The Cavalry Isn’t Coming

The Cavalry Isn’t Coming

Image: The 10th Cavalry, a black regiment authorized 1866. Public domain.

This post cannot be very long, since it is being composed on a cellphone. Thinkprogress posted yet another plea and appeal to the Electoral College to vote differently from their states. Although the article tries to pose it as a legal imperative, which it is not. I wish to impress upon people, for the last time, that this stands an extremely poor chance of succeeding, it may have serious reprecussions if it succeeds, and that it distracts from and thereby harms necessary preparation in the fight against Trump. Consider this article about a Montana Republican elector,

Scranton took things a bit further. “I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions,” he said. Wyoming is the site where Matthew Shepard was severely beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead just outside of Laramie in the late 1990s.

This is what Republican electors are. They’re Republican party functionaries and retired party operatives. They’re not public servants, and they’re political animals with a distinct ideological bent. There is much to be said on the broader issue of moral authority and conversion, but Democrats and liberal leaning voters don’t hold much sway over life-long Republicans.

This is putting aside that an electoral tossup would throw the vote to the states, which will promptly and decisively vote for Trump. If the result goes the other way, it will be interpreted as a deeply unfair elitist rigging of the election and this will have further reaching and more disastrous consequences than a Trump presidency after a backlash in 2018. To repeat: A 2018 electoral landslide for the Republicans would be more disastrous than a Trump presidency.

Finally and most importantly, if you decide not to heed this warning and persist in attempting to sway the electors, please at least also devote more than equal time and energy to other forms of resistance. A lot of work can be done between now and December 19th, and being in denial about Trump’s impending presidency helps no one.

Why 2018 Is More Important Than a Hacked Vote

Why 2018 Is More Important Than a Hacked Vote

Header Image by  RadioFan: Voting Machine On Display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. 

America is a nation of laws, or so we’re often led to believe. There are numerous valid criticisms of this statement, but cutting through the asterisks, daggers, and double-daggers that follow that statement: No one is really above the law governing the operations of the Senate, the House, and the various states. The law may not be applied consistently, but extralegal action on a matter after adjudication is the exception, not the rule. There’s been a lot of talk about the popular vote, and the chance that electronic voting machines were hacked. The breathless and urgent tone of people calling for recounts, reevaluations, and adjustments are missing something: The time to have done something about this was four, eight, sixteen, or more years ago. The problem is that while the legal framework behind a recount exists to some extent, there isn’t a legal framework for revoting.

The story is that the voting totals MAY HAVE (never ignore the meaning of the word “may”) been rigged when it comes to electronic voting booths in Wisconsin. The Cassandra of this new crisis is Bruce Schneier, cybersecurity expert. He wrote a piece in 2006 on why a framework for revoting is necessary before the event:

Or imagine this — as far as we know — hypothetical situation: After the election, someone discovers rogue software in the voting machines that flipped some votes from A to B. Or someone gets caught vote tampering — changing the data on electronic memory cards. The problem is that the original data is lost forever; all we have is the hacked vote.

Faced with problems like this, we can do one of two things. We can certify the result anyway, regretful that people were disenfranchised but knowing that we can’t undo that wrong. Or, we can tell everyone to come back and vote again.

To be sure, the very idea of revoting is rife with problems. Elections are a snapshot in time — election day — and a revote will not reflect that. If Virginia revoted for the Senate this year, the election would not just be for the junior senator from Virginia, but for control of the entire Senate. Similarly, in the 2000 presidential election in Florida, or the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, single-state revotes would have decided the presidency.

So what would happen if it was determined conclusively (which is unlikely) that voting machines were hacked? Likely nothing. It’s uncharted territory, and courts of law are conservative. While Bush v. Gore was widely considered a mess, the question was fairly simple and boiled down to authority to instigate a recount and whether the nature of the recount was in accordance with the Constitution. A case of Clinton v. Trump over revoting would be far messier, and the court would be extremely loath to legislate a new election from the bench. Even the ideological leanings of the justices may prove irrelevant, it is an extremely significant decision that would have far-reaching implications. The results could be unpredictable, and in the worst case, spark a constitutional crisis.

