For those millions of Americans who awakened to discover that their Donald Trump nightmare was not just a bad dream, the question is, What to do now? Do they accept the platitude about national unity from a stunned Hillary Clinton that “We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead”? That begs the question: What is it we should be open-minded about?
Should we become amnesiacs and simply forget all the hateful rhetoric that defined his campaign, the personal vindictiveness that he simply couldn’t keep under control? Or instead, should we remember another cliche, which is certainly relevant: “Words matter,” meaning the constant spew of poisonous comments about women, Hispanics, African-Americans, Muslims (even Muslim war heroes), the disabled, the list goes on and on? Should we hope that his brain is somehow cleansed of such toxic thoughts, replaced by wisdom, knowledge and truthfulness that had been completely absent?
What we’re getting now is the pro forma national-unity choreography, like President Barack Obama sitting next to the man who will replace him at the White House, showing warm hospitality to the guy who raised the racist “birther” question about him for years. We witnessed Trump, who suddenly has gone into a contrived mellow mode, describing as a “great honor” his meeting with the man who just days before called him “unfit” for the office.
On Jan. 20, Donald Trump and his forces will be taking over our government. So forget the enforced cordiality. The question is, How can they be effectively resisted? For starters, ritualistic protest demonstrations don’t cut it. Talk about cliches. Inevitably, they turn violent, which is counterproductive, to say nothing about flat-out wrong. Plus, setting a few fires or shouting shopworn slogans might get you on TV, but it won’t change the Trump administration from stomping all over social progress.
So, what might work? Another of those banal comments we always hear at this point goes something like this: “We need to look to the future. Dwelling in the past isn’t a good idea.” But looking forward can work only if we indeed look back at what mistakes were made and, yes, who made them. In fact, we should play the Blame Game.
Much of the blame rests on those of us who are pretentious and out of touch. We are effete, entitled snobs, full of hubris, looking down on “The Great Unwashed,” to use Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s words. Come to think of it, my quoting an obscure Victorian novelist also is totally pretentious. At the very least, we cloistered ones need to abandon our affectations. We need to care less about some vintage of wine or some gourmet food and be more aware of the farmers who created it. They are the ones, along with others in the working class, who were attracted to Trump in massive droves.
But out of our sight, they, particularly the whites, feel betrayed by the privileged few who have taken their wealth and self-respect by dealing away their fair chance, leaving them in a precarious state. They believe that opportunity has passed them by. Those of us in the journalism game need to be in touch with them. As we found out, they exist in numbers large enough to elect a president.
Those of us in media also need to resume our outsider roles and constantly report on the activities of our new rulers, no matter how hard they resist. Mainly, though, all of us Americans need to find common purpose with our fellow citizens and demand that our new president adopt a collaborative spirit.
The grim reality is that we are about to be led by a regime that has shown authoritarian tendencies, to put it mildly. Donald Trump and his forces must not be allowed to betray the democracy they manipulated to gain power. Or else our democracy will quickly fade away.
Bob Franken is a longtime journalist, including 20 years at CNN.