“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s easier said than done, especially when the lemon is a Donald Trump presidency.
Marching in the street, spending millions of dollars on recounts, angrily confronting Trump supporters, or vandalizing their property may have little to no effectiveness, depending on the tactics. I suggest a bit more creativity than that.
First, a little history. If you want an example of a depressing election, look back to 1984, when Ronald Reagan won his second term against Walter Mondale. Many liberals had viewed Reagan’s narrow 1980 defeat of Jimmy Carter as a one-off caused by Carter’s late bungle of the Iran hostage situation. Surely, once America had a taste of the radical conservatism of Ronald Reagan, who had vowed to shred the social safety net and play chicken with the Soviet Union, voters would return to their senses – especially with a solid, reliable liberal like Walter Mondale as the standard bearer. When Reagan crushed Mondale in ’84, the mood was one of abject despair, comparable to the despair in humanist circles today.
But a couple of weeks after the 1984 election, along came a lawyer from Virginia named Randall Robinson. Disdaining the universe of “realistically winnable” issues he might have focused his energy on, he chose the craziest pipe dream imaginable—ending apartheid in South Africa. At the time, protesting against ants at picnics would have seemed more plausible.
And yet … he succeeded. He caught the public imagination at a ripe moment. After Robinson’s first arrest at the South African embassy, a parade of similar arrests began, with numbers eventually reaching into the thousands. Sports stars, actors, and politicians queued up for a daily arrest ritual–even two Kennedy children joined in (with written permission from their mother to be arrested). The world’s attention was riveted on the continuing spectacle in Washington, and the pressure on the South African establishment grew unbearable. When the Dutch Reformed Church, longtime pillar of moral support for apartheid, succumbed to that pressure and reversed its stance by the end of 1986, the handwriting was on the wall.
Part of the reason Robinson’s seeds fell on such fertile ground was that the Reagan administration, for all its faults, genuinely supported the advance of democracy. Perhaps this was primarily an anticommunist ploy, but it was real nonetheless. Opposing the administration on an issue like nuclear disarmament was butting your head into a wall, but saying, “Hey, we’re for democracy too–how about South Africa?” left the opposition nonplussed.
So how about a focus in 2017 on apartheid, where it now exists in the state of Israel and the territories it occupies. Though the president-elect is intentionally difficult to predict, there is some reason to hope this too might fall on fertile ground.
Donald Trump has demonstrated in his business career that he knows how to cut his losses by using the bankruptcy laws. If ever there were a policy that’s bankrupt, it’s America’s support for the joke of a “two-state solution” in Israel/Palestine for nearly forty years now. The government of Israel has never even hinted that it might accept a Palestinian “state” with any more sovereign rights than those enjoyed by an American Indian reservation, and there is no reason to suspect it ever will. Nor is there the slightest reason to reward the religious thugs who run the Palestinian Authority with any more power than they’ve already abused. What’s needed in Israel/Palestine is a single secular state, committed to guaranteeing the rights of everyone who lives there equally, without regard to religion.
That’s no more anti-Jewish than opposition to South African apartheid was anti-white. Not only was there no post-apartheid bloodbath as had been so widely feared, but the South African economy has prospered mightily since the end of apartheid, benefiting whites and blacks alike–though of course it still has a long way to go. No less an authority than the Rand Corporation predicts the same kind of economic growth for Israel/Palestine if the specter of war could disappear there, with Israel’s Jews benefiting even more than its non-Jews.
There is some reason to suspect that Trump might be amenable to such a radical shift. A leading candidate for defense secretary, James Mattis, has outspokenly challenged our current pro-Israel tilt, noting its enormous cost in our dealings with the Muslim-majority world. How much would the image of the United States change in that world if the president publicly told the government of Israel, “Not a penny more for you until every non-Jew in your territory starts getting equal treatment under the law, starting with voting rights”? I don’t know if Mattis will be selected or not, but no one with his views would have made it past the first level of appointment screening in the current administration.
One other thing we can safely say about President-elect Trump is that he is not a fan of Islam. To the extent that means stereotyping Muslims as terrorist sympathizers, or worse, treating people differently under the law because they are Muslim, there is no stance a humanist can take other than vehement opposition. Yet there is a great deal to dislike about Islam, and praising it at every opportunity as our current administration does has yielded no positive results.
Perhaps one way to make some lemonade would be to focus on freedom of expression in the Muslim-majority world, especially in Saudi Arabia. For nearly two years now imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi has faced the penalty of a thousand lashes for “insulting Islam,” only fifty of which has he received (because they nearly killed him). Recent reports indicate the lashing may soon resume. Another unnamed Saudi was just sentenced to two thousand lashes for tweets criticizing Islam,not to be confused with Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, whose death sentence for apostasy was commuted to a “mere” eight hundred lashes.
We know how sympathetic Trump is to tweets, even outrageous ones. He even expressed some admiration for the “passion” of those protesting against his victory, though it’s hard to say whether he meant it. How would his administration respond to Randall Robinson style protests at the Saudi embassy on these men’s behalf, perhaps with the added twist of protesters baring their backs and offering to take some of the lashes themselves? Might there be some delight that his most determined opponents were helping him dig a thumb into Islam’s eye? Might he even cooperate in the public shaming of Muslim theocrats in a way that leads to positive change?
Probably not. Hoping for anything positive from a Trump administration is probably futile. Then again, this time thirty-two years ago, nothing could have been more futile than taking on apartheid, and we know how that turned out.