By Dr. Joseph Chuman, leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County
With the presidential election decided, I feel like I am in a science-fiction movie having just landed on a desolate, dark planet and bad things are going to happen. But I don’t know what they are. As a result, I am anxious, as are many people, and as we should be. This campaign and its results have been a surreal ride, and it is not totally possible to believe that it has happened. It has been an election cycle worthy of a failed nation that has never gotten a grip on democracy, not of the United States we have known.
I have given four platform addresses on Donald Trump and the Trump phenomenon. I will not repeat one more time the string of adjectives to describe this vile man. The payoff is that he is grossly unqualified to be the president of the United States.
We do not yet know with precision in which direction our government will move, but wherever it goes, we are in for very dangerous times. Many progressives may have fretted over Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. But it is different this time. Categorically different. We are in a totally new and strange landscape. The dust has not yet settled on the formation of a Trump administration. But what is apparent so far is that he is bringing around him a band of extremists and incompetents.
Innumerable authoritarian regimes
Given what we are forced to encounter, despair is understandable, especially for those who have worked so hard, in many cases for lifetimes, to construct an America that is fair, just and enlightened. One senses that it can all be wiped away with the stroke of a pen, followed by a government dedicated to repression of our fundamental freedoms in which we are exploited to serve the rich and mighty. We need not turn to Nazi Germany as the example. The world has produced innumerable authoritarian regimes, with the rich at the top and the huge masses living in poverty or on its brink, their rebellion held in check by police and military that exist to do the bidding of the aristocratic classes.
Given this bleak and menacing landscape, a necessary question is: Where can we look for hope? There are two types of hope. The first is what we might call “the hope of the hopeless.” It emerges when we conclude we simply need to hope because we cannot afford not to; when despair becomes luxury we cannot afford.
The second type of hope is what I call “empirically based hope.” That is the hope grounded in material, concrete realities. We can grab onto those realities and use them to move ahead. It is not based on wishful thinking, or the need of hope as a logical axiom put forth because despair is useless (which it is).
So given the political world as it is, where do we look for hope? I see two interrelated realities. First, we need to remind ourselves that Donald Trump did not win the popular vote. Most Americans who cast votes, voted for Hillary Clinton. Given that barely half of eligible voters went to the polls, we are on solid ground to conclude that Trump does not have a mandate.
Capacity to resist
When we look over the long range, we find that America is a vast society in which political power is decentralized, both within the structures of government, and among the innumerable interest groups and vast numbers of people who find Trump and his worldview totally unabidable.
At the federal level, the victory of Donald Trump and his confederates have for the moment virtually destroyed the checks and balances that keep our democracy vibrant and open. He and his party now control the executive branch, both houses of Congress and appointments to the Supreme Court. But let’s remember that the final check on government is the people themselves, that is you, I and all of us. Even a tyrant needs the acceptance of the people in order to rule.
Our hope lies in the massive resistance that Trump will generate as soon as he begins to move. It will be resistance at all levels, both at the grassroots and within government itself. His initiatives to roll back environmental gains on which the fate of the planet rests will be met by the resistance of hordes of environmentalists who have been working for years to rein in global warming, by legions of millennials who were inspired by Bernie Sanders, and industrialists themselves who recognize that alternative energies are our future and there is waning profitability in fossil fuels.
Trump has been reasonably consistent in that he sees immigrants as a pollutant of the American body. The only way he can round up millions of undocumented immigrants is by deputizing local police forces to do the dirty work. Americans will not stand idly by with the Gestapo in their neighborhoods. Mayor DiBlasio and the assistant governor of California have stated they are prepared to stand up to any effort of the immigration services to enter their territory.
Greatest con job
But I predict that the greatest resistance will come from masses of dispossessed voters who supported Trump. They will soon wake up to the hard reality that their factories and coal mines are not coming back, and they have been the dupes of what has been the greatest con job in American history. And they will be very angry indeed. But this time, their anger will be directed at Donald Trump.
The task for the foreseeable future is resistance at each and every point. We must be part of that resistance. This will be the heart of my address on Dec. 4, which I have titled “Out of Despair, Where Do We Find Our Hope?” I look forward to seeing you then.