Field Guide to Trump’s Authoritarianism

Hiking-Compass-font-b-Field-b-font-Military-Marching-Army-Outdoor-Camping-Survival-Climbing-Biking-Lensaticby Rose Marie Berger

The United States has democratically elected an authoritarian leader who supports a new nationalism centered on white people.

Mr. Trump’s promised White Nationalist agenda is antithetical the confession of Christ. As the new Vatican ambassador to the U.S. said recently of Mr. Trump’s election, the church needs to “assume a prophetic role.”

Mr. Trump’s white nationalist rhetoric and refusal to remove white nationalist advisors is already impacting  our communities. In response, we must form circles of protection around those who are most vulnerable–both legislatively and in our communities.

Rising nationalist rhetoric centered on white people is generally accompanied by a rise of anti-Semitism and attacks on other vulnerable communities (LGBT, prostitutes, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and political dissidents). This is already occurring.

Take a moment to read 20 Things Americans Can Learn From Countries Who Lost Their Democracy by historian Timothy Snyder. The situation we are in is not normal. It’s important to not act like it is.

In setting priorities we should ask ourselves three things: What things can Mr. Trump do easily and quickly, with the stroke of a pen? What actions by him will have high-consequence impact? What actions by him will be irreversible? Ask what are low-difficulty for Mr. Trump and have high or irreversible consequences? Use this to prioritize your response. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Since the election, I’ve been asking these questions among strategists, organizers, and government officials. Here is a prioritized timeline.

November 9 – January 20: Love Your Neighbors

  1. Strengthen immigrant protections: Mr. Trump can overturn executive actions protecting immigrant youth and DREAMers with a signature.  This will be a high-consequence action with irreversible consequences for those affected. Ask President Obama to extend a presidential pardon to everyone currently covered by DACA/DAPA. (See the letter sent to President Obama on 17 November from members of Congress.) This would create an additional protection for DACA/DAPA recipients. This would be similar to President Carter’s 1971 pardon for Vietnam draft resisters. (Read more here and here.)

Initiate emergency response protocols for immigrant communities – especially mixed status communities. Establish a teams trained in “What to do if Immigration comes to your School (or Church).” Make this widely available at churches and schools. Reach out to your local immigration services group for the most current best practices on assisting immigrants in getting all their paperwork updated. Consider setting up a non-government ID card program for members of your church–including immigrants. (See the FaithAction ID Initiative for more information.)

  1. Initiate “emergency sanctuary teams” in all houses of worship.

Prepare for work-site raids, silent raids, and massive job loss (when DACA/DAPA protections are removed and E-verify is fully enacted). Learn the mechanisms of making your house a worship a “sanctuary church.” There is an excellent toolkit for congregations at Sanctuary Movement. (Read history of D.C. Sanctuary Churches and the national Sanctuary Movement and learn more at New Sanctuary Movement.) Hang a “Welcome Your Neighbor” banner on your place of worship and put a “Welcome Your Neighbor” yard sign out front.

  1. Initiate conflict-reduction teams in all houses of worship.

IniWhite supremacist groups who are emboldened by the results of this election need to be identified, isolated, and prosecuted.  Host trainings in active bystander response, conflict de-escalation and intervention, nonviolent communication, trauma response, and civilian unarmed protection. Every church needs a team trained to defuse, intervene, and respond to hate speech and hate crimes and violent conflict. My Catholic Church is hosting three Peace Circle trainings in Advent. Contact Pace e Bene training, DC Meta Peace Team, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s STAR program, or Training for Change. These teams can also lead nonviolence trainings when it becomes necessary to initiate civil disobedience.

  1. Initiate police liaison teams.

Bring together a team that will monitor, expose, and oppose racial profiling in policing in your community. If the Justice Department and the White House no longer hold police departments accountable to obey the law in relationship to people of color, we all must take on that role in our religious communities. Local ecumenical and interfaith clergy councils should meet with sheriffs and police chiefs in local communities for an open dialogue with them. Ask how you can work together to understand and implement the Presidential Commission on 21st Century Policing. Make it clear that local faith communities promise to watch and monitor the relationship of our police to our communities.

