On Donald Trump and Placing the Blame

Donald Trump is set to become President of the United States in a couple of weeks. This, obviously, is a problem (isn’t the whole point of politics supposed to be to keep guys like Trump out of power?), and it may be one without an acceptable solution.

There are any number of articles out there containing excellent advice for how to politically resist a Trump presidency and all of its attendant outrages. I recommend them all. The only problem with them is this: their efficacy depends on Trump’s whim. (A scary thought in and of itself.) Tactics like protesting and pressuring Congress and organizing for the next elections… they can be effective if the United States is still a democracy, with elected officials who have to pay attention to the voters. But if Trump is confident in the support of the armed forces and the various law enforcement services across the country, then he doesn’t have to worry about that. He can just have protestors or Congresspeople jailed or shot, and elections cancelled.

I know this is the kind of thing that the opponents of an incoming president always say. But it’s different this time, because a) all previous presidents were politicians who understood the nature of the presidency and the context in which it operates, and Trump neither knows nor cares about any of that; b) Trump has a famous disregard for law; and c) Trump’s supporters clearly don’t plan on holding him to any standards. Seriously: when was the last time Trump let the law stop him from doing something that he wanted to do? When was the last time that the Republican Party stopped him from doing something that he wanted to do?

During Trump’s time in office, however long that turns out to be, the USA is in danger of turning into a fascist dictatorship. It just depends on the degree to which Trump feels like colouring outside the lines, and the degree to which everybody else can summon the courage to refuse to follow evil orders. I’m not comfortable relying on either of those things.

So I’m not saying that people shouldn’t protest and organize. I think they should; I think it’s worth doing. I’m just saying that it might get you killed.

This is all tricky for me to talk about, because I’m Canadian. It might seem like I’m sitting up here in relative safety and perceived superiority, snarking on you poor dumb Americans for screwing everything up. I assure you that’s not at all what I’m doing. Everything I have to say about the USA is equally true of Canada; you guys elected your Trump and we have yet to face ours, whoever he or she turns out to be. (Harper wasn’t great but he had some good points, and was pretty much Abraham Lincoln compared to Trump.) Whatever I have to say about you, it’s true of us too. Including the part about how it may already be too late.

Anyway. Another kind of article I’ve seen many examples of has been the ones that try to pin the blame for Trump’s victory on this person or that group. In general I don’t like to dig into whose fault something was, but I will in this case because I think there’s a point to be made.

Here’s whose fault it is that Trump won the election:


Okay, not everybody. There are certainly people in the world who had no power to affect the election in the long or short term. And there’s a specific group of people who did have some power to affect the outcome whom I acquit of any blame; I’ll speak more about them later. But here are some of the groups and individuals who are to blame, in no particular order:

1. Donald Trump himself. He didn’t have to be the worst possible person one could imagine ever becoming president. He’s a human being with agency and resources. He could have been different. He still can! He can change. I don’t expect him to, but if he doesn’t, it’s on him.

2. The other Republican candidates. None of them are any prizes either, but why couldn’t they beat him? Why weren’t they better candidates?

3. The Republican Party as an institution. It’s not really a political party anymore so much as a ruination machine.

4. Trump’s own inner circle. They couldn’t have stopped him? Physically, if necessary?

5. Hillary Clinton. She could have been a better candidate. She could have campaigned differently. She could have done any number of things to make the election turn out the other way.

6. Bernie Sanders. If Clinton was so terrible a candidate, why couldn’t he beat her? Maybe if he had spent more of his career building connections to African-American communities more people would have supported him.

7. The Democratic Party. They preferred Clinton to Sanders and put their thumb on the scale. They’ve spent decades not paying enough attention to the people who were counting on them.

8. Russia. Not that it’s Vladimir Putin’s job to make sure the USA has good leadership. It’s not. But is it in Russia’s best interests to have Donald Trump in charge of nuclear weapons? I say that it is not. However much Putin might think Trump is his tool. Trump is not reliable and is the kind of tool that will turn in your hand.

9. The media. Gave Trump all kinds of free publicity and let him get away with everything. Too attached to their equal-time, both-sides-do-it paradigm to point out the real difference between the two candidates. Or, really, the real difference between Trump and all the other candidates.

10. The electoral college. It is literally their job to stop this kind of thing from happening. Yeah, I know, nobody really expected them to do it, but still: it’s their job, and they didn’t.

11. The voters. Half of them stayed home and almost a quarter of them voted for Trump. It’s the job of the voters to look over the candidates, to evaluate the available information about them, and to pick the one who would make the best president. And about three-quarters of them didn’t. They didn’t care, or they valued their own racism over the good of the country, or they preferred to listen to lies.

“But, Matthew, you can’t expect–”

No. I guess I can’t. And now Donald Trump is going to be the president. Good job all around!

Liberal democracy is a pretty good system. It’s got some redundancy built in: if one component underperforms, the other components can compensate. But the people who designed it didn’t envision a situation where _all_ the components failed. (Or maybe they did and just figured, oh well, if that happens then you get what you deserve.)

There are people out there who are politically active. They vote (and voted for Clinton in this election), they make sure they are informed on the issues, they do things to help out in their community, they fight injustice. These are the people whose fault Trump’s election is not. The rest of us all have work to do.

Which I hate as much as everyone else does. I don’t want to volunteer or protest or annoy politicians and corporations and media companies. It isn’t any fun. But this is where we are. The only thing we have the power to fix is us. It’s boring uncomfortable work that, these days, may carry with it the risk of being locked up or shot. But we have to do it anyway, because now we know what happens when nobody eats their vegetables for decades: Donald Trump gets elected.

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