Why does this hurt so bad?
How do we possibly feel normal again tomorrow, next week, next year? Why do we feel so sick—so nauseous, heartsick, helpless, anguished—on such a visceral, existential level?
It’s self-evident: We feel this way because Donald Fucking Trump is the 45th president of the United States. And Barack fuckin’ Obama didn’t help any with his impossible class, cool, maturity, smarts, values, and humanity. Thanks for the contrast, guy. Just what we needed.
If we want to feel normal again—and if we want to do good over the next four years—it’s important to understand the pieces of why we feel this way. This is how we start to feel better—without dishonoring the reasons for how we feel—and how we ready ourselves for the successes, yes, successes, that lie ahead.
We don’t know. That’s a good thing. We control more of it than we realize. That’s a better thing. Here’s what we do know.
George W. Bush came into office a hapless, mockable doofus with an ideologically hard-core vice president who knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. Those fuckers had a plan. They had plans down to specific oil fields. In Iraq.
Donald Fucking Trump doesn’t even have half his cabinet in place. His energy secretary just found out what the Department of Energy does. Trump has hundreds of positions to fill and hasn’t nominated more than a handful of people to fill them. (And if you’re rightly concerned that our national security is at risk, Trump had the smarts to ask top figures from the Obama national-security team to stay on.)
But remember what happened with the Bush presidency. It hit reality.
Washington isn’t The Bubble. Washington forces people in power into contact with the interests of others and into accountability for the outcomes of their decisions. The Heartland, where people live in self-segregated communities and associate only with the like-minded, and spout their faces off about their principles, that’s the fucking bubble. Why do you think Paul Ryan wanted members of Congress not staying in Washington a lot? That’s why politicians always disappoint their most feverish zealots. They leave The Bubble.
Bush soured on Cheney. Justice Roberts upheld ObamaCare.
And remember, Bush had Democrats largely on his side when he started. After Bush-Gore, there was all this bullshit about national unity, which he abused the fuck out of, and then 9/11 came along and in the smoke over New York, the Bush Administration saw a blank check.
This time we have a head start.
Because we have already denied Trump national unity. Because he enters office dragged down by the lowest approval ratings of any new president. Because Trump is going to hamstring his own administration by intentionally poisoning every arm of it with internecine fighting. Because his administration is full of inexperienced people who will leave holes we can drive lawsuit-bearing trucks through. Because he inherits a vast federal government full of dedicated government workers who will push back and blow whistles and resign individually or en masse in extreme cases. We saw it under Bush. We will see it again.
But most of all we have a head start because of how far we went with Barack Obama. It’s worth taking a moment to review exactly how strong a position he leaves us in.
Our Obama Victories
Thanks to Obama, the Trump Administration has left The Bubble before even taking office.
In our lifetimes, we used to accept that other people’s lifetimes would be shortened because they couldn’t afford health care. Cultural acceptance of death by impoverishment was a pre-existing condition. Barack Obama cured it.
Scott Pruitt said under oath that global warming is not a hoax. Assuming it tries, the Trump Administration may not be able to wriggle out of the Paris accords or a host of regulatory actions. Barack Obama did that.
The GOP now owns problems the free market does not solve. And it is in large part thanks to Obama that the GOP even sees these as problems. They are now out of The Bubble, grappling with the reality Obama created that government is, in fact, the best—in some cases most fucking awesome and beautiful—answer to problems that individuals and market forces can not address.
Republicans are now struggling to replicate what ObamaCare accomplished. They say they want to do what it did…better and more. For the first time more Americans approve of ObamaCare than disapprove.
We have a head start, and the Trump Administration is already out of its Bubble, because Barack Obama made it reality that this nation sees problems as problems we can fix through the glorious invention of government and politics. Trump shows no inclination or ability to undo that. We’ve already won the first and most important battle.
The question that really matters is what will they be able to do despite that victory.
Donald Fucking Trump will never use nuclear weapons. It’s a claim we feel confident making, because who’ll know if we’re wrong?
Barring that unlikely scenario, the two most important issues facing us over the next four years are the composition of the Supreme Court and what actions the United States and the world take on climate change.
But there are other issues.