Some on the left may read that and rejoice. “Finally! We can fix everything wrong with that ancient document!” Good luck with that. That joy would be extremely premature. Most state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, in addition to the House and the Senate. A general Constitutional Convention would be as disastrous as the first (remember the 3/5ths compromise). As for legal maneuvers and various other methods for seating Clinton ahead of Trump,  George Orwell once wrote in Inside the Whale that,

So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.

This is a kind of playing with fire. This enthusiasm to open giant cans of worms on the part of the American left is extremely dangerous, and can very easily go awry. Clinton may have won the popular vote, but not by tremendous margins. There is a strong tendency to overestimate support for subversive legal action based on the popular vote. Clinton voters are not all die-hards. Many see themselves as having voted for the lesser of two evils. The kind of majority assent that would elect Clinton in a straight vote might not exist to snatch a Clinton victory from the jaws of a Trump victory.

It wouldn’t change the makeup of the House and the Senate and it might lead to severe electoral blowback two years from now, when it will be extremely dangerous to have a block of angry motivated voters that feel the Democrats cheated the system. Democrats are already at a turnout disadvantage in midterm elections that they should work to enhance. The midterm election of 2018 has the potential to seat a supermajority of Republicans. The ability of the Republicans to single-handedly amend the Constitution should keep any leftist up at night, and has much further reaching implications than a Trump presidency.

Right now, the Democrats are in severe disarray, investing energy in incredibly pointless speculation over “what-if” scenarios. Meanwhile the Trump presidency barrels on, ready to lay waste to moral and civic progress. The Democratic establishment is fighting the left wing of the party for dominance and direction. It is critical that the former not be allowed to prevail. Even if you take the popular vote total of Clinton as a stellar victory (a delusion in every meaningful sense of the word) you have to contend with abysmal Democratic performance in state races. Even if you consider voter suppression efforts which have been largely successful, state races where the Democrats had a real chance of winning had them lose by wider margins than voter suppression could account for.

This is disastrous leadership on the part of the party, and the economic populist argument cannot be ignored, because no matter how racist, sexist, and terrible Trump’s supporters may be (and this is painting with stupendously broad brush) Democratic voters often didn’t make it to the polls to vote or left the presidency blank on the ballots. The sexist, racist, otherist country that didn’t vote for Clinton is the exact same one that voted for Obama a scant four years ago. Stop pretending something vital has changed.

People make too much of Clinton’s platform. Platforms don’t matter, popular perception matters, and the popular perception of Clinton was that she was a corporatist candidate. Blame the media all you like. In keeping with the combat analogy drawn throughout this blog: The terrain is what it is when you come to it. Use it or overcome it, because blaming it doesn’t win wars. And voter suppression is increasingly part of the terrain, like it or not. When you have the power and the security to change that, you should. But pretending that you don’t need to compensate for those effects because they are “unfair” wins you nothing. Either you change them or work around them. This is, of course, separate from educating the public about them.

Any talk of 2020 should be immediately refocused onto 2018, which is the next campaign. The presidency is given far more importance than it has by Democrats. This isn’t idle speculation, statistics on voter turnout during midterm elections demonstrates that this is an undeniable fact. Democrats don’t care enough about state races. There is much to be said about the Democratic tendency to form messianic cults around presidential candidates (part of the conflict currently gripping the party is a religious war) and this is part of their downfall. This must be addressed urgently. The federal republican system of the United States invests a lot of power in the states that should never have been ceded to Republicans in the first place.

