Friday, January 20, 2017

A Manifesto for Surviving the Infinite Crisis

Like many of you, my emotions since Election Night have ranged from seething anger at people I believe to be rational thinkers who voted for Donald Trump—a toxic man who huffed and puffed and bluffed his way through a noxious election campaign to be elected president—to despondency over the damage this man, his Cabinet picks and a Republican-controlled Congress will inflict on our nation and the world. Trump, who touted his business acumen as his main qualification for the presidency, named people to his Cabinet who either have little understanding of what their new duties entail, are true conservative believers who will bring the same failed policies to their departments, or are billionaire donors who bought their way into the administration. Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos is all three! He's assembled a kakistocracy—government by the least qualified and most unprincipled citizens.

Congress, meanwhile, may be even worse than Trump. Since the new Congress was sworn in, there have been countless alarming signs of how the GOP majority wants to govern with Barack Obama out of the way, and it isn’t pretty. They're going to use everything at their disposal to silence dissent within the chambers of government and in the court of public opinion. Repealing the ACA is only the beginning. Wait until Paul Ryan lines up the votes to privatize Medicare and Social Security.

I have one concrete belief with politics: anyone who says that government needs to be run like a business should be involved in neither. This is because the majority of the businessmen and businesswomen who said that during my lifetime are plutocrats. They’re the corporate raiders, vulture capitalists and rent chasers who drain their companies of resources. They gut their workforce with outsourcing and automation. They obstruct organized labor and offer low wages. They emphasize investor returns over the well-being of their workforce. And when they’ve sucked the bones clean of marrow, they move to the next victim. People have died because of their actions; now that threatens to happen on a larger scale.

These plutocrats view government as the White Whale, the long-sought final prey to catch and enrich themselves, and Donald Trump is their Captain Ahab. Their motto is one that should be all too familiar to students of Chicago politics—ubi est mea? Translated from Latin, it means, “Where’s mine?” Donald Trump only wanted to win. He’s coming to Washington with that narrow stare and his puckered sphincter of a mouth, shouting “ubi est mea?” 

It looks pretty damn bleak, no? “End of the world” bleak, no less. And I felt that way when I turned off the television on Election Night. It was clear for hours that the returns wouldn’t magically swing in Hillary Clinton’s favor, and I decided to focus on what I could control. A good night’s sleep was the best course of action for that moment. Then I woke up the next morning, allowed myself some time to process what happened, and got to work. The world didn’t end that day just because Donald Trump won a narrow Electoral College victory. I had stories to file, sources to call, articles being kicked back to me by my editors for edits, newsletters to build, and it was all hands on deck as we worked to report on reaction to the election from Trump’s real estate peers. 

I’ve found solace in that routine since. Lather, rinse, repeat. The world still spins. I still draw breath. There is a glimmer of hope. I survived Nixon, Reagan and Dubya. I must have faith that despite the odds, this too shall pass.

Show up. Do the work. That’s what my friend Erin says and it's the motto I’ve taken with me into 2017. It applies to career, life and especially my contributions as a citizen. Democracy, especially this ever-evolving American version, requires effort. Casting a vote is only a small contribution. To that end, I've settled on a few things that will hopefully keep me sane as we enter the Infinite Crisis. Your mileage may vary.

1. The Work Starts at Home 

During his farewell address, Barack Obama asked us to take a look at our complicity in how government has reached this stage. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting the same results, then we need to ask ourselves why we continue to elect men and women to Congress and state government who continually fail to serve us. Obama also said that if you don’t like who’s representing you, grab a clipboard and run for office. Those remarks echo what Bernie Sanders told his supporters after the primaries ended. Sanders implored his supporters to drop the "never Hillary" mindset and “take (the) revolution” to the local and state levels. 

Here's why. Even as Republicans in 2008 wondered if they could retake Congress during Obama's first term, they employed an impressive ground game at the state level that has Democrats asking the same question today. The GOP now holds majorities in 32 state legislatures and have 33 governorships. Hopefully, the progressive and centrist factions of the Democratic Party will recognize this is a bigger fight that requires cooperation, and heed the call. 

Another reason why the focus should be at home: there's a tendency among voters that if we choose the right president, the country will fall in line and all will be well. That's like having a body ravaged by cancer and hoping a head transplant will heal it. We need to cut the tumors out of the body and start an aggressive round of chemotherapy. That means getting involved. Get to know the legislators that represent you. Study their voting histories and positions on issues that matter to you. Follow the money trail to see who's lobbying them. Go to town halls. Introduce yourselves to your elected officials and become general pests. Make it known you're watching them and that you'll do everything in your power to vote them out of office, if they don't properly represent you.