- Regulation of commodities futures trading (think gas prices)
- Funding and leadership structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Regulating Wall Street
- Regulating polluters
- Regulating toxic emissions
- Regulating amount of rat feces you eat
- Corporate mergers
- Protecting federal lands
- Native American rights
- LGBTQ rights
- Voting rights
- Civil rights
- Funding the arts
- Transgender rights
- Police violence
- Police profiling of Muslims and people of color
- College tuition
- College debt
- Military/veteran pay and standard of living
- Judicial appointments
- Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security
- Funding scientific research
- Believing scientific research
- Reproductive rights
- Nonreproductive but really fun rights
- Health care
- Pharmaceutical prices
- Insurance premiums
- Insurance coverage
- Corporate fraud
- Product safety
- Family leave
- Protecting endangered species
- Taxing the rich
- Untaxing the poor
- Workplace safety
- Gender equality
- Women’s rights
- Women’s health care
- Diversity of appointments
- Labor rights
- Access to the courts
- Vetoing Ayn Rand Day as the only federal holiday on which everyone works
- International human rights
- Not torturing people
- Protecting norms of civil and civic behavior
- Vast reservoirs of pig shit (actual thing!)
That’s just off the top of our head. It’s tempting and even responsible to assume the worst. But not if it demoralizes and immobilizes us. So gauge it carefully. And consider some of what we’ve heard from the Trump camp after his election victory:
- Trump’s wall on the Mexican border may consist in some areas of fencing or attractive topiary hedges
- One of his top/only economic advisors says Trump doesn’t give a shit about “ideology,” cutting the budget or cutting corporate taxes as much as he said he would
- Trump almost immediately backed off prosecuting Hillary Clinton
- Trump thinks Obama is a “good man” and WILL SEEK HIS FUCKING KENYAN COUNSEL
- Trump won’t go after the Federal Reserve after all, because honestly, who has the time
- Trump thinks peaceful protest is beautiful, man
- Trump will seek to deport only undocumented immigrants with criminal records, which—given his record and corporate America’s—could end up being fewer than Obama deported
- Trump thinks ObamaCare is the greatest thing in the world and will only replace it once he has a plan that will provide the same benefits to all Americans while costing less
- Trump’s transition team was smart enough to want significant numbers of Obama staffers to stay on in the Fucking Trump Administration
- Stuck by his commitment to rejuvenating our infrastructure
- Rick Perry reversed himself on shutting down the Energy Department, once he found out what it is.
There is A LOT of fluidity here. Yes, his cabinet appointments are horrifying. As are the genuine ideologues running the House. But what they accomplish is not pre-ordained. Nor is how well and intractably they accomplish it. Nor is what they want to accomplish.
Between storms and rising floodwaters in the southeast, growing corporate concern about climate-change mitigation, we may be just one Pentagon advisory away from climate change becoming a conservative cause celebre. Don’t be too sure. Of anything. Trump should have taught us that much at least.
Trump might make some things better. Maybe we do get cheaper drugs. Manufacturing jobs. There are some things Republicans will go along with Trump on that they would deny to a Democrat if only because only Nixon could go to China. Romney could do RomneyCare because he was a Republican.
Unlike Romney, who disavowed his own plan as a candidate, Trump ran as a fan of socialized medicine and as president-elect said everyone should have health insurance. Of course it sucks and is crazy-making when the right signs onto the same shit they rejected when it came in a Democratic wrapper.
He doesn’t really mean it, you say? That’s EVEN BETTER because it means he feels compelled to say it. Which means he’s susceptible to public pressure. As if we didn’t know that about a president who watches cable news.
So there is a broad range of outcomes we could see from Pres. Fucking Trump and the Fucking Trump Administration and the goddamn Republican Congress. Meaning, we don’t know what will happen.
But what does happen will depend—more than we might think—on us.
Let’s unpack why we feel such sick dread, so we can replace it with hope and resolve. Part of the reason—but not enough of the reason—is that we ache for our fellow humans who will suffer, who could have been saved, who will live less full lives, because Donald Fucking Trump is in the White House. Let’s remember them—and ensure that we prioritize their needs over our own feelings toward Trump.
But another part of our crushing angst stems from instincts we should have shed long ago. Barack Obama wanted to diminish the White House in the popular imagination, to demythologize it, and evolve the infantile way we view the presidency. It’s not just that some people assume an omnipotent presidency, or that others assume its irrelevance, it’s that we imbue the office with the essence of America.
Part of our misery about President Trump comes from our metaphysical horror at the violation of America. We can alleviate that aspect of our despair by doing what Pres. Obama asked of us—disabusing ourselves of the notion that the presidency is anything more than a political office held by a person.
Your senators are not your states. Your mayor is not your town. Your dog-catcher is not your dog. President Trump is your president, but he is not your country.
“America” did not choose Donald Fucking Trump. Voters who did choose Donald Trump do not universally subscribe to everything you ascribe to him. So, no, “we” have not gone backwards. “We” are not racist (well, we are, but we’ll get to that). “We” are not fascists.