  1. Initiate environment and climate policy monitoring team.

Mr. Trump can overturn executive actions aimed at limiting carbon pollution and inhibiting climate change. He will likely a) sign the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, 2) dismantle the Clean Power Act, 3) withdraw from the Paris Accords. Each of these will be a high-consequence actions with irreversible consequences. Our climate window is too narrow to go backward now.

Prepare to respond to the Keystone XL permit by a) supporting the state-level fight to refuse TransCanada the local permits it needs to begin construction. (Follow the lead of Jane Kleeb at Bold Nebraska and the Dallas Goldtooth at Indigenous Environmental Network) and b) prepare to send teams and support teams who will camp along the proposed construction route. This is also an opportunity to reweave the urban-rural social fabric that was so glaringly revealed as torn in the recent election.

The Clean Power Plan is a series of regulatory actions. This is slightly harder for Mr. Trump to dismantle immediately, even if he guts the Environmental Protection Agency. Each state has a carbon-reduction target under the Clean Power Plan. Organize at the state level to make sure state’s implement their commitments.

The COP 21 Paris climate accords have a 4-year withdrawal process. However, Mr. Trump can simply refuse to advance or implement the accords. This is where renewable energy businesses need to step in and take action on their own, without government subsidy, to move the U.S. into a competitive renewable energy economy. But let’s be clear, the Paris Accords and other legislation to cap emissions only slow disastrous carbon increases, they don’t actually drive carbon decreases. But what will really drive decarbonization is market forces (which requires innovative renewable energy and market pressures on fossilized carbon fuel corporations to make the switch).

  1. Initiate inter-denominational and inter-religious outreach and competency teams.

Establish open lines of communication between local houses of worship. Mosques, synagogues, and multilingual churches/places of worship are most vulnerable right now. Put their phone numbers in your phone. Christian churches should reach out to each other across denominational lines and to local imams, rabbis, and leaders of Sikh gurdwaras. As an inter-religious group, open lines of communication with the hate-crimes officer of your local police. Ask the police liaison to address the group on how you can prevent, respond, and recover from a hate crime. Coordinate trainings. See Ten Ways To Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.

  1. Publish the Ten Commandments for Americans.

Publish them in your bulletin,  on your web site, and through your social media (adapt them as you see fit). Encourage your community members to prayerfully consider how they can participate in enacting these Ten Commandments. (This is based on the Ten Commandments for all Danes developed by the Danish Resistance in the 1940s. Read more here.) Also consider printing Sojourners’ Ten Commitments of Resistance in the Trump Era.

  1. Preach.

It was the pulpit’s silence that allowed white Christians to vote for Mr. Trump as an ethnic bloc. Preach in your church against white nationalism. Make clear that a new nationalism centered on white people is antithetical to the confession of Christ. Publish your sermons. Covert them to Letters to the Editor. Invite your congregations to send “pledge of resistance” letters (see the sample provided here) to Mr. Trump (c/o Trump Tower / 725 – 5th Avenue / New York, NY 10022), Senate majority leader Mr. Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House Mr. Paul Ryan. The body text would include:

If you pursue the policies you embodied during your campaign, the supremacy of white people over people of color, the literal and figurative creation of walls of division and hostility between people and nations, your misogynistic attitude and practice toward women, your disdain for the poor, disabled and marginalized, your disregard for and ignorance about the environment and your encouragement of the use of violence toward those who disagree with you, if your policies as President continue down that path, I make this pledge of resistance to you today.”

Jan. 20 – Opt-Out of Inauguration Day

Make this inauguration win the prize for lowest attendance in American history. Join the national public workers “Sick Out” by calling in sick to work on Friday, Jan 20. Organize a walkout at your school. No work, no school, no shopping, no housework. #DisruptJ20. Participate in a nonviolence/active bystander training on Jan. 20. Prepare. Host “Swamp Revolt” parties.

Mr. Trump (and many politicians before him) have rallied around the phrase to “drain the swamp” of big government. But the phrase originally referred to ridding America of the mosquitoes of financial speculators and undue corporate influence by “draining the swamp” that fostered their influence.

