Against Trump? Stop the futile stuff. Do things that matter.

Photo: Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

Liberals and NeverTrump types are heartsick after Trump’s election. This has resulted in a slew of futile and counterproductive ideas on how to stop him. Please put your emotions in escrow and think a minute. Evaluate what will actually make a difference, and stop wasting effort on pointless screaming and whining.

In the list below, I look at some ideas that we’ve been hearing about and evaluate them on this basis: Will they succeed? Will they make a difference? Do they set a dangerous precedent? What should we actually do?

The most effective ideas, like calling your congressperson and creating change at the local level, are boring and hard. Whining and signing petitions are fun and easy, but don’t make a difference — unless you count feeling righteous as a positive thing.

One principle I ask here is: if the situation were reversed, would you support such action on the part of Republicans? If not, then why is it permissible for Democrats and Trump opponents?

Presidential electors should vote against Trump.

What is it? The electoral college votes formally on December 19. A petition urged electors to vote for Hillary Clinton; other electors want to vote for John Kasich or Mitt Romney and throw the election into the House of Representatives.

Will it make a difference? No. The electors for Trump are loyal Republicans. The chances that the necessary 37 would break their promise and vote for Clinton, or against Trump, are vanishingly small.

Is it a good idea? No. If the situation were reversed, electors breaking vows to vote against Hillary Clinton would be an outrageous violation of democracy. Just because you hate Trump doesn’t make it justifiable to violate the election norms that hold the republic together. This is one of the worst ideas ever, and a terrible precedent.

What should you do instead? If you want to get rid of the electoral college, you’re probably stuck — changing it with constitutional amendment would require an act of Congress and 37 state legislatures. But states representing 165 electoral votes have enacted the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Once that number gets to 270, the electoral college becomes obsolete, because those states will direct electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote. So if you actually want change (rather than just hating Trump), ask your state legislators to pass the Compact. (It’s still a long shot.)

March against Trump.

What is it? Join a non-violent anti-Trump protest.

Will it make a difference? No. Regular Republican politicians don’t care, and Trump cares even less. It keeps the anti-Trump sentiment in the news, but I don’t think anyone imagines that anti-Trump sentiment has gone away.

Is it a good idea? I support the right to protest, so I won’t try to stop you. I’m sure it makes you feel good, but it’s a waste of energy.

What should you do instead? Figure out which of Trump’s potential policies outrage you most, then call your representatives in Congress. If you want to stop his plan to deport over 2 million people, for example, this is the time to build support for that.

Whine about the fact that only half the potential voters voted.

What is it? Say that the election is not legitimate since the turnout was under 60% of eligible voters.

Will it make a difference? Of course not. Turnout has been at about this level since 1920. Were all those elections not legitimate? Why is this one different?

Is it a good idea? No. What you’re saying is that people who were too apathetic or ill-informed to take the time to vote in the most consequential election in the last 50 years should have voted. Do you really want the election decided by these idiots? If you believe that apathetic idiots would have put your candidate of the top, what does that say about your candidate? Give it up. There are enough idiots voting already.

What should you do instead? The real problem is ignorance. Support efforts to educate voters in all channels. Do local canvassing and get-out-the-vote activities, especially in the 2018 midterm elections and for state legislatures.

Blame third-party voters for giving Trump the presidency.

What is it? Five percent of voters didn’t vote for Clinton or Trump. Blame them for Trump winning.

Will it make a difference? In a normal election, it might. But the people who voted third-party in 2016 either didn’t want either candidate, were true Libertarian or Green believers, or both. It’s a pretty big stretch to believe that Gary Johnson voters gave the election to Trump; most libertarians are disenchanted ex-Republicans who would never vote for Clinton. And the number of third-party votes fell well below what the polls predicted, probably because some potential Johnson voters in swing states held their noses and voted for one of the two main parties.

