“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” – Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951
So Donald Trump is the now the 45th president of the United States; a man who couldn’t be more different on almost every level from the 44th president. There’s enough written about the new president and the potential dangers of his fascist leaning, misogynistic, racist and isolationist views that there’s nothing new I could add here.
Tens of millions of women and men have marched, since the inauguration, and protests roil online and off about cabinet appointments and early administrative actions. And there are also plenty of people who are pleased about our new president.
Either school of thought, however, as well as those in between require vigilance – a willingness to stay informed, to understand the facts of the matters that govern our lives, and to take some meaningful action when governance strays from upholding the Constitution to authoritarianism, discrimination, or otherwise abusing the rights of the governed – the citizens by whom the president is employed.
At this divisive point in our national history, we are all, for the most part, just speaking to our like minded associates and reinforcing the views we already have. That may be reassuring, but it’s not particularly productive. It will be hard to find a way forward just speaking to people with whom we agree.
Comrade Napolean, in Animal Farm, a timeless political fable already raising comparisons to the Trump administration, reassured his farmyard constituents that he would take good care of them, but that sometimes it was necessary to make decisions for them, so the “right” decisions were made.
Obviously, we believe this to some degree, or we wouldn’t have a political process that selects people to lead on our behalf. But that implied social contract also requires some vigilance, and maybe some serious revisiting. In an interesting document that does just that, called, appropriately enough, “The Social Contract Revisited: The Modern Welfare State .” the report references Robert Goodin, who argues “that the social contract’s role in the disempowerment of the most vulnerable may be a ‘perversion of [the] cherished ideal’.” Others, most notably David Hume, have argued that the social contract is essentially a myth.
It would take a lot of thoughtful study to evaluate these views, a considered patience and willingness for reasoned dialog that is largely absent from modern American discourse, as evidenced by the fact that a man campaigning with a word salad of half truths and full lies wrested more than half the electorate to win the highest office in the land. It’s simply hard to stay informed, to understand the issues and to be personally engaged in any way that seems truly meaningful. We’re all just trying to get by day to day and we want to trust people who tell us they’ll take care of us and make things better than they are, especially if we feel disenfranchised in some way.
“Resistance” is a word that’s coming up a lot right now. Those who voted for Donald Trump probably feel they exercised their own resistance by putting him in office. The other half of the country who don’t want him in office have organized resistance movements of their own, including the DJT Resistance . But “resistance” can also be largely reactionary, oppositional for the sake of being oppositional, and that’s not necessarily any better than where we are now.
So how do we find the bottom line of truth in all this angsty divisiveness? How do we find common ground on health care, clean environment and reasonable public and foreign policies that help maintain a just, safe and economically successful society without normalizing sexism and racism and all the “isms” of our lesser angels?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t.
All of this is way above my pay grade as an ordinary citizen trying to make a life and a living, and be decent person in the process. I did my part by trying to understand the issues and voting along that understanding, and that didn’t work out so well, to my purposes and interests. I think a lot of us are in the same boat and need to admit that we don’t understand all the challenges and issues before us and, more importantly, we don’t understand each other. Then I think we need to try.
It’s easy to give up and say the system doesn’t work – and maybe it doesn’t. Many of those who didn’t exercise their right to vote may have felt that way, and now may feel some smug satisfaction or justification in the outcome. I don’t know how helpful that is, either. I suspect Trump supporters will come to that conclusion themselves before too long. But hurling epithets at one another, mocking and denigrating those with whom we don’t agree, doesn’t work either. So how about maybe we just focus on the issues and see what we can do there?
Let’s start with what’s new at the White House. Thanks to the Way Back Machine, and the Obama White House Archives, we can get a good look at what’s out, at the White House, and what’s in. The day that Donald Trump was sworn in, the WhiteHouse.gov website got some sweeping updates . Gone, now , are references to climate change, health care specifics and a number of other things. This is par for the course for changing administrations, but worth keeping an eye on.
Civic Engagement Resources
There are lots of ways to stay informed and plenty of guides for effective engagement. We’ve got a nice list here Eureka Factory Civic Engagement Resources, plus:
- Ballotpedia – The Encyclopedia of American Politics (really – absolutely everything!)
