On November 9, 2016, many Americans woke up fearful, wondering what comes next. The only possible answer: four years of hard work.
Periodically throughout our nation’s history, we have been grasped by major social and political movements that thrust us forward—or backwards. There will always be political disagreements, and social and political activism, but in certain times these things burrow so deeply into the fiber of our society that an entire era is defined by them. The civil rights movement and the all-encompassing activism of the 1960s and 70s is the most recent example. That’s the most familiar to those alive today, but here have been others: the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Gilded Age that fueled the Progressive era that built America’s safety net. There is nothing in the rule book of fate that dictates that these periods of collective upheaval have to end happily. But they are perhaps the only things capable of thoroughly reshaping a large, diverse, contentious nation in a thorough way.
It’s time for a new movement. A deep and broad movement that surpasses the 90s “culture wars” and the (ultimately futile) liberal reaction to the War on Terror. It can be hard to put your finger on exactly what you fear most about the rise of Donald Trump: the racism? The sexism? The xenophobia? The profoundly dangerous lack of judgment? We fear all of these things. What this movement will ultimately unite against, though, is the rise of an American strongman. We Americans have always fancied ourselves to be superior to the banana republics and quasi-dictatorships that we often helped create; now, we are offered a chance to prove it. If we do not wish to be the sort of nation that allows itself to be run by a strongman, then the movement starts now.
Everyone and everything threatened by Trumpism must be a part of this movement. We need a drawing-together of the many constituencies who are, today, wondering whether this country is a place for them. Fortunately, there are certain areas in which movements are already strong and cohesive: Against racism, we have Black Lives Matter and an entire superstructure of organizations built up over the decades of the civil rights movement that work to try to extend those gains bit by bit; against climate change, we have a fairly coherent global movement, though it is dependent on cooperation from governments. Many other groups that awoke to an existential threat today will have to gird themselves for the sort of fight that they may have hoped had receded into the past. The women’s movement, which faces the structural challenge that accompanies trying to organize a group encompassing half the country’s population, will need to get on war footing fast; those of us who value the First Amendment—writers, artists, journalists, entertainers, academics, activists—will need to prepare for challenges that would have seemed unthinkable one year ago; immigrant and Muslim groups must be embraced and strengthened enough to make them formidable political powers; organized labor must find a way to make itself a force to be reckoned with once again.
Consider all of the issues that faced America yesterday. The issues that take far more than a human lifetime to solve. The police shootings and structural racism and sexism and inequality. Now consider the fact that for at least four years, we will face a harder environment for making progress on these issues, which proved extremely hard to manage during the past eight years of what could well prove to be the most enlightened president of a generation, or a lifetime. All of things that have been torturing our nation during the reign of a progressive president and a strong economy are now probably more difficult to solve. The past couple of years—with all of the riots and mass shootings and national enmity—were, in retrospect, as good as it will get. At least for a while.
Nobody knows what Donald Trump will do. If he does what he says he will do, it will be awful; if he does something else, it will be terrifying. This is the time when the cosmopolitans bandy about the idea of fleeing the country, and everyone else unfortunate enough to feel threatened by Trump’s victory suffers through terror, resentment, anger, and apathy. The first step for us now it to recognize that all of us are in the same boat. It will take all of us come together to oppose the rise of an American strongman who has shown himself to care little for the fortunes or rights of a large portion of America and the world. We all have our own specific interests, and our own pet causes, and our own issues that worry us most. But every single constituency that now feels themselves at risk must cast their gaze outwards, and see the millions of others feeling the same way for different reasons. This issue is bigger than the Democratic party, or “the left,” or any particular demographic. To fight Trumpism as a hundred different factions is to lose. This is an American fight, and it calls for an American movement. The new age of Trump must be opposed simultaneously on every front, and every group fighting in every area must be supported by everyone else. The fights against Trump’s racism, and his xenophobia, and his attacks on women’s rights, and his foreign policy bluster, and his policies that will worsen economic inequality, and his threats against the First Amendment are not separate fights. They are all the same one. You can jump in anywhere and start helping anywhere. That’s what makes a movement go.
Don’t move to Canada. Reach out a hand to someone who is scared today and say that you will stand with them. Once a hundred million of us do that, we have a coalition that is stronger than one small man who has gained control of a very big office. Your kids can grow up in Trump’s America, or they can grow up in the America that opposed Trump. It’s time to get to work.
Hamilton Nolan is a senior writer for Deadspin.com. Email him at Hamilton@Gawker.com and follow him on Twitter @hamiltonnolan. Reprinted from The Concourse (November 9, 2016), a daily blog of culture, food, politics and more associated with Deadspin.com.