October 8, 2017
Thomas Friedman’s comments are right – we are home alone with a demoralizing and amoral president who is incapable of leading at a time when leadership is sorely needed to enter a new world of challenges and change. Friedman says it is a uniquely bad time to have a race-baiting president, a climate change denier and divider-in-chief. All true. But the reason we got Trump was, I believe, in large part because of the rapid change we are experiencing as a country. Many people fear change. Many people fear the advent of something beyond their control that could upend their lives and plans for the future and the future of their children. When change is frightening, people cling to the past. Make America Great Again was a call to return to the past. Trump was elected, in part, because many Americans in key states with people who feared newness cast their vote for what they thought was their best hope.
Why are they so scared? Newness can be frightening if you have not experienced and adjusted yourself to it. We have been living in a rapidly changing world of titanic technological shifts in the way we work and how we think. We are living in a far more interconnected, global world. Over the past decade our cities have become more multicultural. People of color are everywhere in our major cities and those of us who live in cities are not only comfortable with that but welcome the diversity. Women have gained power and are gaining their place in the C-suites, the courtrooms, and as successful entrepreneurs. Their rise does not mean good men cannot also rise but there is less of a thumb on the scales in favor white male dominance.
Rapid change has meant that some people without marketable skills that open doors for the new way we work have been unable to find good jobs. The recession added to that fear. And now we are learning that Russia – by weaponizing Facebook and Twitter – ginned up the fear and outrage that were there, but probably not in the amount or to the degree that we “saw” because it turns out, much of that may well have been Russian bots and weaponized, amplified Facebook and Twitter activity. Nonetheless, people who are afraid of change had reason to be fearful. And into this mix came Trump, the expert marketer and showman, who claimed only HE could fix it. Fearful people flocked to his rallies and laughed at his mean spirited “jokes” and insults. Others tolerated him hoping he would pivot and learn to be presidential while saving their jobs and returning the culture to something they felt more comfortable with.
We are, I believe, living through a really bad bump in the road in a period of time of reaction to rapid change. Just as a pendulum swings to the right and then back to the left, there is a tendency for politics to swing right and then left again in response to social and cultural change. Adjusting to the new terrain of a technologically altered world, a newly globally interconnected world and a newly diverse and multicultural reality takes time and is not a smooth road. I have faith that the pendulum will swing back towards progress but there is pain in the process.
Part of the pain is having to exert the effort to push back against regressive decisions, presidential orders and tweets from the offender in chief that shock the sensibilities of those of us who are already comfortable with the new world we believe in and live in (in the blue states and cities across the country) that Trump and many Republicans are assaulting, clawing back and attacking. We see our judiciary, CEOs, many attorney generals, even the medical industry and the majority of Americans push back against the regressive cultural and social tendencies of Trump and the ethical morass that he embodies and inspires in others in his cabinet (like all the guys flying private jets at taxpayer expense just as Trump does). There is no longer any doubt that Trump aligns himself with white supremacists and the Roy Moores and Jeff Sessions out there in America – the regressive voices that would drag us back to the bad old days they see as the good old days.
But a majority of Americans do not agree with these regressive impulses. This administration does not speak for the majority opinion and we see that in Trump’s poll numbers. 56% of Americans do not believe he is fit to serve as President. He has a 57% disapproval rating which is terrible for any president. He will not be able to get things done. But then the things he wants to get done the majority doesn’t want done anyhow. Tax cuts that help mainly the rich and add to the deficit? Health care that cuts millions from Medicaid? These are bad ideas in a progressive world. And compared to Trump himself, the Republicans suffer from an even worse approval rating – 15%. And a disapproval rating of 78%.
There is robust push back we can see in the response to Trump’s assault on the NBA, the very public spat he has been having with Colin Kaepernick, Steven Curry and other athletes. The team owners (many of them former big donors of Trump’s campaign) have lined up with the players against Trump. Because they have to. We live in a multicultural world of sports and we are not going back to a world that kept black players out. Same thing with the Muslim ban and the attempt to kill Obamacare. Remember how Trump’s alignment with the white supremacists in Charlottesville caused him to lose many CEOs who had been on panels that supported Trump’s initiatives? They jumped off his ship. They had to. Because right now the majority of Americans are already aligned with a world that is moving forward towards greater tolerance and multicultural interconnection, acknowledgement of the need for sustainable energy and a rejection of fossil fuels. Business owners, CEOs, were pushed and pushed hard not only by progressive voices and the electorate, but by the millennials who work in these companies, by the human resource departments in their companies and by their own grasp of the reality of today’s progressive world. We are not going to go back in time to a society that no longer works with a global, diverse world. We have to come to grips with change and a new reality. And that is not so easy for some people. Trump is working to yank us back before we can go forward. But we will go forward.
Meanwhile we have to endure a government that is misaligned with the majority viewpoint; a government that by and large does not speak for a majority of Americans. There is a good reason Hillary won some 3 million more votes than Trump. She was probably not the right standard bearer of the new reality but she represented the future of our country, the progress we need to make and the way forward. What will be successful is an interconnected, more tolerant America that will move past Trump and the voices of the past.
Meanwhile, we are learning how to fight back against Russian bots and fake news. We are showing up for the big fights with Republicans as they try over and over to kill ACA but fail. We are using humor to stay sane and fight back with Colbert, Trevor Noah on the Daily Show, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee and others. We are watching Rachel Maddow and she is gaining market share over Fox News pundits because people are beginning to understand that they are being misinformed and misled by the real fake news and they need to know what’s really going on. Many Americans now accept that climate change is real, for example. They understand that the recent hurricanes were not one offs. Many Americans do not believe what Trump says. They know he is a terrible liar.
I believe we will get back to moving forward in this country. But it is painful to be here in this place and time in history. We are searching for the right new leaders and voices to speak for us. They are rising up but not fully empowered yet. I have faith in this country and in the innate goodness of most people. If the Cajun Navy in Texas (probably a lot of good old boy Republicans) can come to the rescue of fellow citizens in need (probably Democrats), we know our country still has a beating heart and good values. Most Americans are better human beings than Trump is. We will overcome this benighted presidency.
We need to adapt to succeed, and this president isn’t helping.
NYTIMES.COM|BY THOMAS FRIEDMAN