Literary Voices React to President Donald Trump
Where do we go from here?
We have all woken up to a new America—an America that at least I, for one, in my supreme ignorance, did not expect. I feel disturbed, disgusted, embarrassed, afraid. I can only imagine what others must feel. In times of crisis like this one, it is the impulse of many to look to cultural leaders to give guidance and perspective. Literature has been proven to enhance our abilities for empathy, and empathy is what this country needs. We need many, many, other things, of course. But empathy would be a good start. To that end, find below a collection of some early responses from our literary thinkers.
Alice Walker, Early Bird Books
In this election we did not really have a healthy choice, as is said in a commercial for something I vaguely remember. Or, as a friend puts it: “‘the ‘choice’ was between disaster and catastrophe.” If this puzzles you, here is the next step of my counsel: Study. Really attempt to understand the people you are voting for. What are they doing when they’re not smiling at you in anticipation of your vote? Study hard, deeply, before the Internet is closed, before books are disappeared. Know your history and the ways it has been kept secret from you. Understand how politicians you vote for understand your history better than you do; which helps them manipulate your generations. It is our ignorance that keeps us hoping somebody we elect will do all the work while we drive off to the mall. Forget this behavior as if it were a dream. It was. In some way, many of us will find, perhaps to our astonishment, that we have not really lived until this moment.
Our surprise, our shock, our anger, all of it points to how fast asleep we were.
This is not a lament. It is counsel. It is saying: We can awaken completely. The best sign of which will be how we treat every being who crosses our path. For real change is personal. The change within ourselves expressed in our willingness to hear, and have patience with, the “other.” Together we move forward. Anger, the pointing of fingers, the wishing that everyone had done exactly as you did, none of that will help relieve our pain. We are here now. In this scary, and to some quite new and never imagined place. What do we do with our fear?
Do we turn on others, or toward others? Do we share our awakening, or only our despair?
The choice is ours.
Lydia Davis, The TLS
Last week, visiting the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, a public university founded by our third president, Thomas Jefferson, I was surrounded not only by references to Jefferson on historic plaques, engraved portraits, menus, and the like, but by the red brick walls and white columns of the buildings he conceived or designed himself. Whenever I left the tranquil symmetry of Jefferson’s airy hilltop campus, I was, in stark contrast, assaulted in my airless hotel room by as much election coverage as I could stand, much of it displaying a moral, intellectual, and aesthetic poverty that would have shocked Jefferson.
The university was built on a piece of a farm originally belonging to our fifth president, James Monroe, Jefferson’s friend and former law student. The first stone was laid by Jefferson, Monroe, and James Madison, the fourth president. This image of the apparent shared concern for future generations expressed by our early presidents – educated, principled, if not unflawed, Enlightenment revolutionaries – persists in silent rebuke of the ignorance, vulgarity, crass self-interest, and narrowness of vision displayed so relentlessly by one candidate in this contest. And now, to our horror, that candidate, a disastrously unprincipled autocrat, has been voted in and will determine the direction of our country – perhaps, because of the looming Supreme Court appointments, far into the future. Our prospects look bleak.
A.E. Stallings, The TLS
On election night, I found myself in the US, on a reading tour. I had just come from Florida, where I had not seen a single Hillary lawn sign, and where, on the drive to the airport, hail had rattled down out of a warm blue Florida November sky. My driver and I had laughed nervously at this omen. But being deposited by my university host alone in a rather gloomy if elegant Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the results came in was depressing, to put it mildly. When I put out a distress signal on Facebook, it turned out I had friends just blocks away (the writers Gwen Kirby and Austin Allen among them), and they came and fetched me to commiserate together. At first, shock and panic set in; we ironically had no words. But soon the writers started in on gallows humor. Who would be Trump’s inaugural poet? Ted Nugent, someone quipped. Or maybe it will be Frederick Seidel, famously wealthy and politically incorrect, a bard for a billionaire. (Or a Russian poet!, someone joked.) Or what about Trump himself? He has words, he has the best words (in the best order?) We consoled ourselves in the aftermath of the election with wondering, “What rhymes with orange?”
