I was ten years old in 2004 when Ronald Reagan died. As my family and I sat silently in the living room watching the funeral procession, the only noise being the television and my mother’s sobs, I got the sense that Reagan was someone that she respected. Why else would my mother weep over the loss of someone she had never met, if not for the fact that she must have considered him an exceptional man? I obviously knew by that age he was a former president but I knew nothing of his policies or legacy. I only knew that my mother was so distraught by the death of this man she so revered that she considered his death a great loss to the world.
The first year I was old enough to vote in an election was in 2012 when it was Obama and Romney. In both men, though they each had their shortcomings, could be found something to respect, some redeeming qualities. In this knowledge, I think many people felt that Obama was the better candidate but if Romney won it wouldn’t be apocalyptic; the country would live on and in four years the democrats would try again. As we all know, Obama won his bid for reelection and remained one of the most respected men in the world and just left office with an approval rating that peaked at 69% during his last week. Though it may seem morbid, I couldn’t help but think that decades down the line, millions would weep as they watch this great man’s funeral procession, likely myself included.
Now, however, we enter uncharted territory. Last Friday at noon, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Somehow, a conman has managed to worm his way into one of the highest and most respected offices in the United States. His supporters wanted an “outsider,” a businessman who would run the country as a business, because business practices and businessmen in the U.S. are certainly never shady. Over the years, Trump has amassed “at least 3,500 official complaints for failing to pay employees, contractors, and other business affiliates money owed” and 60 lawsuits related to his failure to properly pay employees. He runs business by screwing over the little guy for personal gain. How can anyone look at this man’s business strategy and think he is suddenly going to become an altruistic president? It baffles me the simultaneous disdain people have for corporations and their influence on government, while oxymoronically saying they think this is how the country should be run and allowing Trump to fill the Cabinet with these people. I fail to see how he will “drain the swamp” when his entire Cabinet is essentially a bunch of low IQ alligators. But, of course, the damage is done; Trump is the new president and unlike him, I will not spend the next four years perpetuating any type of conspiracy (but I will say show me the CarFax on those tax returns. Whatcha hiding Donald?)
The question is no longer about how to stop a Trump presidency. Rather, it’s about how to stop a Trump presidency from destroying faith in our government, its ability to uphold human rights as outlined in our Constitution, and stopping the inevitable attack on human rights. It became apparent that Trump and his administration were planning on gutting these things on his inauguration day. Apart from appointing a Cabinet full of billionaires who hate the departments they represent, essentially setting these departments up to be dismantled, everything they scrubbed from WhiteHouse.gov on Inauguration Day is also on the chopping block. Removing all information on healthcare, civil rights, and climate change sends a clear message: these concerns are no longer going to be handled in the interest of the American people.
One would think it goes without saying that these issues should matter to everyone, even if you’re not directly impacted. But, I have come to find that people lack perspective. In some aspects, I certainly do as well and I’m working to fix that, but on these issues, I seem to see clearer than others. I have spent the last five years studying the molecular basis of how the human body works, and in the last six months have focused on preventative ideology in patient care. The American healthcare system, as it stands, is one of treatment only after an illness has presented, rather than prevention of said illness. Prioritizing healthcare as a human right and properly teaching health management to young people could save $3.7 billion on personal health. So, even if you’re in perfect health and think the Affordable Care Act isn’t something your taxes should have to go toward, realize that prioritizing healthcare for all could ultimately save taxpayer money. Not only is the monetary benefit in the long-term extant, there is also the respect of human dignity. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act would take away 18 million people’s right to healthcare. Dismantling Planned Parenthood would take away the human right of 2.5 million women and men to have proper health access. Disregarding your personal religious beliefs on any type of healthcare access, there is no constitutional or scientific reason the ACA and Planned Parenthood shouldn’t exist and be funded. If you don’t believe contraception or abortion is morally right, that is your prerogative. But don’t take away another woman’s right just because it isn’t in line with your personal beliefs. That would be like taking away the right to be Protestant because you’re Catholic.
