Sam Gimbel

Tech, Beer, and Strange Thoughts.

Trump the Shapeshifter

Disclaimer: I am a white guy. I know and accept that I am always coming to the table from a place of privilege. What follows is a call to the most privileged among us to act. It is not a prescription of what marginalized peoples should do. Feedback and corrections are welcome.

Saying that Trump means different things to different people may be the understatement of the century. To many including myself, he is a dangerous demagogue hell-bent on destroying the social progress enjoyed by millions of minorities and marginalized populations. To others, he's the lesser of two evils, a bombastic but harmless outsider whose new perspective will bring needed change to economically depressed communities nationwide. To still others, he's justification for hate and hateful acts.

All this from one man. Trump shows a different face to every audience, adjusting his message accordingly. In rust belt states, his rallies contained little of the racist rhetoric about deporting Muslims en masse that he included in southern states. For the cameras, he provided sensationalist fodder that obfuscated the policy messages he was delivering at his less hateful rallies. We responded to the hateful messages we saw, ignoring the growing coalition of voters who saw someone else. The news told us one thing, but people were feeling another, culminating in his victory this past Tuesday.

He faked us out. A man once sued for racial discrimination and currently under investigation for fraud managed to confuse and misdirect both the institutional left and the media. And all of us who depended on that information must now suffer with the knowledge that he will likely change his platform again.

The evidence is already piling up: Building a Mexican border wall and repealing Obamacare, two oft-repeated policy tenets, are on the chopping block. In a true surprise, Trump laid out a plan to expand student debt repayment protections. None of this lines up with the platform he outlined in his campaign, and there are signs he'll evolve his platform again. If you're a party Republican, you're horrified. And if you're a Trump detractor, you should be too.

These policy shape-shifts will define the struggle over the next four years and determine whether Trumpism–and Trump himself–are here to stay. By obfuscating a truly heinous first 100-day plan with common-sense affordances to the voters who elected him, he is strengthening his coalition and casting even more doubt on the institutional left. These are tangible, relief-inducing policy shifts that, if executed, will reflect poorly on the political establishment. It's a reality we must now accept, and despite the danger it poses, it's a masterful plan that should not be underestimated.

These observations are shocking. The political machine of both parties is crumbling, but the financial forces that fueled them are not. Notably, the corporate support for both parties will be redirected to future candidates who are able to get these kinds of results. The RNC may be losing its luster, the apparatus of voter suppression and control it has implemented over the last several decades is easily repurposed by powerful men like Trump, or worse. His toothless policy positions reflect his political naiveté, but the damage he has done could easily be wielded by someone more savvy, and likely more evil.

The fear felt by racial and cultural minorities in the wake of this election is very real and very well-founded. There is a lot of hate being unleashed due to the endorsement Trump's win gave to hate groups nationwide. And while many white people are waking up to an imperative to fight for the rights of women's bodies, black bodies, gay bodies, and the social institutions that support them, this is in large part because we feel threatened, too. There's more at stake than the bodies of today, though. As Trump's policies shift and change, he is likely to placate–or even win over–the faithful on the left simply by pulling back from his extremist views, putting the next generation of minorities in jeopardy, too. People whose bodies are at risk will see through the lies, but will I? Will you?

This is a fight for the most privileged: It's a fight against confusion and against lies, and it starts by turning off the news and getting out of your bubble. We are all seeing filtered information. We are all victims of a tightly controlled, highly sensationalized media machine that fed us exactly what Trump wanted us to hear. We are all being lied to, and if we want to pave the way for the world we know our most vulnerable deserve, we must win this battle.

Here's the awful, heart-wrenching, nigh-impossible (and easy-for-you-to-say, white guy!) part. Without the support of people who voted for Trump, we cannot win. They are [mostly] not the enemy. As a whole, they rubber-stamped a platform of hate and violence. As individuals, their net impact was racist, misogynist, homophobic, and against their best interests. As a collection of cultural groups, they are highly divided from those of us in urban settings. But if we fail to find common ground, we will fail to turn the tide. These voters summarily rejected the corporatist and imperialist leanings of both parties. We cannot rely on the Democratic party to reject neoliberalism, and until they do, winning will remain elusive. Without a platform that espouses the type of sweeping change Trump offered, the Democrats have no chance in 2020. And it's up to progressives to lead that reform, starting with understanding and recognizing what we have in common with rust-belt Trump voters.

Let me clarify something, though: we cannot normalize hate. We cannot "wait and see," and we cannot "give Trump a chance." We are angry, and we will stay that way. It's not OK to feel OK. We will fight and we will not yield, and we will not forget. But it's also not OK to think we have all the answers, or pretend that Hillary Clinton was our savior. We have to find a way to honor her historic run for president while condemning the cronyism and corporatism that led to her downfall. We need to call out the sexism that contributed to her loss while holding her campaign accountable for the hubris that lost us Michigan and Wisconsin. We need to elevate the positive social policies that Obama passed while recognizing he had a net negative effect on the world's political stability.

In short, we need to be aware of our own place in this struggle. Marginalized people have an exponentially harder time in the world than I do, and we can't expect them to lead yet another charge. It's on the most privileged to provide a pathway to bring in those duped by Trump while continuing to condemn those who were motivated by hate. It's on us to educate and shine a light on the impact their actions had so we can avoid this ever happening again. It's on us to call out policy shape-shifting and provide context to help people get out of their bubble. And most importantly, it's on us to amplify and channel the perspective of marginalized groups and defend safe spaces against the onslaught of normalized hate.

It's OK to grieve. I certainly still am. It's been less than a week since our world was upended. But when you're ready, we must come together to reject the shape-shifter. So much is at stake, and we can't afford to lose.