Benjamin Markovits, The TLS
All that stuff about building walls . . . the America I know is Latino—it’s one of the things I miss about my country, living over here—it’s one of the things that makes coming home feel like home. The people, the street names, the food. I have always been an outsider to any sense of home or place that isn’t formed or influenced by different cultures—I know it exists, because of elections like this. But it does not describe the Texas I grew up in.
Lauren Elkin, The TLS
Misogyny isn’t just something men do; it’s something women practice themselves, and on themselves. It’s not just angry white men who were responsible for Trump’s victory, but apathetic white women as well. Women, you 42 per cent of women who voted for a man who thinks you don’t deserve to have control over your own bodies, who wants you to fall on your knees before his money and power, who wants you to be skinny and gorgeous while he’s pudgy and horrible, I’m looking at you. J’accuse.
Philip Lopate, The TLS
We each had a beer and started watching the news shows, changing the channels when one of the Trump gang we particularly loathed, such as ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani, was interviewed. I noted aloud that I was getting worried; my wife assured me that Hillary would pull it out. In the first hour it was only small states, with few electoral votes, that Trump won. But as the evening wore on, and more and more of the important contested states went over to him, my stomach registered the jitters. Maybe that roast had not been such a good idea; we should have dined lightly on fish. My daughter joined me in pessimism, while my wife held out for a miracle. The strange thing was that I wanted to go upstairs and be alone, to get away from everyone—the very same noli me tangere response I had had when my mother died. Though my sheltering, loving family shared my emotions of distress and shock, I still felt utterly alone: grief had come. And I felt frightened by the groundswell of White Power. Melodramatically or not, I thought: Kristallnacht.
Edmund White, The TLS
I don’t know anyone who voted for Trump and I’m sure the Trumpeters don’t know any of my friends – that’s how divided we are. Also no one knows much about Trump’s policies; lots of surprises in store for us. What is certain is that not only were the Democrats defeated but so were the Republicans. We know Trump swears vengeance on his enemies. Will Hillary be imprisoned? Will ten million undocumented Mexicans be rounded up and deported? Why did Trump win? The failure of Obamacare? Desire for change? Trump is our first president who has no political experience, no military experience, few allies in his own party.
James Meek,”Insubstantial Champions,” London Review of Books
In Britain, the Leave camp has been bitter in victory. I suspect the Trump camp, as its tiny billionaire head detaches from its massive electoral body, will be the same. Winning a vote can never be enough when you also want to be made happy and for the losers to shut up. The Remain camp has been bitter in defeat, as the Democrat camp will be, both towards the Leavers/Trumpites, and among themselves. Excoriation of Trump/Farage, Sean Hannity/Paul Dacre, Clintonites/Blairites, Sanders/Corbyn, is supplemented by I-told-you-so head-shaking over the collapse of the pound and Wall Street freakouts. This is all fine and natural. But the other side is missing.
Will there be mass marches in favour of free trade down the avenues of America’s great cities? Surprise me. Will there be sit-ins and confrontations with riot police by angry Clintonites demanding a judicious tweaking of the federal tax code and a modest programme of college debt relief? I’d bet against it. The intensity of the rage of Britain’s pro-Europeans on Twitter, the wildness of their hopes that Brexit might still somehow be cancelled or tamed, is only matched by our lack of action on the streets in support of what we felt so devastated to be deprived of.
I still feel it. I still feel more disgusted, angry and ashamed about the other side winning than I do about my side losing. My champions were fading and insubstantial even before they fought. It saddens me more that America just elected its own id than that in doing so it destroyed the Hillary Clinton project. I will be thrown deeper into despair by the coronation of President Le Pen than into mourning for any of her opponents. It is no longer enough to be offered something to vote for, something to tweet about, an object of loathing. It is never enough to call a march with a whiteboard for a banner. Am I too jaded to hope, in politics, for something real – something, not someone – to yearn for, and not just something to hate?
Chuck Wendig, “Stronger Together, But So Far Apart“
I don’t honestly know where America stands as a country. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the idea of us as a nation is less important as the idea of us as people, as people who support one another and defend one another from wherever we are. It was never our borders that make us good. (As a sidenote, I see some folks talking about moving overseas or to Canada, and I won’t fault you for that and we are idly considering it ourselves, because I fear our finances will get complex and potentially unlivable under the next four years. Don’t chide people who want to move or who need to move, if they can. And don’t chide people who want to stay. Let people handle this how they need to handle it, even if they’re just talking it out.)
