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Imagining Life After Trump

Imagining Life After Trump

If we survive, this country will have to choose a new direction.

If you've ever been in "survival mode," you know you really can't plan ahead. It's always the steps you need to take care of yourself and your loved ones today to get you to tomorrow. A week, a month, even a year ahead is impossible to fathom, much less plan for. Anyone who has been or worked with the poor, drug addicts, the suicidally depressed knows this mode, and I frankly see this with Americans in the age of Donald Trump.

It seems like we are constantly careening from crisis to crisis, just trying to stay sane and to keep out country from burning down around us. We really are not able to see what lies beyond Trump. Of course, many fear the worst, with America becoming a weird blend of an oligarchal theocratic fascist state, the country being torn apart by a civil war, or even worse, destroyed in a nuclear showdown started by the idiot in chief. But what if we're not? What comes after Trump if we manage to survive to the end of this as an intact country?

I hate to be a killjoy, but I gotta be real here. There is no utopia at the end of it. While it may feel like the moment Trump and conservatives are removed from power we are saved, we aren't. America's condition has only been stabilized, but it could flatline at any moment. At best, it's merely a return to the state of America in 2016. Half the people we wish would end up in prison won't, perhaps including Donald himself. The Republican Party, while certainly weakened, won't go away, but may fracture and reform as something else. But conservatism is not going to be vanquished like an enemy army in a fantasy story.

It will be with us for a long, long time. With that, there will be the die-hards who still chant "Lock Her Up," fear every Muslim, hate every Mexican, and think every queer a pervert. Their media outlets will still spew hate, half-truths, and outright lies. Trump's court appointments will be nearly impossible to remove and will be with us for decades to come. The scars of ICE raids will still be with us; our alliances, our reputation, even our economy will all be broken. For Trump to be gone and for rational government to return, it's clear the left will have returned to power in some regard, be it the White House or Congress, but reestablishing a functional democratic government will just be the beginning. Where do we go from there?

The mechanisms and tools we use to repair the damage are worth their own long discussion, but what we do to make our democracy stronger and more fair so that we never find ourselves here again are things we may not have even thought of. However, the one thing that is readily apparent is that the course we have been on is absolutely unsustainable. These are not original or even insightful thoughts, but no one seems to advocate for the idea that perhaps we need to be the side that abandons adversarial politics. Oh, I know that we see our side as the progressive, open-minded, and accepting side, but that doesn't mean we really are.

Even within our own side of the spectrum, we have come to view anyone who isn't 100 percent with us on everything as enemies to be broken on the rack until they accept that their name is "Reek" (what, you don't watch Game of Thrones?). Too many of us believe that people are not worth educating, informing, and transforming and simply must be defeated. We have no patience, no compassion, no willingness to give a little in one area to gain more in another. Everything is competition; everything must be met under the worst assumptions, that our opponents are irredeemable and must be broken and subjugated. That's the way it feels online and in our media, and certainly in our politics.

Democracies, whether capitalist or socialist, that don't embrace compromise simply do not work. In fact, no system of governance or even a healthy society can work that way. People have taken to pulling out a Martin Luther King Jr. writing, "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," to excoriate those who might advocate for any stance that might be anything other than a radical fanaticism. This bothers me, because it treats every interaction we have as an either/or situation and reduces the complex and nuanced philosophies of Dr. King to a caricature, something that they often accuse others of doing. In fact, it ignores a writing of MLK's that we really should be reading.

It's titled simply "Loving Your Enemies," and the contents are just what it says. It's mandatory reading in this day of divided, hate-based, adversarial politics. As much as one is inclined to throw around the Birmingham jail letter, one has to temper it with this sermon, and if your immediate reaction is "How dare you ask me to love those who hate me?" -- well, he talks about that. He actually covers a lot of things, including why loving your enemy is necessary to the functioning of democracy, why it's not a utopian and naive idea, and why it's necessary.

While the whole sermon is powerful, the part that is probably the most relevant is about why you must still love your enemies even if you don't like them. You can dislike what they stand for, what they do, why the do it, and how they treat you, but you cannot let it become hatred.

The reason he says we must love them is that with love comes the ability to redeem, and that is what is necessary for a democracy to work. Redemption and education. No one likes bigots but other bigots, unless they're the wrong kind of bigots being bigoted about the wrong things. No one says you have to give them a platform, accept their views as valid, give them a moment's peace when they eat out at a restaurant, or allow them to spread their lies and break the law. Love does not mean allowing a consequence-free world, and if it did our parents would never have punished or disciplined us; they imposed restrictions on us because they loved us.

This type of love is nothing like the love we have of our children, family, or friends, but an affection for humanity. It requires us to treat each other with humanity as well. We can call a liar a liar, denounce bigotry, and call out when their actions harm because it is an act of love. Arguably we could even punch back if it were necessary under this idea because doing so might prevent further harm, but we are never allowed to hate them. Dr. King said in his sermon, just like thousands of years of philosophers and prophets before him have said, that when you hate, you dehumanize. Just because they hated you first does not mean you can hate back. Hate and dehumanization are what is taught to empower bigotry against race, religion, gender, and sexuality, and hate and dehumanization can be taught to oppress people's ideas and beliefs.

Yes, you can hate and dehumanize and want to hurt someone and still attend every Black Lives Matter, Women's, or Pride march. Ideology is just as potent of a tool of hatred as any other bigotry, and if you doubt me, just remember that capitalists and communists built nuclear arsenals large enough to wipe out all life several times over.

That's why in King's sermon, he talks about when we have the opportunity to defeat our enemies, you must not destroy them. You must be better than that. Lift them up, educate them, and redeem them. Be better than they are. What good is it to fight to affirm your humanity just to destroy their humanity? Yes, some of them will all be bigots, hate you for who you are, and want to hurt you, but so many of them can be made to be better. If this wasn't true, then why do we try to educate people? Why do we try to argue for our beliefs? Why don't we skip straight to the violence to impose our ideas? Because we know, through our own experiences from having been wrong on race, gender, sexuality, class, or ability that we can learn and be better, because we ourselves got better. No one is born "woke."

As we have been taught our whole lives, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," it is a truth because it must be a truth. Just as "turning the other cheek" is said to be an act of nonviolent resistance, we still know it to mean that retribution and hatred are not necessary to resist. And so when Trump is gone, when conservatives no longer hold the reins of power, it is upon us to be better. It behooves us, should we come through it lucky enough to have avoided violence, to ensure there is no violence going forward. That means that we behave better, we are kinder, wiser, and fairer. We must disarm their hate through education, through outreach, through discussion and compassion. It is necessary for us to do so if we want democracy and not a pendulum of petty cycles of vengeance and oppression. It is necessary for us if we want to justify and earn our self-described "progressiveness."

If we are to simply entrench ourselves and divide ourselves further, then what is the point of continuing on as a country, the justification for democracy, and the belief that we are ultimately better for humanity? If we do not do what it takes to fight back against what got us here through peace and love for our enemies, then let's quit pretending and just start the violence and declare that a democracy of competing ideas and diversity is impossible because we simply cannot be better than the petty tribes of the past.

That's what comes after Trump, the decision to learn to be better people to each other by living up to our ideals, or simply abandon this experiment in government and society altogether.

AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter@Amanda_Kerri.

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