Monday, January 16, 2017

The Trump trap

Teh Donald is a prick. He would probably beam if he heard me: it's a tacit admission that I know and at some level fear him. And yeah, I do fear him. How could I not fear an emotional toddler who will command the U.S. military and federal law enforcement?

Even so, I have a suggestion for pundits, journalists, policymakers and responsible citizens: don't personalize his presidency.

Disagree with and resist the policies that you find repugnant. Robustly criticize and resist the actions that defy reason and comity. But with just as much resolve, resist the urge to hurl ad hominem attacks (e.g., "Teh Donald is a prick"). These only harden his supporters' hearts against the rest of us, and we need to reach them. Worse, mixing it up with him distracts us from substantive issues, and he's a master at distracting the crowd. Stop falling for this trick!

When he goes after those who criticize his administration (and he will — look at how he has reacted to Rep. John Lewis and Alec Baldwin), look carefully for any substantive objections and respond to them, but as for his schoolyard taunting, simply assert, "Donald Trump's personal smears are not worth answering" and leave it at that.

Does it feel like he's getting away with something? Suck it up. Stay focused.

Teh Donald is a handy target if you want to lash out at the regressive trends we seem to be seeing in the country. If, however, you want to change those trends, you have to keep reminding yourself that he's not fundamentally the problem. The problem is that we do not understand each other in a way that will allow us to acknowledge our shared humanity when we disagree. Finding the center is crucial to our politics, but we're perilously close to not having a center any more. Hell, we don't have shared facts any more. Consensus requires coming to a shared understanding of how things are and we're not talking in a way that lets us hear each other.

This problem would exist even if Teh Donald didn't. However, he poses a unique obstacle to coming to grips with the problem because he's so good at sucking the oxygen out of the room. As a private citizen his hogging of the spotlight was a nuisance. As POTUS it could be disastrous for the country. We have serious problems to tackle: we can't waste our energies making him the focus of our attention.

I'm not under the illusion that we can depersonalize Teh Donald's presidency. However, we don't all have to fall into the Trump trap — not all the time, anyway. Stop throwing invective at him. Work toward a better future in spite of him.

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