After a year spent absorbing the shock of Donald Trump’s election to the White House, and watching to see if the world would sputter off its axis instantly or work its way to a slow, rolling boil before scorching the universe and everything in it, my husband and I felt ready to do what we could to keep the earth spinning. We discussed how to add the most value to the effort to stop Trump and the GOP from ruining our country. And we wanted our friends and family to be able to join the effort in a strategic way. Most were appalled by everything Trump said and did, but many didn’t necessarily view themselves as activists. They cared deeply, but felt powerless to effect electoral change because they already lived in Democratic districts, where their votes seemed not to count.
We concluded there is one thing all liberals, progressives, and decent Americans of any stripe should be making their top priority between now and Election Day — exactly six months from today: working to put Democrats, who have the power to stop Trump’s worst excesses, in charge of the House and Senate, which are both now in play. So we reached out to promising Democratic Congressional candidates running to swing red districts blue in areas outside — but not far from — our Brooklyn bubble. We offered to hold house parties to support their campaigns with dollars, door knocks, post cards — anything they need that we could provide.
Supporting swing districts is not a novel idea (and not the only important work to be done). Groups like Swing Left have created powerful platforms and energized communities to do this work (and Sister District and Flippable are doing equally crucial work at the state level). But although it’s not a new idea, it’s not always obvious why supporting swing districts is so strategically urgent, especially this far before Election Day. One reason is that early money goes much further, creating a “snowball” effect as it makes an impact and attracts more support. Shockingly, just over one in ten Americans donates to political candidates, leaving lots of room for growth (this also makes the impact of each donation huge). Another reason is that every swing district that’s remotely winnable can help move the needle. Sometimes your nearest swing district is closer — and more strategic — than you think. People may view New York as a Democratic stronghold, but even parts of liberal, latte-loving Brooklyn are represented by a Republican in Congress. Ditto the suburbs of Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles and elsewhere. If we can figure out how to swing those seats (Swing Left lists 78 competitive districts), we’ll have taken crucial steps toward toward flipping the 23 needed to regain the majority.
As we twist arms to generate money and time for this crucial work, it’s easy to lose sight of just how critical the cause is, just high the stakes are. So below is a list of six reasons why every decent person should be working to stop Trump by taking back Congress this fall:
1. This election is the first and only opportunity for a do-over of 2016, and will either seal or begin to reverse the damage done by electing America’s first true autocrat.
The next two national elections will be the most important of our lifetimes. As a referendum on the Trump election, they will determine if his victory was a one-off or if America really is a Trump nation. Given the president’s behavior in office — attacking the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, calling the press “the enemy of the American people,” praising violent white supremacists as “very fine people,” smearing immigrants as violent threats and economic saps to America, and treating the truth like a football he can punt at will as a rank show of force — this means the entire American experiment in creating a true, multicultural republic, whose citizens are created equal and deserve a shot at living their best possible lives, is at stake.
2. Trump is hastening catastrophic climate change by handing over energy policy to corporate polluters. One of the few tools we have to push back is empowering the opposition party.
We’re already seeing the devastating effects of climate change, from more and bigger hurricanes that nearly destroy major U.S. cities to the latest California wildfires and mudslides to the global migrant crisis that’s fanning the flames of terrorism and anti-immigrant hysteria. While Obama’s policies took serious steps to correct course, Trump’s, in fealty to the fossil fuel industry that has bought and paid for the Republican Party, are doing everything to make things worse. This will exacerbate inequality as the powerful fend off the masses from shrinking sectors of habitable land, and will bring harrowing changes to our world within our lifetimes, and even worse ones to the world we leave our children. As these charts show, it would take planting nearly 6 billion new trees to offset the added CO2 caused by Trump’s policies, which are causing the equivalent of dumping nearly 50 million new cars on the streets of America.