So let’s drop the conceit that Trump has exposed something “essential” about “the real America.” There’s no such thing. Let that liberate you.
In the absence of magical thinking about America and the presidency, the path forward becomes much clearer, and less emotionally fraught. So do what Pres. Obama wanted us to do all along and see America and the presidency as political entities that move in response to known and identifiable forces.
So, here’s what we do, eyes clear, hearts full.
If you haven’t yet, you should check out The Indivisible Guide, by congressional staffers outlining how to obstruct a federal agenda. The Indivertible Guide, by us, outlines how to affect change in TV news.
The first thing to understand is: It’s not hopeless. Slacktivism won’t do it. Monastic retreat from this corrupt world won’t do it. Thinking globally and acting locally won’t do it (and damn to hell whoever came up with that feel-good motto for abject surrender).
The time has come to inject politics into everything. Think globally and locally. Act globally and locally.
There is hard work to be done, and not just the fun, “Hey, we’re taking selfies at the rally!” kind (though that’s certainly on the list). Here’s the hard work we have to do if we want to be effective.
Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) famously said he would obstruct everything Pres. Obama did. Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez said Democrats should do the same thing to Pres. Fucking Trump. “We can hit him between the eyes with a 2-by-4 and treat him like Mitch McConnell treated Barack Obama,” Perez said. And, oh, it feels so good.
Here’s the problem. What McConnell actually said was, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” As any history buff will tell you, McConnell failed.
Obstruction is great for nihilistic power-seekers. Do you think that’s what Barack Obama will be doing, or advocating?
So, no, our approach should not be McConnelly maximalist. Obama and Trump are different people. They respond to different incentives and disincentives. The problem with engagement, for many people, is it feels like endorsement of the man and everything he stands for. It’s not.
The Soul of Donald Fucking Trump
Donald Fucking Trump has no soul. Neither do you. Or us. (Especially us.) Not an insult, just a fact. Don’t bitch about anti-science climate-change deniers and then tell us that magic people-essences cohabitate and/or drive our bodies.
Donald Fucking Trump is an actual human being. Just as human as Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden, and Jared from Subway. Just like any ordinary, everyday, human being you might find at a NAMBLA convention, human-sacrifice ritual, or OTB. They’re all human and fucked up and yet, somehow, the hero of their own story. Keeping that in perspective is essential to opposing whatever stupid, fucking shit they come up with. So fight the good fight as if he is what he is: Human.
Is he racist? Maybe. Who knows? Not that long ago, we were admonished—rightly—to assume that we are all racist. Not to normalize racism, but to normalize admission of it, to facilitate new ways of thinking and acting that would reduce incidents of racism and make it okay to think about how we can all be better. Let’s do that again, because it puts the focus on the words rather than the self.
We should never deal with racists, you say, as a 100%-pure non-racist yourself? First of all, congratulations on your moral purity. Secondly, though, remember defending Obama for negotiating with Iran? Did that make him anti-Semitic? Remember calling Republicans hostage-takers and terrorists? That means we can negotiate with them, because liberals negotiate with terrorists! That’s what grown-ups do.
When the hostage-taker releases the hostage with a heart condition, do you scream, “Fuck you, asshole, keep your fucking heart-attack patient! You didn’t really want them free, anyway! I refuse to normalize you as a person and all you stand for!”
Or…do you say, “That’s great, hostage-taker, you’re doing fine, we’re going to get through this. How’s everyone else in there? Do you want some pizza? You like anchovies?”
You know the gung-ho asshole cop in the movies who always wants to go in guns blazing and shoot every hostage-taker because they’re hostage-takers? That is you. Engaging with Donald Fucking Trump doesn’t mean you love him. It means you love the hostages.
He doesn’t deserve it, you say? What about justice, you ask? Are you a judge? No? Then grow the fuck up.
Or…accept the fact that you’re the shitty cop in the movies who gets people killed including that black rookie you knew was gonna die and should’ve been the fucking lead.
Normalize the fuck out of Trump. That’s what the left does, remember? They humanize criminals all the fucking time! More to the point, which is more important: Denying normalization of who he is, or of what he does? Normalizing him as a human is the only hope we have of not normalizing what he does. Refuse to normalize him as a person and you abdicate the power to get him to change what he does.
President Barack Obama, one of the finest presidents in modern American history, if not all of it, sat down with Trump face to face, talks with him on the phone—tries to fucking TEACH him—but you’re going to deny Trump your precious fucking imprimatur?
