We’re already one twelfth of the way through Trump’s first term, and what a memorable four months it’s been! The assaults on our rights, dignity, sanity and basic survival have been unrelenting, and while left-leaning Americans have been passionate in our desire to resist, we can’t do it alone. We need an authoritative voice—a trustworthy leader to rally around, and to keep the fires of dissent burning. Over and over, the Times has promised to be that voice. In a series of ads, the paper of record positioned itself as a lone defender of truth, an entity which is “hard,” yet “more important now than ever.” And their editorial board has called on Americans to fight “a reckless, unqualified leader” through “activism.”
But what exactly does that involve? How would the Paper of Record have us manifest our outrage and passion for justice? Below, some suggestions culled from its pages.
Stop Watching The Bachelor
This one’s a no-brainer. In “Breaking Up With the Bachelor,” essayist Jennifer Weiner explains that she used to “obsessively” livetweet the show, but is now racked with guilt. She can’t help but wonder “whether any part of [Trump’s] vindictive, chaotic and xenophobic presidency might, in some small way, be my fault.” Of course, “‘The Bachelor’ wasn’t even the reality show that our president was on…. But… ‘The Bachelor’ did the Republicans’ work for them, helping to prime America for its current leader.” The show was “flagrantly problematic,” with its “studs and sluts”; even worse, “Grammar was shredded (I still cringe at the memory of every “hers and my’s relationship.” And it set a bad precedent; by being an entertaining show, it told us “that we could treat an election like a show; that everything on TV is entertainment.”
All this vulgarity coarsened our souls. “Mr. Trump’s bombshells might have landed harder without reality TV inuring us to all that lady-hate.” Not actually “us,” of course, since the author didn’t vote for or support Trump; she pulled the right lever, believing that “a Hillary Clinton presidency would be historic.” But suggestible people with less highly developed critical faculties could have been led astray. If we want to prevent the next Trump, we members of the thinkpiece aristocracy must set an example for the common folk by limiting ourselves to the salubrious moral ambiguities of prestige TV.
State the Facts
Politics isn’t just about calling out problematic representations and grammatically nonstandard colloquialisms like a pedantic gender studies teacher. We live in the real world, and facts are the currency of truth’s reality. The prevaricator-in-chief doesn’t seen to understand that, which is why we need a newspaper to “convert Trumpian myth into concrete fact.” In one fact-check column, the editorial board took umbrage at the newly sworn-in leader for bashing America in his inaugural address. Trump “offered a fantastical version of America losing its promise, military dominance and middle-class wealth.”
This picture is not just outlandish but dated. “Mr. Trump sounded like a politician from the 1980s in promising to ‘get our people off welfare and back to work,’ [when] the number of people receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits fell by more than 70 percent, to 1.2 million, between 1996 and 2016.” See? Things have never been better! “Equally misleading was his characterization that Washington has ‘[allowed] for the very sad depletion of our military.’ The United States leads the world in military spending, allocating more than the next seven nations combined, including China and Russia.” Sorry, Mr. Trump, you son of a bitch, but facts don’t lie: America already is the morally bankrupt hellscape you hope to turn it into!
Because truth is nonpartisan, it’s also important to fact-check our own side. For instance, there’s this whopper from Nancy Pelosi: “[Under Obamacare] up to 17 million children who have pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurers.” As Timesian stats mavens pointed out, “This is misleading… the 17 million figure is the upper limit of the department’s estimates. The report’s lower figure, four million, is a fraction of that.” We might as well face it: Politics is a dirty game. Everyone misleads, whether by claiming to be friends with Napoleon and to have invented cheddar cheese, or by deviously using “up to” to describe a figure that’s at the upper limit of what the accurate number could be. By cherishing facts, we’ll chart a course in between these two terrifying extremes.
Get Hillary Clinton to Come Help Us
Even in our world of pitiless facts, there is a place for idealism. We can imagine a juster, saner, more beautiful world: A world where Hillary Clinton is still in politics.
Some comforted themselves with the vision of Hillary eating gelato in the Oval Office and inflicting gendered humiliations on Bill, but there’s no need for fantasy. In “Rumors of Hillary Clinton’s Comeback,” Frank Bruni says he totally heard that she was going to run for mayor of New York. “Imagine the fun”:
“His hometown is her fief. She’s the boss of him whenever he’s in the Big Apple, and he’s in the Big Apple a whole lot.” Is the mayor of a city really the president’s boss any time the president is within city limits? That would mean that Marion Barry was Ronald Reagan’s boss for most of their respective administrations—a scenario 10,000 times more entertaining than what Bruni has conjured up here.