Is it a good idea? Both parties are corrupt and run on campaign contributions from rich people and companies with vested interests. Forcing people to vote for one of two parties is not quite as bad as forcing them to vote for one party, but it’s still a bad idea. Until he ran for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders was a democratic socialist. He voted in the Senate with the Democrats but wasn’t in the party. I’d like to see more of that, not less.

What should you do instead? Get money out of politics. Support candidates like Zephyr Teachout, Russ Feingold, and Larry Lessig. Tell your representative you support campaign finance reform — it’s a part of “draining the swamp” that Donald Trump would have trouble opposing. If a third-party candidate runs locally, consider voting for them if they represent your interests.

Call out Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon as a bigot.

What is it? Trump just chose former Breitbart executive chairman Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Bannon’s site and public statements are hateful and bigoted.

Will it make a difference? Look, Bannon is reprehensible. But you don’t get a say in who Presidents choose for White House staff — they choose people they trust. Trump’s choice reflects badly on his judgment and shows he surrounds himself with immoral people, but that’s been the pattern all along. Ask yourself: is there anyone who was going to back Trump but, after seeing this pick, will change their mind?

Is it a good idea? No. Voters shouldn’t get in the way of Presidents picking who they want. Congress doesn’t confirm West Wing staffers, and that’s as is should be.

What should you do instead? Protest Trump’s actual actions and statements as president-elect and president. That will influence Congress about public opinion.

Give Trump a chance.

What is it? Wait until Trump gets in office and starts doing stuff before you criticize.

Will it make a difference? Yes, it will give Trump a free pass for two-and-a-half months. Is that what you want?

Is it a good idea? No.

What should you do instead? Watch him like a hawk. Be prepared. Contact your elected representatives when you see something you want to stop.

Decry how Trump’s election is generating hate crimes.

What is it? Hate crimes are up sharply since the election. Some racists are feeling bold enough to come out in the open.

Will it make a difference? Yes, we can’t let this stuff become accepted or normal. Trump weakly told people to stop; enough protests might actually get him to be clearer about that.

Is it a good idea? Spreading the word about hate crimes is a necessary step to deterring them.

What else should you do? Insist that Obama’s Justice department prosecute, as should local law enforcement. If necessary, use media coverage to prod law enforcement into action. That’s part of what’s happening in Natick, Massachusetts right now, for example.

Claim that James Comey cost Hillary Clinton the election.

What is it? Clinton says FBI Director Comey’s statements about the emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer cost her the election.

Will it make a difference? You can’t get the election back. But lets think this through. If you believe this claim, it means that there were people who, after 15 months of the most covered campaign in history, knew about Hillary Clinton’s emails and were willing to give her a pass even though Comey had earlier said she was “extremely careless.” Then you have to believe that in the last few days of the election, after this vacuous revelation, they changed their minds — and didn’t change their minds back when Comey once again cleared her. You can believe that. Or you can admit that Clinton failed to win over enough voters even though Trump had all sorts of scandals to deal with — and that the electorate in swing states just wanted to shake up the system and would have resisted any establishment politician. If the Democrats in four years run another politician as wired into Washington as Clinton, they will have learned nothing.

Is it a good idea? We need better FBI rules. I’d hate to see the FBI influencing future elections. So yes, protesting Comey’s actions might make a change in FBI policy that matters, but it won’t put Clinton in office.

What else should you do? If Trump sacks Comey, make sure your representatives don’t let him replace him with somebody who will further trample over civil liberties. You may not like what Comey did, but that’s no guarantee that somebody else wouldn’t be much worse.

Point out that Trump is contradicting himself.

What is it? During the election, Trump contradicted himself constantly and said he never said stuff that he had obviously said. Now he is going back on the border wall (it could partly just be a fence), saying he will keep parts of Obamacare, and going backwards on many other promises — and it’s been less than a week.

Will it make a difference? Some of the things that Trump is going back on are stupid ideas. But he’s making a pretty good case that you can’t trust him. After four years of this, I don’t think voters are going to trust him.

Is it a good idea? Pointing out contradictions is necessary. We need all this stuff on the record. Voters’ memories are short unless you remind them.