Rejection is easy. It satisfies our sense of outrage and saves us from feeling morally complicit. Denying him normalization feels good. But normalizing him lets you do good.
This is the hard, internal work of denying our impulses toward this abomination of a man (private name-calling is still okay!). The hard work of rejecting thinking that is satisfying but unproductive. Of resisting easy categorization and reminding ourselves that we are not making him okay. We don’t have that power, anyway. We are trying to make the country okay. That power, we have in spades.
Building Our Power
Let’s be clear that figuring out Donald Fucking Trump is fucking guesswork. That said, let’s do the guesswork—and be open to refining it as additional data come in.
There’s a great roundtable of Trump biographers discussing how he thinks and operates. Read it, because it validates us and we cherish confirmation bias.
Trump tends to set parties against each other. And 86% of the country already says we’re more divided today than before.
Why are we divided? Because we’ve decided that how we achieve our goals says something about us. So we have insane debates about what the country is. What something means. Who people really are. Deny these juvenile debates your time and energy. They divide us and distract us from what unites us. And from what can unite us.
Besides, those 86% are wrong. The nation is LESS divided than it has been. More people are united in disapproval of our new president than ever have been in modern times. We just don’t see what unites us because we’re mired in debates about essences, rather than about outcomes.
So set aside outrage over Russia and conflicts of interest. There are actual mechanisms to deal with that shit, and they’re about motive, anyway. Debates over motive are a luxury you have when the overall system is doing fine. That’s no longer the case. Who gives a shit whether they’re morally pure as they toss the old and sick into the street and Christianize our schools?
Paul Ryan wants you seething over Putin while he snips the social safety net, offshores manufacturing jobs, automates whatever’s left, and privatizes your internal organs.
We build power by remaining indivisible and indivertible. So don’t let Trump divide us. Don’t judge the souls or motives of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConell, Hillary supporters, or Bernie supporters—because who the fuck are you? Make allies, build bridges, bury hatchets, assume good intentions.
There is, for instance, an entire federal government full of dedicated civil servants who will push and blow whistles and resign individually or en masse in extreme cases. We saw it under Bush. We will see it again. So if you are shaming people who have decided to fight the good fight from within, or by engaging with Trump, you are trying to take away one of our most valuable weapons. Stop.
Too much of the left’s outrage is about signifying one’s own moral bona fides rather than activating the unactivated or achieving specific policy outcomes through politics. Being morally pure and losing makes you John McCain. Don’t be John McCain. Be Barack Obama.
Using Our Power
Hopelessness absolves us of action. It’s an escape clause. We’re closing it.
There are things we can control. Starting with ourselves. We have to change. We have to evolve.
We sat by while Reagan Republicans, and then the Democrats, agreed that it’s cool to crap on Washington, on politicians, on politics, on collective action, on thoughtfulness, on nuance, on logic, on process, on bureaucrats. So they could take it all away.
For a generation we’ve sat by while the Horatio Alger dream of creating wealth got turned into a perverse dream of wealth extraction by a handful of rich guys who decided to get richer by rewriting the rules to be so complex we wouldn’t pay attention.
We let the Justice Department go easy on Wall Street. Guantanamo Bay remained open, where were we? We accepted things from Obama we wouldn’t from Trump—and they accept things from Trump they wouldn’t from Obama—because of what we think about the two men respectively. We have to cut that shit out. If drones and surveillance are wrong, they’re always wrong. Divorce policy from the politicians and the politicians will be more likely to hear us—and consider us credible.
So fight. Not against Trump. For the things we should always be fighting for. Why’d we stop fighting for runiversal health care when 20 million people were still uninsured?
We stopped fighting after Obama became president because we assumed the intentional essence of the guy in charge was cool.
When we judge and condemn motives, we give them an out. We enabled them to tell themselves, “They think I’m a bad person. But I’m not.” If we make clear that we don’t understand them, we make it easy for them to proceed.
So…don’t rally against Trump. Rally against defunding Planned Parenthood. Or deregulating Wall Street. Act as if he is your ally and you are identifying problems you need his help with. Your protest sign can shit on him as a person, or it can tell him you hope he’ll keep the CFPB to protect you from the big banks.
He wants to be popular? Make political positions popular and he will embrace them. If we let him know we will approve nothing he does, he has no motive to seek our approval.
Turn him against the Koch ideology and his followers…will follow. Divide and conquer. Reject them all and we unite them all.
Using HIS Power
Remember we referred to what can unite us? Trump has showed us it’s a broader array than we thought.
