I wonder if the President-Elect is reading the hundreds of essays of denunciation and disgust aimed at him each week, and will these countless essays and op-eds, written as expressions of conscience, alter the conscience of the new President, assuming he does read them (and has a conscience)? These essays have been a consistent source of work for writers, journalists, and editorial boards (not to mention everyone else with a Facebook account) over the last 18 months. Have they changed anything?
The sad truth is this. If President Trump showed up at a demonstration of a thousand "angry" writers, grabbed a bull-horn, and insulted them all as "a bunch of scrawny losers with nothing better to do than bellyache and drink cappuccinos all day," what would happen next? Each writer would run to his or her laptop and we'd soon have a thousand more essays (and Facebook posts) denouncing Trump as a bully, which would likely have the same impact as the last thousand essays (and Facebook posts) denouncing Trump as a bully. I've been noticing a pattern, I guess I'm saying.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to see writers disturbed and alarmed by the tone and anti-intellectualism of the new President-Elect. As a writer who believes in bat-crazy, evidence-based notions like science ("what do those book-reading egg-heads know that I don't know? I'm really smart, really smart!"), the value of different perspectives ("hey, did I tell you how smart I am? I have the answers, so don't need to listen to idiots!"), treating people with respect ("you bunch of idiots writing all that garbage should start treating me with the respect I deserve!" I'm smart and people love me, except for dumb-asses like everyone here today"), ethics in government ("why can't I run the government and make billions at the same time?"), and American democracy ("I won the election, so can do as I like, right?"), I share their concerns with the President-elect.
But as the proverb says: "the definition of crazy is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome." Neither the avalanche of essays nor journalists pointing to "the facts" have changed much of anything of late.
The tactics Trump is using to discredit journalists are working and he'll keep wielding them: lies, deflections, ad hominem attacks on opposition and dissent, fake news, "look at the birdie over there," etc. These tactics have worked really well not just during the election campaign, but in other countries around the world. We know what countries these are, so I won't mention any names. You don't beat a bully, a strong man, or any "leader lacking conscience" with a beautifully-organized and thought-out essay or a Facebook post asking said person to act reasonably.
It doesn't make me happy to report this fact. As a writer, I'd prefer to believe "the pen (or laptop, in my case) is mightier than the sword." But recent history, and almost all of history, really, tells me a different story.
I do think that public demonstrations are more effective in bringing about change than essays, but I'm not sure if they're effective enough to bring the change we really seek. What they do is act as collective expressions of conscience, and that is good for people who are frustrated by a worsening political climate. We will need community, now more than ever. Isolation is the enemy. People who want to change our politics should begin by collectively modeling good behavior. So if you believe in inclusion, practice inclusion in your own life and advocate for it wherever you have even a shred of influence.
Top-down change is tough, and will only get tougher as the credibility and integrity of our institutions (government, media, business, etc.) continues to erode, as it's been eroding for years (and not by accident, but by people who benefit from that erosion of public trust). As trust gets eroded from the top-down, we all have the option of building it back again from the ground-up in our own lives. That may be all we have.
We can live our values, we can model good behavior, we can share our values with the people around us. We don't need permission. Even if everything we loathe gets normalized (bullying, exclusion, the worship of money, the ends justify the means, etc.), we can act in another way.
Our actions define us far more than what we say or what we write, even for writers. I'm not in favor of prohibiting the writing of essays, of course, nor the banning of demonstrations by enraged literary types (I'm sure nothing terrifies Trump more than that), but I am in favor of finding tactics and strategies that at least hold the possibility of bringing about change, even when that "change" is standing up to protect the values one person may hold dear.
After reading so many essays and watching so much of what purports to be journalism today, and gauging its impact in bringing the country "back to its senses," I have a much better sense of what doesn't work. By the way, I'm deeply conscious that I've just added another essay to the growing heap, and this one will have the same impact as the rest. Do you have a better idea, dear reader, or a comment to offer?