Trumping Disbelief

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Trumping Disbelief

On why denial is not a viable political strategy

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacting to early election results in various cities across the United States. (Photo: AFP)

The results of the election provide ample reason to try and avoid the reality of President Trump, and wanting to push this debilitating campaign cycle into the dustbin would be an understandable reaction. It could make us feel better than having to confront the inevitability of the titanic changes in the offing.

We might thus conclude that Trumpism is merely a hoax perpetuated by Russia, a result of machinations by multinational corporations, part of a domestic scheme to pit working people against one another, or a maneuver by the media elite to steer their agenda through the aisles of governance. Maybe it’s just a figment of people’s active imaginations and a crass play on the apocalyptic fears of the middle class. Or it could simply be a matter of all the data being completely wrong and implicitly biased at the outset.

"Operating from a place of disbelief doesn’t change the reality of how things work, nor does it yield a way forward."

 

On the other hand, denial is not a viable political strategy any more than it represents a functional way to navigate environmental crises. Trump may well be a creation of the reality television era, a concocted persona propped up by the social media edifice, a caricature delivered right out of central casting to appeal to a disaffected populace. He might not be real in any palpable sense apart from this constructed identity—but that doesn’t mean that the impacts of his ascent to power are any less tangible. Operating from a place of disbelief doesn’t change the reality of how things work, nor does it yield a way forward.

So let me offer a different take on the politics of denialism. This is the version where we accept the empirical truth of what has transpired, yet choose to dedicate ourselves to prevent its worst effects. This is the variant in which the very knowledge of the crises squarely framed before us can serve as a reminder and much-needed wakeup call that we stand on a generational precipice where the potential fate of humankind lies in the balance. This form of denial isn’t about rejecting reality, but embracing it as an impetus to push back on the authoritarianism, xenophobia, and destabilization that is upon us. We can turn denial into a mantra for rejecting invidious policies and obstructing mechanisms of injustice. As the fabled Joe Hill urged on the eve of his demise, we can refuse to mourn and instead choose to organize.

This is, at root, a repudiation of hopelessness and despair, a disavowal of narrow interests in favor of an expansive insurgency. By seeing the issues unvarnished and with genuine clarity, we can rededicate our efforts toward confronting that which serves to disempower and set out to build alternatives. We no longer have the indulgence of incrementalism, the comfort of complicity, or the pretext of patience. We do not get to stick our heads in the sand and hope that the arc of justice bends all by itself. This is a moment to be reinvigorated by the realization that mainstream politics provides no path toward peace, and to be reawakened to the power of people working in concert beyond the confines of a voting booth.

"We do not get to stick our heads in the sand and hope that the arc of justice bends all by itself."

Let us be clear-eyed and committed, then, to reimagining and establishing that better world. Appealing to the same structures that have pushed us to the brink of disaster only yields more of the same; facile invocations of unity and civility only work for those who have benefited from the tired status quo. Cultivating healthy soil and planting the seeds of community wherever we are offers another pathway. Mobilizing to interrupt oppression and manifest liberation is the heart of our labors in this world. It’s what people everywhere have tried when confronted with profound challenges, and now it’s our turn.

The perverse actuality of President Trump cannot now be denied. Still, we can dare to envision that a new climate for change is at hand, and that this will be the moment when possibility trumps disbelief.

Randall Amster

Randall Amster

Randall Amster, JD, PhD, is Director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University. His books include Peace Ecology (Routledge, 2015), Anarchism Today (Praeger, 2012), Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB, 2008); and the co-edited volume Exploring the Power of Nonviolence: Peace, Politics, and Practice (Syracuse University Press, 2013).

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