What else should you do? Point out the stupid ideas he kept going with, in addition to the ones he went back on. But give him credit when he recognizes that Obamacare has positive elements, for example.

Change the game in ways that matter — long-term.

All of these ideas are focused on yesterday and today. If you don’t want another Trump term or a continuation of his tactics, you should focus on things that change the whole environment. These include:

  • Push back on gerrymandering. We need more court cases to stop it. We need computer programs that allocate districts fairly. And we need to make state legislatures more balanced so they can’t get away with drawing gerrymander districts. The 2020 census is the next battleground — changes in state legislatures in the next three years will determine what happens with the elections based on those new districts. Unless we change this, Democrats will continue to be at a disadvantage in the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the battle that will make all the difference in the next decade.
  • End fake news on Facebook. We need to restore the idea of truth. That means using technology to point out when articles are wrong.
  • Support mainstream and independent journalists. In this election cycle, Jay Rosen has been an indispensable resource in pointing out skullduggery. At Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, David Farenthold unearthed the lies in Trump’s claims about his contributions to charity. This stuff takes work. Subscribe to your local paper. Subscribe to all the papers you can pay for. Click through on these articles.
  • Teach your children how to find truth. When I taught my children to do research for writing, I also taught them how to be skeptical about sources.
  • Embrace science. Science tests itself and corrects itself. Opinion doesn’t. Religion doesn’t. It’s great if you have an opinion or a religion, but use science to help make important decisions about global issues.
  • Beware simple solutions. Climate, economics, healthcare, and education are complex issues. Simple solutions sound great, but they always have terrible consequences later on. Gut feel by itself is no way to solve problems. That’s why it’s better to put smart people in office than glib talkers.

We can no longer count on political parties to act in our interest. So we must act in our own defense. Read, learn, and talk to people who disagree with you. That’s how to get smarter, even if it’s harder than whining. Trump won. You can’t change that. You lost the battle, now fight the bad policies, because that’s what matters.

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  1. Thank you. I agree with all of these. I’m frustrated that so many are wasting their energy on futile initiatives like getting rid of the electoral college. We need to be organizing at the local level. It’s hard work and there won’t be a quick return, but that’s what effects change.

  2. There’s an error in your article. Something is missing from the sentence “Congress doesn’t West Wing staffers, and that’s as is should be.”

  3. Thanks, Josh. Many great points here and I find them steadying at a time when I can barely contain my fear. I live in deep Trump country and can’t stand the increase in hate crimes. I have heard many stories from teachers and friends experiencing ugliness firsthand. And I find it so disturbing that so many millions of people who voted for Trump just did not care about his lies, immoral behavior, and bigotry. If they saw it, they were willing to accept it to take a chance on him. I think you contradict yourself a bit when you say that marching is a waste of energy but then say enough protests might actually get Trump to be clearer about stopping hate crimes. I think non-violent protest is not a waste of time because it sends a message, lets people voice their feelings and opinions, and seems necessary when Trump has broken all of the rules. This transition is like no other. And yes, if Democrats had won thanks to the same kind of fear-mongering tactics and bigotry Trump used, then I would expect Republicans to protest and march. I also don’t see why we should honor Bannon’s appointment–how can you ask anyone of color or any woman to let that slide? We have to push back. And, yes, not just by marching. We all need to take real concrete actions as you have outlined and watch like hawks once he starts putting policies into place. Marching is just the beginning.

    1. You don’t have to honor Bannon’s appointment, but you can’t stop it. I don’t think Trump sees the protests as against hate crimes — they’re just against him. The hate crimes need special attention — they’re what we need to stand up to immediately. The rest will unfold under out watchful eyes.

  4. Thank you for this action-oriented list. I’m hoping there are bad writing examples that involve gerrymandering so we can keep seeing posts from you about that for the next 4 years. Gerrymandering seems to be a sleep aide – people’s eyes glaze over when its mentioned – but it’s a crucial fight to take up.

