Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
There are times in history when eras end and new ones begin. As a historian I think that we are on the verge of one of those moments in history and that is not necessarily a good thing. Barbara Tuchman wrote that as England declared war on Germany in 1914 of British Foreign Secretary Earl Edward Grey:
“Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”
I believe that could well be the case in our country and the world in the not too distant future, the symbolism of the lamps going out may be all too real.
At 12:01 today Donald Trump will take the Oath of Office and become the President of the United States. That is a fact. We can argue about his legitimacy. Like it or not he is the legal and thus the legitimate President. Of course that is one definition of legitimate. But there is another definition that can be argued to say that he is not, and this one is quite important to our form of government. That definition is “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.” This is something that no-one can claim that Mr. Trump has done in his long business life or in his short political life. The latter is incredibly important, but it does not take away the legality of his election. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next five and a half hours he will be the President, and if something were to happen the resulting chaos who likely be worse than the transition of power to a man who appears to have been elected with the help of a hostile foreign power, and who lost the popular vote by one of the widest margins ever for someone who won the electoral vote. The truth be told I wish I had never seen this day come, but it has.
That my friends, like it or lump it is reality, and as the masthead of this site reads, I am a “progressive realist in Wonderland.”
Now we can say “Never Trump” all we want, but he will still be President. We can put hashtags saying “not my President,” but he will still be President. That is cold hard reality. We can talk about resistance, but if we resist we need to be smart in how we do it and apply reason, logic, and hard work.
Does that mean that his policies should not be opposed on principle of they harm people? Never. There are many of his stated policies which if implemented will be harmful to the country. Likewise, some of the things that he has said regarding foreign policy not only will make us weaker but could end up in an even chaotic world and the real possibility of war with nations that could do us great harm, militarily and economically. Of course we could find out that once in office he becomes more pragmatic, realistic, and flexible. I kind of doubt it but it is a possibility.
A lot depends on what he says tomorrow, if he conducts himself with humility, dignity, and shows respect for all Americans, he could change the tenor of the debate in the country and instead of having to crush those who question his legitimacy, he could earn their respect, even if it is grudging. Again, while this is possible, I am not hopeful that it will happen, but I could be wrong. Even so, no-matter how he conducts himself today, he will still be President.
So what are the realistic options?
Protest is always an option, but those who do so must be very careful and not allow themselves to be provoked into any action that could cause President Trump to enact measures that are written in the Constitution, in established law, and in executive orders that deal with civil unrest. We have to remember that there are “agent provocateurs” who do things to cause individuals to do things that puts them on the wrong side of the law. One stupid or violent action against the President could bring the whole house down. If we protest it must be peaceful and those who do cannot allow themselves to respond to violence and intimidation in kind. That is what we learned from men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis. The path has to be non-violent.
What else can we do?
Get involved. Write your state and Federal representatives and senators on all important issues. Don’t just tweet to your friends.
Revitalize the political party system in the country by participating at all levels.
Run for office, especially at the local and state level. That is where real change happens, if your don’t win there it doesn’t matter if you win the Presidency once in a while. Many offices around the country are won by people who run unopposed; don’t let that happen.
Donate money to political groups, parties, and those who represent what you believe.
Speak up for those who have no voice and who are demonized by Trump’s most radical followers as well as those in the Republican Party who have demonized them far longer than Mr. Trump has been a member of that party.
Speak truth to power and do not spread rumors or innuendo. Get away from spreading political memes that even if they are factual are not conducive to reasoned debate.
Read long articles in newspapers, and journals. Things that require thought and reflection. When you share them do what I do. Ask people to read them and then ask them if the want to comment pro or con to do so themselves and not on your social media timeline or to discuss things in personal messages or even better in person. Avoid Twitter wars and Facebook rants, be careful of what you say in e-mails and comment sections of public forums.
Gather together in person and discuss issues, even with people with whom you disagree. Do it over a meal, a drink, but do it respectfully and build bridges that break down the walls of division. It’s hard to hate people that you break bread with.
Remember, there are people who initially support authoritarian leaders who sooner or later realize that they were deceived by false promises and come around. One of those was the German Pastor Martin Niemoller who initially supported Hitler, then when he realized that he had been lied to, spoke up, and resisted. In a concentration camp he wrote these words:
“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”
Believe me, there will be a lot of people who voted for President Trump and his GOP allies who will be dealing with buyer’s remorse in the not too distant future. When that happens we need to be there for them.
Read. Barbara Tuchman wrote:
“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”
Read real books on history, political science, law and the Constitution. Read how we got the Declaration of Independence and the story of how in the face of real rebellion and war, Abraham Lincoln began the quest for “a new birth of freedom.”
Read the biographies of statesmen and women, politicians, Presidents, and Prime Ministers, civil rights leaders, labor leaders, and even religious leaders. Read the classics, and even poetry. Learn about courage to face trying times and uncertain futures from those who went before us. Learn from their successes and also their failures. Most of them had feet of clay, but the good ones made a difference. We can too.
These are things that matter and in the long run can defeat the worst attempts of Trump, his cabinet officials, people he appoints as justices and judges, and GOP dominated legislatures.
Will you get instant gratification? No. This is hard work. It requires patience, humility, the ability to admit when we are wrong, and the courage to face reality. Part of that reality is that Donald Trump will be President at 12:01 today. I will not bury my head in the sand, and as painful and distasteful as it will probably be I will watch the inauguration today, if nothing else to show my respect to our outgoing President and his family, who I will miss as President.
I remember watching Barak Obama’s inauguration in 2009. When he took the Oath of Office, I was standing beside the bed of a critically ill African American woman in the ICU of the Medical center that I then worked. She was nearly 90 years old. Her late husband had been a military man back during Jim Crow and then the Civil Rights era, she remembered the hatred and discrimination that they both faced. I remember watching that moment with her, holding her hand, and listening to her joy in spite of her pain at seeing a moment that she never dreamed that she would live to see. It was a profound honor for me.
Truthfully, all of that being said, I am very afraid of what President Trump and his administration may do in a very short amount of time. It is much easier to destroy systems and crush dissent than to built bridges and renew the country. At the same time I will be a voice of reason and speak the truth the best I can given the limitations of my own office. I do want to be wrong, and I will pray for him and his family because if he screws up we are all screwed. That too is reality.
But that’s what we have to do. we cannot give up, but if we resist, we must do it smartly and effectively. Highly emotional outbursts that lead to less than wise actions will doom resistance. We must be to use the words of Jesus, “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”
So until tomorrow.