“She’d risk coming off as a has-been hankering for any old place at the table…. Run, Hillary, run.” I’m sold!
The powers of a pretend mayor are limited, so we can’t expect Hillary to do everything for us. We need to take action as citizens, to make our voices heard, to band together and demand a change, by stopping protesting so much. David Brooks told us this way back at the start of the protesting craze. People joined the Women’s March because they thought it could be an effective opposition to Donald Trump, but there’s one thing they failed to consider: “These marches can never be an effective opposition to Donald Trump.”
Those ladies meant well, but they didn’t know what they were doing. “This movement focuses on the wrong issues…. Marchers…were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear.” That was their first mistake, according to known marching tactics expert David Brooks: Never march in a framework in which the central issues are clear. Even worse was the choice of central issues: “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.” These “tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities.” Needing to get paid so you can buy food, having a body that’s susceptible to injury and illness, being biologically capable of reproduction, living in a climate—those are niche issues. The marchers might as well have organized around improving the traffic flow in the parking lot of the Silver Lake Whole Foods or making Per Se do a FODMAP-free tasting menu. Some blessèd souls can afford to fritter away their time on stuff like that, but this is 2017. “Ethnic populism is rising around the world,” and that means we gotta get more abstract.
“The crucial problems today concern… the way migration is redefining nation-states.” Note that he’s using “migration” because “immigration” has a tacky connotation due to all the rednecks complaining about it. If MAGA guys started yelling about “the damn migrants,” Brooks would have to say something even more abstract, like “the way expatriation is permuting our territorial enclave.”
“The march didn’t come close. Hint: The musical ‘Hamilton’ is a lot closer.” Is he allowed to just hint? Brooks wants us to think there’s some secret message in the musical Hamilton that you can only figure out by underlining the first letters of every 1,776th line or syncing it up to the Gettysburg address or something, but he really just wishes people would watch Hamilton instead of marching.
If you want to resist, you have to know your enemy, and there’s one thing that defines the Trump presidency. No, not “the same sadistic program of redistributing wealth upward that has defined right-wing politics for the past 30 years.” I’m referring, of course, to incivility. Everyone agrees that it’s a problem. Tom Friedman points out that after the election, many were keen to give Trump a chance, but hopes were dashed by his uncouth tweeting: “It suggests an immaturity, a lack of respect for the office.” When Nelson Mandela was elected president, he knew he had to “[make] whites feel at home in a black-led South Africa” and “surprise them with restraint and generosity,” but despite the many parallels between the two men’s situations, it’s starting to look like Trump won’t follow Mandela’s example.
Perhaps the opposition needs to lead the way. No one was more wedded to this strategy than Frank Bruni. “You know how Donald Trump wins?” Where’s he going with this? “I don’t mean a second term or major legislative victories. I’m talking about the battle between incivility and dignity.” To be fair, Frank Bruni has no idea how anyone wins legislative victories, so even if he tried to write a column about that, it’d end up being about incivility and dignity anyway. “He triumphs when opponents trade righteous anger for crude tantrums… [We should] answer invective with intelligence. And [show] that there are two very different sets of values here, manifest in two very distinct modes of discourse.” Understanding the battle between incivility and dignity is easier than understanding other kinds of battles, because you win by being civil and dignified. It’s like if all the Allies had to do to win World War II was remember to continue being Allies and not join the Axis powers by mistake.
Anyway, one case in point was a controversial joke someone tweeted about Barron Trump. “That tweet ignited a firestorm — and rightly so — but it didn’t really surprise me.” Yeah, me neither… I also predicted someone would write a tweet that would ignite a firestorm. In fact, I predict it will happen again, and soon… perhaps in the next few months, but certainly by Arbor Day. That’s just the sad reality of our culture these days.