  5. Thanks so much, Josh, from a proud member of Pantsuit Nation – the national, state and local chapters (I am in Metrowest Boston area). I have posted your piece on the Mass. chapter site as food for thought. I do think expressing our outrage for Bannon is worthwhile, even though it may not stop the appt. At least others may be aware of who he is and what he represents. I myself have called the governor’s office (to no avail, so far) and Sen. Markey’s office. As far as protest marches, they may not change policies, but at least it shows that we are not taking all of this lying down. Thanks again for an enlightening, thoughtful piece.

  6. Josh, this is a great piece. You really caught my interest with the section on Gerrymandering: Push back on gerrymandering. We need more court cases to stop it. We need computer programs that allocate districts fairly. And we need to make state legislatures more balanced so they can’t get away with drawing gerrymander districts. The 2020 census is the next battleground — changes in state legislatures in the next three years will determine what happens with the elections based on those new districts. Unless we change this, Democrats will continue to be at a disadvantage in the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the battle that will make all the difference in the next decade.

    REQUEST: IF you’re interested, could you write an applied tactical post on how people can get involved now to help support this – and how we can make a meaningful difference in the 2018 elections?

    Thanks for your great thought leadership here.

  7. While I agree with the points you make, it seems to me that you are missing the big picture. This election is the culmination of an ongoing effort by the Republican Party to subvert the democratic process in the United States. As a consequence, sometime early next year, all three branches of the government will be firmly in the hands of the Republican Party, a party which represents a minority of the citizenry, and has been elected solely by a minority of the citizenry.

    This affront to Constitutional norms is a direct result of gerrymandering and unconstitutional voter suppression efforts by the GOP, combined with the obsolescent Electoral College system. The only historical purpose of the Electoral College was to mollify the slave states at the time the Constitution was adopted. (See:

    The way forward from here should be a direct counter-assault on this un-Constitutional, un-American agenda. It is long past time for the Electoral College to join the Confederacy in the dustbin of history. It is long past time to eliminate gerrymandering and voter suppression from the electoral process. This push back should be on all possible fronts, both state and national, and it should be framed by a straightforward theme:

    Restore American Democracy, 1 Citizen = 1 Vote

    1. I understand your points. I want to focus on your “direct counter-assault.”

      – If this “counter-assault” consists of signing petitions and shouting, good luck, won’t do any good. I understand you’re upset. Won’t matter.
      – If it consists of actual violent assaults, I’m against it.

      So what does that leave? Changing by legal means. If you think you are going to get a constitutional amendment out of this republican-led government, forget it. That means trying to get the Compact through your state — just as I suggested. And undoing the gerrymandering, just as I suggested. I didn’t mention fixing the voter suppression, but I agree, legal action is the best way to do that, too.

      I think you are missing the SMALL picture. Which is how you actually get things done.

      1. By “direct counter-assault” I did not mean any form of violence nor did I intend to imply that shouting and signing petitions would be effective. What I’m getting at is that you can’t attack this problem piecemeal. It won’t be enough to raise a legal challenge here and there against gerrymandering and voter suppression if there isn’t an overarching narrative that can be hammered at relentlessly in the political sphere. This is politics, you have to take the gloves off.

        The narrative should be that the Republican Party has been subverting the Constitutional order by denying the majority of voters their Constitutional right to an equally weighted vote. The Democrats should hang unConstitutional and unAmerican charges on all the Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics that they can document, making it a major issue in the 2018 elections.

        Restore American Democracy or some similar theme should be the battle cry for years going forward until all gerrymandering and voter suppression laws and tactics have been overturned. Make the GOP run against democracy. You will essentially be doing to them what they did to Hillary with Benghazi except that in this case the charges will have merit.

        As to the EC, of course there’s no chance of getting the Republican controlled Congress to do anything about it. It’s value is as a campaign issue since it can be tied to making voter suppression effective. Getting rid of it is a long term project, but for now it’s another prong in the attack to put the GOP on the defensive. If Dems just wonk-it-up with policy proposals (and I like policy) without going for the gut in the next election cycle, Trump will beat them like a rented mule.

