The Political Dimension
What you can do right now to fight Trump’s war on climate & democracy
by Joe Romm
Activism is the sixth stage of grief
Given the result of the U.S. presidential election, a lot of people have been asking me: “What can I do?”
I have a feeling many of you reading this are still going through the famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Maybe all at once.
After a lot of listening and reading, here’s my take: Activism is the sixth stage of grief. Major environmental groups are reporting “exponential increases” in post-election activism and support. If you are not part of this movement, it is time to join.
President-elect Donald Trump and his den of deniers pose an existential threat to America, the world, and, sadly, the next 50 generations. Whatever warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and Dust-Bowlification that we commit to because of his anti-science, pro-pollution policies will be irreversible on a timescale of a thousand years.
I also agree with those who argue Trump is an existential threat to American democracy and the core values that make it possible, such as pluralism and freedom of the press. If you agree, that is yet more motivation to act. This list naturally has a climate focus, and it is not exhaustive, but here goes:
1. Activism, activism, activism. The Sierra Club “reported signing up more new members in the eight days after the election than the whole rest of the year,” according to Politico. The Natural Resources Defense Council has seen “exponential increases” in online action and donations. The Environmental Defense Fund has seen a post-election jump in support, with EDF’s Sam Perry saying, “Apparently the sixth stage of grief is activism.” If you like your activism very active, consider joining 350.org.
2. Figure out what you are fighting for. The forces lined up against progressive values are overwhelming—especially when you toss Putin’s hacking and disinformation team on the scale. Progressives won’t win—and you won’t stay motivated for the many battles ahead—if you can’t figure out exactly what you are fighting for. Recent setbacks certainly make it easy to become disillusioned and lose one’s ideals. But remember, team Trump and his allies have no illusions and no ideals to lose. Worse, they spread lies and fakes news and suppress million of votes specifically to get us to quit fighting. Always remember, however, who got the most votes by far despite all this. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) put it,
“The American people didn’t give Democrats majority support so we could come back to Washington and play dead.”
3. Find your message, learn how to deliver it, and then keep repeating it. Conservatives are much better at developing a winning narrative and repeating it endlessly than progressives. A must-hear podcast on that, “How Trump Won the Election by Using Core Narrative Techniques,” features an interview with Randy Olson. You should read his book, “Houston, We Have a Narrative”. If you’re wondering what the winning climate message is, “Here’s What Science Has To Say About Convincing People To Do Something About Climate Change.” And remember the words of Frank Luntz, the GOP’s top messaging strategist: “There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.”
4. End climate silence. Talk about climate change and its solutions with everyone you know a lot more than you are doing now. The need to have more conversations about an uncomfortable subject is, I believe, one of two crucial messaging lessons the climate movement can learn from the LGBT community (the other is to focus on the immorality of inaction). While two thirds of Americans are moderately or very interested in global warming,” research finds an even larger fraction “rarely or never discuss” it with family or friends. The result is a “spiral of silence” in which “even people who care about the issue shy away from discussing it because they so infrequently hear other people talking about it—reinforcing the spiral,” researchers said. You can break that spiral.
5. Only support politicians who actively campaign on climate. Given the setback of the Trump election, our only chance to save a liveable climate is to elect leaders in 2018, 2020, and beyond who make climate action their priority. The polling could not be clearer that this is a winning issue for progressive candidates—inspiring key voting groups (like millennials) while serving as a wedge between the extreme GOP voters and moderate GOPers and independents.
6. Don’t debunk Trump’s lies by repeating them and don’t read news outlets that do. Repeating lies and myths—even to debunk them—simply ends up reinforcing them, as countless studies have shown. If you want to debunk a lie, you should focus on stating the truth, not repeating the lie. For more tips, see Skeptical Science’s “Debunking Handbook.” As for the major media, they have no idea how to cover Trump. They blew the election and are now blowing the transition. Besides reading ThinkProgress, I recommend James Fallows at The Atlantic, author of “How to Deal With the Lies of Donald Trump: Guidelines for the Media”
7. Change your TV viewing habits. Stop watching cable news. The net useful information per hour spent watching is probably negative (so the opportunity cost is off the charts). Half the people on it spread misinformation for a living, and much of the other half do so unintentionally. Also, if you are one of those who don’t watch popular TV and reality shows, it’s time to start. How else can you hope to understand and ultimately move the American people? It was, after all, reality TV that gave us Trump and helped him master the art of entertaining reality-free BS.
8. Never give in. “Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”—Winston Churchill
If you are still over-stressed from the election, your top priority should be to take care of yourself, eat healthy, and get plenty of rest. But if you are reading this, you’re probably in a fairly comfortable position compared to the vast majority of people who will suffer the most because of Trump now and in the future.
So get out of your comfort zone and get active. Resist!
◊ Publ. here 1.12.2016