Essay: So We Elected an Autocrat: What To Do Now

occupy-safrica

 

One would have to go back to the Civil War to find as many protests in the wake of the election as there has been for Donald J. Trump. We are all still shocked; our faith in The System to pick the most qualified person for the job, crushed. Therefore, Americans are protesting — are still protesting — en masse.

As I write this I’m in South Africa on vacation. Just to make this painfully obvious: The whole world is clear on what we’ve done. They know Trump is a dictator. There’s no debate. (He’s actually a pretty stereotypical dictator; we’ve just always thought of America as exceptional.) When I speak with those who’ve lived both under apartheid and now under President Jacob Zuma, they know Trump is bad news. He’ll enrich himself, destroy institutions and hurt countless people both physically and financially with glee. Because South Africans (and arguably most Africans) know bad government when they see it, they use one word to describe Trump: Corrupt. It’s always offered with a knowing shrug, like to them it’s the most obvious thing since the sun rising in the east.

OK, so now what do we do?!

In the wake of the election, activist and filmmaker Michael Moore said he wants to be the leader of the #resistance and build a movement that would “dwarf Occupy.”

As a journalist, I covered Occupy for The Atlantic. I went to eight different Occupy Camps in two countries (one was Canada). So I can say without reservations, Mr. Moore, please don’t.

Occupy as a movement was doomed from the beginning. They decided to go with an anarchist model: No leaders; everyone has a vote; everyone has a veto. They were perpetually bogged down in marathon meetings, with no clear path. This tedium wore down well-meaning activists very quickly. It also made it nearly impossible to build a coalition and grow the movement.

Here’s my advice after years of being embedded with activists:

No protest group utilizing the anarchist model has ever been successful. Ever. Disruptive maybe, but no real change. They’ve never won: Not the Clamshell Alliance. Not the Lawrence Livermore Lab protesters. Not the WTO protesters. And definitely not Occupy Wall Street. Were the people sleeping in these makeshift camps bad or somehow incompetent? No. As Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, said at the time, they had the facts on their side. They were sincere, outraged and had reason to be.

Five years ago, they had the nation’s attention and its good will — yet not the organization to utilize it.

Structurally Occupy was unsound. They claimed everyone was a “leader” so there was never a plan. If you recall, there was no ask. Eventually some came up with demands but it was largely disputed by other “leaders.” I watched Occupy go from an explosive visceral street protest of disaffected youth commanding worldwide admiration and hope, quickly devolve into a toothless Twitter account.

Don’t model anything after Occupy. The sentiment? Fine. The structure? Absolutely not.

I wouldn’t even call the opposition “the resistance.” It has too many historical connotations and only some of them good. I’d call it Lincoln’s Army. Trump IS NOT a patriot and he’s never sacrificed anything. Reclaiming Lincoln would be a sharp rebuke of Trump since he gave a speech at Gettysburg attempting to capture that symbolism. Lincoln came from nothing and saved the Republic: Literally, the opposite of Trump. Someone on my Twitter feed had the idea of burning not the American flag but the Confederate flag in protest. That’s a powerful visual and it sends a very clear message.

During the Civil War Southern sympathizers were called Copperheads. A little funny considering that creepy creamsicle comb-over Trump has made infamous. What takes down that venomous snake? An eagle. (Also hawks, honey badgers or mongooses.) Call it Lincoln’s Eagles, the LE, for short.

Really want to get under Trump’s liver-spotted thin skin? Call the movement The Popular Vote, its members The Popular Voters. At the time of this writing Hillary is leading in the popular vote by 2.5 million. Just to put that into perspective there are 14 states with fewer than 2.5 million residents. It’s a lot and that pisses him off. He demands constant adulation and he’s impulsive. It’s a weakness easily exploited. He got so worked up by this fact last week, he claimed there was widespread voter fraud in an election he won. It also takes back “populism” which has been used incorrectly as a euphemism for “white supremacy” in the media.

Or don’t. Just don’t use resistance when you mean rejection. Trump’s opposition should be, can easily be and must be mainstream. Make it wide and inviting: That all starts with proper branding.

There are tons of protest movements that have won. Everyone who’s terrified of these democratically elected white nationalists being in charge of the largest military in the history of humanity, should get to know the late-90’s Serbian group, Otpor (Serbian for Resistance). When I was at Occupy LA, interviewing an activist, an Otpor handbook fell out of her backpack. For a moment, I thought Occupy was going to be successful because they had a strategy and a blueprint they just weren’t telling us about it yet. I was wrong. Otpor, through non-violent struggle ousted the tyrant Slobodan Milošević, who died in jail while on trial in The Hague for war crimes. They know how to take down monsters. They wrote a handbook. Read it.

We’ve also had incredibly successful social movements in this country. The first one that comes to mind is the Civil Rights Movement. Civil Rights icon John Lewis will still be serving in Congress in Trump’s America. Lewis survived the last time America was “great” and has since made it fairer for all peoples. He’s written what are essentially guidebooks on non-violent struggle. Read them.

The Equal Rights Movement had huge wins for gay marriage, open military service for LGBT Americans and greater legal protections. They’ve won countless battles. How’d they do that? I could write up a report of all the elements that they had and how they won. But you can ask the leaders — many are still with us. Talk to them. Listen to them.

