Moving Beyond Resistance
In the very early morning hours of November 9, when we learned that Donald Trump—however improbably and perhaps illegitimately—would be the next president of the United States, a battle broke out inside my head. It is still raging on. It’s a battle for control of my life.
On one side is a passionate voice that began saying a single word in those early morning hours: RESIST! Since then I’ve heard and read the same word from so many, many people whom I respect: RESIST! RESIST! RESIST! It keeps on echoing inside my head.
But soon another, more rational voice in my head started asking questions: What happens when you resist someone, anyone? Call that person “X.” All of your attention, your thoughts, and your feelings are focused on X. Your life is focused on X. But you cannot control what X does. As long as you are resisting X, you are responding to X. You are at the mercy of X.
And if X is a particularly erratic, unpredictable person, it’s a very frustrating life. Whatever you do today may have no importance or even relevance tomorrow. You are always one step behind X, trying to catch up but perhaps never succeeding. So when you are resisting this unpredictable X, X runs the show. X is in control of your life.
Do you want Donald Trump to be in control of your life? this rational voice asked. Remember, we are talking about the next four years.
"If you want to be effective in political struggles... you have to be psychologically grounded and balanced. You need a firm center."
The passionate voice inside my head saw the point, but was not stilled. What I am supposed to do then, it asked, just roll over and accept all the terrible things that are likely to happen in the next four years? Obviously, we must—I must—resist.
Sure, the rational voice replied, sometimes resistance is necessary. The question is, Do you want to devote your whole life to resistance as long as Trump is president, making everything else secondary? Is that the wisest course, even in the public, political part of your life?
I was pondering this, every day. Then, caught between these two voices, my head started aching, quite literally. Sometimes the headaches were not too bad. Sometimes they were excruciating. The rational voice tried to be gentle, but it could not help asking: Are you really ready to live this way for the next four years? Are you ready to let Donald Trump cause you this much pain? Because if you make that choice of resistance above all, you really are letting Trump run your life.
Yet isn’t that exactly what you are trying to resist—having Trump run people’s lives, letting him get control of their bodies, their health care, their environment; telling them where they can or cannot live, whom they can or cannot have as neighbors; whether or not they can vote and have their vote counted. And the list goes on. All your resistance is really about not letting Trump control anyone’s life. But if you make resistance your primary political aim, you are letting him run your life. Isn’t that a contradiction?
Now my head was hurting even worse. All the voices around me, still crying RESIST! RESIST!, just made my dilemma worse. But I had to admit the rational voice deserved a thorough hearing.
If you want to be effective in political struggles, it went on, you have to be psychologically grounded and balanced. You need a firm center. That’s how you get the steadiness and poise you need to handle all the challenges that come your way. But if your politics is based on a contradiction, and always following a moving target, it will throw you off balance. You’ll feel dizzy, like you’re standing on shaky ground. So you’ll be less effective. Your opponents will get more control over your life.
I’m not saying to give up on resistance, the rational voice continued. My point is that you’ve got to be consistent to find your balance; you’ve got to get control over your own life so that you can help others keep control over their lives. That’s the only way stay balanced and resist effectively. And, as paradoxical as it seems, the only way to do that is to move beyond “RESIST” as your prime directive.
What’s more, if you let Trump control your life it will soon exhaust you. He is bound to win some victories. If you measure yourself only by Trump’s victories and losses, you will become not just tired but discouraged, even depressed. That way, too, resistance makes you less effective.
Slowly, reluctantly, my passionate voice was being convinced. But what, then, is going to be my primary goal for the next four years?, it asked. Suddenly the answer was obvious:
Do not focus on what must be prevented. Focus on what must be promoted. Focus on the community, the America, and the world you want to create for the future.
If you have been working to make positive change keep up the good work. Perhaps expand it. If you haven’t been involved in efforts for positive change, now is the time to start. There are a thousand ways to do it, and millions ready to help you.
Sure, sometimes it’s crucial to say “No” to the powers that be. But most of the time you have to be saying “Yes” to the world you want to create. You have to be the change you want to see. Just keep doing the slow, grinding work of making positive change. As long as you keep your eyes on that prize, you stay in control of your own life. You refuse to give that control over to anyone else. You stay grounded and balanced.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like not only a necessary but a successful strategy. Think about the civil rights movement, sparked by those young African-Americans who sat down at lunch counters and refused to leave till they were served. Talk about balance and poise. They were not against anything. They had a positive program: a just and peaceful world. And they were putting that program into action with their bodies, regardless of what anyone else did.
The Tea Party is another useful example. Yes, it first came into being as an anti-Obama reaction. But it became so influential because it offered an alternative vision of political life. It was a cruel vision, to be sure, but the Tea Party was not merely resisting. It was telling the world what it was for. In the process, the Tea Party created a powerful counterbalance to the country’s general trend, however slightly, to the left. It moved the center to the right.
That’s what happens when people build a powerful political force with a positive vision: They move the political center toward them. However slight the shift, it can make a very big difference.
Of course there is no guarantee. Regardless of the outcome, though, pursuing a positive vision rather than merely resisting is the only way to prevent Donald Trump from taking control of our lives. It’s the only way to keep control of our own lives. That, I think, should be our primary goal. For me, it seems like the best way, perhaps the only way, to survive the next four years.
That’s not to say the passionate voice inside my head crying “RESIST” is quiet. Resistance has its appeal. It energizes us. It gives us a shared focus and goal that can bring together disparate groups in a common effort. Resistance to Trump can even rally people to oppose policies that are similar to what Obama has already been doing (war on ISIS, deportation, etc). So resistance can sometimes be politically effective. And let’s be honest: It often feels good.
With all that, and with so many voices I respect all around me sounding the cry of RESIST!, it is hard to give up resistance as the goal and focus of political life. But it makes good sense to move beyond resistance. So I’m working on it.