“Look elsewhere on Twitter. Or on Facebook. Or at Madonna.” No matter where or at whom you look, incivility is damaging our social fabric. In “Culture of Nastiness,” Teddy Wayne laments a society “in which meanness is routinely rewarded, and common decency and civility are brushed aside.” A problem so widespread must have deep roots. “Andrew Reiner, an English professor at Towson University who teaches a seminar called ‘Mister Rogers 101: Why Civility and Community Still Matter,’ attributes much of the decline in civility to… living in relative sequestration.” I’ve always said sequestration was to blame for our ills… that and uh, divarication. Flosculation may also be playing a minor role.
Reiner blames the sequestration on phones and apps; “for an assignment, he asks his students to experiment with old-fashioned civility by committing random acts of kindness and eating with strangers.” I don’t think this guy realizes he’s teaching an easy A class. For his next column, Wayne should write about how the Phys Ed 101 teacher is fomenting a culture of accountability by giving everyone 10% course credit for signing a copy of the syllabus.
There are many canaries in the coal mine of our national malaise. “In [reality TV shows], cooperation and kindness are readily abandoned for back-stabbing and character assassination…. Likewise, union membership has drastically shrunk… over the last four decades…. Why sacrifice for another person when there can be just one top chef or model or singer[?]” It does seem clear that some segment of society has gotten more rapacious and amoral over the last four decades. I’m going to assume it was pipefitters and welders until evidence emerges to the contrary.
There is one group of people trying to stem the flow of nastiness: The students at all-male private college Hampton-Sidney. In “Seersucker and Civility,” the presidents of the school’s College Republicans and Young Democrats tout “the habit of exchanging polite greetings regardless of whether one was ‘with her’ or wearing a Make America Great Again cap.”
“In debates, we recognize one another’s differing opinions. We don’t resort to calling one another America-hating liberals or racist Republicans.” A lot of trouble could be avoided if people would just remind themselves, before they engage, that their interlocutor couldn’t possible be racist because things like that don’t happen here anymore, and anyone who thinks otherwise is the real racist.
“There has to be something to embracing civility and interpersonal decency as ground rules for more productive discourse.” Of course, “We go to a men’s college [editor’s note: It’s also 85% white], so not surprisingly, the demographic tends to be a little homogeneous. Maybe we can more easily afford to believe that one’s political impulses and passions are less important than the ability to shake the hand of someone who disagrees with you.”
Yes… maybe. Then again, even the most passionate of pragmatic centrist liberals are trying out the technique. In a recent column, David Leonhardt “urge[s] both Betsy DeVos… and her critics to consider evidence that runs counter to their pre-existing beliefs.” Both sides are too extreme, but even if you don’t think of yourself as an extremist, some of your beliefs may be fatally tainted with ideology. That is why you must constantly reexamine them to make sure they’re in the exact center of the positions being proffered in the political mainstream.
“Working on the column led me to ask which of my own pre-existing beliefs I am willing to question.” The result of this one-man struggle session was that “I started to wonder whether my views on immigration are too liberal…. I have… come to appreciate some of the conservative arguments in favor of reduced immigration among less-skilled workers.” If Republicans start emulating this open-mindedness, we’ll soon live in a paradise of evidence-based policy solutions. Of course, there’s always the risk that Republicans won’t do that, and instead they’ll keep pushing a hardline conservative agenda as liberals continue to compromise, thus moving the country inexorably to the right. But what would politics be without risk?
Support Anti-Trump Republicans
Some Republicans are nice like us instead of rude like Trump, probably. If Democrats make the first move in showing respect, they’ll reciprocate. Democrats already did make the first move by adopting a bunch of their ideas (see above), and it didn’t work, which means they need to make an additional, second move. Such was the rationale for the hiring of Bret Stephens, a former Wall Street Journal columnist who has drawn criticism for his climate change denialism and racist comments. Stephens is the third right-wing columnist on Times‘s op-ed roster and immediately got to work riling up the libs, arguing in his debut article that no one can tell if climate change is good or bad because it’s in the future, and since the future turns into the present as soon as it arrives, knowledge of climate change is a logical impossibility. (I forget what the article actually said but it was kind of like this except dumber.)
