5 Ways to Resist Demoralization in the Dark Age of Donald Trump
If you’re anything like me, the week after Trump took office has been traumatic. So many of the basic democratic norms that Americans of all political persuasions should defend have been assaulted from the Oval Office. The incremental progress of the Obama era has fallen victim as well. The new president’s attacks on immigrants and his deadly agenda of intensified austerity, corporate giveaways and environmental destruction have gutted the hard-fought gains of the last eight years. He and his cronies threaten to roll back Great Society programs and even the New Deal itself.
Every day, some new outrage is disclosed. There are so many that it’s hard to keep track of them. I can’t bring myself to watch the news. Even reading it is painful. Social media is toxic. Vicious reactionaries take their cues from the White House, as Trump and his people intensify their assault not just on democracy but on the most fundamental distinctions between fact and fiction. All of this is taking an immense psychological toll.
The effects won’t be easy to reverse, especially since they’re likely to worsen in the coming months and years. To resist effectively, we’ll have to come up with some way of living through it while sustaining our mental health and energy. Here are five principles we should adopt to strengthen our capacity to resist and to guide us in doing so.
1. Reduce our social media intake and digital time. Social media, smartphone apps, TV, and the internet are a colossal time sink. They’re endlessly distracting and psychologically addictive and they encourage docility, passivity and inaction, in part by dividing our attention and limiting our ability to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. Screen time drains our energy, creating a vicious cycle that makes it less likely we’ll engage in energizing activities. And digital technologies eat up time that we could be spending on political action. They are methods of social control that reinforce the status quo. And now more than ever, they induce feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and futility. Social media can be used in productive ways, to create a sense of community and solidarity, but it should be used sparingly.
2. Reduce our news intake to a minimum—only to the extent necessary to coordinate political action. If you're anything like me, you became a news junkie during the 2016 election, devouring all the latest analyses and predictions on who would win. After a certain point, there was nothing new to learn, but I kept scouring the web for more. It was unproductive and made me feel empty and dissatisfied, but I was hooked. A similar phenomenon may be going on with news about the horrors the Trump regime is inflicting on our country. We should evaluate all our actions by asking, will this strengthen me and make me more able to resist? Reading the news obsessively, especially when it's unremittingly grim, is unlikely to pass this test. Obviously, we need to stay aware of what’s going on so that we can organize against the Trump agenda, but beyond this bare minimum, news intake seems counterproductive to resistance.
3. Make time for uplifting, non-political activities, especially real-world interaction with other people. Friendship, love and community are important sources of solace. Art, music, films, and books can also be wells of hope, sustenance and courage. Exercise and time in nature often have a rejuvenating effect. We need to be sure to nurture ourselves; this will help us be most effective in protecting and caring for others.
4. Regularly connect with traditions of resistance. Reading pamphlets, articles and books from activists and political figures of various radical traditions (and watching documentaries and films about social movements of the past) is a good way to educate oneself, and it reinforces conviction in the rightness of our causes. It helps us understand our intellectual and spiritual roots and ground ourselves in history. Fascists want to reduce everything to an eternal present, because people with no past have no future. Reading works written by people engaged in emancipatory struggles of the past is tremendously helpful in instilling courage for today’s struggles.
5. Take political action with like-minded citizens to resist Trump and the Republicans’ agenda. Taking action, besides being the most concrete and important way for citizens to effect change, is psychologically liberating. It’s easy to succumb to feelings of impotence. Action helps banish powerlessness. In fact, the philosopher Hannah Arendt thought true power exists only when people act in concert in public. Whatever the true definition of power is, it’s undeniable that political action changes the world, and by introducing you to politically simpatico people, sets up a virtuous cycle that makes future political action more likely. For details on which specific strategies to pursue, look no further than “Six Principles for Resisting the Presidency of Donald Trump,” an outstanding Waging Nonviolence piece that collects sociological and political science research and distills the essence of successful nonviolent resistance campaigns.
The stakes in today’s political struggles are existential. The future of the planet depends upon how effectively we resist Trump’s fossil fuel agenda. We should acknowledge the ramifications but not let them overwhelm us—that might lead to paralysis and inaction. We have limited leisure time. Let’s make it count.