Archive for January, 2017

Perspectives on how to respond to the Trump Administration

In the wake of Donald Trump’s disastrous first week in office, I offer here two perspectives on how to respond to the new administration. I do not advocate for either, but offer them for your consideration.

The first comes from the liberal editors of the literary/intellectual magazine n+1, who call for each individual to join “a collective will to refusal” — a general policy to oppose and ignore the President’s directives at every level of government. The underpinning of this argument is Trump’s own lawlessness, absence of values, and contempt for civil process. “Through the paradox of the legitimate election of an illegitimate officeholder”, we have, in effect, “no president”. Since the article was written before revelations that Trump rode to power on Russian hacking, an even stronger case can be made now for his illegitimacy.

The risk of obstructionism is that it misses any opportunities for positive change to be had from compromising or working with the Administration. Obstructionism, as we have seen from the recent past, also erodes the machinery of the civil process. However, the editors argue that this moment is a special case:

“It is far better to ‘overreact’ to a moment that sets up the means for tyranny than not to react. Better to seize hold of the abnormal than turn violation into the normal.”

And so the editors give this recommendation for how to respond to the situation:

“For the time being, many Americans may have to be political to an unusual degree, and political in a new way. [...] The ordinary, unromantic, and vilified forms of disobedience may turn out to be most needed. Refusal of allegiance. Refusal of participation. Not showing up. Leaving key government jobs, or staying in those jobs to slow down or stall illegitimate actions. Daily refusal to go along with orders coming from an illegitimate executive. Refusal of bureaucrats, tasked with reporting on citizens, to report if it could put their subjects in jeopardy. Refusal of enforcement agencies to enforce. Refusals and resignations in the armed forces. Refusal of those tasked with cooperating with the government to cooperate.”

While those actions apply mainly to people working in and for the public sector, others should focus on building civic infrastructure:

“Along with this must come greater cooperation among ourselves, a commitment to building democratic institutions inside and outside the existing parties.”

On the other hand, we have a perspective from Eliot Cohen, a foreign policy expert and true conservative, having served as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and written a book advocating for military force in American foreign policy.

Writing in The Atlantic, Cohen predicts that the Trump presidency will continue to get worse as Trump is intoxicated by power, and eventually end in calamity. Like the editors of n+1, Cohen identifies the current situation as a special case, “one of those clarifying moments in American history” that will test our moral resolve. Cohen offers this advice to fellow conservatives considering working for the Trump administration:

“Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.”

Cohen here advocates noncooperation in a similar way, especially warning his conservative colleagues against the temptation of working with the Trump Administration for the promise of power and influence. In a striking parallel with the recommendations from n+1, Cohen suggests that those people not in a position to fight Trump’s policies directly should focus on building (or in this case, “restoring”) the social values and social institutions that Trump disdains:

“Some Americans can fight abuses of power and disastrous policies directly—in courts, in congressional offices, in the press. But all can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness.”

Ultimately, the liberal and conservative strategies to oppose Trump read as hearteningly similar: We should begin with principled noncooperation. And for those without a role in government, we should protest, yes, but do so with renewed commitment to the qualities that Trump lacks: rationality, respect for facts, kindness, empathy, and personal vulnerability.

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