I’ve heard it scores of times from Americans frightened, angry or depressed about President Trump: “What can I do?”
I recommend to each of them the same regimen I follow myself: Exercise regularly, spend time with family and drink a quart of Everclear every night.
But such self-care, as the mental-health practitioners call it, only goes so far. For much of America — the majority of the country that did not vote for Donald Trump — the election has brought about what’s known as a “collective trauma” not unlike the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Back then, we stockpiled duct tape, packed go bags and hatched family escape plans — giving us an illusory sense of control over the unimaginable (and, in retrospect, overblown) threats of chemical, biological and radioactive attacks. Now a majority of those on the left, as well as many moderates and conservatives, fear not some unknown terrorist cell but our own president, wary of the calamity he could unleash with his recklessness. One moment he’s attacking the federal judiciary; the next moment he’s assaulting Australia — or Nordstrom.
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The erratic behavior makes millions of people feel powerless and out of control, which leads to anxiety, anger or despair.
But there is a better way. I consulted with leading figures in mobilization — people such as Marshall Ganz, of Cesar Chavez fame, and Harvard University’s Theda Skocpol — and asked them to propose actions an everyday citizen might take.
“We need to shift from a reactive to a strategic response,” Ganz says. His solution: Join something. “To the extent it brings you into a relationship with others, it’s worth doing. Unless it has that further dividend, it gets old.”
So what to join? My friend Eric Liu, author of the forthcoming book “You’re More Powerful Than You Think,” says even a book club will do. That’s true, in the long run: The idea is to rebuild structures of civil society, the breakdown of which allowed the demagogic Trump to take root.
But some organizations do more than others to combat Trump. Here, then, are a few illustrative examples — though their inclusion here is not an endorsement, nor should an omission be seen as a demerit.
▪ Organizing. The anti-Trump movement won’t be a left-wing tea party. Objections to Trump transcend ideological lines, the left is fractured by identity politics, and there aren’t many liberal donors who will bankroll resistance the way the Koch brothers funded the tea party. But there are groups that attempt to mobilize: Indivisible. MoveOn. People’s Action. Center for Community Change. PICO. Center for Popular Democracy. Working Families Party.
▪ Legal. Trump has already tried to stretch his powers beyond the usual limits. The Brennan Center, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center counter him.
▪ Media. To combat Trump’s alternative facts, subscribe to your local newspaper. Contribute to NPR. Even buy the “failing” New York Times if you must. (Alternatively, you can send your checks to the Dana Milbank Everclear Fund, c/o The Washington Post.)
▪ Labor. Many of the building-trades unions are foolishly hoping Trump will be their friend. But their service- and public-sector brethren — the SEIU, AFSCME, the teachers unions — are bulwarks against him.
▪ Intellectual. Demos, the Roosevelt Institute, the Center for American Progress, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Economic Policy Institute and Skocpol’s Scholars Strategy Network all offer brainpower to counter Trump.
▪ Party. The Democratic National Committee leadership is so weak that it may not be worth your time. But state and county party committees could use help. Skocpol recommends that if you live in a “blue” state, get your local committee to form a partnership with a party committee in a swing or red state.
▪ Politics. If you’d like to run for office, consult your party or Emily’s List (if you’re a woman) and train with Wellstone Action. For everybody else, find out where your labors are needed. There are gubernatorial races this year in New Jersey and Virginia. Flippable.org will lead you to important state races. Swingleft.org finds you the nearest congressional swing district in 2018. Coordination. The left is desperately in need of people to align its identity-politics factions. America Votes and State Voices are attempting, against long odds, to do that.
▪ Join. A church or synagogue, a union, your local Planned Parenthood chapter, the Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club, Elks Lodge, Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion post: The issue and the ideology don’t much matter; what matters is connection.
It is our best hope. That, and a tumbler of Everclear.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank. Washington Post Writers Group