With both parties in a state of disunion and disrepair, it's hard to have faith that Americans can emerge from this unscathed. Or at all.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Despite the promise held in the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and, more so, the guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, Donald J. Trump remains in the Oval Office at this moment, presiding over the presidency of the United States.
Since November 9, 2016, many of us have experienced several stages of denial: First, that the results could be challenged, contested, recounted. Then, that electors might defect from Trump because he was so horrifying. And that his cabinet might be run-of-the-mill careerists who’d keep him in line. That Congress might do its constitutional duty and check his power.
None of this has happened of course. He’s still here and he’s been wreaking havoc on democracy, our nation, indeed the world. The ongoing Russia investigation notwithstanding, Trump took office and filled his cabinet with fascists and fools. He gave a good speech and the punditry sighed, “He’s pivoting to presidential behavior!” and then he started tweeting angrily at the wife of a fallen soldier. The GOP-led Congress, far from being a moderating force, is hoping that they can pass a tax cut before Trump starts a nuclear war. The ones who aren’t openly racist aren’t all that worried that the president is, and they’re like a bunch of gawkers at a burning car wreck: Those that aren’t taking disaster selfies are throwing fireworks on the flames.
Worse, the opposition to Trump and his GOP enablers is leaderless and muddled. Attempts to heal the divide caused by the 2016 primaries have only led supporters of Hillary and Bernie to more recriminations and accusations every time either one of them appears in public, and the institutional party overall took a long damn time to come around to the idea of Trump resistance. The DNC seems more interested in hedging its bets and keeping its powder dry than in fighting for every congressional seat on the back of a populist message.
And even if Democrats had a succinct, popular, disciplined appeal, the omnipresence of conservative media like Fox News means nobody will even hear it. Among more mainstream news outlets the story is that “partisan politics” has failed America, and “both parties” are at fault, so why even bother getting involved?
A system of government designed specifically to deal with an arbitrary, punitive, narcissistic man-baby—Mad King George—seems to have broken down entirely in the face of Mad King Donald. He’s president, and no one is coming to save us.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the same forces that led us to this systemic breakdown offer us the way out.
Let’s say Trump disappeared tomorrow, and all his creatures with him. (We’d be short one pussygrabbing racist warmonger, and I’d never say that’s nothing, but let’s keep our eyes on the ball here.) A president Mike Pence or a President Paul Ryan would still have a GOP Congress set on making life worse for anyone who isn’t the owner of a corporation. Gerrymandered congressional districts mean their power is relatively assured; Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million and still carried 25 more congressional districts than Clinton.
How do we fix that? The same way it got broke—in statehouses across the country.
Right now, Republicans control 32 of 50 state legislatures. They hold 34 governorships. Democrats are great at running for president and fighting over who should run for president, but nothing happens without the states and all you have to know to know that’s true is that the Midwestern states that sank Hillary are all under GOP control.
You really wanna get scared? The GOP only needs two more legislatures under its control before it can, theoretically, ratify any constitutional amendment this psychotic Congress approves, altering our system of government with near-permanent results.
The states hold the key to everything, it’s why Republican donors for years have funded state-level efforts to bust unions and starve public education and weaken public infrastructure, and then elect Republican candidates to deplore the devastation they caused. The state legislatures draw up congressional districts, deciding who has the most representation in Washington. For decades they’ve drawn those districts to benefit Republicans, undercounting minority communities and over-representing white-flight suburbs.
More Democrats, more women, more people of color, more humans, hell more mammals, have to run for state office. For state rep or senator, for statewide office. More Democrats, more women, more people of color, need to find a state legislative candidate to support, donate to, volunteer for. With the nation’s capital on fire and new indignities surfacing every day, a state election seems like a little thing, but it isn’t.
I said this was the good news, so here we go: Democrats, especially in local parties, have gotten hip to this idea and have won six special elections in state legislative races and are on track to win more in 2018. Statewide efforts on issues have shown results as well. In response to despair at the latest gun massacre in Las Vegas, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, listed on Twitter the accomplishments of the group at the state level:
· We helped pass background checks in seven states, bringing total to 19. 50 percent of Americans now live in states requiring them on every gun sale.
· We helped pass laws in 24 states—red and blue—to keep guns away from domestic abusers.
· In 2017 alone, seven states enacted domestic gun violence laws, almost all of them led by Republican governors: Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Rhode Island.
We don’t have to change a GOP congressman’s reptilian mind to effect change. We don’t have to join the anti-fascist brigades on the march—though if you do, save me a Nazi to punch—and we don’t even have to take sides in the “Bernie Wing” versus “Hillary Wing” of the Democratic National Committee mudfights to have a say in the country’s future. We can do far more influential work at the local level.
We can advocate for our cities to be sanctuary cities, to resist the efforts of immigration authorities and protect vulnerable populations. The mayor of your town might be easier to convince than a senator living 300 miles away; write yours a letter or give him or her a call.
We can demand that the communities to which we belong (from the church to the block club) be welcoming and inclusive. Something as simple as making sure the local library has a selection of books by writers of color for all ages opens previously closed doors.
We can feed those the government is trying to starve by supporting local food pantries with donations of money and goods. Most budget with pennies; raising as little as $500 among family and friends could provide a month of meals.
And we can be joyous in our efforts. A colleague of mine said the day after the election that we couldn’t just be angry at the state of the world, that joy had to be part of our politics. Celebration in dark times is a radical act, and as we set the clocks back and the days get shorter, we can drape our homes in strings of stars and let people know they’re welcome to come inside and stay warm.
That’s how we save ourselves while the institutions that have failed us up to this point—the party hierarchies, the press—tear themselves apart over scraps left by that rabid beast the GOP freed to maul the buffet table. It’s easy to look at the congressional maps, and the everyday congressional cowardice on display every time Trump seems to go “too far” and his party does nothing, and despair.
But if you want proof of the power in state and local fights, just remember that the way women won their first great victory in the United States was by having their right to vote ratified. And they had to fight that fight state by state.
Find information on your state’s legislators here.
Find a local food pantry here.
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