Two Kinds Of Resistance

“This barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings.”

—Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

At different times today I saw protesters on television, clearly outraged over our inhumane treatment of desperate and frightened migrants, marching with signs that had the F word scrawled on them. “Fuck Tr-mp” said one sign. “Of course I fucking care,” said another, an obvious reference to Melania Tr-mp’s creepy jacket message that she fuck trump 2deliberately sent to us as she recently visited Texas, allegedly to learn what was going on at the border. Famously, three weeks ago Robert De Niro also said, not once but twice, to a large national television audience, “Fuck Tr-mp!” He was praised by some for expressing what many of us feel, and condemned by others who were either feigning outrage or genuinely concerned about the deterioration of our national discourse.

The protests and the profanity do raise questions, obviously. Are they counterproductive? Is cursing Tr-mp, even in the context of his expressed cruelty, itself a form of incivility, of indecency? Do the protests, profane or not, do more harm than good? More important: do they feed the beast of Tr-mpism and make it stronger?

We shall soon see, I suppose.

The corruption and indecency we have witnessed since the onset of Tr-mpism—which actually began before Tr-mp rode down that infamous escalator in June of 2015—has been largely fueled, as I have tirelessly and tiresomely argued, by anxious white people, people who feel a loss, or coming loss, of cultural power. And with that loss of power a kind of violence fills the vacuum, and in the case of Tr-mpism, part of the violence is directed against many of our democratic institutions and the norms that support them. But a bigger part of that violence is directed against what once was a national virtue of welcomeness to people outside our borders, people fleeing oppression and misery, or simply trying to feed their families.

Thus, I’d rather overreact to the dangers and inhumanity of Tr-mpism than look back and say I wasn’t sufficiently vigilant and responsive. If I say I love this country, love the idea of humane self-government on which it is based, love important national symbols like the flag and the Statue of Liberty, love national institutions like a free press, then when there is a genuine threat against these things I say I love, the proper reaction is not to sleepily express concern or mildly criticize the offenders. It is fierce resistance and outrage. Protest—and civil disobedience if it becomes necessary.

But being part of a collective resistance to the beast of Tr-mpism is not enough. In fact it may not be the most important part of the battle against a purposeful—and burgeoning—indecency. There are the everyday interactions we have with our neighbors and friends and coworkers and, of course, our family. It is through those relationships, as people naturally come into and out of our life, that perhaps the most effective form of resistance is waged.

How much good does it do for me to show up at a march or protest against some ugly form of Tr-mpism and then go to a family event and ignore outrageous remarks made by a pro-Tr-mp uncle or aunt or brother or sister or mom or dad? What good does collective action do if a colleague feels free to rhetorically embrace Tr-mpian indecency in my presence and I am unwilling to speak up? It seems to me that our first responsibility to defend decency is, as Tolkien put it, “by uprooting the evil in the fields that we know.” What fields do we know better than the ones in which we till and toil, live and work and play?

Among other things, Donald Tr-mp is an enemy of decency, which necessarily makes him an enemy of America. That is so because despite its pockmarked face, America has been an fuck trump signunquestionable force for good in the modern world. It is a shame that one has to say that Tr-mp, or anyone else who has held the office he holds, is an enemy of America. But that’s just it. No one in our history, at least in the history of this and the last century, who has held the office he now holds, has been such a clear enemy of decency, of the larger humanitarian good, in the way he has. Nobody. He is sui generis in that respect. And thus our reaction has to be sui generis, too. It’s that simple for me.

In these perilous times, we can and should take part in collective action, like protests and marches and contributing money to democracy- and decency-defending politicians and organizations. But we also owe it to the country we say we love to speak to those most directly connected to us, who are woven into our personal lives for better or worse, those who have lost their way by defending the indefensible acts of constant cruelty and corruption and incompetence that are visible to those with eyes to see. If their vision is cloudy, we must try to help them see. If they refuse to see, we have to call out their callousness. If they spread lies and misinformation, we have to first gently correct them. If they persist, then their ignorance and complicity must be named for what it is. In some cases, each a personal call, we may have to shun some of those around us who, for whatever sad reason, simply want to be part of a culture of indecency and fear and hate.

The fight against Tr-mpism will not end well if we only fight on a Saturday in June, or even a Tuesday in November. Every daily encounter we have with our fellow Americans—those who either ignore or embrace corruption and openly mock evolved American values—must be part of that larger fight, part of the resistance, too. Such encounters may be awkward or make us feel uncomfortable at times. But if we are to recover the integrity of our institutions and raise the flag of American decency again—and keep it waving over a free and moral people—we have to win the big fights and do the best we can to win the small ones.

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