As for why this election is less important than people think it is: As terrible as Trump is, the administration will find that it cannot do all of the things it has set out to do, due to a lack of legal authority. The biggest danger comes from the Legislature, unchecked by veto power. This isn’t optimism, this is a realistic assessment of the government as it will exist after January 20th. Even if your fear is fascism, please understand that when fascism comes to America, it will have a lawyer. It will happen through constrained means, not because America is special, but because it isn’t, and all action transpires though constraints using the path of least resistance. It will not simply grip the country in a sudden embrace. The biggest risk of fascism does not come from anything that happened in 2016, but from events that will come to pass in 2018, if considerable effort is not invested to combat them.

Why “Good Luck With That” Is an Important Phrase

Why “Good Luck With That” Is an Important Phrase

It is difficult to overstate just how much effective activism relies on mass participation. Though there is statistical evidence attesting to this fact, it is such a common sense idea that it is difficult to find opponents. In and of itself, it is not sufficient, and the outcome depends on a variety of factors. Yet all the while people take a dim view of skepticism, even as it provides useful clues about both outcomes, and the likely level of future participation. Skeptics are seen as half-hearted people who aren’t zealous enough to be worthy of the glorious cause. Indeed it seems the more salient the issue raised by skeptics as a limitation or barrier to effective activism, the less likely they are to be listened to. This is to some extent a phenomenon common to skepticism in all arenas, but affects political causes disproportionately.

Leaving aside the merits of his campaign, there was a point in the 2016 Democratic primary race where Bernie Sanders was mathematically destined to lose. His followers were derided for their excessive optimism by Hillary supporters, which was to be expected. However many of his followers did in fact take a “full speed ahead” approach still hoping that some miracle or unlikely series of wins would give Bernie the nomination. Of course, the reality is that Bernie’s own reasons for continuing the race had less to do with winning than pulling the platform left, but many of his followers didn’t necessarily see that. What they were told on saying that a win was still possible was, “Good luck with that.” What they heard was, “Your cause is foolish,” and they reacted with proportional outrage to what they chose to hear. Many continued, or even doubled, their donations to Bernie’s campaign. In reality, their goals should have aligned more closely with those of Sanders himself, and they should have invested more time in moving the platform and party towards greater populist appeal.

As if eager not to learn from that object lesson, Democrats are currently sending frantic letters to the electors who will meet on December 19th to vote for Donald Trump in the Electoral College. A website has been constructed around it, likely at some expense. Good luck with that. The reasons the electors will not be swayed are numerous, and include extremely powerful forces like institutional inertia and party loyalty. Some people will plea, “Shouldn’t we at least try?” To which the surprising answer is, “No.”

The reason that skepticism is a useful tool in activism is the same reason it is a useful tool in other arenas. It defers action for want of justification of effort. Something political operatives, activists, and campaigners need to keep in mind is that attention span is a finite resource, in addition to money, time, and material goods. Using any or all of these on a high profile campaign with a low probability of success is wasteful. Even if the website was made by two people on a laptop in the corner of a Starbucks, that effort could have been sunk into NoDAPL, a campaign endangered by Trump’s presidency that has an excellent chance of success. It could have been expended creating an information clearinghouse on Trump’s cabinet picks, which are all terrible despite most people knowing only of Bannon and Sessions, with maybe a few names besides. Money spent on flyers (should they exist), web hosting, and stamps could go to other important causes that are likely to find more success. Time spent on the task of raising awareness for the Electoral College vote could be time spent raising awareness for other issues that desperately need them, like the Trump University scandal, which continues to develop and would be a scandal in any other universe that made sense.

The phrase “Good luck with that,” should also be taken seriously from the perspective of participation. People aren’t always interested in aiding futile efforts. Even if you have a very rational action or campaign that you know for a fact can be successful with enough participants and news coverage, seeing people respond with, “Good luck with that,” is a canary in a coal mine for your cause. You cannot afford ignore skepticism, and must understand its source and how to defuse it. Sometimes, it is in fact cynicism, which is often confused with skepticism. Cynicism is combated by turning cynics into skeptics and then making a convincing argument. Cynicism is not combated by pat reassurances or by references to previous historically successful campaigns. Sometimes it isn’t cynicism killing a meritorious idea. Sometimes it is a failure to communicate the benefits and robustness of your campaign or effort. Pinpointing the nature of skepticism is critical.

