Dec 14, 2016
This has to be a bad dream, right? Perhaps it's the fault of shadowy hackers who juiced voting machines, spewed fake news everywhere, and/or exposed the Democrats for being--well, Democrats. Maybe it was just old-school electoral skullduggery designed to suppress the vote in strategic locales. Or perhaps it's a plot by plutocratic climate deniers to implement their laissez-faire agenda and reign supreme with a free hand once and for all. Something amiss must be at work here to explain how our vaunted political process (s)elected a megalomaniacal jester as Chief Executive; even with lowbrow tastes and race-to-the-bottom social structures, it's still hard to accept that this was a volitional act. Meanwhile, all of this only serves to bolster the brand and inflate the imperial coffers of one of history's greatest charlatans.
Since the election there's been a saturation effect coalescing around the ostensible President-elect, with a tendency toward folding everything into the realization that his ascent will impact all spheres of life from the micro to the macro, in sociopolitical and environmental realms alike. Emails, tweets, and posts have been reverberating nonstop with vigorous references to him, which only seem to make the spotlight shine brighter in his direction. The news queues and bottom-screen crawls are dominated by the appearance of his moniker--and the coming years seemingly portend only more of this morass.
In an attempt to avoid being complicit in the overexposure, we might seek strategies for minimizing its impact. For starters, we could sidestep making a particular individual the primary focal point of our work. Undoubtedly, what he represents does matter, and his version of politics is deeply troubling. And yet he is merely a figurehead for larger forces in our midst, and to some extent the personalization of these issues as they manifest in a specific individual obscures the fact of deeper structural foundations.
"Undoubtedly, what he represents does matter, and his version of politics is deeply troubling. And yet he is merely a figurehead for larger forces in our midst, and to some extent the personalization of these issues as they manifest in a specific individual obscures the fact of deeper structural foundations."
Beyond this, there is another critical factor to consider. The next President (assuming that he is duly enshrined in the normal course of events) is someone who has made his public reputation through self-aggrandizing stunts, literally building monuments to himself, relentlessly promoting his own brand, and capitalizing on every bit of media coverage and publicity no matter how unflattering. We can't take him at his word on anything; he dons an empty suit filled with hot air and a primary purpose to line its own pockets, as part of the "art of the deal" in the new transactional amoralism. This should give us pause about doing anything that might further feed into this dynamic through our movements and messages.
Instead, we might consider refusing to acknowledge him altogether. If he craves the spotlight, pull the plug. If he desperately needs attention, starve him of it. If he wants to be the boss, go out on strike. If he demands obedience, conscientiously object. If he profits from publicity, simply stop watching him. If he wants power, render him superfluous. If he seeks to be in the center, then let's place him in the margins. If he builds a Cabinet out of defective materials, let's not place anything important in there. Indeed, this spirit is reflected in #notmypresident and other forms of rejection, offering a glimmer of noncompliance.
We can take this a symbolic step further by refusing to even invoke his name, and thus curtail the brand. The hashtag #dontsayhisname offers an opportunity to turn the tables without inviting him in. For some, his very name evokes a sense of fear, and uttering it--even in critique--only amplifies it. This can be an important step, refusing to feed the mass-marketing machine by invalidating its anointed poster child. At the same time, we can rededicate ourselves to cultivating alternatives that move us out of its domain. Gandhi termed this sequence of events "noncooperation with evil" coupled with the simultaneous development of a "constructive program." In this way, we withdraw participation from one sphere and place it in the other. The more we move the locus of our lives outside the frame, by working in solidarity in our communities and organizing our networks of exchange within them, the less we are beholden.
This won't be easy, and no matter how we proceed there will be difficult times ahead. This would be true regardless of how the election turned out, but this is more acute. People are afraid and rightly so, as the prospect of losing hard-won gains is real, and as already-vulnerable communities are facing direct threats to their existence. The current discourse normalizes extremism, and thus makes the casual indifference of incrementalism seem almost nostalgic. Compared to the prospect of neofascism and autocracy, people may even long for neoliberalism and technocracy instead. Yet if this is the range of establishment-approved options, then the need to organize apart from them is all the more urgent.
These are deep questions that necessitate our long-term engagement. For now, though, in this liminal moment between the trauma of the election cycle and the incipient cataclysm in the offing, it could bring some relief to scrub this individual's name from the lexicon. While we can't ignore the issues and crises by any means, we can still refuse to validate his authority while navigating them. So let's not provide any more free publicity for someone who doesn't care about freedom or the public. Displacing him from the conversation could help us find space to articulate a better vision, one as yet unnamed.
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