Donald Trump has been taking up a lot of America's mental bandwidth for the last year or so, in a way that extends far beyond the typical partisan doomsaying that goes on during a typical presidential election. Whatever people thought about Bernie Sanders's math on free college, Hillary Clinton's Goldman Sachs transcripts, Ted Cruz's one-page tax form (wut), or Jeb Bush's charter school profiteering, a queasy consensus seems to have emerged among coastal liberal elites, most women, a vast majority of people of color, and even union-busting, abortion-clinic-closing, anti-gay-marriage Republicans like Ohio Governor John Kasich. In Never Trump Land—welcome—all agree that Trump represents a unique threat to American democracy and must be stopped.
Much in Trump's personality, public statements, and advertised positions gives credence to this theory. Trump has called Mexican immigrants rapists and encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies. He has said he'll break international trade pacts and military treaties, kill the families of suspected terrorists, embrace torture once more, "open up" libel laws to suppress critical media outlets, shut down mosques, and ban Muslims from entering the country. He has pushed conspiracy theories about thousands of Muslims cheering September 11th, President Obama being born outside of the U.S., and much more. Slate has a handy, ranked run-down of un-presidential/unhinged Trump outbursts here.
Trump is also toxic as a businessman. He had the good fortune to inherit millions of dollars from his developer dad, and over the past three decades has made some money marketing himself as a comic-book ideal of wealth and ruthlessness. On the flip side, his companies have declared bankruptcy six times; he personally admits, in a roundabout way, that his billions of net worth are inflated and based in part on his own imagination; and he has left a trail of thousands of lawsuits, spurned business partners, unpaid workers, fraud investigations, and harassed and discriminated-against tenants in his wake. A full accounting of the wreckage could fill the Trump Tower. For a somewhat brief rundown, here's The Atlantic.
The threat is clear to the Never Trumpers, who, given that the Republican Party has lent its name to the duck-lipped would-be strongman, have a stronger toehold in blue states. But how does one get the necessity of stopping Trump across to people who, as George Saunders wrote for the New Yorker, believe that "Vince Foster has still been murdered, Dick Morris is a reliable source, kids are brainwashed 'way to the left' by going to college, and Obama may yet be Muslim"?
What can those of us who live in blue (or red) states do if we think we're living in Germany in 1933, or, understanding that the rise of Hitler is an imperfect analogy, believe that "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing"?
Let me preface this set by saying that I know the pundits and analysts, even those who purport to operate exclusively in the realm of data, have been wrong on Trump every step of the way. They failed to predict the rise of Trump, and when he was the Republican frontrunner, they desperately predicted that the wheels would fall off his campaign because of his latest outrageous statement or some other event TBD. Clearly, Trump's fear-mongering, irreverence, and emphasis on American might and jobs, however untethered from facts, speaks to people. And clearly the editors at national media outlets who shudder in horror at his every move have yet to penetrate that appeal. In fact, their ruffled feathers are fuel for a campaign that may be the most elaborate exercise in trolling ever conceived.
Still, I've got some ideas.
If you want to give money, don't give money to Hillary Clinton
Give money to down-ticket Democratic candidates with positions you can fully get behind. Your money will go further.
As of June 30th, Clinton and her backers had raised $600 million for this campaign. As my one-time Obama ground-campaign operative friend put it, "You give Hillary Clinton $30, it's a drop in the bucket. Goldman Sachs gives her a million times that." (The economy-wrecking financial juggernaut has given Clinton about $890,000 over her career, plus more than $2 million in speaking fees to her and Bill, more than a quarter million to the Clinton Foundation, and CEO Lloyd Blankfein invested an unknown amount with son-in-law Marc Mezvinsky's hedge fund.)
The former organizer continued, "If you give Clinton $30, it's going to pay for one person's catered food one night at a fundraiser. If you give it to a down-ticket candidate, it's going to pay for the copying of voter lists, copying of maps."
The DNC and the Clinton campaign had claimed that the Hillary Clinton Victory Fund, criticized by the Sanders campaign for supposedly circumventing campaign fundraising rules, was spreading money around to down-ticket races, but emails published through the DNC leaks revealed that less than one percent of the $82 million raised ended up with state party organizations.
"The long-term impact is in the success of down-ticket people and local organization building," according to the former organizer I talked to. And a key final point here, if you agree with the premise of this article, is that, "Everyone [a down-ticket candidate] turns out to vote is likely to vote for Hillary Clinton."
For an idea of who you could support, check out the Progressive Change Campaign Committee website. Also, in South Florida, Berniecrat Tim Canova is running against incumbent congresswoman and disgraced former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, attacking her past opposition to medical marijuana, her support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and her support from Wall Street.
