When I was thirteen years old, in 1966, my family moved from a small midwestern town to Santa Cruz, California. It was the first Summer of Love. I came from a star, I came very far, and Ohio they said was the name of the star... I had a lot of adjusting to do, including acclimation to strange new music. Not long after touching down in California, a neighbor kid invited me to listen to his new vinyl record of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Freaky! The weirdest cut of all was It Can't Happen Here. "No no no no no! It can't happen here!" It summed up the strangeness of what I was experiencing.
Fifty years later, we said it couldn't happen here.... but it did. A president was selected by a vanishingly small Electoral College win, in the face of a large popular vote loss. Weird! Our country is now led by a vain, intentionally-ignorant, crude, cruel, calculating liar, attached to a morally-unmoored political party. No no no no no!
But if I learned nothing else in 1966, it was this: to question authority and oppose it when necessary. Trump can happen here, but resistance can happen here, too.
But what kind of resistance? That is the question I'm asked by USC students very often. Most are appalled by the people running our government in Washington. But they are not inclined to roar in the streets like we did in the 60's. They are smart people who know that working within the system usually is more effective than railing against it from outside. But they lack experience even with mainstream political activism. So a steady stream of them come to me for advice: "This is terrible! What can I do?" And my short answer is a question: "What can we do?" Individuals need to get together in groups and resist the Trump agenda over time. (See my list of ways to do this here.)
Effective resistance is also a matter of the heart. Trump did not get selected because of his policy agenda, which consists mostly of proposals that are not only inhumane but also wildly impractical and contrary to the interests of the very people who voted for him. He got selected because a lot of broken-hearted folks America believed he understood their pain and embodied their aspirations. If politicians present broken-hearted people with piles of pages in ten-point type about policy prescriptions, they can't expect to be persuasive.
Creating caring relationships with the voters who will be needed to stop Trump and the Republicans is not so easy. I have close relationships with few who voted much differently than I did in November. Across America, our political differences have translated into geography. People choose where to live partly on the concentration of residents who share their politics. Conservatives choose which church to attend more on the basis of politics than religion, according to the sociologist Robert Putnam. For me to make a difference at a personal level, I'm going to need to reach out to some old conservative friends and make some new ones... and listen to them.
Joey Krieger, a USC engineering undergraduate student, and I have had some deep chats about how to influence voters. For his fellow environmental activist students, he wrote a wise piece titled How to Change a Mind. As is also the argument by Robb Willer in his oft-watched TED talk, it begins with honoring the basic moral orientations of people. For instance, in discourse about the environment, progressives tend to have a moral structure that emphasizes nurture. We're about protecting the birds and bunnies. Conservatives tend to have a moral structure that is concerned with purity. To change their hearts and minds in the direction of ecological preservation, it's best to focus on maintaining a pristine environment.
At the gargantuan Women's March in Los Angeles, the day after the inauguration, I was one of only a handful of people carrying an American flag. Too many progressives have ceded the flag to conservatives, associating it with xenophobic nationalism. But that is a huge mistake. It's everybody's flag. The more we show it, carry it, and wave it, the better for creating a bond of solidarity with the people who voted for the man who is attacking what the flag stands for. Let us all come together under that banner, and listen, and speak in language that the other can begin to understand. Only then can we begin to engage about the details of the policies that can make our country a better place for everyone.