The stakes are high. This country faces a choice between a traditional democracy and a shift to an autocracy.
Winning the Battle for America
Hint #1: Civility is not going to save Roe v. Wade.
Hint #2: It does not matter that two-thirds to three-quarters of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned; so-called conservatives don’t care about things like that.
Hint #3: This ain’t politics as usual. Hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousands are taking it to the streets. But there are some simple things you can do.
Look, I’m not advocating un-civility. Rather I am telling you not to stop with appeals to civil discourse. As Eugene Robinson says (later in this post), you should not bring a garden spade to a Trumpian knife fight. You have to get combative. Here are two messages about how to wage political war, one at the individual level and one at the collective level. Let’s start with combatting Trump’s lies.
What can I do?
The first message boils down to this. You are entitled to your own facts. Just make sure they are not Trump’s “facts.” And then repeat, repeat, repeat.
Slate.com author Lili Loofbourow identifies a major issue,The Facts Are Disappearing. It’s Up to You to Save Them. A four-step plan (with bonus challenge). Then she goes on to suggest some concrete actions we all can take to counter Trump’s dishonesty and to re-frame what the American public hears.
These are confusing times, and they’re getting worse. On the one hand, there’s tons of misinformation: Some of it is disseminated through technology, trolls, and bots; some through Trump’s lies and propaganda (helped by a news cycle he drives); and some by Supreme Court cases like NIFLA v. Becerra, which ruled that anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers”—frequently unlicensed and lacking medical providers—no longer have to disclose those facts to women who come to them for help. On the other hand, real information is being withheld from Americans who need it to live and make choices. Whether it’s the government refusing to promote open enrollment for health care under the Affordable Care Act or the Supreme Court ruling making it legal for states to purge their voter rolls of eligible but infrequent voters, there’s a double challenge facing those who value an informed public.
Compounding all this is the fact that, because this administration is so dysfunctional, we’re all taking a crash course in civics we didn’t sign up for—what exactly is a deputy attorney general? Is it normal for the EPA administrator to spend $4.6 million taxpayer dollars on “security” for himself? Should the president call a small business he’s never visited “dirty” because it didn’t accommodate his press secretary? (And was it kosher for that press secretary to complain through a government Twitter account?) The need for good information has never been more dire.
Luckily, a lot of people are angry about all this. Also luckily, those numbers can be put to good use in what’s starting to look more and more like an actual information war.
The bad news is that years of right-wing messaging—unions hurt the economy, immigrants are criminals, the rich are put-upon, the poor are lazy—have set the stage for an absolute hurricane of disinformation. The good news is that we can learn from Donald Trump’s tactics. If he’s taught us anything, it’s that repeating the same thing over and over eventually works.
So adopt some facts you want to repeat. And repeat some more. If you’ve watched Trump tell the same lie over and over until people start parroting it, you’ve seen firsthand the power in repetition. The crisis in our democracy is also a crisis of information—but information is cheap if you have numbers. Since institutions are constricting what citizens know, it’s up to you to do your small part to help the facts you think are important get out there.
It’s simple: Choose a few facts you think some people don’t know or understand right now on issues you care about, and commit to repeating them daily. Rain or shine. Regardless of the news cycle.
Fact-checking, while hugely necessary, is by definition reactive; functionally, it’s like trying to contain an oil spill. And these spills are happening all the time. What happens now is predictably asymmetrical: Trump lies, the lie gets a ton of coverage, and then fact-checkers responsibly issue a correction that no one reads. That’s not working. To fix it means opting out of Trump’s messaging altogether and setting the terms of what you talk about yourself. Remember: This president and those around him are very good at distracting people from their present goals. It will take willpower and discipline to stick to your message.