I also know that art will be our salvation, if we let it. I’m unlikely to come back here at the blog for the remainder of the month because nothing I say will feel particularly substantial against what’s actually going on. (Sure, sure, I’ll offer you NaNoWriMo advice while Rome burns.)
But I will say this:
Art can be our way forward. Our writing, our vision, our ideas put out there, our heartsblood put to whatever medium we choose. If ever there is a good time to let art be subversive, it’s now. Get weird. Don’t be safe. Have a message. Bring it forward and into and through the work. Some of the best art, the best fiction, is stuff that has teeth, that’s willing to bite the hand that takes away its food and its shelter and its rights. This is a good time — once you’ve mourned the country you thought you lived in — to hunker down and make something. To resist through writing. To occupy your world with story, song, game, and art.
Your voice is now more vital than ever.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The End of the Empire,” The New York Times
The sickness of the American body politic remains untreated, and will remain untreated, or exacerbated, in a country run by clowns, conspirators, and collaborators.
That sickness is imperialism. America is an imperial country, and its decay might now be showing. The power that has brought so much benefit to the country—for white people—is now faltering in its ability to provide those benefits to all white people. The empire’s best hope is to be more inclusive, demographically and economically, but that runs counter to the imperial impulse to hoard power and profit.
Warren or someone like her might be better at extracting more social and economic justice for all Americans. But unless such a person finds a way to ease control from the financial-industrial complex, the prospects of halting our decline are weak.
Empires rot from the inside even as emperors blame the barbarians.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Keynote Address, Hubspot’s #INBOUND16 Marketing Conference
It’s very, very important that we know where these ideas come from. It’s very, very important that we know why they still have a hold on us, why we can be in a situation where eight years after so much euphoria, we can find ourselves faced with a mortal threat. Not just to black people, not just to the country, but the whole world. 2016 wasn’t the first time we faced a threat like this. It was the idea of whiteness that ultimately brought the country to Civil War in 1860.
When Donald Trump went before audiences and was talking about Muslims, when he went into Chicago and talked about law and order—you can see these pictures from the rallies of people getting punched, people being beaten—he was appealing to a nation’s spirit, something that was old in us, something that was ancient in us, something that goes back to 1619. In 2008 we thought that was dead. That was a huge, huge mistake. We had deeply, deeply underestimated ourselves; we had deeply, deeply underestimated our past. The last eight years have been—I don’t know, for me as an African-American, just a period of tremendous pride. But I feel like I took my eye off the ball for a minute. It’s easy to forget that the majority, not ten percent, not twenty percent, not thirty percent, the majority of the opposition party did not believe that the President of the United States was born here. Did not believe that he actually was a Christian. Was circulating rumors about him. Obama bucks—all this hateful, racist propaganda. And it came home to roost last night. And we voted for it.
We have to take ownership of our history. This deep feeling that because we didn’t do whatever happened in 1860—maybe our ancestors just got here at the turn of the 20th century, but somehow we are not responsible to our history, we are not responsible to our society—this is the worst form of patriotism that you could ever imagine. It is patriotism a la carte. Because all of us celebrate on the Fourth of July, even though none of us were there to fight the battle for independence. All of us take off during President’s Day. All of us honor treaties and pay taxes for things that we aren’t directly responsible for. That extends even to our most painful areas. And if we don’t deal with it, if we don’t confront it, and we don’t become more open about directly addressing it, we won’t be looking at just another dark four years. We’ll be be looking at another dark eight, ten, twenty, twenty-five.
Elizabeth Kolbert, “With Trump, Coal Wins, Planet Loses, The New Yorker
To the extent that Trump offered any major policy positions during the campaign—besides, that is, on building a wall—he made clear what his plans were in the areas of energy and the environment. He called climate change a “hoax”; he said he would “cancel” the international climate treaty negotiated last year, in Paris; and he promised to repeal the regulations that the Obama Administration put in place to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. In September, it was reported that Trump planned to pick Myron Ebell, a well-known climate-change denier and a lobbyist for Koch Companies Public Sector L.L.C., to lead his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. The choice made sense, as Trump said repeatedly that he wanted to abolish the E.P.A.