It can be difficult to hear that your supposedly brilliant idea, with many people willing to participate, is a waste of time. But, it should always be a consideration one is willing to entertain. Sometimes popular ideas are incredibly bad. In activism this is especially true: The easier an activity is to perform, the more popular it is likely to be, without specific regard to its efficacy. (Though simple, easy, collective actions can still indeed make a difference.) Conversely, it can be even more difficult to have an extremely good idea but be unable to propagate it. The world isn’t always fair to ideas in this regard. People are either skeptical because the idea is bad, or they are skeptical because your communication is bad. Either problem is deadly to your cause, and the phrase “Good luck with that” is a warning sign that must be heeded.

Some may argue that encouraging skepticism will lead to paralysis by analysis, or that it will defer decisive action too often. However in practice this is rarely the case. Many organizations, institutions, and successful groups employ a culture of skepticism. Skepticism does carry the burdensome cost of time spent in analysis and development, but the price paid for exuberance and zeal run amok is often far greater. The extra money spent on Sanders’s campaign ultimately went to other Democratic races, as is typical when a candidate withdraws, so the doubling down of donations was not a complete waste. However, that was pure luck. Most people who were donating spared no thought for the ultimate disposition of those funds had Sanders lost. Do not rely on the world being a fair place before you take a course of action. More so now, than ever.

Protest Is Not About Catharsis

Protest Is Not About Catharsis

Presuming you have enough participants handy, an effective protest really only needs two things: An objective and a targeted means of achieving that objective. Take the NoDAPL protesters, who are currently fighting against the construction of an oil pipeline through Standing Rock Sioux land. They are likely to get what they want, Trump’s ascendance notwithstanding. Their entire campaign is effectively a single protest. They have a very specific goal and they can impede the construction efforts sufficiently that it will be very difficult to continue construction without assent from the reservation residents, and such assent would likely come with considerable concessions. This means at least a partial success is likely. Longer campaigns can have more open goals than NoDAPL, but individual protest actions should be connected to outcomes, even if the outcome itself is considered to be modest.

Confusion arises when people think that protest actions are about emotional fulfillment of some kind or another. Even protesters themselves often make the mistake of thinking that the emotional high of public outcry is itself the purpose. Take for instance the #TrumpCup protest. This is an example of a protest with neither goals, nor a means to accomplish a goal were one to exist. The protest lacks both coercive or incentive function.

The protest works like this: People who object to Starbucks’s supposed maltreatment of a Trump supporter began to make a point of purchasing, at regular menu price, beverages and requesting that the name on the cup be Trump. If the goal is in fact, to make people say the name “Trump,” then it has been a spectacular success. However, I suspect if you asked the people participating in the protest whether a problem with the world is that Trump’s name isn’t mentioned enough, most would say that this isn’t the issue. Yet if you ask Starbucks if there is a behavior that they are considering changing as a result of this action, and I doubt they would answer that any of their policies should change in response to this protest. Indeed, that has largely been their response.

Alternatively, we can look at a protest campaign that has a specific goal, but lacks a targeted means of achieving that goal. The Phelps clan has gained notoriety in the United States for protesting at soldier’s funerals. One goal was to reverse the normalization and integration of homosexuals into mainstream society. Yes, it’s quite the grandiose goal, and inversely proportional to that grandiosity was the effectiveness of the means they chose to achieve that objective. It’s difficult to say what kind of a protest would have been more effective for the Westboro Baptist Church, hinting that all goals and protests are constrained by various realities.