The greatest gift Trump has given us—one that Democrats squandered—is revealing the fragility of the Republican voter’s ideological commitments. You can’t say the country is divided on entitlements when both candidates supported Social Security and Medicare. You can’t say the country is divided on health care when the new president agrees that health care should be more affordable and available to all. You can’t say the country is divided when the new Republican president looks unkindly on big corporate mergers and talked about breaking up big banks.
Trump has been on record favoring tax hikes on the rich, abortion rights (once, anyway), single-payer health care, shitting on veterans, and more. His Republican supporters knew it and didn’t care. Or agreed.
He’s taken all those positions and we’ve mostly squandered that face by assuming he didn’t mean the very things we agreed with! Assume he did mean them and praise him for them.
Trump’s words are weapons. But on climate change, for instance, the Trump weapon we want to hurl at him isn’t that it’s a Chinese hoax. It’s when he conceded to the New York Times that it’s real. Ignore the bullshit he’s said and concretize the shit we want to be real. Don’t rebel against the reality you think he’s creating. Use his words to create the reality we want.
Here’s what they said in that Politico roundtable of his biographers:
“…when you’re dealing with him, it should be about focusing on imagining what his ego requires and not contradicting him publicly…He’s not going to be that concerned with the actual competent administration of the government. It’s going to be what he seems to be gaining or losing in public esteem. ”
So forget about the China hoax. Make clear that we liked when he endorsed the science of climate change—regardless of whether he weaseled on it. Praise him. Give him public esteem. Use his endorsement of climate-change reality to normalize it.
When he denigrates the value and credibility of U.S. intelligence—applaud it. Not him. It. Delegitimizing the machine that creates the factual premises for our militarism is a good thing. Better he plays with his toys in parades at home than in ground wars overseas or in Canada.
Problems annoy him. So don’t label him the problem. Show him how he can be the solution.
Another biographer quote: “If there was any hint that anybody was doing anything other than paying 24-7 attention to his needs, then he would discover that something was a 32nd of an inch off or a second late or whatever. And that person would be cowering, and he would lash out.”
So, we don’t direct our ire at Trump. We point our fingers at his people—because they are not serving Our Glorious Leader. “You, GOP cabinet secretary or Koch brother or House speaker, are fucking up Donald’s plan for cheap drugs or fewer police killings or family leave!” The biggest companies in the country are already planning to use his tax breaks for self-enrichment and automation rather than job creation. Rat them out…to him.
Don’t blame Trump. Exploit the fact that his appointees live in terror of being blamed for fucking up his popularity. We’re not just attacking the cabinet secretary, we’re defending Trump from them by exposing how they’re failing to live up to the promise of his that we are trying to concretize. The reality we’re using his words to create.
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Trump gives a shit what’s said about him on TV. That means he is susceptible to public opinion. Trump responds to media. Media respond to you. Make them.
Maybe, after swapping out Obama for Trump, we’ll hit bottom. Maybe democracy has to be cyclical—people get involved, things get good enough for them to get uninvolved, the douchebags exploit our complacency, things get bad enough to motivate people to get involved. Repeat.
The only way to break the cycle is never to get uninvolved, no matter how good things get. Because real douchebags have no expiration date. The price of liberty isn’t constant vigilance against foreign bogeymen. It’s constant vigilance against douchebags.
The American Dream was never that we get to live in peace and relative prosperity because someone else fought for it. It was because we fought for it. At our union halls. At the voting booths. In the newspapers we read. In our conversations with coworkers and friends, making sure everyone sees how politics touch our lives. Ensuring constant vigilance.
So the exhortation to hope is not a promise that one day things will be perfect and then we can go back to watching sweet, sweet TV. Hope is an obligation we are called to fulfill because it is the first step to making things better. It is our obligation to the future. It is the obligation Americans fought and died for—not just in uniform, but on picket lines, and in political activism—here on our own soil, since America was created in hope’s name.
America is a system for fighting. Forever. And when Obama won, we stopped. As if the fight were over. America is the fight. The fight for a more perfect union. So find your battle. And then get out there. Don’t fight to feel good. Fight to make things better. Fight for hope. We’re with you. All the way.
Additional Reading from The Fucking News
The Fucking News Guide To Surviving the Fucking Trump Presidency (with sample exercises!)
Our Election Day exhortation to get your hands and souls dirty by engaging in the corrupt, corporatist two-party system that will stay that way if you stay away
Our post-election explanation of why we don’t know shit about what’s going to happen now and why that’s a good thing
Our pre-election PreDicktions