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Three resolutions for 2017, or how to live in Trump's America

Informed Dissent

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Twelve months ago, did anyone really expect that we'd be uttering the words "President-elect Donald Trump"? That a self-aggrandizing reality show buffoon with more skeletons than a graveyard would soon be leader of the free world, thanks to an admixture of Russian hacking, FBI interference, bad political strategy and the anachronistic Electoral College? Or that our insecure narcissist-in-chief would be openly dissing the country's intelligence agencies, appointing white nationalists to top White House positions, picking fights with the cast of Hamilton on Twitter and openly engaging in cronyism and corruption?

2016 was a hell of a year.

That evaluation goes beyond the election, of course. There was the Pulse massacre and countless other mass shootings. More chaos in Syria. More nuclear saber-rattling from North Korea. Refugee crises. Terrorism in Europe. Brexit. A creeping sense that the Western liberal order is fragile and imperiled. Fake news. Rising global temperatures. The heroes of our youth – Prince and David Bowie, Florence Henderson and Gene Wilder – dropping like flies.

The silver lining, such as it is, is that the American economy finally seems to have its feet under it. Also, Rogue One was pretty great, and Florida approved medical weed.

2017 will be a hell of a year, too.

High-stakes battles over the fate of the Affordable Care Act and the Paris Climate Agreement loom, as do more traditional but no less important fights over tax policy and judicial appointments. There's also an existential crisis over what kind of country we're to become – one that embraces Trump's dark vision of perpetual white grievance, or one that welcomes a future of tolerance and diversity.

With that in mind, I've dedicated this last column of the year to my resolutions for 2017, for living in Trump's America – two political, one personal, all of a piece with a commitment to resisting the worst of what's to come.

1. Work to end the Electoral College

I have been eligible to vote in five presidential elections. The Democratic candidate won more votes in four of them, but the White House in just two of them. That's a problem.

It's not a partisan thing, nor is it an attempt to delegitimize Trump's victory. Trump won according to the rules of the game. But those rules are vestiges of a bygone era. And so we have a system in which votes in large, diverse, coastal states are worth less than votes in small, rural, largely white states, and a system in which the fate of history is largely left to arbitrary maps. (If, for instance, the Florida Peninsula were part of Alabama and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan were part of Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton would have won without netting a single vote.)

So what to do? Obviously, a constitutional amendment is out. The small states that have an outsize presence in the Electoral College would never agree. The answer, perhaps, is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which states agree to pledge their electors to the popular-vote winner (once enough states have signed on to reach the 270 threshold). To date, 10 states and Washington, D.C., are on board, worth 165 electoral votes. If Florida joined, the compact would be just 76 votes short. To be fair, this idea is of questionable constitutionality, especially without congressional consent. But it's the best shot we've got.

The Legislature, of course, is unlikely to act. But in Florida, it's not that hard to get an amendment on the ballot.

2. Fight like a Republican

That is to say, play hardball. Think back to when Barack Obama was elected with a huge popular-vote and electoral margin. Republicans declared total opposition from the get-go: They voted against the stimulus in the midst of a recession, threatened to shut down the federal government over Planned Parenthood and default on the debt unless Obama caved to their austerity plans, and treated the president like a Marxist interloper.

This strategy paid off, and now Republicans wield the levers of power. Progressives need to give what they got in equal measure. Resist. Brook no quarter. Root out ideological weaklings in safe Democratic districts. Treat politics as a zero-sum-game, because, sadly, that's what it's become. And that's the only way to keep Donald Trump and Paul Ryan in check.

3. Restore my faith in humanity

Given my previous resolution, this might sound incongruous. But here goes: The election shook me. It eroded my faith in America and the goodness of its people. We elected a racist, misogynist braggart, an avaricious know-nothing con artist who has boasted of sexual assault, to the pinnacle of government, and some 63 million people were willing to overlook the racism, the misogyny, the avarice and the ignorance either because they liked all that stuff or they hated Hillary or they wanted to ban abortion or just blow up the system.

I took Trump's election personally. I was angry and bitterly disappointed, even at Trump supporters in my own family. Not because they're more conservative than me, but because they fell in line with this unqualified lout.

As much shit as the supposedly elitist coastal liberal bubbles have gotten over the last month, to me they represent the best of America – its innovation and ingenuity, its intellectualism, openness and commitment to diversity. And after this election, I came to look askance of those white working-class Trump voters who are now the subjects of a thousand New York Times think pieces, as if their precious feelings and economic anxiety matters more than those of the Latino in Los Angeles or the African-American in Atlanta.

But, like the Trump voters in my family, many of them are good and decent if perhaps misguided people. (There are deplorables, too; let's not kid ourselves.) And I don't want to lose sight of that. To make real progress, progressives need to listen to these folks and speak to their needs. But more than an electoral strategy, I can't write off 63 million people as hopelessly devoid of kindness and compassion. By engaging with them, perhaps my faith in humanity will eventually be restored.

I'm not there yet. Maybe by next New Year's.

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