As the election results start to feel normal, it’s important that we don’t let Trump’s platform become normal. So the burning question is: what can we do? As in: what concrete action can we take to resist the direction of Trump’s administration?
In response to this question – especially now that I’m writing a paper on José Ortega y Gasset, who believed that contemplation is a project for action – I want to remind our readers that thinking is a form of acting, of being active, of change. It does not just precede action, as when we ask about someone’s intentions: it can be a response to the pervasive thoughtlessness that defined much of 2016. And it can be useful, especially the more distinctions we can draw that provide clarity.
As I talk to students, for example, I make it clear that we have to assume that not everyone in the room voted the same way we did, and further, that the strength of a democracy is a function of our right and willingness to disagree. So I try to make it clear that when I say I can’t stand behind our president-elect, which I know is a form of suggesting that my students shouldn’t either, I am not saying that we should reject any particular policy or value. We may have different views about abortion, guns, or the economy, for instance, and we have to respect our right to vote for the candidate who represents those views. But we can we respect that right while rejecting a candidate’s larger platform, especially if we believe it plays on the fears and prejudices of our neighbors. In fact, what I want to say is that we have a duty to reject such a platform, because it fundamentally contradicts our right to disagree. It is fundamentally undemocratic.
Yesterday someone told me that we shouldn’t criticize Trump at this point because we ought to respect the office of the presidency. Again, a distinction is in order. We should not confuse the person with the office, and in this case, I think we ought to criticize Trump precisely because I respect the office of the presidency as much as I do. I am also uncomfortable with people asking the country to hope or to hope for the best because I can’t but hear a note of resignation in their request: “What can we do at this point?!” But hope is misplaced in situations where you can’t do anything. Prayer seems more appropriate in those cases, and yes, I am willing to pray for the best. It seems to me that we ought to hope for what we think we can achieve by acting. So let’s not “hope for the best.” The sentiment is right, but instead let’s say, “hope because you believe your voice and action can still make a difference.” Then speak and act. (As a side note, it might be worth re-reading Voltaire’s Candide soon, since I’m hearing a lot of what sounds dangerously close to, “Well, it’s for the best of all possible worlds.”)
Aside from drawing distinctions, though, now is a time for informing and educating ourselves and others (another form of thinking as acting). As just one example for today, I am now more confident than ever that our immigration policy for the past 25 years – perhaps our entire political history – will be a stain on American history comparable only to slavery. The militarization of the border in the 90s on is an injustice so great, it is incredible (that is, I can’t believe) that so few people know what it actually entails. And though I can’t explain our ignorance – except to say that media plays a huge, huge role – I can encourage my students and the country to find out more because I believe that, aside from pathological racists and xenophobes, everyone would have a very different view about immigration if they understood both the life of the immigrant, the sacrifice and pain, and the unjust war (not an exaggeration) we have waged against immigrants.
To understand what it’s like to cross the desert, for instance, I would encourage you to read books like The Devil’s Highway. To better understand how mass Latino/a immigration is a direct result of US foreign policy – that is, something we’re responsible for – you might read The Harvest of Empire. I would encourage investigative journalists to flesh out the details of and lived experience with Operation Streamline, which is not only deeply (and I mean deeply) morally problematic but probably illegal and certainly a grand violation of the spirit of the US Constitution. I would ask other investigative journalists to clarify exactly who is making the big money from our immigration policies: not surprisingly, private prisons and border patrol are huge stakeholders. Then I would encourage all of us to do our part to dispel false perceptions and prejudices, as Chavez does in The Latino Threat. And, more than ever, we need to identify sources of education and knowledge, organizations and programs such as Borderlinks in Tucson, Arizona. More than ever we need their guidance and experience.
But I want to reiterate the importance of real stories, which tap into our humanity and help us to understand. Anyone who believes that immigrants have a choice, or feel they have a choice, not to migrate to the US, should talk to a recently-deported woman in Nogales, Mexico who was picked up somewhere near San Diego but dropped off in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar city far away to deter her from crossing again, and listen to her tell you that she crossed thinking (because she was told) that it wasn’t a question whether she would be raped, but how many times, and her having to pray that God would forgive her for using contraception if the worst was to happen. And then, if there were any doubt that this was a common experience or thought, looking around the outdoor shelter, in the 30 degree weather, noticing the posters everywhere of curvy women with words in large letters that say, Respeto, or another that says, Tu Hermana… And feel the pain of not being able to ask her what happened, or if she’s okay, because you know she’s not. And feel the self-doubt of not being able to do more to help, or the injustice of walking around the shelter in your rated Columbia jacket while the recently deported sat just a little closer to one another in clothes for another season. And then, if all this isn’t enough to drive the point home, let the nuns tell you that the border agents stopped letting them cross back into Mexico with warm clothes from Goodwill because that would be assisting criminals. And, then, after all this, listen to Trump on immigration.
If you have a moment, please share an idea or experience or resource, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, signed or anonymous.