An example of a protest that had potentially excellent means, but lacked a meaningful objective to work commensurate with those means, was Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. It even had intellectual heavyweights behind it, like Joseph Stiglitz, and Frances Fox Piven. The left will jump up and down in anger at this, but the lack of specific goals directly tied to specific methods doomed them. As time wore on, there were numerous attempts to rationalize the lack of goals, or even declaim their necessity entirely. Even now, some who read this will attribute the failure of Occupy to the eventual police demolition of the encampments. There is considerable irony in the Newsbusters advertisement that inspired the protests, with the headline, “What is our one demand?”

wall-street-1

The reality is that with the number of occupy protesters willing to employ civil disobedience, a great deal that was possible may have been squandered. Having general open-ended goals, like reducing the influence of banks on politics is perfectly acceptable, but they have to be part of a larger and more resilient campaign. Once people are in the streets and performing civil disobedience, having a specific target to direct this civil disobedience at is extremely important. A march of 4,000 people peacefully pushing their way into the New York Stock exchange, or even attempting to do so, would have lead to trading losses and had an economic impact. A further promise to continue such action unless the banking industry voluntarily stopped lobbying against reforms, or if specific reforms were passed, would have likely had more of an impact. The caveat here is that determining what could have been is fraught with considerations that are difficult to determine. Speculative history is a dubious enterprise.

This isn’t to say that Occupy had no success. Indeed the limited success of Occupy Wall Street was to ultimately focus the eye of the media onto a number of salient political issues. It also served as the genesis of a broader campaign. This is not nothing, but if you asked the protesters if that was a fully satisfying end-result, it is doubtful they would agree. The Occupy protests were dominated by an air of transcendence, hope, and real sense of autonomy and power. This is evidenced in the remarks made specifically about why goals (demands) were unnecessary by Judith Butler,

People have asked, so what are the demands? What are the demands all of these people are making? Either they say there are no demands and that leaves your critics confused, or they say that the demands for social equality and economic justice are impossible demands. And the impossible demands, they say, are just not practical. If hope is an impossible demand, then we demand the impossible — that the right to shelter, food and employment are impossible demands, then we demand the impossible. If it is impossible to demand that those who profit from the recession redistribute their wealth and cease their greed, then yes, we demand the impossible.

Herein lies an inherent danger in protests that must be resisted with discipline. Not unlike soldiers on the battlefield, protesters feel an exhilaration, and this exhilaration is intoxicating. Militaries compensate for this expected effect with discipline and command structures. Protests and non-violent resistance usually (though not necessarily) eschew these structures, and must compensate by constantly reiterating goals and transmitting them through the participants.

This isn’t to say that such protests as rallies and marches to raise awareness are useless. If anything such marches and rallies always tend to receive some coverage from at least local press. Awareness itself can certainly be a worthy goal, unless the matter you wish to increase awareness of is cancer. Cancer needs research funding, not “awareness.” Solidarity marches are also useful when they embolden protesters that aren’t necessarily within close geographic proximity, and can be useful fundraisers. In fact, conducting solidarity marches without a collection box somewhere is tantamount to protest malpractice. In solidarity marches, in addition to resources like money, always send notes of support and if possible a physical ambassador. Solidarity rallies and marches can serve to boost morale, and this end should be kept in mind in addition to keeping the issue alive in the media.

However, many protests seem uncertain of their goals, or alternatively form spontaneously from mass anger and fizzle when goals do not materialize. People can only sustain anger, outrage, and (if outside) exposure, for a certain period of time, and one of the most effective tactics of people who combat protests is to avoid provocations of outrage and subsequent sympathy that would drive increased participation and energy in the protest. This is much harder to do when protests are out to achieve a specific goal or set of goals that force the hand of the authorities. Alternatively, protest should accomplish its goals before the energy of the participants flags. As for what constitutes a good goal and good means, this will be developed further in subsequent posts.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where Do We Go From Here?

This is always the first question I ask after people identify a problem. The 2016 election of Donald J. Trump will go down in history for its utterly bizarre and unexpected nature. Honestly, a reality television star? But the strangeness of the moment took many people’s breath away, despite the low-grade anxiety subtly acknowledging that a Trump win was possible. Then came the laments and protestations. “We just elected a racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobe that threatened to torture the families of terrorists! Woe is us.”

