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Josh Fredman

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Asking Won't Work [Feb. 10th, 2017|05:53 pm]
Josh Fredman
TRUMP: I’m gonna do something completely insane!

PUBLIC: You’d better not try it!

TRUMP: Or what?

PUBLIC: Or we’ll disapprove of you!

TRUMP: *does the thing anyway*

PUBLIC: Did everyone see that? He did the thing!

TRUMP: I sure did, and I’m gonna do much worse than that.

PUBLIC: How do you respond to critics who disapprove of you doing the thing?

TRUMP: They’re losers. *does an even worse thing*

PUBLIC: What?!! How dare you!? Did everyone see that? He did an ~even worse~ thing!

TRUMP: Why shouldn’t I?

PUBLIC: You have to do what we say and stop doing these awful things!

TRUMP: Everyone loves me and supports everything I do, except the bad hombres and nasty women and the media, and they’re all losers.

PUBLIC: Look, we’re talking about peer pressure and the honor system. You have to listen to us! Or we will disapprove of you further!

TRUMP: *does a yet even crazier, more horrible thing*

This is the overlooked story of the Trump phenomenon. So much of our power in the sociopolitical realm is based on conformity and peer pressure, and, because humanity is a social species, we’re so used to that kind of power working that we don’t know what to do when it fails.

It’s like a public restroom: We pee in the toilet and not on the floor, because that’s what we agree we’re supposed to do. In exchange for our conformity, we have a usable public restroom. But Trump pees on the floor, and gradually we’re realizing that all our usual recourses are ineffective: We ask him to stop, but he pees on the floor anyway. We tell others that he pees on the floor, but the censure just makes him defiant and he carries on tinkling. We stridently and desperately hound him to change his ways, and he says “No.”

Trump may, as reported, have a very thin skin and be deeply insecure about public criticism, but he’s not a pushover. At every point during his campaign, his transition, and now his presidency, he has proven immune to scandal because the power of scandal is essentially just peer pressure. It says “You’ve done wrong, so give up your power.” And Trump doesn’t go along with it. “Why should I give up my power?” he says. “It’s mine and I deserve it, and you’re just a jealous loser.” And his administration, particularly his inner circle, are unusually insular and disconnected from public censure, making them, especially under their boss’ umbrella, less vulnerable to scandal too.

Trump’s ability to hold onto his power despite peer pressure probably isn’t especially deliberate on his part; far from being indicative of a strong will, I suspect it is actually a symptom of his narcissism. But either way, it makes him almost completely resilient to the usual public forces that would otherwise undermine his disastrous presidency and rein him in. And I think no amount of media criticism or public disapproval is going to change his course.

Presently, we the opposition, we his detractors, are expending an enormous amount of energy trying to ask him harder and disapprove of him more visibly. This is not going to work. The only way to rein him in is to use powers not dependent on social conformity: primarily, the logistical disruption of his presidency. The lawsuit against his Muslim ban is a perfect example. The Democratic obstruction to his Cabinet in the Senate is a less pure example but still valid. Every day that gets wasted in the friction of disruption is one less day he has to do horrible things. Trump’s presidency is poised to be as effective as the Congressional GOP is capable of mustering itself to facilitate. We’re going to lose a lot of battles. Nevertheless, our only real choice (short of terrorism or a coup, which remains outside the realm of something I would support) is to play as fierce of a delaying game as possible ahead of contesting the 2018 elections as hard as we can.

There is something to be said for the solidarity and social momentum built among activists just from exerting peer pressure on Trump, so I won’t say that our current strategy is completely useless. But we can exert quite a bit of public disapproval without actually trying to engage with Trump or expect acquiescence or agreement from him on any of our demands, and I think that’s what we should do: We should continue pointing out to one another (and to the broader public) all the horrible shit that he and his administration are doing—and make no mistake that Trump’s administration is a lot scarier than he himself is—while simultaneously ceasing our efforts to effect deeper and deeper extremes of outrage, because down that road lies exhaustion and burnout, as well as a loss of credibility among the broader public—something that is already happening. Let’s instead maintain a sustainable level of outrage, and blend our illustration of this administration as being unprecedently unfit to lead (which it is) with pragmatic logistical disruption. And let’s stop feigning indignation when Trump refuses to give in to our demands. We’re not winning that one.