United We Stand
By Teddy Waszazak (Salem State Undergraduate)
As we move through the final days of the Obama Presidency and into a once unthinkable Trump administration, many feel anxious, desperate, and, most dangerously of all, hopeless. In June of 2015 and through much of 2016, pundits and pollsters alike dismissed Trump’s campaign as over before it even began. The first presidential candidate to use the word “rapists” in a kickoff speech, and immediately alienating the Hispanic demographic, things didn’t look good for Trump.
A short year and a half later, things don’t look good for America; our political discourse has bordered on violence, the incoming President is starting his term with a 37% approval rating (according to a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University), and millions stand to lose their health insurance overnight – with no clear replacement. The hope and belief in change, that feeling that better days are ahead, the feeling which drove President Obama into the White House on a wave of grassroots euphoria, is disappearing. As Trump and his cronies ready themselves for what in any other country would be considered a hostile takeover, 65,844,954 Americans feel left behind. Tens-of-Millions feel that under a President Trump, we simply cannot be the progressives that our country needs. But, as a freshman Senator from Illinois told us almost a decade ago, “Yes, We Can.” The time to act is now.
The fight for the soul of our nation began on January 15th in Boston, where the American Revolution was catalyzed two and a half centuries ago. A new wave of political revolutionaries geared up to save the Affordable Care Act. Headed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, this rally sparks a week of action all over the country. With hundreds of people flooding the square outside Faneuil Hall (myself included), we set the stage for 4 years of resistance and determination. Dozens of cities, occupied by hundreds-of-thousands of progressives will ensure that Trump inherits a nation under protest. This is the type of grassroots power which President Obama first came to comprehend working as a community organizer in Chicago. This is the political genius of Barack Obama that progressives must be conscious of and Bernie Sanders has preached for the past year and half: Change never occurs from the top down, but from the bottom-up.
To give due credit to the Trump team, they all put in massive amounts of energy, organization, brainpower and work to get Donald Trump elected to the Presidency. That being the case, it is only fair that progressives should work just as hard to protect our country from the danger he poses. We have to focus our efforts not on his hateful rhetoric or his relentless tweeting, but on the very real threat he poses to the American system. While it is easy to disdain a system that allows dark political money and ludicrous gerrymandering, it is important to remember that proper organization can make profound differences in how the system operates. That is, the effectiveness of the grassroots is directly correlated to its focus on a specific goal.
In his farewell address, President Obama outlined the 4 major threats to American Democracy: The growing divide between citizens based on a spectrum of economic and social factors, living in the dream of a “post-racial America”, a disregard for basic facts, and taking our political system for granted. The candidacy and subsequent election of Donald Trump is symbolic in a distinct way to each of the flaws Obama highlighted. Between Inauguration Day and the beginnings of the 2020 race, it is the job of every ‘Berner’, of everyone who was ‘Ready for Hillary’ to stand as a united front to protect our political system from these threats.
Trump divided the nation from the beginning, trumpeting a Nixonian law-and-order message that at once criminalized huge portions of society, from those living in the inner cities to undocumented immigrants and their families. Trump created a mandate based on decisive politics, and as gut wrenching as it may at times be, progressives can never allow themselves to fall into the obstructionist path Republicans hurled at Obama for 8 years, a path that would lead Trump to large victories in the midterms and 2020 elections. We must follow Congressman John Lewis’ example and make “good trouble” for an “illegitimate President”. Progressive citizens and members of Congress must ensure that our protests are responsible, and not to allow to weight of Trump to sink our ship of State.
The 2nd fatal danger to our system lies in misguided belief that we are living in a post-racial America, where racism is a dirty word of the past and discrimination died with the election of our first black President. While we haven’t descended into race riots like the ‘90’s, the Ferguson and Baltimore riots contained an anger not felt since the Civil Rights Movement. With a criminal justice system in crisis, and law enforcement credibility in tatters, it seems collective America didn’t learn as much as they needed to in the 1960’s. America has some very real problems when it comes to race - both systemically and socially – but I highly doubt a man who has made a career on discrimination, and spearheaded the “Birther” movement is going to heal race relations in a Post-Obama America. *
Third, while many of Donald Trump’s flaws are deeply concerning, none are as dangerous as his blatant disregard for facts. John Adams once quipped that “facts are stubborn things, and no matter our wishes or inclinations… we cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”; Trump seems to have missed that history lesson. Respect for truth is what makes compromise, and therefore a two-party system, operational. Without being able to distinguish what is fact and what is opinion, it becomes impossible for two opposing viewpoints to come to any consensus. Across all nations, and branches of science for example, it is a known fact that climate change is a horrendous danger that can be reversed with strong actions from our leaders. Per Donald Trump, it is a hoax invented by the Chinese government in order to exert pressure on the global economy. No - seriously. Without facts, proper political discourse is impossible.
The final and terminal disease that is facing our system is that of political apathy; a complete disbelief in the living power of the grassroots to effect the way our government works. Community organization and community action is to politics what the unions are to labor – a tool to give the people en masse a voice to be heard by the figures of authority. Bringing together people of a like mind to focus their energies can have profound effects, in our own neighborhoods and in Washington D.C. The proof is in the history books: Grassroots activism has achieved suffrage for women, civil rights for African-Americans, human rights for members of the LGBTQ community, and has ended wars. It has shifted national focus onto issues such as income inequality and the plight of blacks in the post Jim Crow America. It has launched the careers of Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, and it ended the Presidency of Richard Nixon. Grassroots activism has changed the world countless times in the last century. We must now work to ensure the abolition of the Electoral College, and ensure a mistake like Trump is never made again.
The revolution continues, and we will fight every day for the next 4 years, and for the rest of our lives.
(*Huffington Post; both Mr. Trump’s Casinos and real estate companies have been fined by New Jersey and New York respectively for discriminatory practices towards African-Americans)