Phone-bank and canvass for a down-ticket candidate
Before you hop in a rental car and head to Pennsylvania, hold on a second. If you're reading this and haven't yet linked up with the Clinton campaign, chances are you don't want to. You're not alone: a recent Gallup poll found that 52 percent of people currently view Hillary Clinton unfavorably (the silver lining: 62 percent think the same of Trump). If the fear of a Trumpocalypse is weighing on you even more than your Clinton fatigue and you feel so compelled, pick a candidate or state party organization in a swing state and get to work pitching people on a Democrat you have more enthusiasm for.
Your script may call for you to work in some Hillary love, or not. The fact is that moving Democrats who otherwise would not have voted to the polls for a local candidate is a net good for Clinton, and provides a kind of mobilization her massive, extremely well-financed campaign operation cannot. It also, hopefully, will end up helping the people who end up having to live with the winner of the local race.
Consider canvassing for Gary Johnson in white suburban and rural areas
You may not agree with Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson on everything—sure he wants to legalize marijuana and end the U.S.'s long run as an global military interventionist; he's also hazy on who Harriet Tubman is. Still, the guy is polling at 8 and 9 percent, and he could well siphon off support from Trump if those keen on Trump's brand of economic and military isolationism are grossed out by his mushroom-cloud-sized ego and onion-paper-thin skin. Polls suggest that the Trump is doing best among voters who are white, male, and lack a college education. People fitting that bill happen to be concentrated outside of cities.
It is not necessarily impossible to imagine someone successfully converting a Trump vote to a Clinton vote in the white rural South, but as the former campaigner I spoke to put it, "The time it would take you, at that point, you might as well get a part-time job and donate the money you earn." The factors that motivate Trump voters are many and multi-faceted, it's true. However, the prospect of stopping Hillary Clinton is a very strong and persistent one, built up through decades of conspiratorial right-wing messaging and actual shadiness by the Clintons.
If you have a Fox-News-watching family member, think of how difficult it is to talk to that person about why he should vote Clinton, then imagine doing it with a stranger. And while you're at it, call your conservative relative and tell him about all that Johnson has to offer.
On the flip side, there is some chance that by canvassing for Johnson in a swing state, even in a rural area, you might peel away some small sliver of support for Clinton. So, I dunno, take solace in the fact that politics is more interesting and relevant to people's lives when there are more than two parties in play?
Swap votes with a swing state voter to empower the Green Party without helping to elect Trump
Third-party candidates need five percent of the vote to get federal election funding for their parties the next go-round. If you're on board with single-payer healthcare, breaking up big banks, ending domestic spying, drawing down mass incarceration, etc., but also want to ensure that people vote Clinton where it truly counts, talk to someone in a swing state about swapping votes. The swing state resident votes for Hillary; you vote for Jill Stein; and no one can accuse either of you of throwing the election to Trump (though they will anyway). Voters in decidedly red states could also offer to trade with a swing-state resident, since the red state is going Trump anyhow.
People who set up websites for vote-swapping in 2000 shut them down after drawing law enforcement scrutiny. Selling your vote is definitely illegal, but after some courthouse back-and-forth, an appeals court ruled that the voluntary, non-binding agreement to swap votes is protected free speech.
A group called Vote Pact considers the tactic I'm describing a cop-out and is trying to arrange a mutual exiting of the dominant parties by liberals and conservatives through one-to-one agreements to vote third party on either side. The more practical Swap My Vote is running in the United Kingdom but hasn't landed here yet. Perhaps this could all be accomplished on Reddit now, idk.
Understand that swing states aren't monolithic (and don't talk down to people)
We get it: you went to a decent college, you live in the big city, you have great opinions, perhaps the best opinions. You either escaped the hell of your small town in the middle of the country or, as a native of Westchester County, never had to suffer the indignity of visiting such a place. Nevertheless, this should go without saying, but for God's sake, never utter the phrase "flyover state."
No matter how many "Go back to Ohio" jokes you've told, no matter your level of disdain for private automobile ownership, there's no way you will connect with people if you don't fundamentally respect them and approach your conversation with an open mind and the knowledge that the person you're speaking to has had a unique life experience with its own set of challenges, and comes from a particular place with its own set of norms.
Take Ohio. Ohio is a complex place with a lot of sociopolitical and economic variation from county to county. The southern part of the state has more in common with Appalachia than Indiana. The northeast is home to majority Democratic, formerly industrial, majority-minority cities decades into a decline wrought by the departure of manufacturers. The suburbs of those cities can be Trump territory, also suffering from de-industrialization, but seeing a different set of solutions. Columbus is a diverse college town in the middle that's doing pretty decently, thanks very much.
There are some militiamen and stretches of endless corn-fields out there, for sure, and racism is not a figment of our collective imagination, but yelling at someone about how they're ignorant and wrong is no way to bring them around to your point of view.