“What they do is a disgrace,” he told Fox News last month.
How many of these things can Trump actually do? The answer is: More than you might think, and certainly more than you’d hope.
An argument can be made that the fate of the planet will be decided by global economic forces more than by any particular treaty or set of regulations. An argument can also be made that the Paris accord was never worth all that much, as all it did was slow down the race toward planetary disaster. Both of these arguments are probably, to a certain extent, true. Still, there’s an awful lot of damage that a Trump Presidency can, and likely will, do.
James Delingpole, at Breitbart, put it this way: “The liberal-left just lost the ‘battle’ against climate change.” Companies like Peabody Coal will be the ones to profit from that. And, in hundreds and hundreds of years, the impacts of the fossil fuels that we’re now burning will still be playing out.
Stacia L. Brown, “Into the Great White Unknown,” The New Republic
I woke up early yesterday, buoyed by the prospect of electing a historic successor for a historic leader—a woman with whom my daughter identified. At 6:45 a.m., a line of predominantly black voters snaked through the corridor of my polling center in Maryland. My fellow voters seemed similarly energized. We were jovial, determined, proud. Because we’re a blue state and I live in a very blue precinct, I am always lulled into a false sense of confidence about the country’s values. In my neighborhood, amid the beautiful unifying energy at my poll, I tend to believe the best about America—just fleetingly, while we’re there, setting our intentions toward racial and gender progress.
We did not know that morning that so many people in so many other states would set their intentions elsewhere, backing a candidate who openly opposes legislative measures that would protect women, blacks, Latinos, indigenous, and Islamic people, and low-income communities.
We didn’t know then that our children would not see the next four years governed by someone who wasn’t a white male conservative.
I do not regret the brief exchange I had with my child about the possibility of a woman president. And as a black woman who grew up with only white male presidents, I can probably prepare her for some of what that will be like for us in the years to come. But some of this will be new to us both. Neither of us has lived in a post-black presidency before, an America that convincingly backed a bigoted candidate over a woman who spoke out about implicit bias. Neither of us has lived in an America ruled by a man who has bragged about committing sexual assault and wants to ban immigrants based on their religion or nationality.
Tony Valenzuela, “To Our Friends in the LGBTQ Literary Community,” Lambda Literary
Yesterday’s election is a stunning blow for us, this country, and the world. I know we all need time to grieve and process. It’ll take time for this sick feeling in my stomach to go away.
That being said, our work at Lambda Literary is now more important than ever before. Our LGBTQ books and the authors who write them are part of the solution to ensure our community remains strong. Readers and publishers are part of the solution as well. We at Lambda Literary are going to continue doing this work stronger than before. We have too much to lose and I personally refuse to concede the hard-fought ground we’ve recently gained.
Ijeoma Oluo, “Good Morning, America. Welcome to Your White Supremacy,” The Stranger
Do not think that you woke up today in a different world. You woke up in the same white supremacist patriarchy that you’ve been waking up to your entire life. Know that this is why our country is the way it is. This is why our black men are in prison. This is why we have a gender wage gap. This is why our Indigenous American brothers and sisters are currently being pepper sprayed and attacked by dogs for trying to protect our environment. This is why our women are being raped at a rate of one in five. This is why white households have 12 times the wealth of black households and 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households. Because we live in a country that is so scared of change that it would elect Donald Trump for president. And we’ve always lived in that country.
So now it’s in the open. Now there is no denying that we live in a White Supremacist Patriarchy that the majority of white people in just about every demographic in America voted for. Now we know that the problem isn’t personal preference, it is not the economy, it is not lack of education. Now we know that there is no middle ground. Now we know that it is our very liberation that is the threat. So we can’t give up. We must fight, we must continue the progress that has made the majority of white America so scared, and we must fight for that progress harder than ever before. Because there is only freedom or oppression; now is a time for each of us to decide which of the two we will define ourselves by.
George R.R. Martin, “President Pussygrabber“
There are really no words for how I feel this morning.
