Shortly after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, I spoke to a friend in Istanbul about my boundless horror, and while I can’t remember the exact words she said in response, they amounted to “Welcome to my world.” I told her about all the protests breaking out, and she gently warned me not to get my hopes up. She’d also demonstrated against Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, she said, but eventually those protests had died out, and ours would too.
Over the next four years, I was often relieved that her prediction hadn’t come true. The Resistance, as the broad alliance of anti-Trump Americans came to be known, never flagged. An obvious reason for its endurance is that Americans enjoy robust civil rights protections that the opponents of ruling regimes in many other countries do not. Despite my friend’s generous empathy, there was in fact no real comparison between our situations; while Trump demonized journalists, Erdogan imprisoned them. In the absence of serious state repression, Trump’s critics rarely had to hide their sentiments, making it easier to maintain hope that they, and not their freakish madman of a president, represented this country’s future.
I fear that in a second Trump administration it will be much harder to keep the faith. The first Trump presidency seemed like a grotesque accident, a civic disaster that befell us because we were too blithely arrogant to see it coming. Trump redux, however, is something we’re lurching toward with eyes wide open. If he wins again, it won’t be a shock, and no one will be able to claim, as so many did before, that this is not who we are.
Right now, general election polls are blaring like sirens: A recent survey from Bloomberg News/Morning Consult has Trump leading in all seven swing states. He has made no secret of how he intends to govern: He wants to round up undocumented immigrants by the millions and imprison them in a network of new detention camps while they await deportation. He will, he’s said, free many of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists — he calls them “hostages” — and use the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies. As The Washington Post reported, his associates have drafted plans to invoke the Insurrection Act as soon as he takes power so that he can deploy the military against protesters.
The ex-president’s rhetoric is increasingly Hitlerian; he’s repeatedly said that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of our country, language that echoes “Mein Kampf.” This month, he approvingly quoted Vladimir Putin about the “rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy,” and he has said he wants to be a dictator on the first day of a second presidency. He should be taken seriously, even if we’ve all grown too numb to maintain the appropriate level of alarm.
Faced with this onrushing nightmare, anti-Trump forces seem stunned and dejected. As progressives turn on Joe Biden over the war in Gaza, people too young to remember Ralph Nader’s spoiler campaign in 2000, which helped give us the George W. Bush presidency and thus the Iraq war, are threatening to vote for third-party or independent candidates like Jill Stein and Cornel West. Meanwhile, the flood of money that kept the Resistance flush through the Trump years has slowed to a trickle. In November, the liberal behemoth MoveOn became the latest progressive group to face layoffs, a sign, The New York Times reported, “of a slowdown in donations from small donors to left-leaning causes and candidates.”
I was alarmed by something the painter Adam Pendleton said in a roundup of trendsetters’ 2024 predictions published by T, The Times’s style magazine. “We’ll turn toward abstraction,” he said. “I predict that Donald Trump is going to win the election and, when people seek some sort of relief valve or means to move forward, I don’t think they’re going to do that by looking at a bunch of figurative paintings.” I have nothing against abstract art, but I was disturbed both by his resignation and by the idea that a new Trump term might be met not with relentless pushback but with aesthetic escapism.
Before we can fight authoritarianism, we have to fight fatalism. My great hope for 2024 is that anti-Trump Americans can transcend exhaustion, burnout and self-protective pessimism to mobilize once again for the latest most important election of our lifetimes. It’s perfectly understandable that many people galvanized by abhorrence of Trump would step back once his immediate threat to the Republic receded. The obsession with politics that took over the country during his administration was neither sustainable nor healthy. But if you don’t want an even uglier and more despairing replay of those years, the time to act is now.
One place to start is with donations to grass-roots organizations working on voter turnout, which are desperately underfunded. (The Movement Voter Project has a clickable map with links to such groups all over the country.) You can also get involved with the campaigns to put referendums protecting abortion rights on the ballot in states like Arizona and Florida, efforts that could both undo cruel abortion bans and drive voter turnout.
It’s going to be especially important next year to give people reasons to vote beyond the presidential election. I didn’t want Biden to run again and wish there had been a competitive Democratic primary, but it’s too late for a serious challenge now. Faced with an unenthusiastic electorate, Democrats will need down-ballot candidates who can motivate people to go the polls. Few are doing more to bring exciting new candidates into the political process than Run for Something, which recruits and trains young progressives to run for office.
“As we look to our strategy for ’24, we want to make sure especially that we’re prioritizing resources for local candidates whose races can have an impact at the top of the ticket,” said Amanda Litman, Run for Something’s co-founder. Young voters, she said, “are not particularly psyched about Joe Biden right now. But thanks to years of education and each of these special elections, they deeply understand the need to show up locally.”
Here’s hoping she’s right. Next year is going to be hard. It’s up to all of us whether it’s going to be disastrous.
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