- Citizens for Ethics – (CREW) uses aggressive legal action, in-depth research, and bold communications to reduce the influence of money in politics and help foster a government that is ethical and accountable.
- Politifact – What’s True, What’s Not
- Congress.org – Look up your lawmakers and track their votes by email in two easy steps with MegaVote.
- GovTrack – Helping people learn about and track the activities of the U.S. Congress
- FactCheck.org – “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics
- Community Toolbox – tools for organizing for community development
- Using Twitter for Congressional Accountability
- Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change
- New York Times Civic Engagement Resources
Money in Government
Doug Hughes, along with the likes of Bernie Sanders and others, will tell you the biggest, most central issue is political corruption through big money in government, which I wholeheartedly agree is a pivotal problem. Some resources:
- Democracy Club
- Common Cause: Money in Politics
- OpenSecrets.org: Dark Money in Politics
- Follow the Money
- Fight Big Money Activist Toolkit
Science and Environment
Science is not a series of “alternate facts” but a critical field of study that examines the underlying rules of nature that make life on earth possible, add to the store of human knowledge, keep us healthy and safe, informs our energy policies and drives us towards an ever increasing understanding of the universe and our place in it. Here are some good resources for understanding and taking action on, issues and policies:
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- NASA: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change
- Fact Check: Science and the Trump Administration
- All Hands on Deck: Engaging in Science Policy in the New Political Climate
- Environmental Data and Governance Initiative
- Environmental Defense Fund
- U.S. Energy Information and Administration
Healthcare has been a hot button topic throughout. The Affordable Care Act has not been idea, but on the other hand, I had affordable healthcare. The Trump administration has some changes planned. Here’s a few resources for understanding proposed changes, and speaking out if so inclined:
- Donald Trump’s Health Care Reform Proposals: Anticipated Effects on Insurance Coverage, Out-of-Pocket Costs, and the Federal Deficit
- Trump Executive Order On ACA: What It Won’t Do, What It Might Do, And When
- WEGO Health Portal: Empowering health activists to help others
Trump’s simplistic immigration views aside (building a wall Mexico pays for is silly, unrealistic and unlikely), there are some good resources for understanding and responding to immigration policies and practices:
- American Immigration Council
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center
- Center for American Progress: Immigration
- United We Dream: Immigrant Youth Building a Movement for Justice
- Political Research Associates Immigration Resource List
The social justice umbrella covers everything from Women’s Rights, to ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, the economically disadvantaged, the elderly and and the disabled. Good links to keep on hand:
- National Women’s Law Center
- Equal Rights Advocates
- Southern Poverty Law Center
- Social Justice Organizations list from START
- Disability Rights Advocates
- National Disability Rights Network
- LGBTQ Nation
- The Arc – for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilites
Good luck here. According to a 2014 Princeton University study, the “Average U.S. Citizens Have “Little Or No” Influence On Government Policy.” No surprise there, I suppose. But still, if you’re curious and want to understand some it a little better, you try these resources:
So I called this post “Tools for Truth and Action that Matters,” and while I’ve been able to supply what I hope are some useful tools for discerning truth in matters of public policy and social well being, and advocacy tools where available, I probably haven’t been as helpful with respect to the Actions that Matter.
Partly, that’s because I can’t unambiguously say that I know what Actions really Matter. Partly, that’s because any meaningful Actions we take will necessarily vary by individual, cause and concern. I think some of the most meaningful actions we can take is simply taking the understand the facts of matters that govern our lives, talking to people other than just those with whom we agree, and being willing to speak out firmly, loudly and unequivocally – with votes, marches, letters, petitions before government, and organizing locally – when constitutional rights and protections are endangered.
But ultimately, that requires open and constant dialog, and a willingness to see others’ points of views as opposed to constant reaffirmation of our own intractable positions through the likes of social media platforms, which serve only to empower those in power, and not those over whom that power is wielded.
Good luck fellow Americans!
Super happy to see readers’ recommendations starting to come in. If you have some you’d like to add, please feel free to share them via my contact page.
- Indivisible: A Practical Guide to Resisting the Trump Agenda (and the story behind it, at the New Yorker)