You might assume hiring Stephens was a foolish move for the Times. Why bring on yet another right-winger when the coveted youth demographic is even less conservative than ever? Couldn’t the paper have focused on popular ideas that aren’t yet represented at all on its pages? That line of questioning shows your lack of respect for ideological diversity. Civil discourse isn’t supposed to be about coddling yourself with stuff you like. As the public editor pointed out, the paper was “forc[ing] many readers to consider views different from their own,” and “at this particular moment in history, that doesn’t always go down easy.” Bret Stephens’ beliefs aren’t like a fine Scotch; they’re more like a slug of rotgut whiskey that you choke down because your older brother’s friend told you it would put hair on your chest. Anyway, hiring someone whom the Times‘ desired demographic might like would foster intellectual homogeneity.* ** The fewer people like a given view, the more inherently diverse it is, which is why anti-Trump conservatism is perfect—it has almost no organic popular support at all!
*Using knowledge and creativity to think up new ideas is cheating because the reader might end up agreeing with them, thus creating more homogeneity. It only counts if it’s a preexising idea you already know you don’t like.
**Fringe-y ideas like “gold-fringed flags cause Morgellens” or “chemtrails are from Bigfoot vaping inside the hollow Earth” also don’t count because they’re outside the main arena of civic life. Only normal ideas get to be part of intellectual diversity.
Unfortunately, readers’ disdain for the Spartan and punishing nature of intellectual life resulted in “a day of reckoning” and “a fiery revolt among readers and left-leaning critics. They rummaged through [Stephens’] columns for proof that he is a climate change denier, a bigot or maybe a misogynist.” These lefties treated Stephens’ bylined work like a juvenile delinquent treats his grandmother’s medicine cabinet. They were looking for anything that fit their preconceptions, and the fact that they found it doesn’t make them right.
“It’s hard to tease apart objections to Stephens’s work from objections to hiring any conservative at all.” It’s starting to seem like people who object to racism and sexism just don’t like conservatives. When someone says “I hate bigotry,” you can pretty much tell who they’re talking about from their tone of voice and also your pre-existing knowledge of who the most bigoted people are. Liberals ask the Times to hire a conservative (I mean, they didn’t, but they should have), and then refuse to understand that every conservative writer who was available has written a bunch of racist stuff. In any case, these objections can’t be teased apart—they’re like two pieces of string that have gotten so tangled that they’re fused together at the sub-molecular level and trying to pull them apart would cause a nuclear reaction. Might as well just chuck them in the junk drawer.
“After reading many of his past columns I, too, am wary about some of his more inflammatory language on climate change, Muslims, even campus rape. Are we to consider his more intemperate phrases ‘rhetorical flourishes,’ or does he really mean them?” For normal humans, a rhetorical flourish is something you put extra effort and thought into because you wanted to emphasize an important point, but it’s been so long since any Times editor has seen careful writing, they think a flourish is just what happens when you get bored and lose your train of thought in the middle of explaining how means-testing the sidewalk will bring dynamism to ambulatory locomotion. Thomas Friedman could be like “Trump needs to tell voters where the beef is of his policies, instead of showing how the sausage is made,” and these guys would call it a bravura display of Flaubertian naturalism.
Just Support Trump Himself
Looking at all the ideas that are floating around for resisting Trump, it seems pretty tiring… doing actions, thinking thoughts, leaving the house… what if instead, we just convinced ourselves we kind of like Trump? Okay, hear me out. I mean, I know we said we’d resist him with the force of a thousand suns, but having only negative opinions about a person for four months in a row isn’t very nonpartisan or civil. Resisting things we don’t like is like something Trump would do—by disliking him at all, we’re playing into his hands! The most authentic way to resist Trump would be to accept and praise Trump.
Anyway, asks Michael Kinsley in the new column “Say Something Nice About Trump,” “Does he never do anything right? Say anything wise? Are all his schemes to reform this agency and abolish that regulation utterly misguided?” The media are mostly united in disdain, “But the venom, the obsession, the knife-twisting are hard to understand…. even Donald Trump can’t be wrong all the time.”
The Times is converting this insight into a weekly column, and like all great publications, they need free user-submitted content. After floating an initial idea for a nice thing about Trump, Kinsley pleaded, “Can you think of another? Please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be revisiting this theme regularly in Sunday Review.” The request for submissions would be repeated at least four times by the @nytopinion Twitter account.
And Kinsley would return to the same theme the following week. “Is it true that Mr. Trump has no redeeming qualities[?] Can it be that he lacks the moral character to hold a job once held by Nixon and the wisdom to hold a job once held by George W. Bush?” Only the readers can say. “So far, the results have been copious but unencouraging. ” Hurry up and submit your ideas… you’ll get free exposure, and the sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can stop resisting!