When I was with the Occupy protesters I’d always hear, “We don’t care what anyone thinks of us!” To which I’d say, “Yes, you do!” Remember always that unless people are actively shooting at each other — everything is a PR war. Yes, even to anti-corporatists, it’s still all about marketing. Optics matter. Tactics matter. Winning matters. Period.

The day after Trump’s gob smacking victory, on Twitter he dismissed the protesters as professionals. As if anyone had time to organize anything. We all planned to be sleeping it off on Wednesday, not sitting shiva for pluralism.

Professional is a term Trump got from Breitbart, his professional propagandists. The fringe right funds their criminal “activists” like James O’Keefe quite handsomely. Think of the “professional” slight like a prostitute calling you an idiot for sleeping around; he just can’t imagine why anyone would want to do anything for free. It’s truly sad and speaks to his twisted worldview: everyone can be bought. Only liberals care about being called professional. Trump’s goons are professional. The guy who came up with that dig was a professional.

So now that he mentions it: Professionals are a great idea! Strategists. Activists. Organizers. Citizens. We are going to need smart people who can counter an erratic hateful ignoramus who’s surrounded himself with giddy arsonists. Americans have never seen this in their own country. This is a man who kept Hitler’s speeches in his bedside table. Whoever says they know what Trump will do, is wishful. Whoever tells you it’s going to be fine, is wrong. Whoever tells you it’s going to be bad, doesn’t know how bad.

So whatever it ends up being called: The Rejection, The Popular Voters or Lincoln’s Honey Badgers; the hope of keeping our Republic intact, has to involve Republicans. In fact, it must involve Republicans. Winning means involving the Never Trumpers: honorable conservatives who took a principled stance against Trump (and will be punished for it), people of good conscience regardless of what side of the aisle they were on before. Which means we ALL have to get over our anger at each other for being shellacked. Trump knows how to divide people. His 140-character mockery/praise is his favorite trick now. It’ll only get more concentrated after he’s sworn in.

Hillary didn’t lose because people voted for Trump. The data tells us Trump won because people didn’t vote for Hillary or Trump. In Michigan, Trump won by 10,704 votes. 250.902 didn’t vote for either the Republicans or the Democrats. So people who voted for Jill Stein, (after we all said that was a vote for Trump) are now upset and surprised Trump will be president. And the conservatives who said they couldn’t vote for Trump but also could never vote for Hillary, are now upset and surprised Trump will be president. We can’t look backwards anymore. Score keeping won’t help the upcoming battles when a racist autocrat is in the White House. We have to forgive past mistakes, no matter how egregious. It doesn’t matter anymore. We have to wipe the slate clean and prepare for this very real existential threat.

Remember: History tells us a peaceful transfer of power does NOT start with a promise of rounding undesirables up. Ever.

Most Americans didn’t vote for Trump. We need all of them. We need fair-minded Republicans. We need Establishment Democrats. We need those who’ve pledged to defend the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. We need activists and community leaders. Trump wants to build walls and tear families apart. We have to build bridges. Mend fences. We, The People, cannot be divided. This means working with people with whom we disagree — even those who vowed to obstruct Obama — even those who enthusiastically bought into right-wing propaganda about Hillary — even those who still lament that Bernie lost — religious leaders — educators — we need them. This is a new world. We’ll never have Monday, November 7th back. People of conscience will have to have their long game in mind or we’ll lose every battle to a septuagenarian with a man crush on Russia’s autocrat Vladimir Putin because Putin once said something nice about him.

Liberals and the Left have long suffered from what I’ve called “micro-cause-ism.” If you go to an anti-war rally, for example, there are booths about saving the whales and GMOs and bubble cities and so on. No one can afford to be divided by too many objectives anymore. One ask: the full rejection of Donald Trump and everything he stands for is enough of a lift without fracturing it into advocacy wish lists. Trump has said there’s no one he looks up to. If you think he asks god for help, grow up. He has no one he looks up to. Which means no one is safe. He’s already corrupt; he’ll seek absolute power. Anyone who tells you differently is whistling past the graveyard.

Remember always: He’s a formulaic dictator. There are formulas for getting rid of those.

It’ll take coordination, unity, and shared goals. Time to stop crying. The world has changed. We have to bring in all the “others” because if you’re a decent, sensitive, patriotic American who believes in equal protection, fairness and putting sexual predators in jail, you’re now the other to this administration.

Why does Trump hate Rosie O’Donnell? She had the audacity to call him a snake oil salesman ten years ago. He’s dedicated the last decade to publicly calling her a fat pig. He’s (admittedly) sexually assaulted women; then essentially said they were too ugly to rape and threatened to sue them for defamation. Think about that. This vindictive spoiled man-child will have the full power of the Justice Department and the surveillance state. Sycophants love power and Trump has it. Disgraced former Speaker Newt Gingrich, current Trump proctologist, has already floated a new House Un-American Activities committee. Decency?

Well, since you asked, no.

None.

If your jam is White Nationalist sentiment, blistering conspiratorial hyperbole and just a hardy love for hating all the right people, good for you. Trump’s your guy! You’ll be fine as long as Trump doesn’t start a nuclear war or collapse the economy.

But if you’re like me and you hold to this radical notion that Nazi’s are the personification of evil, that a free country is never an autocracy, and We The People still have a say in how we’re governed — then we all have work to do.

Trump is playing for keeps. This is not a drill. We need courage. We need leaders. We need a plan. We need you. And we need each other.

@TinaDupuy