Emerging from a long stretch of social media push back, I've been thinking about something more permanent. How might we create an "umbrella" frame that would bring it all together in a form all of us can use? As Naomi Klein has shown, a key part of the "shock doctrine" is overwhelming the victim with an all-points attack on everything, all at once. Bush tried it on Iraq and now it's happening here. Our biggest Achilles heel is our M.O. of picking specific issues to defend. It is vital to resist each new outrage, but this tendency means the GOP is still dividing us. Despite the boost we just got from Democratic victories, we must keep on strengthening our hand.
Since Trump's Inauguration,
progressive leaders have made a number of suggestions for stopping our losses.
First out of the gate, of course, was Indivisible,
with its legislative resistance strategy. Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny was high profile right
away too, with its twenty warning lessons from the past. Then came Naomi
Klein's new book, No is Not Enough, urging us to create a bold new vision of the American Dream, and The Resistance Handbook, by Markos Moulitsas and Michael Huttner. Of particular note in that book is the
suggestion that we should "be patriotic:" wear a flag pin or carry a flag,
because we represent the true
American values. More recently Van Jones published Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart,
and how We can Come Together. Van offers excellent advice about refraining
from partisanship and looking for practical ways we Americans can start working
together again. For starters, he spells out "a few areas of common purpose."
Yet there is still, for many of us, no matter how active we are in the "resistance," an ongoing, near paralyzing sense of shock and horror. We're watching the GOP roll out their carefully prepared one-party government plan to completely destroy the America we knew--deeply flawed as it was but still retaining the potential to improve. Having a long list (or even Van's short list) of things to do about it all, combined with the equally long list of daily outrages, can lead us right back to our usual silo mentality. .Talk about "intersectionality" doesn't really fix this problem either. Even if you can get a large number of issues/constituencies under one umbrella, the term "intersectional" can make it seem abstract and complex. (Even if your audience knows what the abstract, multisyllabic Latinate term "intersectionality" means!)
But why use the war metaphor at all? Some may object that "war on -----." is a right wing cliche'. My answer: Although "war on------ " is a common American metaphor usually used for stupid stuff like the "war on drugs," "war on terror," or even "war on Christmas," this time it fits like a glove. The scale, speed, and human fallout of the GOP assault are exactly what one expects from a "war." Even though the Right already talks about a war on American values, if we are careful to say "Stop the GOP war on America," or "Stop the GOP war on Americans," or "Stop the GOP war on American values," etc., our audience will know very well who and what we mean. If we tweak the Right wing "war on American values" mantra this way, we get out of just reinforcing their own frame too.
It's true that this frame is extremely partisan. Some may feel the audience for it is too narrow or alienating. But I think this frame can reach a growing number of "ordinary Americans:" all the people who didn't vote for Trump, those Trump voters who now have buyer's remorse, and even some traditional conservative Republicans. After all, Trump and the current version of the GOP are increasingly anathema to folks who agree with Corker, Flake, and McCain. Yes, I know that roughly 80% of Republican voters still support Trump. But we "ordinary Americans" are the real majority. Trump is a minority president, and Congress a minority body. GOP gerrymandering, vote suppression, and out of date institutions like the Electoral College have guaranteed that.
So you see this is getting to be a lot of Americans. But if
you like, you could use some variant of the main frame to reach unhappy
Republicans: for example "Stop the Alt- GOP War on America: -------."
Few voters of any kind are likely to agree with the Alt-GOP/Trump idea that a
fascist government is what America needs. That would be a complete betrayal of
our best American values: freedom,
equality of opportunity, democracy, the right to vote, fairness and human
rights, rule of law, honesty in government, being innovative, trying new
things, making progress, moving forward into a new future (not looking back),
being safe, clean, healthy (having our water, air, and soil be that way too),
and moral in a universal way.
But what about the fact that so-called "American values" haven't been all that great throughout the history of our country? After all, we've had slavery, white supremacy, American tribal genocide, rampant vampire capitalism, arrogant exceptionalism and discrimination of every kind. Then there's wanton destruction/pollution of our air, water, soil, food, and so on. Yes, that's all part of American history and "culture." As we see today, with the rise of Trump and the Alt- GOP, some Americans still hold views that fuel these shameful actions. But these are not the "best American values" I mentioned above, the traits that make up the "ideal American identity story." That "American ideal" reflects an aspiration, a lodestar to which progressive reformers have successfully pointed throughout our history. It's that American dream we must work to protect, restore, and reinvent now, better than ever.