This week marks the end of President Trump’s first 100 days, the traditional time-unit for measuring a new leader’s success out of the starting gate. No matter how history evaluates this new President’s beginning, for Liberals, these past three months saw a relentless assault on our deeply-held values. Now, liberals are not taking any of this lying down, with every executive order, legislative effort and appointment being met with firm, united legislative opposition, street protest and cyber-hysteria. I’ve been to more protests in the past three months than in the past three years. Realizing we just hit the 100 day mark, I felt a wave of exhaustion and thought to myself, “That was JUST 100 days! How are we going to keep this up?” Since Trump is not going to let up and we do, indeed, need to keep up the opposition, here are some thoughts about how comfortable liberals can make it for at least for the 1000 + days until November 5, 2020.
By comfortable liberals, I’m talking about people, like myself, who are the so-called winners in the liberal world order. We are a highly educated, mostly white, connected to urban centers and economically comfortable to well-off. We intellectually understand oppression and care about reforming the criminal justice system and other oppressive systems, but have very few real relationships with people most impacted by these systems and live sheltered from the harshest realities of our economic system. Something important happened to comfortable liberals around 10:30 PM Eastern on November 8, 2016. We became uncomfortable. We felt sick to our stomach that our liberal values were about to suffer a frontal assault by a man who stands for everything we disagree with. The illusion was shattered that the liberal world order, if just tweeked a little, could solve deep issues of systemic oppression. Our allies in the African American community knowingly reminded us that the system was always broken and we were late to realizing this. This was, and is, a crucial moment, for comfortable liberals, because the heartbreak and anguish we feel gives us a shot at real solidarity with the people most impacted by oppression. It is this sense of solidarity that will energize three plus more years of action.
How do comfortable liberals stay uncomfortable? The way NOT to do it is to alleviate the discomfort through non-stop action to repair the brokenness. This is a surefire way to burn out. Action is definitely needed, but it can also be a distraction from noticing and feeling the brokenness. We may feel better by taking action, but this “feeling better” shouldn’t absolve us noticing the depth of the suffering. Action is one aspect of solidarity, but it can’t be the only aspect. Action, alternating with connection and reflection is a better, more durable rhythm for the long haul. Between protests and meetings with our legislators we must find a way to sit with the discomfort and stay broken. We must glimpse and remember what life is like every day for people of African heritage and people struggling economically and with addiction. What does it feel like to be on the losing end of the liberal world order? Trump, Putin and others like them are manipulating people based on this pain. Comfortable liberals can help generate better solutions, but only if we can express real and deep solidarity with people suffering on all sides of the political spectrum. This will mean staying uncomfortable.
Staying uncomfortable while fighting Trump’s policies will not be easy. Psychological and societal forces push towards comfort and numbing the pain. Just look at the pain medication crisis in our country and the popular sport of escapism through entertainment. Spiritual tools can be very helpful for staying in the discomfort and leaning into this solidarity. For example, spirituality and religion excel at routinizing ways of being through practice. What are the practices and routines that we need to continue, need to stop and need to start to keep the heart broken and stay connected to real suffering? Friends of mine recently started a practice of inviting people they don’t yet know from different cultural backgrounds from their children’s school to dinner each week. This pushes them out of their comfort zone. Others stopped a practice of only reading media that agrees with their liberal world view. What kind of practices can you take on to keep dipping into the discomfort that is so real for so many people.
It is a strange thing to try to stay uncomfortable and goes against basic instincts. Yet, in this discomfort lies a pathway to renewal and commitment and sustainable action. That pathway is solidarity.