Sunday, November 27, 2016

Blue Staters in Trumpland: A Survival Guide

Back in May of this year, Kyle Whitmire over at wrote a column about "the Alabamification of America."  He described the state of affairs in Alabama thusly:  "Our governor is under investigation. Our House speaker is under indictment. Our chief justice is suspended from duty and awaiting trial, again. We're one of the poorest states in the country, living off the federal dole, and we sit at or near the bottom of most empirical rankings of quality of life. Our leadership is non-existent and our government is on the brink of collapse."  This is, I wish to note, what happens when you let crazy take the wheel of governance.  And it is not a solely Republican phenomenon...I do live in DeKalb County, Georgia...but since Republicans have been riding the fact-free crazy train for years now, and have currently reached what I dearly hope is the apotheosis of same, we are going to talk about that for a little bit.

He went on to warn, "don't think for a minute that you're better than us. Donald Trump is the Republican presumptive presidential nominee, and you put him there. You're closer to Alabama than you care to think."

And so here we are. 

Many of us are wondering what the hell just happened, and feeling a combination of disbelief and betrayal by our fellow citizens that is, alas, somewhat familiar.  I felt that way in 2000, when "F for Fiasco, L for Lord help us" Florida happened. However, if anything 2004 was worse.  Not only did the country re-elect George W. Bush, thus removing any brake on the trainwreck-on-fire economic collapse that was already barrelling down the tracks, but the Georgia legislature put a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot.  That drew the haters out in droves.  Democrats lost twenty-five seats overnight and their previous majority in the state House of Representatives; the governorship and both houses in the state legislature have been held by Republicans ever since. That means twelve years of, as Whitmire puts it, "stuck on stupid." Though I would argue that Georgia has avoided some of the excesses of foolishness exhibited by some of our neighbor states.  Some of that is because we have Atlanta, which is the largest city in the Southeast, and a loud and boisterous liberal minority.  That last part is important...especially since, nationally, liberals are NOT the minority but the majority.  In other words...things are pretty bad.  But this fight isn't over.  It is just beginning.

So, my left-leaning friends in Democratic majority states who are contemplating the appalling prospect of a Republican Congress being the only thing between them and Donald Trump's apocalyptic notions of Presidency, including his hair-raising policy proposals, I have a few words of advice that will help you get through the next four years, especially the next two:

  • First, you CANNOT lose your mind over every reckless, hare-brained, bigotry-codified-into-law idea that they float as possibilities.  That well is inexhaustible, but you are not, and most of it won't go anywhere.  That is because they are throwing red meat to the seething tank full of piranha who are their base, to keep them interested. They propose laws to make English the official language, or to outlaw hijab, so they can go back to their constituents and say "I TRIED but you know how politics goes..."  If they don't, they are subject to primary challenges by Republicans even crazier than they are. This is why even moderates will do a little two-step with the Devil every so often. 
  • However, it IS worth your while to oppose all of it, by letting your opinions be heard loud and clear.  Because...
  • The more sensible among them realize that if they let too much crazy through the gate, the public will recoil and they will get creamed like an eclair in the next general election. This is what happened to Pat McCrory in North Carolina, for all that he's fighting it like mad.  The consequences did not, alas, extend to their legislature.  Being vocally opposed to ALL of the stupid helps drive home the message there.  I am just saying you don't need to pull the fire alarm every single time...since wearing you out is part of the strategy, too. 
  •  They also, after beating the drum of "government is bad" and being the party of obstructionism for so long, now have to actually govern.  If they don't, they own the screw-up.  And while their base will just rationalize that away, they know many of us...especially those swing voters they need to stay in office...will not.  Here in Georgia that means some surprisingly practical and useful things have emerged from the legislature, alongside all the voter ID laws and abortion bans. 
  • They must therefore thread a careful path between the Scylla of their own base and the Charybdis of the rest of us.  Your job is to make sure the latter part of that double threat has some real teeth to it. 
  • You do this by learning the best way to apply pressure, to whom, and when.  Let your own representatives know how you feel, reward them for standing up to stupid, and call them out when they don't...that's important.  Politics is about horse-trading, and you want to make sure that your legislators (who WILL need Republican support to get anything done) are not tempted to cave on anything you find important.  Nobody wants to go out on a limb that won't hold their weight. 
  • Some Democrats will sell us out.  That 2004 ballot measure I mentioned above was passed because of a handful of quisling bigots with a D beside their names.  It needs to be clear that if a Democrat in Congress does something like that, a primary challenger will appear.  Be ready, which means getting involved. 
  • Beyond that, find out who the gatekeepers are.  That means learning what legislation goes through which committees.  Either call up Democratic members of those committees and/or the chair (who will determine whether a committee even votes on a bill).  Because the Republicans hold the majority, those seats will all be held by Republicans. In most cases they will be pretty secure in their seats, but...not necessarily.  Depending on where they are from, you may have some leverage, especially with Republican senators from liberal-leaning states. If you are a constituent in one of those states, be all up in their business, all the time.  Have them on speed dial.  You are their new best frenemy. 
  • Figure out whose seats may be vulnerable in 2018 and, if they are anywhere near you, start helping the effort to unseat them now
  • Help the ones who aren't near you, too, if you can.  I can tell you right now that some of these supposedly "red" states are shifting under the Republicans' feet; I live in one of them.  Six counties went for Hillary Clinton that were held by Romney in 2012.  Three of them were in Georgia.  In the same way that supposedly Democratic strongholds proved to be volatile in 2016, lots of supposed Republican strongholds are not so solid going into 2018 and 2020.  If you have a little extra dough, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Henry County Democrats could put it to good use.  
  • Encourage your state and city governments to push back against the stupid as well.  The city of Clarkston, Georgia recently decriminalized marijuana, and several municipalities around the state offer non-discrimination ordinances for LGBT residents. Even when those measures seem like gestures of defiance, that is worth something in and of itself.   Because...

    • The overall principle here is that behavior that has a political reward will be repeated, and behavior with a political cost will not be.  There are powerful forces rewarding certain kinds of nastiness and stupidity; we need to be a counter-weight providing an equally powerful pull in the other direction.  We have the advantage in that we actually ARE in the majority, and the left is motivated right now in a way we haven't been for a pretty long time...maybe not in decades.  That provides an opportunity to break the stale-mate we have been in for a while.  What we do with it remains to be seen.   

    Be kind to each other.  Take care of each other.  The biggest thing we need to do, if you ask me, is to show that all of that "stronger together" stuff isn't just a slogan; that there is a vision of American society as a community made up of many different people from diverse backgrounds who actually do care about each other and the country as a whole which is far more compelling than the poisonous daydream being sold by Trump. We need to live it.   There are quite a few people who are about to have a rude awakening, when they figure out just how badly they have been lied to.  That is going to be one hell of a hangover and we need to be kind to them as well, while still standing up for the values I just described, and the value of every American. 

    An observation I have made before is that conservatives seem to love "America" the abstraction, while we love Americans.  America is us.

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