And why is it that civil rights legislation is so terrifying? When thinking on this, I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He discussed his protests not creating tension, but rather bringing forth the already present and underlying tension. I saw this happen in my home state when Charlotte, North Carolina passed an extension to its anti-discrimination ordinance in early 2016. The law, originally passed in 1968, covered race, color, religion, and national origin, but the 2016 extension added marital and familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The law was widely accepted in the city because why wouldn’t it be? It’s for anti-discrimination and was addressing the underlying tension. But when the state noticed the tension being brought to the surface, even though it was peacefully done, former governor Pat McCrory decided to make it his personal mission to see this extension repealed. He even went so far as to earmark $500,000 to be redirected from disaster relief (just in time for hurricane season) to pay court fees for his infamously known “Bathroom Bill.” Once you prioritize where you believe people should pee over the lives of the 2,300 who had to be rescued and the 22 who died after Hurricane Matthew alone, you are no longer fit to serve public office and I am proud McCrory was ousted by Governor Cooper. To those who face discrimination, civil rights legislation can be the difference between life and death, thriving and failing, the American dream and stagnation. It is important that you care; if you let inhuman acts go on without interfering, you are just as guilty as those directly committing the acts.
It baffles me that people think they can deny climate change. Even the Republican Party supported laws to help regulate climate change, right up until they figured out it wasn’t personally beneficial monetarily. The 2008 Republican Party platform stated that they sought to “address the challenge of climate change and continue our longstanding responsibility for stewardship over the environment.” This statement is a massive departure from the modern dialogue, where Trump claims climate change is a hoax. The GOP only uses the phrase “climate change” seven times in their sixty-six page 2016 platform, never referencing what they would do about it, and only discussing it in terms of how it is not believed to be a national security issue and how they think scientists are not credible sources of scientific information. Sure, because when I want to get my car looked at I go the dentist and when I want information on environmental science I talk to my accountant. The point is, climate change isn’t debatable; it’s real and we are really causing it, in addition to the natural factors. If we reduce the climate regulations imposed on companies, we are going to see a lot more oil spills, irregular weather patterns, hurricanes, tornadoes, and on and on. So, even if you don’t care about living on a better and cleaner planet where water looks like water and not tar, once again think of it in terms of economics. Preventing disasters means not as much money will have to be spent on fixes. Accepting climate change and environmental responsibility is a win-win for the tax payer. The ones telling you it’s not are those who are doing the damage and making money off the destruction of our planet.
So here are all these problems. What can we do about them? Well, as I see it, Trump and his administration are acting in ways that echo the totalitarianism of 20th century Europe. Generating distrust in the media by claiming “alternative facts,” obsessing over and encouraging racialist struggles, and making the government less transparent are acts that all parallel the past. We can learn from history. In an effort to do so, Yale historian Timothy Snyder elucidates twenty lessons to take away from his work, which I believe are key in determining our actions going forward. Of the twenty, I believe the following five will be the most beneficial to follow, but I encourage you to read them all here:
- Do not obey in advance. Taking actions, such as the March for Science or writing and speaking out, are essential in not allowing a status quo of hate, censorship, and false information to be set or furthered.
- Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Though it may be satisfying, punching the neo-Nazi in the face won’t make him any less of a neo-Nazi and violence will not make our government any less violent toward us.
- Believe in truth. When Kellyanne Conway says that Press Secretary Sean Spicer is simply presenting “alternative facts,” that’s an eloquent way of saying that he is lying. And when scientists, who have devoted their life to environmental studies say we’re causing a global crisis, it’s smart to believe them over someone who benefits from said crisis.
- Hinder the one-party state. Vote in mid-term elections, damn it. And contact your representatives. An app called Countable allows you to see what bills are being debated and gives you the ability to directly email your representative, though calling is always the best option.
- Be reflective if you must be armed. Governing bodies can and do enact unethical and immoral laws, which police officers and other public figures would be expected to follow. If you are told to do something you believe is wrong, you need to be prepared to refuse action, otherwise you become a part of the problem as someone who was “just following orders.”
The arc of history doesn’t always bend naturally toward justice, so it is our responsibility to fight to get the curve back where it belongs. We cannot treat progress as inevitable for then it becomes impossible. It is time for us all to become better citizens and make our voices heard. Attacks on healthcare, civil rights, and climate change will not be tolerated. I didn’t spend four years studying biology, chemistry, and the history of totalitarianism for the first two to be disregarded as rubbish and the latter to come to fruition. If pointing out fallacies means being a “nasty woman,” I will wear that title with pride and I hope you’ll join me.