And indeed, woe is us, but no amount of lamenting, protesting, hair-pulling, and despair will change anything. The question becomes, where do we go from here? The answer that I’ve developed over some thought and time is one that is almost designed to infuriate and disgust just about ever sector of the left. The reason is that it is predicated on a number of unpleasant truths and the American left collectively needs to understand the difference between “is” and “ought to be.”

Some will read this as being overly optimistic, or otherwise blind to how terrible Trump will be. Actually, I’m making the argument that we can do things that will force him to be less terrible, limit his time in power, and that these things are worth doing. If this poisons your pessimism with hope, then so be it.

Truth Number One: Trump Will Be the Next President of the United States. We must respond to that Reality.

There is no getting around this. Even if the electoral college disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn’t apply to this election. Faithless electors, while theoretically possible, are exceedingly unlikely to materialize. Yes, the electoral college is undemocratic and it was designed to be a bulwark against precisely the sort of populist that Trump represents, and yes these are both excellent reasons for electors to cast a vote that throws the election to the Senate (where Republicans would likely vote for Trump anyway). It is still not going to happen.

Further to the left and in academic circles there is talk of delegitimizing Trump. Legitimacy is a big topic in political science, but boiling it down to brass tacks: The right of a person to rule isn’t a given, it has to be substantiated by might or right. In the United States, we substantiate the right of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Surpreme Court, and the President to rule over us both by voting and popular assent (including the not breaking of laws thing you find yourself doing on a daily basis).

The idea behind delegitimation is that by using massive strikes (this is where I giggle), civil unrest, and a refusal to engage the government as a rightful law giving force, we can make Trump step down or apply leverage to numerous other institutions that have the power to make Trump step down. Some extend this idea out to a plan to essentially overthrow the government in its entirety.

Remember when I giggled? Americans won’t strike even when it benefits them directly. Call it a cultural disinclination. Again, I’m talking about what is, not what ought to be. We think of strikes as something those filthy Europeans do, and what are we anyways? COMMUNISTS? Talking about instigating a general strike is like talking about getting people to like Rob Schnieder’s movies: It’s not going to happen. Formal institutions on the left have already granted him legitimacy, and it’s hard to see more than a small minority interested in this tactic, much less aware of it. Don’t ever stand too far left of the American people and expect them to follow you. Better people than you have tried and they failed miserably.

Any strategy that takes on Trump, must acknowledge that on January 21st, Americans will largely accept him as the President of the United States. I have not stopped saying that the Friday of his inauguration should be met with both street protests and a stay-away from work. The protests should happen no matter what, and the stay-away should be in direct protest of Trump’s most alarming proposal, namely Muslim registration. The stay-away should also call for the firing of Bannon from his transition team/cabinet. Trump has assembled a true basket of very deplorable nominees for various positions, but Bannon is a good figurehead target.

Truth Number Two: One is the Loneliest Number, Two Is Not Much Better: We need a Unified Approach.

People spend a lot of time building consensus. Or rather, waste a lot of time. The consensus view of activism is flawed. Consensus buries or flattens minority opinions. Aggregation of effort is more important than uniformity, but aggregation of effort should also flow in the same direction at the same time. Coordination is still important, as is having shared goals to coordinate on. Because there will be so many things to protest during a Trump presidency, it is important to work with the best ammunition you have over issues with the greatest importance and consensus behind them. Focusing on twenty different smaller issues that few people care about is less important than raising a handful of issues salient to more people. To the best of our ability, people should concentrate their efforts on a few big things at a time, rather than trying to attack every single thing wrong with Trump, no matter how small. This leads to discordant messages and an overall dilution of effort.