If Trump’s lies vilifying immigrants are getting to you, pick a fact that refutes the xenophobic narrative. It can be fairly straightforward: “Immigrants commit crimes at much lower rates than Americans. Even the Koch-funded Cato Institute agrees. Great, right?” Or, if you want people to know they can now legally be purged from voter rolls, say so: “Did you know the government can now legally purge you from voter rolls even if you’re registered and eligible? You can check and fix this. Here’s how.” (Find a local resource that lets you check—this one is Ohio’s.)
It’s pretty obvious why this stuff is important. It’s a little harder to actually do the work of distributing it, but not by much. Here is a way to do your own part, in four steps (with one bonus challenge).
(1) Pick your facts.
Anywhere between two and five. This will be your “beat,” as in drumbeat, as in the thing you repeat.
Maybe you want to talk about income disparity: “Average CEO compensation has risen 937 percent since 1978. Meanwhile, according to Harvard Business Review, typical inflation-adjusted wages ‘have barely risen, growing only 0.2% per year.’ ”
[Lili has more examples: unions, immigration, racial justice, and national security.]
(2) Post two of your facts somewhere public every day.
Every day. (Not in meme form, please.) When you can, put it in your own words.
Everyone knows there’s an information gap between the left and right, and even within specific echo chambers, so be creative. You can post to Twitter or Facebook some days—those are OK—but think of other platforms that might reach people you otherwise wouldn’t. Community bulletin board? Post-It on the door of a bathroom stall?
Do one IRL broadcast a week.
Once a week, you’re going to tell one of your chosen facts to another human being. You to them. Maybe you text a friend. Or email your cousin. Or drop it in conversation really randomly. Worst case, if you’re feeling extremely non-confrontational, write it on a postcard and send it to a random address. But do it. Communicate one-on-one with someone.
Yes, you will feel like That Person. Feel the embarrassment of that, feel it hard, right now, and then get over it, because feeling cool isn’t a priority right now. Find a phrasing you’re OK with; figure it out in advance. Even if it’s just “you know what drives me up the wall is that FACT X.” That’s fine! You’re not lying: You care. That’s why you’re doing this. As you get used to this, do it more.
[Scriber: Already we are learning from this exercise - IRL = In Real Life.]
(4) Rinse and repeat.
Pick your facts. Post two. Tell someone one.
BONUS CHALLENGE: The extreme sport.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can take this plan to the next level by posting one of your facts every time you hear that Trump has said or tweeted something inflammatory or self-aggrandizing. Always remember how Trump used repetition to propagate the “birther” conspiracy about President Obama. So if you’re up for a real challenge, do your part to disrupt his message by setting your pace based on his! Every time he tweets about himself, share a fact that people need to know but without responding in any way to what he said. Deny him control of the news cycle. Things might change if every time Trump lied, the world—rather than reacting—flooded the internet with information about maternal mortality rates or the school-to-prison pipeline. At the least, it would be satisfying to see—and helpful to others.
Think of this as a small civic act of faith. We are ants here, carrying grains. You may not see results. That’s OK! It’s something you do because repetition works, and truth matters, and millions of people need to continually restate the truth if there’s to be hope of breaking through in this incredibly toxic information environment.
That Trump shows no inclination to stop lying doesn’t mean he gets to dictate what you talk about. Set the terms of what gets attention; you can set those terms right now. You’re not reacting, you’re initiating. It can be a great and empowering feeling.
What can we do?
We need to take off the gloves, because, says Eugene Robinson, Trump treats politics like a knife fight. Democrats can’t pretend it’s a garden party. Excerpts follow.
Let me get this straight. President Trump and his associates treat politics like a back-alley knife fight but his critics are supposed to pretend it’s a garden party? I don’t think so.
Those who see the Trump administration as an abomination have many things to spend their time worrying about — most urgently, turning out a massive anti-Trump vote in the November elections that give Democrats control of one or both houses of Congress. Whether the resistance behaves less than graciously to Trump and his accomplices —including his water-carriers in Congress — is far down the list.