America has spoken. I really thought we were better than this. Guess not.
Trump was the least qualified candidate ever nominated by a major party for the presidency. Come January, he will become the worst president in American history, and a dangerously unstable player on the world stage.
And the decimated Democrats, a minority in both House and Senate, do not have the power to hinder him.
Over the next four years, our problems are going to get much, much worse.
Winter is coming. I told you so.
Dan Piepenbring, “Writers, Start Writing,” The Paris Review
This site is dedicated to literature, arts, and culture. Electoral politics are usually beyond our remit. On a morning like this, when America has chosen a bigot and a xenophobe as its next president, my job feels pointless. But I don’t want to add to the chorus of despair, because I do believe there’s a role for art at a time like this, and I don’t say that lightly—words like these don’t come easily to me. I would rather make fun of things, and I’m struggling against an inborn fatalism. (My iPhone just reminded me to water my plants, and I thought, why bother?) The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can. If you have friends, as I do, who tacitly believe that it’s too much of a chore to read a book, just one fucking book, from start to finish, smash every LCD they own. This is an opportunity. There’s too much at stake now to pretend that everything is okay.
John Scalzi, “Early Morning Thoughts on the Day After“
Here are some of the things it could mean: A conservative Supreme Court for decades, backtracking on climate change, the repeal of Roe v. Wade, curtailment of free speech, loss of medical insurance to millions, tax policy that advantages the wealthy and adds trillions to the national debt, punitive racial policies, the return of torture as a part of the military toolbox, and a president who uses the apparatus of the US to go after his personal enemies. And these are only the things Trump has said he’s ready to do — we don’t know what else he will do when he’s literally the most powerful man on the planet, with a compliant legislature and judiciary.
The GOP conceit is that somehow they will be able to control Trump, which is a theory that’s worked so well up to now. More realistically, I think the best that can be hoped for is that Trump simply becomes apathetic and bored and leaves actual governance to others, i.e., the Dubya maneuver. This didn’t work particularly well then, but it might be marginally better than the alternative. But no matter what, I don’t have much optimism for the next four years.
But at the end of that time, I hope you come back to us. Looking at the numbers as they stand right now, Clinton got at least 100,000 more votes than Trump out of about 120 million individual votes cast. There’s a lot of us who will stand with you, when you’re ready to stand again with us. There’s work to be done over the next four years and beyond. We need to get to it.
That said, it might be a little much to ask people to stand and fight today. It was a long night, and a depressing night, for a lot of us. Take a day. Or two. Or a week. Or however much the time you need for yourself to get your head around this thing.
David Remnick, “An American Tragedy,” The New Yorker
The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.
In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.
Roxane Gay, “The Audacity of Hopelessness,” The New York Times
I feel hopeless right now. I am incredibly disappointed, but I cannot wallow in these feelings for long. I will not. The world will not end because of a Trump presidency. Tomorrow, the sun will rise and the day will be a lot less joyful than I imagined, but I’ll get through it. We all will.
But I also know that the most vulnerable among us will now be even more vulnerable because there are now too few checks and balances to executive power, given the Republican-controlled legislature.
Where do we go from here? That is the question many of us will be trying to answer for the next while. For now, we need to breathe, stand tall and adjust to this new reality as best we can. We need — through writing, through protest, through voting in 2018 and 2020 — to be the checks and balances our government lacks so that we can protect the most defenseless among us, so that we can preserve the more perfect union America has long held as the ideal. We have to fight hard, though I do not yet know what that fight looks like.
Jennifer Weiner, “Taking My Daughters to Vote,” The New York Times
What did my daughters see at what was supposed to be the revolution?
They learned that, while we tell our daughters “you can do anything,” the presidency still might stay a theoretical.
They learned that, as we inch toward equality, there is still work to be done.
They learned that “boys will be boys” is still a valid argument, even when the boy in question was 59 at the time. They learned that men get excused for their misdeeds, while women are blamed for their mistakes — and those of their spouses.
They learned that, if you try to break a glass ceiling, you’d better be prepared to get cut.
Marilynne Robinson, “Division besets us. But the US must live up to its role in the world,” The Guardian
Devastating as this result is, it should help us to recognise contemporary pressures on the historic order which are the result of economic change, political polarisation and the new media, each of which enhances the effects of the others.