  8. A tangent and perhaps a larger question…

    It appears that one of the major reasons for this outcome is the willingness of the people to believe what they want to believe (deep thought, I know…cognitive bias is nothing new). We were faced with the most blatant liar any political race has ever seen (and hopefully will ever see…), and yet it didnt matter. It didn’t matter to Donny and it didn’t matter to his voters. I’m sure I’m not alone in the experience of a Facebook or other conversation (some of them using actual spoken words with another live human) where critical thinking and simple logic are thrown out the window.

    My question for you is…how do you see, as a society, a way for us to get past this? Do we have any hope of regaining critical thought in the near term? Or are my kids the best shot Ive got?

  9. Besides reversing gerrymandering, we need to do everything in our power to repeal voter-suppression laws and outlaw voter-suppression activities such as mass partisan voter-roll purging. A difference of just over 100,000 votes in PA, WI, and MI would have tipped the Electoral College the other way, and all three states had active voter-suppression laws and activities. Trump’s margin in Wisconsin, for example, was fewer than 30,000 votes, and according to the state’s own records, ten times that many eligible voters in the state — as many as 300,000 people — lacked the proper ID and may have been disenfranchised. Democracies don’t use the machinery of government to shut out opposition and ensure permanent one-party rule. Dictatorships do that.

  10. I’d like to add something to your constructive to-do list: get involved in voter registration efforts and work against voter suppression. Where the GOP has made it difficult to register, we have two years before the next election to get everyone registered and in possession of whatever ID is required. Where they have outright disenfranchised certain groups, blocked early voting, reduced the number of polling places, etc., we will need grassroots efforts to get those measures overturned. This is one area where vigilance at the local and state level is essential, and it’s the kind of thing that people forget about until voting day is upon us. And of course it’s too late by then.

  11. i agree with almost everything you’ve written here except about steve bannon. if the republicans can put enough pressure on to get van jones to resign, why can’t the democrats do the same to steve bannon? i think we need to let our representatives know that we can’t stand him, and the representatives need to start dragging out some of his more odious quotes.

  12. Agree but was sorry to see omitted the power of the ACLU when it comes to personal freedoms. For many, many years, the ACLU has SUCCESSFULLY championed the rights of privacy, free speech, LGBT rights, equal rights of women and minorities, due process etc. These effective legal strategies should be supported by anyone concerned by Trump’s threats to curtail personal liberties. Supporting the ACLU in its promise to “see Trump in court” if he tries to make good on his racist promises is one of the most effective tools we can use. Likewise, with the regard to environmental issues, the NRDC has highly-skilled lawyers ready to take Trump to court over his threats to the environment. We should support this group, as well. Their track record and that of the ACLU is readily available online.

  13. If something unbelievable occurs and the Electoral College does switch enough of its votes to Hillary, I would think the Republican controlled Congress and states might have some impetus to get rid of the dinosaur. There needs to be a firestorm of some kind to get this changed. I see no reason that petitions shouldn’t be signed so that the electors have this in their thought processes as they do their job on December 19th. Can you imagine how the Trump side would have handled losing the way Clinton did? Just like it couldn’t handle the possibility that a recount in Florida might swing the election to Gore in 2000.

  14. I agree with all of this except where you write that pointing out racist ties of cabinet members is not an effective thing to do. That depends on your motive. If you are doing it because you think you’ll have an impact on Trump’s choices, then no. But, if you’re doing it to make sure people know that, then that is effective, I believe. Voters need to know this, they need to remember this — and, not be desensitized to the fact. That’s all that needs to happen with pointing out the racist ties. For now. In 2018 and beyond, that’s a different story.

  15. I’m a little confused by the “Wait ’til he acts, then protest” as if the selection of a White Nationalist to be his Chief Strategist isn’t an action? What? Does your belief that he should get to appoint his own choices mean we must not protest judicial appointments? Agency heads? The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? The Chairman of the Federal Reserve? When will it be okay to say out loud that we disapprove of a White House filled with bigots?