The amount of energy devoted to attacking Republican policies should be in direct proportion to the harm they will cause. Deciding which policies deserve the bulk of our effort is relatively easy. We can achieve that uniformity of effort without having some grandiose meeting of The American Left. Everybody’s priority listing will look pretty much the same, give or take. Institutions that serve particular communities will obviously place their interests on top, but then the priorities will flow back into something pretty much in line with everyone else, naturally.

This also means is that we will have to criticize Trump for the things he does rather than what he is. His supporters should be asked to answer to the effects of his policies, rather than his character. This is if you have any interest in conversion, which is a duty that requires skill and patience. If you can tell me a glorious conversion story where a Trump supporter or fence sitter came over to the left because you called them a racist, I’d love to hear it. But the reality is that people don’t respond well to that, and while racism may exist in the peripheries of everyone’s minds, we are not always conscious of it. Accusations of racism hurled at people who wouldn’t vote Democrat if you put a gun to their heads don’t come across as genuine to them. Maybe people should be thoughtful, logical, and knowledgeable at all times. But, they aren’t. Again, “is” versus “ought to be.” Engaging the willing in discussions and dialogues about race is productive, but you shouldn’t waste your time on either the converted or the obstinate with whom you have no common ground.

Truth Number Three: Trump Is Not Hitler, Expect the Unexpected.

Many have talked about fascism and the rise of fascism. I am going to save my more general criticism of how we use the F-word for another time, suffice it to say that I think we use it too often and it is really not that useful. This one is perhaps going to be the most bitter pill I am expecting the left to swallow, but Trump cannot be Hitler, it’s the 21st century and we live in America. I am not arguing exceptionalism, nor am I arguing that we are more civilized in our time than in previous times. I am arguing that the blend of circumstances and history that led to the rise of the Nazis in Germany do not exist in out context, and that whatever evils we see from the Trump administration, they won’t look the same. Human beings are great at finding things that fit a pattern and ignoring everything that doesn’t fit the pattern. Do not fool yourself.

Consider Trump’s most fascistic policy so far: Muslim registration. Already people are pledging to falsely register as Muslim, if a Muslim registry is created. This is because we know the history of the Holocaust. This itself to some extent precludes the repetition of certain events. This pledge by many to engage in civil disobedience also points to the existence of a factor that was not an obstacle to the Nazis in 1930s Germany: Mass participation in resistance. Even if only 15-25% of the population resists, it will represent staggering numbers of people. There are also international and economic institutions that will apply considerable pressure against such action. Disruptions are bad for business. Very few countries, including the United States can afford to ignore consequences to business. We all know who really owns Congress. International trade and finance will be negatively affected overnight. This is completely ignoring extant legal structures and institutions that would also present a barrier to such policies.

Even the most Trump-sympathetic Supreme Court Justice cannot override the majority of votes that will be against such a measure. This isn’t speculation. The Supreme Court does not always divide along partisan ideological lines, and it’s difficult to see how even the conservative justices could justify such a measure even within their own minds. Still, I am reticent to bring up the Supreme Court because the common objection to this line of reasoning is that it’s an argument for exceptionalism. In other words, that I am arguing for faith in the American system of “checks and balances.” So I am going to try and keep my analysis down to other institutional and situational reasons Trump will not succeed at being Hitler. However, I will state that the particulars of American government are not negligible considerations. It is absurd to treat them as such.

Trump is also personally much more sympathetic to the LGBT community than even his colleagues on the right realize. At very least he does not have any intrinsic motivation to show malice unless it benefits him. This is not to say that Trump will not be bad for LGBT rights. Even if his administration only plans on using LGBT rights to scapegoat the Muslim community, the Republican legislature can expect him to rubber stamp every homophobic bill that crosses his desk. Still, Trump is unpredictable, and may move to create an illusion of normality by refusing to disrupt LGBT rights as they currently stand. There is a distinct possibility he will use atrocities committed against the LGBT community abroad to drive a wedge in the left between those who are more susceptible to intolerance towards Muslims, and those who are not.