And on that note,
Bernie or Bust protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Tyler LaRiviere/Gothamist)
Don't yell at your friends in blue states for disliking Hillary Clinton
If you live in a state that has voted Democratic in past presidential elections and you think a single-digit percentage of people voting for Jill Stein gives Trump a chance there, we have much bigger problems than that guy you went to high school with who's still talking about affidavit ballot counting. Assuming that blue states remain blue in November, yelling at your Bernie bud is going to accomplish exactly nothing. If the goal is Democratic Party unity, Bernie Sanders supporters need convincing that their vision of a Democratic Party accountable to the grassroots and helping working people is going to be embraced, not dismissed.
You might think Hillary Clinton's policies are exponentially preferable to Trump's, but respect that people have serious issues with her track record that extend far beyond guttural cries of "Benghazi!"
For example: At a time when banks have been formally recognized as too big to fail and bankers as too big to jail, when our prisons are packed with drug users and street hustlers and the lives of government employees are ruined for blowing the whistle on domestic spying, it's not a good look for Clinton to get a pass from the FBI for storing classified material on an insecure server. Sanders fans' complaints that the primary process was unfair are no longer easily caricatured now that the top leaders of the DNC have had to step down because hacked DNC emails showed they were colluding with the Clinton campaign well before the primary contest with Sanders was over.
Nor are the people who want money out of politics thrilled about the tens of millions of dollars that hedge funds, banks, insurance companies, and other financial services companies have given to Clinton's campaign, or the billions raised by the Clinton Foundation from corporate giants and foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, or the leveraging of Hillary's secretary of state job to make Clinton allies money.
To the progressive eye, President Obama had a troubling tendency to take actions far to the right of what his thoughtful, constitutional-law professor background would suggest. The man who campaigned on promises to close the extra-judicial prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed at all three. The U.S. is currently carrying out drone wars in three countries, and has troops in combat areas in five others, including Iraq and Afghanistan. On Monday, Obama opened a ninth theater of war when the U.S. started bombing ISIS in Libya, the country which has been in chaos since the Clinton-backed effort to oust Muammar Gaddafi.
Obama, the presidential candidate who pledged to create a citizenship process for undocumented immigrants has, as president, deported more people than any U.S. president in history. If Obama was hoping for some conservative props for all this, he has obviously not gotten them.
Obama's speech at the DNC framed Clinton's presidency as a seamless handoff from him to his understudy, and Clinton's record of pushing for even more war than Obama wanted suggests that she will be quicker to pursue military escalation if elected, though she would surely phrase it more politely than "bombing the shit out of 'em."
Someone expressing that Hillary Clinton is not someone's choice of a leader is not letting the perfect being the enemy of the good—it's beginning a conversation about what has actually been done in the name of Democrats, and all Americans, and what should be done in the future.
But I'm getting off track here. When feeling the need to scold your friends about politics, go punch a dumpster instead. At least you'll get some exercise out of it!
Upper East Side residents sound off at a community board meeting. (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
Get involved in local politics
I'm not saying Trump won't start a nuclear war if elected, but for perspective, Reagan expressed numerous times that he was game for that, and said all sorts of other crazy shit during his campaign and subsequent two terms, all while barely showing up to work and possibly suffering from early stages of Alzheimer's.
Look, I think we can all agree (in Never Trump Land) that nuclear annihilation, internment camps, (continued) mass deportations and the like are a bad idea and we should resist them however we can. That said, the decisions that most affect what the world looks like outside your front door are being made every day in City Hall, in Albany, and in the halls of Congress. And by and large, nobody pays attention to any of it.
That's how our mayor, who is currently the subject of six or seven separate investigations and whose deputies sold off a nursing home to be turned into condos and tried to cover up the extent of their involvement, could be elected by a "landslide" with 750,000 votes. That's how we ended up with two terms of a governor who says, "Our progressive government is working in New York" at the DNC while his aides are being investigated for possibly selling favors, while New York continues to have one of the most restrictive voter participation processes in the country, while Cuomo has allied himself with Republicans and so-called Independent Democrats to create an artificial Republican majority in the state Senate, and while he is planning elaborate vanity projects for our public transit system as funding for practical matters such as modernizing the subways' signaling to speed trains has yet to fully materialize. That's how our lacadaisical congressional representatives end up elected to 12th terms on the strength of 5,000 votes in a primary, or if they're unopposed, no votes at all.
The rise of Donald Trump is not unprecedented. It is the latest product of decades of Republican messaging and organizing that began with the Southern Strategy, Richard Nixon's plan to recruit white Southern Democrats who were upset about the passage of the Civil Rights Act (it worked). That thread runs through the ascent of Fox News to the top of the cable ratings, the Koch brothers-incubated Tea Party, and the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. The Republican Party may have lost its grip on the latest figurehead of the neo-John Birch Society it stirred up for votes, but the fact that Republicans control the House and the Senate, and that Trump has a shot at the presidency at all is a testament not just to the anger and xenophobia of a large chunk of the U.S. population, but also to the effectiveness of ground-level conservative organizations at mobilizing voters, writing legislation, and shepherding hand-picked judges into power.
How does the old saying go? Don't mourn—organize!