Elections are of unparalleled value as a means of letting the country know how things stand with it. Until the primary results started coming in, the press and the leadership of both parties had no notion that Trump would be a force to be reckoned with. His victory has made it very clear that they need much better means for understanding the public mind, which is, so long as we remain a democracy, the crucial factor in our national life.
We have a role in the world we must try to live up to. With Trump victorious, just how we do that is a big question. We like to forget that the people of other countries follow our politics day by day. If the ugliness of Donald Trump’s campaign continues into his presidency, that will do more harm to our standing than any economic or military preeminence can recover. A city on a hill cannot be hid – even with a President Trump in charge.
Jonathan Freedland, “The US has elected its most dangerous leader. We all have plenty to fear,” The Guardian
People all around the world had watched and waited, through the consecutive horrors of the 2016 election campaign, believing the Trump nightmare would eventually pass. But today the United States – the country that had, from its birth, seen itself as a beacon that would inspire the world, a society that praised itself as “the last best hope of earth”, the nation that had seemed to be bending the arc of history towards justice, as Barack Obama so memorably put it on this same morning eight years ago – has stepped into the abyss.
Today the United States stands not as a source of inspiration to the rest of the world but as a source of fear. Instead of hailing its first female president, it seems poised to hand the awesome power of its highest office to a man who revels in his own ignorance, racism and misogyny.
Attica Locke, NPR
I’m not crushed, I’m awake. I feel very awake to what my country is telling me. It is hard for me to not see this through the lens of race. I’ve always considered racism to be America’s original sin, and so the incredible optimism I felt on the other side of Obama is dashed.
I wouldn’t say that in any way black folks underperformed, I would say white racists overperformed. God bless ’em, they pulled it off.
[David Greene: “And we should be careful here, because there are many Trump supporters who I’ve spoken to over the years who would not consider themselves racist.”]
You know what though, David, I’m out with that. There’s a part of me that honestly feels like that level of politeness, where we’re not calling things what they are, is how we will never get forward. The fact of the matter is that you have to at best have to be able to tolerate racism in your president.
Andrew Sullivan, “The Republic Repeals Itself,” New York Magazine
This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image. He has humiliated the elites and the elite media. He has embarrassed every pollster and naysayer. He has avenged Obama. And in the coming weeks, Trump will not likely be content to bask in vindication. He will seek unforgiving revenge on those who dared to oppose him. The party apparatus will be remade in his image. The House and Senate will fail to resist anything he proposes — and those who speak up will be primaried into oblivion. The Supreme Court may well be shifted to the far right for more than a generation to come — with this massive victory, he can pick a new Supreme Court justice who will make Antonin Scalia seem like a milquetoast. He will have a docile, fawning Congress for at least four years. We will not have an administration so much as a court.
I see no way to stop this at first, but some of us will have to try. And what we must seek to preserve are the core institutions that he may threaten — the courts, first of all, even if he shifts the Supreme Court to an unprecedentedly authoritarian-friendly one. Then the laws governing the rules of war, so that war crimes do not define America as their disavowal once did. Then the free press, which he will do all he can to intimidate and, if possible, bankrupt. Then the institutions he will have to destroy to achieve what he wants — an independent Department of Justice as one critical bulwark, what’s left of the FBI that will not be an instrument of his reign of revenge, our scientific institutions, and what’s left of free thought in our colleges and universities. We will need to march peacefully on the streets to face down the massive intimidation he will at times present to a truly free and open society. We have to hold our heads up high as we defend the values of the old republic, even as it crumbles into authoritarian dust. We must be prepared for nonviolent civil disobedience. We must transcend racial and religious division in a movement of resistance that is as diverse and as open as the new president’s will be uniform and closed.
And, impossible though it may be, we will have to resist partisanship. The only way back to a free society, to a country where no one need fear the president’s wrath or impulses, is to unwind the factionalism that has helped destroy this country. We have to forge a new coalition on right and left to resist fascism’s reach and cultic power. In a country which just elected and re-elected a black president — whose grace feels now almost painful to recall — it is surely possible.