2. Don't Fill Your Plate

Trump is going to treat the presidency like a toy surprise he found in a box of Cracker Jack. Despite what he's said publicly, he'll delegate his responsibilities and let Congress run unchecked in its overreach. And we're going to see a rise in states rights, which will please those states with GOP-controlled legislatures. 

With no interference at the federal level, advancements like LGBTQ rights, the rights of women to choose what happens to their bodies and marriage equality are in danger of being rolled back, and these GOP-controlled states will disenfranchise even more voters of color and the poor with voter ID laws and gerrymandering, if they can maintain their majorities in 2020. The Republican fiscal policies are so draconian that many of these states will become banana republics. Focus on where you can make an immediate impact. Find issues that matter to you on a local and state level that tie in with larger issues nationally, like public school funding or infrastructure improvements, funding mental health clinics and job training programs. And hold your aldermen and state reps as accountable as you do your senators and congressmen.

Support causes and organizations that line up with your interests with money and time. There are a lot of charities that will need help once the budget cuts hit. Pick a few and get to work.

3. Know What You're Reading And Where It's Coming From

Trump’s attacks on the press and his mastery of media manipulation should give everyone who believes in a strong, vigorous press some pause. But the constant attacks may serve as the tonic that heals an ailing industry. As a journalist, I have some skin in this game, and I’ve been relieved that the company I work for recently hired an ambitious editor-in-chief who understands the need for a strong press. More important, he recognizes that in reporting a story, there are more than two sides. There are multiple facets and it’s a reporter’s job to separate the wheat from the chaff, and present the truth. But it isn't free. Subscribe to the newspapers, magazines and online outlets that you feel offer the best coverage

Away from Bisnow, I hope to be focusing some of my energy on media literacy moving forward. This coarseness of political debate isn't a new thing, nor are the heated emotions that result from it—it goes all the way back to the Hamilton-Burr duel. What is disconcerting is the pace with which information, and especially disinformation, spreads. 

It shouldn't be that hard to separate credible reporting with something you read on or, yet it is. If you're getting your news from those sites, then you need to dig deeper before you retweet. Seek out other credible news sources that challenge your way of thinking. If you're only doing enough research on a story or issue to confirm your biases, you aren't doing enough. And, for Christ's sake, question everything Donald Trump tweets. He doesn't need a Joseph Goebbelshe's his own.

4. Intersectionality is Fundamental

I wish that we would defend the other articles and amendments to the Constitution the way the gun lobby embraces the Second Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment, in my opinion, may be the most important amendment in the Constitution. The Due Process clause, particularly, is the linchpin of the Amendment, and Trump's fanning the flames of racism and Islamophobia will put it to the ultimate test. This is where we need to recognize and encourage intersectionality. We can (mostly) agree that race and class intersect in America. So do women's rights, religious freedom, LGBTQ rights, and economic inequality. (I would add the disconnect between urban and rural areas, aka the "liberal elites vs. real Americans" argument.) You can't focus on one of these issues without seeing how it invariably affects another. If you recognize that, you can build support across a range of people and organize, and maybe understand why someone who voted for Trump, did, and get them to see the error (if they haven't already). 

As Studs Terkel famously said, "It's all connected."

5. Self-Care

Much of my post-election doldrums were spent arguing politics with an old Navy buddy who lives in Thailand and loves to pull out the "your sources are liberal media" and "Hillary was crooked" tropes whenever I posted something on Facebook about the Infinite Crisis we're about to enter. 

I realize now that I can't waste my time arguing with an old Navy buddy who lives in Thailand on Facebook because I'll too busy what I can to keep America free for him to return. So I'll be shifting my social media presence away from a political bully pulpit and back to their true intentions: cute photos of my dog and morning inspirational songs. Distance yourselves from your timelines because there is too much work to be done offline.

Human connection will be important as we enter the Infinite Crisis. Also important: supporting the arts. Some of the best stress releases I had last year were when I found myself behind a mic, telling stories. It reminded me that I can still write for myself and that the performing aspect is a rush. We need art and culture to help us through this. Share your talents through volunteerism. Support your friends who are creating art and making the world a brighter place. Art can be a political force. It can also heal and help us cope.

Find a good therapist. Not only are they sounding boards for your fears moving forward, they'll help you design coping mechanisms to deal with the despondency. If that doesn't work, they'll work with you to find the right prescriptions.

Yours for the motherfucking revolution! See you on the streets tomorrow!