I’m not advocating rudeness for rudeness sake or a blanket policy of denying Trump aides their supper, as happened recently to press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But folks, get a grip. Stop all the hyperventilation and self-flagellation about how the Red Hen incident, and any further instances of incivility, could doom prospects for a “blue wave” in November and perhaps even reelect Trump in 2020. Banish any thought of turning the other cheek in the coming fight over Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s replacement on the Supreme Court. Don’t get mired in paralysis by analysis.
A political strategy based on the idea that being unfailingly polite will somehow lull Trump supporters into a non-voting stupor is ridiculous. Trump is already out there holding rallies, whipping crowds into a frenzy of victimhood. Two years later, he’s still railing against Hillary Clinton and calling for her to be locked up. Two years later, true believers still chant and cheer.
What Democrats need to do is boost their normally anemic midterm turnout, and that means channeling the anti-Trump fervor we’ve seen in massive nationwide demonstrations against racism and in favor of women’s rights, sensible gun control and compassionate immigration policy. Millions of voters are ready and willing to fight for an inclusive, forward-looking vision of America. Democrats have to show they are ready and willing to lead the battle.
That is why there must be no meek acquiescence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to quickly confirm Kennedy’s replacement. It doesn’t take a very long memory to recall how McConnell, using power in a way that would have made Machiavelli proud, robbed President Barack Obama of a Supreme Court appointment that was rightfully his. Democrats should be every bit as unyielding toward Trump, taking full advantage of the Senate’s arcane rules to delay and obstruct.
Unless Trump nominates some total nut case who is unacceptable to some GOP senators, Democrats will almost surely lose this battle. But they must wage it nonetheless, if only to demonstrate that they can be as resolute and uncompromising as Republicans consistently are.
The Republican Party is a mess, riven by ideological divisions and in thrall to an ignorant and erratic president whose only priority is feeding his gluttonous ego. But the GOP has been single-minded and brutally effective in the acquisition, wielding and maintenance of political power, both at the national and state levels. The result is that Republicans have been able to impose a wide range of policies that most Americans oppose.
The remedy is not for progressives to choose their words oh-so-carefully and hope no one takes offense. It is to be loud and clear — and tough as nails — in fighting back.
Chris Matthews takes it to another level in ‘Hell to Pay’ If Democrats Don’t Block Anthony Kennedy Replacement. If the Democratic leadership doesn’t treat Trump’s Supreme Court nominee the way Mitch McConnell treated Merrick Garland, the MSNBC host said, ‘They’re through.’
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews did not mince words in reacting to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s surprise retirement announcement on Wednesday.
Matthews, host of Hardball, advocates playing hardball.
“I don’t think the Democrats should allow meetings to occur with Trump’s nominee to fill this vacancy by Justice Kennedy,” Matthews said. “I think they have to fight eye for an eye for what happened in ‘16 when the Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, refused to even consider or even meet with Merrick Garland.”
If the Democratic leadership under Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “allows this to go forward,” Matthews continued, they are going to have a “huge problem with the Democratic base.” He pointed to incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley’s loss the night before to young progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a sign of just how vulnerable the establishment wing of the Democratic Party is right now.
In his remarks from the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Schumer said, “Our Republican colleagues in the Senate should follow the rule they set in 2016: not to consider a Supreme Court justice in an election year.” He added, “Millions of people are just months away from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president’s nominee. And their voices deserve to be heard now, as Leader McConnell thought they should deserve to be heard then.”
“I think the Democrats have to fight this tooth and nail,” Matthews added later. “The base will attack the leadership for this if they allow it to happen and they should. This is time for vengeance for what happened two years ago.”
To win this one, women must hit the streets big time and convince Republican Senators Collins and Murkowski to resist Trump’s inevitable threats and act on their supposed convictions. We might not win this one, but like Robinson said, we have to try. Win or lose, we have to keep the pressure on by both individual and collective efforts. What’s at stake is the soul of America.