Jan. 21 – National Defense of Democracy Day — Wear Pink

Pink has perhaps become the color of the U.S. movement to resist the white nationalist, anti-democratic, authoritarian rule presented by Mr. Trump. Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, third party, and Independents committed to holding Mr. Trump accountable will be in the streets on Jan. 21 in purple. Encourage creative displays of pink  (lights, banner drops, flocking, fly pink flags, etc). This will be the first wide-scale demonstration to defend our democracy and resist a new nationalism centered on white people. Wear pink. In D.C. and in all 50 states there will be demonstrations by women and allies against Mr. Trump’s egregious dehumanization of women and girls.  There will also be gatherings at State Capitols and federal buildings across the country. The “Women’s March on Washington” name is a definite nod to the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and organizers say they are committed to the six principles of Kingian nonviolence.

The First Hundred Days

The first hundred days will be when massive public civil disobedience will be needed. It will also be when federal workers will engage in work slow downs. There will be public resignations for reasons of conscience (amplify these whenever they occur). There will be document leaks revealing corruption and illegal activity. There will be legal interventions to slow the effects of disastrous decisions. There will be dissension in the military about how to respond to orders by the commander-in-chief. There will be unruly actions by police in response to civil unrest, which will spark increased violence. Local police may call in private security companies to quell protest (as is currently the case in North Dakota at Standing Rock and is the case in most urban centers that use “special police”). It is important that we show the rest of the world that Americans know that the election of Mr. Trump is #not normal.

Over the first 100 days is when Mr. Trump’s ratings will go up as he initiates a series of extreme actions that appeal to his base and then his ratings will plummet as it becomes obvious that he cannot deliver on his promises. In mid-May we will begin to move out of the defensive posture and see opportunities to push for positive change.

Wise as Serpents and Gentle as Doves

Spiritually, we must be clear-eyed about the level of threat and the ability for it to be carried out. We must not succumb to lethargy or “normalizing.” We must also pray for a spirit of tenderness in our own hearts so that we refuse to allow hate or fear to take root. Pray continually for the conversion of Mr. Trump and our own conversion as well. Practice self-care. Be overt in your social hospitality. Tend to the young people who are experiencing all this for the first time.

Do not be distracted by Mr. Trump’s media flash-bombs. Stay focused. He creates chaos by pitting groups against each other and then walking away with what he wants in the confusion. For example, naming “Reince” Priebus as chief of staff and Steven Bannon as chief strategist is not a nod toward compromise. It’s a strategy for “divide and conquer.”

Beware of the classic inside-outside strategy used by authoritarian leaders. For example, there are things that Mr. Trump cannot do easily such as “ban all Muslims,” but the inflammatory White Nationalist rhetoric encourages the rise of religious, race, and gender-based hate at the local level, which is then an excuse for further repression.

For example, the media echo chamber and “fake news”/propaganda is used to bounce around an intentionally inflammatory comment such as “ban all Muslims.” Then the authoritarian leaders says “That’s not what we meant because that would be against our Constitution.” The outside collaborator, in this case Carl Higbie, uses the media to echo the inflammatory statement and take it even farther (eg we’ll not only ban Muslims but we’ll round them up and put them in detention camps). The authoritarian leader does not deny or denounce this.

The goal of this strategy is to provoke violence as an excuse for taking extraordinary security measures. This echo chamber emboldens “brown shirts”/paramilitaries/hate groups to greater violence and hate speech. It also raises the likelihood that someone in the threatened community will snap and retaliate or that a situation will be manufactured to look like that’s what happened.

When this occurs, the authoritarian leader can step in and say that while he didn’t originally intend to “ban all Muslims” now, with this current incident, it seems more extreme measures are warranted.

This is a very dangerous dynamic.

“But authoritarian figures have an Achilles’ heel,” writes Maria Stephan, co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works. “To stay in power, they depend on the obedience and cooperation of ordinary people. If and when large numbers of people from key sectors of society (workers, bureaucrats, students, business leaders, police) stop giving their skills and resources to the ruler, he or she can no longer rule.”

Stay woke. Stay alert. Take one small action each day. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C.

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