Donald Trump was elected as the next president of the United States three days ago. In the days since, we’ve heard the call from political leaders of all stripes to respect our country’s traditions, especially the peaceful transfer of political power. In her remarkable concession speech, Hillary Clinton said,
“Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things; the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them.”
On November 9th, President Obama said,
“So I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush’s team set eight years ago, and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the President-elect — because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country. The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.”
Politicians, celebrities and other leaders have called for Americans to unite and come together, to give President-Elect Trump the benefit of the doubt, and to give him a chance to show us that he can be, in his own words, “a President for all Americans.” To be honest, I listened. On Election Night, I felt actual despair as we faced the reality of a Trump presidency. Since then, that despair has given way to the ho-humnesss of everyday life: work, talking to friends and loved ones, playing videogames, sleeping. I began to think, “Okay. This is not the outcome I wanted. But there are checks and balances. There are midterm elections in two years. There’s a massive bureaucratic system in Washington that turns slower than an aircraft carrier. We can handle this.” I began to normalize a Donald Trump presidency.
Then my friend posted this story on Facebook this morning. It’s an article which reports on candidate Donald Trump saying that he would “absolutely” require Muslims in the United States to register. The article goes on to say,
“Mr. Trump was asked about the issue by an NBC News reporter and pressed on whether all Muslims in the country would be forced to register. ‘They have to be,’ he said. ‘They have to be.’
When asked how a system of registering Muslims would be carried out — whether, for instance, mosques would be where people could register — Mr. Trump said: ‘Different places. You sign up at different places. But it’s all about management. Our country has no management.’’
Asked later, as he signed autographs, how such a database would be different from Jews having to register in Nazi Germany, Mr. Trump repeatedly said, ‘You tell me,’ until he stopped responding to the question.”
Re-reading that story froze me. In a presidential campaign which began with Trump calling some Mexican immigrants “rapists” and ended with multiple sexual assault allegations, so many terrible statements and pledges have fallen away as the shock and awe of the newest statement replaced them. The outrageous bigotry and misogyny of Trump became normalized. We all began to wait for the next awful thing he would say or do. We expected it.
Now that man stands on the cusp of having the power to make those terrible pledges come true. Re-reading what he said, after the election, filled me with a level of dread that I’m having a hard time articulating. It made me picture my friend, Osman, a Muslim born in Oklahoma who I’ve known since the fourth grade. I pictured his mother, a woman who has been so kind to me that she’s my other mother. I picture his sister, Amena, and the beautiful walima she invited my family to earlier this year. I picture his brother, Ali, who let me borrow his videogames and didn’t care when I lost them. I think about the fact that my son’s maternal grandfather was a Palestinian Muslim, and how he would feel today if he hadn’t passed a few years ago.
It makes me picture them, standing in a line to register. We all know exactly where that road leads to. Some people might argue that Trump was only talking during the campaign; that he has no real intention of registering Muslims or building a wall. But do we know that for certain? Do we really know what a man with such a volatile disposition and no history of public service to speak of will do? With a documented history of racial discrimination and abusive behavior towards women, there should be no doubt that Trump has the capacity to do exactly what he said he would.
We cannot normalize this. We cannot assume that the checks and balances and institutions which we’ve relied on in the past will sustain us now. History is replete with examples of shattered institutions. Lest we forget, the founding of this nation was a rejection of one of the oldest and most well-preserved institutions in human history: the divine right of monarchs to rule by birthright. That tradition has been replaced here with representative democracy, which most of us believe was a positive change. Yet change can also go in the opposite direction. We’ve experienced an unprecedented expansion in rights and privileges for millions of Americans in the last one hundred years. Those expansions are not set in stone. They are about to be challenged with a force equal to the push to create them in the first place. Tolerance, inclusiveness and justice are not guaranteed to win.
Our best strategy is to prevent the challenge in the first place, and we have a tool which we can turn against Trump even as he bludgeons us with it: the electoral college. A great deal has been written about “faithless electors,” so I don’t need to explain that. What we need is a strategy to encourage electors to turn. This strategy can’t simply be based on online petitions and high-minded appeals to justice, because we’d be asking these electors to do something incredibly difficult- turn their backs on their parties and their constituencies. That carries real consequences for them in the short term. We have to acknowledge that, and find ways to mitigate those consequences for them. Articles have begun popping up which address the challenges of asking an elector to turn faithless. We need more of them. We need coordinated phone call campaigns to electors in states Trump won. We need rallies and marches from now until the electors vote to let them know that we want this change. We need to make arguments, convince people and incentivize them to change. We have to act, deliberately, conscientiously. and consistently. We have to turn the tools which threaten the safety of Muslims, women, and people of color back against the rising tide of bigotry and hatred.
Counting on faithless electors is the longest of long shots. It’s an extreme solution, because we’re essentially asking for the outcome of an election decided by 1/3 of a percent in the popular vote to be overturned. This is not a position I advocate lightly. I generally believe in sustained campaigns over time, and improving systems as they exist to make them better as opposed to radical shifts and changes, because history shows us that when change happens suddenly, alot of people die. In this case though, I genuinely believe that a Trump presidency will cause alot of people to die. We now have one month to prevent that, so we’d better get to it.
EDIT- This article on the Huffington Post includes links to a short form letter asking electors to vote against Trump, and the contact information for all the electors throughout the United States.