Opponents of the president should focus less on his distortion of reality and more on fighting his policies.
Over the past year, a number of writers and commenters have shuddered to think of what has happened to the American political process since the election of Donald Trump. Some writers have extended that fear of Trump’s influence to their own personal lives. One Atlantic writer in early 2018 classified the Trump presidency as a “perpetual disaster” that cannot be escaped, while another compared it to a chronic illness that the country has partially gotten used to. In early May, Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick described how the news of the Trump administration dominated the daily lives of many Americans. She wrote how the world of Trump has been turned upside down, how “we are trapped in a kind of national collective madness, where lies are truth, truth is derided as fake news, corruption is cleansing, and cruelty is good governance.” Lithwick then quoted a tweet from blogger Karen Smith about a recent trip to the grocery store: “How can you just be there, buying broccoli??? Can’t you see our representative democracy is on fire?” She sympathized with Smith’s sentiment: “I see you there in the broccoli aisle, and you see me.”
If this response to Trump from well-off, white liberals seems a bit dramatic, that’s because it is. Trump may be a menace, but he’s not an ahistorical monster who should keep the American people from buying broccoli in peace. He’s a president, a flawed leader of a political movement, and above all, a human being.
The night of Donald Trump’s election was a cataclysm to millions of liberals across the country. Schools cancelled class the next day and workplaces shut down. Writers predicted nuclear holocaust and the end of the country. Some groups’ fears about the coming of the Trump administration proved true. Immigrants have been detained and children separated from their families. White supremacists have been emboldened across the country to commit attack after attack on the country’s minorities. For these groups, the change of administrations has materially affected their lives. For affluent liberals who have seen continued 401(k) gains and a persistently low unemployment rate, the same cannot be said.
This overblown response is understandable, but still misguided. Terrible leaders are in fact the norm throughout American history. Some of the most awful were actually qualified for the job. Even this country’s worst presidents were respected professionals who had excelled in their earlier careers. James Buchanan was a career diplomat who emerged as a leading Democratic politician in the 1830s and 1840s, while Richard Nixon served as vice president for eight years. Trump seems different because of his poor qualifications, but those assuming the worst did not consider the restrictive nature of the job. Just as Obama’s election did not make the country a utopian, post-racial paradise, Trump’s election did not plunge that same country into an unfathomable darkness.
Many of the most terrifying fears and predictions of scared liberals have not come to pass. The country has not been burnt to cinders. Nobody has invaded North Korea or made being a Democrat illegal. Early impeachment or resignation has been taken off the table, and it now seems as though Trump will survive as president at least into 2019. As a result, liberals and Democrats more broadly need to stop predicting doom and focus on the steps they can take to slow or stymie the Trump administration. Every time someone considers sharing a story about Trump taking away press credentials, they should stop, take a deep breath, and share another story about a successful Democratic candidate for the House, or a new political rally. Trade in hyperbole and doom-and-gloom predictions for hope about the next election or the next technological breakthrough. While these optimistic thoughts might not lead to Trump’s impeachment, they may push Americans who oppose the president towards steps that will make it end in three years instead of seven.