We already see this to some extent, and I would not be surprised to see it get worse. Mainly because no one is expecting it. Everyone is too busy preparing and looking for Hitler to pay attention to the current conditions of 21st century America. Everyone expects Muslim registration and is gearing up for it, which is precisely why it will fail. My concern is all the the things Trump and the Republican legislature will do that no one is prepared for because they’re locked into a 1930s European paradigm… for basically no reason.

There is no good reason for this because Trump is not the first 21st century or late 20th century leader to threaten a minority in his country. Nor is he the first to scapegoat refugees. The more relevant historical examples come closer to the present: Idi Amin, Berlusconi, Putin, etc. These are the autocrats you are looking for. Please pay attention to the here and the now. Even if you believe Trump is ideologically not far from Hitler, remember that Hitler controlled a relatively small country without nuclear weapons. So even a very Hitler-like Trump will respond to events differently, again because of the specific circumstances and the context of our time and place.

Truth Number Four: All Racism is Local. Combat Phobia and othering in your community directly.

There has been a rise in homophobic, Islamophobic, and racist attacks recently. Often it’s vandalism featuring swastikas and “Heil Trump” but there have been more serious incidents. While the temptation to attack Trump for this is reasonable and he does bear responsibility, it’s a waste of time. Mainly because in the moments that you are choosing to assail Trump on Facebook, you are not working to make people in your community safe. Support efforts to make your community safe for people of color, members of the LGBT community, and any other targets I have forgotten at the moment.

This entails direct action in the form of street patrols. I believe these have two positive effects, they act as physical demonstrations that the area does not support the victimization of vulnerable, and it makes the streets safer for them. I do not advise carrying weapons and looking for fights. A few flashlights and numbers is all you need. Think neighborhood watch. Be sure to inform everyone ahead of time it is boring work, and if you’re successful, not very exciting. Make sure to round on mosques, synagouges, and places strongly associated with the LGBT community like gay bars and LGBT student centers. My concern here is less threats like gunmen and more people leaving a pipe bomb or trap. They’re easy to keep an eye out for.

Other things you can do is take down hateful posters and handbills as they appear. It is usually very legal to remove them from public property, since technically it’s illegal to put so much as a yard sale sign on a lamppost. In universities tearing them down can be a problem depending on specific policies, but not if you don’t get caught doing it. No one will investigate, since usually there are far bigger fish to fry. Ripping down and removing hateful material does two things: It forces the enemy to expend more materiel and resources to less effect, and it demonstrates to the enemy that they are in hostile territory. Make no mistake, I regard these people as the enemies of humanity.

There have been some people who essentially advocate for taking the fight to the racists and using violent action. My concern is reprisals, the burden of which will disproportionately fall on vulnerable communities. Trusting local authorities carries its own problems, and the best course of action is highly context sensitive, but violence is often a less than ideal solution for a variety of reasons. By the time violence is necessary or useful, other efforts have already failed and thing are very, very bad.

This is what I have to get you started. In the coming weeks and months, you will see that I tend to strongly advocate for a combination of electoral efforts, direct action, and the effective use of media. This is a trident approach to killing the snake. There are those who strongly dislike the idea of involving themselves in the state apparatus and electoral politics. I think this is short-sighted. There are those who feel that direct action is counterproductive. They are equally short-sighted.

Finally there are those who feel that “the media” is enthralled to special interests such that time and effort is wasted on it. But, the reality is that “the media” are more concerned with money and this desire can always be manipulated. Even in our time of media monopolization other media (it’s a plural) exist. The Internet not being the least of them, but people still managed to organize and assemble long before the Internet. Media is about making sure your message gets out and appeals to the largest number of people. Without numbers, you have nothing.

Here is the takeaway for people who don’t want to plow through the entirety of this essay:

  • This is really happening.
  • Be smart.
  • Have specific unifying goals.
  • Do not rely on history to repeat itself.
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Defend your local community.
  • Use all proper means you have at your disposal to achieve your objectives.

And above all, remember: You cannot help others if you do not take care of yourself first.