3. Trump targets the most vulnerable. No one but us will speak for them.
The New York Times recently reported that the Trump administration pried 700 infants and children from their parents’ arms at the U.S. border, sent them to shelters, and lied about it, in an effort to “deter” southern migration. It’s not just immigrants Trump has targeted but transgender troops risking their lives to protect our freedoms and students whose “different” gender identity makes it hard to get through a school day without being bullied or barred from taking a pee; millions of low-income Americans whose access to basic, life-saving health care the GOP sought to yank away with no replacement, and whose shot at the American dream suffered yet another blow with a tax “reform” bill that redistributes wealth to the corporations and millionaires who need it the least; and African Americans and other people of color who are continually denied a truly equal opportunity to vote, attend college, or walk safely on the streets without risk of police bias putting their freedom or even their lives at risk. If a society really is measured by how it treats its least fortunate, nothing could be more critical to our own moral equilibrium than to stop the GOP from selling the country to the highest bidder on the backs of the poor and people of color.
4. The federal courts risk surrendering their role as a bulwark against the abuse of power.
A closely divided Supreme Court has upheld some of our most cherished values, including a woman’s right to control her own body, the right of same-sex couples to marry, the legality of affirmative action, and more. I’ve long viewed the courts as the most dependable branch of government, relying on them to safeguard individual rights and the democratic process from the most extreme efforts to crush both. But with a GOP-stolen seat, the Court is poised to make more decisions like the reviled rulings on campaign finance and voting rights that strike at the core of our democracy. What’s most terrifying are headlines like this: “Inside Trump’s Plan to Dramatically Reshape U.S. Courts”, which describes the quiet effort to overhaul the federal courts with unqualified Trump appointees while the nation is distracted with Russia probes and porn-star payoffs. There are 139 open federal court seats and counting, and these judges will rule on issues that are fundamental to our lives: reproductive freedom, gun control, voting rights, marriage equality, immigrant rights, campaign finance laws, and more. The only thing standing between sanity and Trump’s ability to influence judicial policy for half a century is a Democratic wall in the Senate.
5. If you care about any women or girls, you should stop everything to help stop Trump.
Women and girls are the most at-risk under the Trump regime, disproportionately affected by climate change, sharing unequally in wage growth, and more dependent on government protections Trump is gutting. Not only did electing an unabashed pussy-grabber to the White House send a heinous message that men can exploit women with impunity, but the Trump-GOP’s attitudes and policies around women are frighteningly retrograde. (Just ask our vice president — unless you’re female, in which case you can’t get a meeting with him unless his wife is present). As a (gay) man, abortion used to be an abstraction for me, something I supported as a liberal, but had the luxury not to lose much sleep contemplating. Now I have a niece. Now there’s #MeToo. Now I’ve woken up to how real the threat is that someone close to me may have her body commandeered by a government of rich old men more dedicated to Jesus than to the humanity of the women and girls around them. Last week I woke up (literally) to news that Iowa enacted the most restrictive abortion law in the country, banning it as early as six weeks — once a fetal heartbeat is detectible. The GOP’s war on women is real, and decent men and women everywhere are called to battle.
6. The integrity of the democratic process is badly deteriorating under Trump, and with it, America’s claim to being a genuine democracy.
Before you nod off at phrases like “democratic process,” consider that a healthy democracy is the source of everything above that we hold dear — of creating, protecting, and legitimizing equality, freedom, compassion, the rule of law, and a habitable planet. With Trump eroding American democracy in ways never before seen, and a GOP unwilling to say no to either Trump or its corporate donors, we’ll see more skewed campaign finance laws, more extreme gerrymandering, more stolen Supreme Court seats, more elections from which eligible voters have been suppressed, and more suffering by the already vulnerable. We won’t produce a functioning government or a just society so long as these fundamentals of democracy are so badly compromised.
It took a little processing for clarity to emerge, but Trump’s presidency has shored up for me a few truths about America and the world: Our democratic experiment is noble but fragile, as is the thin veneer of civilization. Both can take centuries to build up, and can be torn down in an instant by a tyrant so bent on self-aggrandizement that he’ll sacrifice the well-being of hundreds of millions for the elation of feeling his own power. Trump’s enablers share in this sin of indulging their basest instincts at the expense of the common good. To the rest of us falls the sacred obligation to resist. For anyone who hasn’t begun that work, may today be the day you say to yourself, “Time’s up.”