrogating citizens' rights. If we refuse to acknowledge that he is the president, then he will not feel constrained to act like one, in which case he becomes a bully with an army, a secret police force, and big pile of nuclear weapons. Anger and fear are warranted, but panic is not. This election has changed many things, and we should be prepared for that. But it has not changed our rights and responsibilities as citizens. We will have to engage the political sphere under different conditions than most of us expected, but the basic task remains the same.

Anonymous said...

Very well put Madman of Chu. Protesting and delegitimizing his victory will encourage alt-right groups to rise to the occasion. I have heard this theory being floated around by some left-leaning friends that he might not become president if enough delegates go against the voters wishes. Politically it is known as a "faithless elector" apparently. What are your thoughts on this?

Madman of Chu said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I agree with you about "delegitimizing his victory," but I would not go so far as to decry protesters in general. No president-elect in modern history has joked about killing journalists. Or waxed nostalgic about "the good old days" when dissent was met with bludgeoning. Or toyed with the idea of putting people into a special registry because of their religion. Or promised to undo people's marriages. Trump used a lot of loose talk to pump up his image in the eyes of 1/2 of the electorate, and in the process he flushed the trust of the rest of the electorate down the toilet. Anyone who views the protesters out in the streets now with derision or contempt is making a serious mistake. The people out there protesting have every reason to be afraid, and if they were not protesting Trump might be tempted to appease the real bigots in his coalition by making good on some of his authoritarian threats.

All that being said, denying that Trump is the president-elect is the top of a slippery slope that leads to the end of the Republic. I've seen the campaign you mention, to persuade electors to abrogate the result of the election. It is the height of folly. Even if there was any chance that it could succeed I would be against it, but given that it is a completely futile gesture it can only serve to create the impression that the anti-Trump movement is animated by hypocrisy and bad faith. Those of us who see the danger in Trump should be working aggressively to wrest guarantees of good-faith dealing from him. Beginning with an attempt to cheat his supporters out of an electoral victory is a bad place to start on that score.