Columns

Meyer ’17: Bad and worse

By
Staff Columnist
Friday, November 11, 2016

Tuesday night brought me closer to the alienation and anxiety that some on this campus and so many off it have coped with for generations. It is a visceral phenomenon to feel estranged and hated by much of America. Hated is not too strong a word. Institutions like Brown and places like my home, Washington, D.C., were the object of Trumpian fury. Friends said they shared my election-night experience: lying in bed, wondering “What do we do?” over and over without answer.

The question of the Donald Trump presidency lies in the great gulf between bad and worse. Bad were the conditions for people of color in the United States before Nov. 8. Worse is what they may yet become if Trump’s white nationalist vision is realized. Bad is what his administration will be if met with principled resistance. Worse is if he is met with despair, infighting among his opponents or ostrich-like sheltering. The difference between a bad and a worse Trump era will be concrete. It will be measured in meals skipped, families dismantled and lives lost here and overseas. We face a moral calling to fight for the bad over the worse.

Many have written that we must continue to defend our values through the next four years, that we cannot hunker down or give up. But what exactly does hunkering down mean to us on campus? We all will have the security and power of our  diplomas. Brown students will still be able to get good jobs and wait out Trump’s term in affluence if they so choose. Consulting firms, corporations and investment banks will not stop recruiting on campus. Those who aren’t brown, female, non-Christian or indigent might not face immediate personal peril. More than the rest of the country, lots of Brown students will have the ability to wait out the Trump presidency in coastal pockets that went blue and count the many days until he is gone.

Thankfully, we have models for times like these. We can take our example from President Barack Obama, whose integrity and goodness will grow more obvious in the relief of Trump’s presidency. Even more, Brown students can follow the young Obama who worked as a community organizer in Chicago during the Reagan administration after graduating from Columbia. He fought for tenants rights and organized job training and college prep. Obama didn’t go straight to the South Side though. He first worked at the Business International Corporation, a research and consulting firm in New York. Living in mid-80s New York as a young Ivy grad must have been really fun. But Obama left. He chose to uproot, to move to Chicago and defend his values where they were threatened. It was an unselfish act.

Unselfishness is a good starting point for resistance. The value is a repudiation of everything Trump personally embodies. Selfishness led us to Trump. It made Republican politicians sell lies to believing constituents — that climate change is a hoax, that Obama is an alien and a liar, that the Affordable Care Act meant death panels — before Trump came on the scene. It made white voters band together like a threatened minority even though they are an empowered majority. It made cowards like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-WI, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus back a man who made a mockery of their party. But the Republican Party didn’t have a monopoly on selfishness. The predatory lending and fraud that contributed to the financial crisis weren’t partisan. The politically powerful tolerated decades of growing inequality. Unmaking this mess means abandoning the politics of selfishness.

Brown can equip us with the tools to help fix our country, but we have to choose to use them. That involves personal sacrifice. Trump’s election has changed the moral consequences of the choices we make after graduation. Our generation can recognize the call to action or shrink from duty. Each of us can choose to help defend vulnerable communities and fight the retrograde policies that will threaten the country. Or we can hunker down in an isolated comfort. I hope I see more “Black Lives Matter” bumper stickers than “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Clinton” (or Sanders) stickers over the next four years. Moreover, I hope our resistance comes in political deed as well as political speech. If there was ever a time to join a cause, it is now.

Daniel Meyer ’17 can be reached at daniel_meyer@brown.edu.

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