LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE, I spent election night filled with dread and anxiety. The country had just elected a thin-skinned, inexperienced, intellectually uncurious reality TV host as president of the United States and leader of the free world.
Seriously, WTF? And more to the point, how can we survive the next four years?
Let’s begin by taking a look at what we’re up against. Donald Trump aggressively courted the religious right during this campaign and in doing so made some strange claims. At one point he even asserted, hilariously, that the IRS was after him because he’s such a strong Christian.
I observed Trump literally wave a Bible during a meeting of a religious right group in Washington, DC, in the fall of 2015. It was a pretty battered Bible, and Trump claimed he had owned it as a child. Of course, it could just as easily have come from a thrift store.
Let’s face it: we’re not exactly talking Billy Graham here. Trump is notorious for being a womanizer and, although nominally a Presbyterian, he rarely darkens the door of a church. During the campaign he had trouble naming a favorite Bible verse. So much for being a strong Christian!
Let’s assume Trump’s faking it. He assumed a mantle of religiosity to get religious right votes. That may indeed be the case, but it’s no reason to breathe a sigh of relief because he can still give the religious right what it wants.
Trump doesn’t have to respect the conservative religion to respect its power. He was swept into office with the support of 81 percent of white evangelicals. It’s payback time. And Trump has a laundry list of things to give them.
He can revoke executive orders put into place by President Barack Obama that protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. He can order the US Justice Department to work against legal abortion and reproductive healthcare. He can sign a federal law that gives people the right to discriminate against others while masking it as “religious freedom.”
He can push for a repeal of the federal law that bans partisan politicking by nonprofit organizations. This provision, known as the “Johnson Amendment” for its sponsor, then-US Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-TX), dates to the 1950s. It bars tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to get rid of it. If he’s successful, there will be nothing to stop churches from funneling money to candidates and acting like miniature political action committees.
But perhaps most alarmingly is the fact that, Trump can put extremists like Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and on lower federal courts.
While deep down inside Trump may be indifferent to religion, his actions and words make it abundantly clear that he’s no friend to humanist values.
Humanists support reproductive rights. Trump wants to eviscerate them.
Humanists want to expand LGBTQ rights. Trump wants to roll them back.
Humanists disavow crude forms of xenophobia. Trump embraces them and has appointed advisers who’ve made a career out of peddling hate. (Yep, I’m talking to you, Stephen Bannon.)
Humanists stand for the absolute freedom of conscience and the right to join the religion of your choice or reject them all. Trump calls for a registry of Muslims and trades in ugly forms of Islamophobia. (Asked in November of 2015 how his proposed registry would differ from Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish laws, Trump shrugged and blithely replied, “You tell me.”)
Humanists demand gender equality and reject sexism and misogyny. Trump revels in both; indeed, he has bragged about sexually assaulting women.
But wait, there’s more: Trump takes advice from people like Jerry Falwell Jr., and when it came time to pick a vice president he went with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a creationist who believes gay people can be “cured” through therapy. Trump has named US Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as attorney general. Sessions once said that church-state separation is an “extra-constitutional doctrine” and “a recent thing that is unhistorical and unconstitutional.”
Do you sense a pattern here? Trump is a man who, no matter what he might believe privately, is working overtime to keep right-wing fundamentalist Christians happy. Humanists can’t spin that. It’s bad for us.
So what do we do? All I can tell you is that I’m amazed at how quickly it took me to go from feeling depressed to feeling really pissed off. When I hear Trump and his inner circle talking about creating a registry of Muslims—and let’s be clear about this—they want the government to track people simply because they belong to a certain religion—my first thought is, “Over my dead body.”
If you’re angry like me, tap into that energy. Use it. Embrace it. Find others who are angry and work with them. Mobilize. Protest. Write. Share information. Speak out. Most importantly, get people informed, get them registered, and get them to the polls in 2018 and beyond.
Of course, there’s always another option: giving up. Yes, you can choose to disengage. You can throw your hands up in despair and turn inwardly. Some of that is OK—for a little while. By all means, take some time to let your psychic wounds heal. But I don’t think you want to spend the next four years in a cocoon.
Here’s why: at some point in the future, someone will ask, “What did you do during the Trump years?”
Your own child may ask you this, or perhaps a grandchild or a student or a neighbor. Someone who really doesn’t remember the period will ask you how you responded. What will you say?
Your response could be, “I disengaged.” “I pulled back.” “I cowered.” “I tended my own garden.” “I laid low.”
Sure, you could say any of those things. But I don’t think you want to. As humanists, something inside us compels us to take a different direction. Our humanist values cry out for a response. They call on us to rebuke any official who bases his or her platform on division, xenophobia, hate, and fear. Humanist values don’t just suggest that we respond to these things—they demand it.
As long as you have the strength to lift a pen, turn on a computer, or to speak, you must take a stand. Silence, I have no problem informing you, is not an option.