Assistant Professor, Goucher College
1. Things are going to get worse. They might eventually get better, but, right now, the only effective means for any progressive movement is to understand that things will get worse, way worse. Take Trump at his word, and understand that what’s implied in his plans is a massive depression on the scale of the 1930s, the deportation of millions of people by some sort of militarized force, a wholesale assault on women and minorities, and likely a global war and conflict on the scale of a third world war. This is a danger to the world, but especially to minorities and women. Brace for the worst. If the worst does not happen, be glad, be vigilant–fascism does not need the worst. Be prepared for this.
2. Everything matters. Every little thing. Theodor W. Adorno noted that Hitler had forced a new moral imperative on humanity: to arrange all of one’s acts and thoughts in such a way that Auschwitz doesn’t happen again. Do not let the smallest slight to a minority or a woman or any other victimized group stand. Intervene immediately. Do not be a bystander. Bystanders are a greater problem than perpetrators. Know this.
3. This is the rise of fascism within American politics. It is here to stay. It is something new in American politics. To that extent American fascism is something new in world history. It will have analogies to its European origins, but it will be different because American institutions are different. This means that our conceptual tools are not yet where they need to be in order to understand and combat the phenomenon. There is a lot of theoretical work to be done in addition to the practical work that must be pursued. Start doing it.
4. Understand that the thing that will be most under threat—in addition to just raw, suffering bodies—is the imagination. Our powers for imagining things differently will be greatly compromised. It is up to us to maintain them, to train them, and to consistently work them. Start now.
5. All racists and misogynists are likely Trump supporters, but not all Trump supporters are racists and misogynists. Although the extent to which Trump voters are disenfranchised or poor or whatever else is greatly exaggerated, it is a fact that a large cohort of his followers are people who want to “blow the whole thing up,” and want to do so for a lot of different reasons. Addressing their reasons is essential to having a democracy as opposed to an authoritarian (police) state. Start by trying to figure those reasons out: some of them are bound to surprise you.
6. Fascism and totalitarianism rely on atomization, on carving people into individual monads, and on preying on our natural inclination to care most about ourselves, and our families. Don’t refuse this impulse, but do temper it, understand that it must curbed, and that your sentiments for your family must be expanded to others. The best way to do this is to talk to people. Emmanuel Levinas remarks that language is like a battering ram; Rush Rhees imagines it as a grappling hook. Both of these metaphors highlight the fact that what we say has an effect on others, sometimes regardless of whether they want it to have such an effect, sometimes even if they have closed themselves off to wanting its effects. That is its power. Use it.
7. As a corollary to this, do not let others off the hook for their own words, for their support. Hold people accountable for what they say and for who they allow to speak for them. Everyone needs to know where everyone else stands. As Stanley Cavell notes, not speaking is also speaking (see thesis 2 especially). The alternative to silence or speech is not being human, being entirely absent from our world; in short, it is impossible, except for hypocrites. Call hypocrites out for who they are.
8. Act with others. Call it what you will, but start somewhere. Think big, think small. But do something that you know will make conditions better somehow. If you can’t figure out what that is, ask around or attach yourself to organizations that are already doing this work. If you can imagine contributing in some different way, do it—preferably with others. The importance of actions as opposed to words is that the former exhibit the latter in a way that might make them compelling to those who might not otherwise be compelled.
9. If you can, make some art. If you can’t, support some artists.
10. There will be a wholesale assault on the possibility of truth. Oppose this. Do not let even small things slide in this regard (see thesis 7). Do not let either postmodern or analytic musings on the (possibility of) truth distract you here. Let ordinary language be your guide, and oppose the misuse of words.
11. Appreciate that this is not a demographic problem. This is not something that will solve itself. Whiteness is an amorphous category: Jews, Poles, Irish, and others at one point weren’t white, and now they are. Who fits in and who doesn’t changes and will change, but white supremacy will stay unless it is dismantled.