WTF to do in the Age of Trump

Tackling Civic Engagement in the Age of Trump [aka WTF to do!]

If you’re like me and still shell-shocked from November 8th and grappling with reality of our brave new world, it can feel challenging to know where to begin and how to respond constructively and effectively. Following are a few ideas on civic engagement in the Age of Trump.

Silver Linings

It can feel disheartening to even momentarily consider the implications of the Trump presidency for American democracy and the broader impact of the wave of populism sweeping the globe. From the Philippines to the United Kingdom, populist unrest has manifested in virulent and frightening ways.

The silver lining lies in mobilization of grassroots engagement and the ushering in of a new era of civic and political engagement. Sociologists tell us that a dramatic uptick in political engagement on both the Right and, disproportionately, the Left is occurring. We see evidence every day, from mobilization in the streets of New York City to billboards demanding town hall meetings with Members of Congress in Midwestern towns.

With every seeming blow to progressive values, a tidal wave of energy and engagement is building in defense of human rights, justice, and the social contract. And it shouldn’t be a surprise, to any of us. A resurgent feminist movement, Black Lives Matter, an immigrant rights movement led by young DREAMers--this percolating engagement has been growing for years and President Trump is the tipping point. There is much reason to hope.


The Personal is Political (and Local)

My immediate reaction to Trump’s election was dejection and despair (and not a few tears shed). My second reaction was the conviction that growing urban centers, in the United States and beyond, would be ground zero for the defense of progressive values. Cities have long been hubs of activism and incubators of progressive policy, as well as economic engines. Their significance will only increase in light of partisan gridlock and an incompetent, error-prone administration.

Tackling engagement in the era of Trump can seem a daunting task. My advice is this: start local. Map your local political bodies, from town and city councils to school boards to your state and federal elected officials. Familiarize yourself with your representation and trust that your engagement matters, even if your elected representation is likeminded.

One trend I’ve noticed in the wake of Trump’s election is that newbie politicos are coming out of the woodwork left and right—friends who previously shied away from political engagement are emboldened and professing their values in number. Gloria Steinem’s adage that “the personal is political” feels deeply relevant, today. Gone is the era of respectability as neutrality on and avoidance of political discourse and debate; the stakes are simply too high.


Stand With Women and Girls 

There has been much discussion and disparagement of identity politics on the Left in the wake of the 2016 election. It’s bunk. The Left—regardless of how you identify to and with it—is an amalgam of vantage points, experiences, and acknowledgments, directly related to an array of identity factors.

Feminism and niche “women’s issues” (a problematic but widely-recognized term) address a specific set of grievances and goals on behalf of women and girls and, in advocating for equality and against the patriarchal structures and norms that harm all of us, men and boys, too.

The feminist project has a long and complicated history, rife with division, exclusion, growth, and progress. It has achieved much and much of what it has achieved it as risk in the face of an administration openly hostile to gender equality and the empowerment and advancement of women and girls. This extends to the global stage, both in terms of the United States’ role in the world and governments and political movements around the world that are antagonistic to gender equality.

We are at a make or break moment, from the threat to Planned Parenthood and Roe v. Wade to the implications of the Global Gag Rule and defunding UNFPA for women around the globe to potentially massive cuts to federally-funded domestic violence prevention and response efforts. Now is the moment to increase support to women-centered organizations that engage in advocacy on behalf of and deliver services to women and girls.  Now is the moment to wear our feminism, loud and proud. Now is the moment to recruit more people to our project.


Stay The Course 

It is so easy to feel exhausted in light of the U.S. national and global contexts. Kate recently posted a fantastic piece on self-care—take heed. The clichéd adage that defending feminist gains and progressive values is “a marathon, not a sprint” holds.

Set realistic goals for engagement. Cultivate practical habits of media consumption; commit to a set of news sources and designate time to get up to speed on current events (and avoid overload!). Convene likeminded friends for organizing, commiserating and reflecting, going to marches and demonstrations together, and the like.

And remember, no (wo)man is an island and no one of us is going to single-handedly alter the course of history.  One of my political heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, said it better than I can:

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

And another one of my heroes—Patti Smith—said it even more succinctly: “People have the power to redeem the work of fools.”

To recap:

  1. Map your local and state political landscape. Engage allies and foes, alike—our elected representatives need to continue to hear from us.
  2. Wear your feminism, loud and proud. “Women’s issues” are everyone’s issues.
  3. Cultivate practical habits of media consumption. Commit to a few high-quality sources regularly. Designate time to get current.
  4. Convene friends to discuss what’s going on and how to act, individually and collectively. There is so much power in building community.
  5. Stay the course. To do that, take good care of yourself.



Chrissy Hart is Continuum's Politics & Policy Expert-in-Residence. Follow her here on twitter at @ChrissyDHart

Chrissy Hart