An End to Business as Usual
Pillars of corporate America and civil society are taking sides; a necessary break with complacency is finally underway.
“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
We are at an inflection point. Since January 6th, key pillars of power in America have broken decisively with Donald Trump and his enablers in the Republican Party. Not only have the major tech companies decided to de-platform him, a rising number of major corporations are suspending their donations to Republican politicians that support Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him. His political operation has lost all kinds of technical services, his business organization has lost its online stores and the PGA has stripped one of Trump’s clubs of a major tournament. Trump was reportedly “gutted” by that last repudiation. Schools have stripped Trump of honorary degrees. Even the loathsome Bill Belichek, head coach of the New England Patriots, who lathered praise on Trump for years, now says he won’t accept Trump’s offer of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
At one level, it feels like the cavalry has finally arrived. But it’s hard to feel reassured. After 1,450 days of either actively enabling or passively ignoring the attacks on truth that brought us to January 6th, it is good that so many powerful actors are speaking up and taking action to weaken and isolate the Trump movement. And I’ve long believed that the only way churches grow is by welcoming the sinners while condemning the sin. But those of us who foresaw all of this five years ago, and tried to warn of the danger, and asked people to take a stand sooner, and instead heard that it was “too difficult” or “too divisive” or “a chance to work in government is a chance to fight for and hopefully improve government services and government operations,” we remember. I remember, for example, how the publisher and editors of the powerful New York Times met with Trump two weeks after the 2016 election and posted the video of their conversation, where you can see how they said nothing to contradict his opening, meandering soliloquy where he fantasized about huge crowds showing up at his rallies and doing “very well” with women and minorities.
It was obvious five years ago that Trump’s demolition of facts, reason, the public record and any notion of accountability were a mortal threat to any democratic order. But every person and organization that looked away, bit their lip, or worse, made him seem normal, we remember. We remember those of you who wanted to shake his hand, have your picture taken with him, tousled his hair, declared after one scripted moment or another that “today Donald Trump became president.” Normalization, not just Trump’s continuing provocations, brought us to this point.
My mother was a hidden child during WWII in Belgium, saved by people in a real Resistance who helped her whole family survive Nazi occupation. My father later did his military service in post-war Berlin, where he experienced antisemitism from fellow American soldiers and also had the satisfaction of telling German civilians that he was Jewish. I inherited many things from both of them, including perhaps too strong a sense of anti-complacency. Speaking out and asking for change, particularly when that means making the people you interact with on a regular basis uncomfortable, is not easy. It’s even harder to move institutions, though they are ultimately made of people. But one lesson of the last five years, I hope, is that we stop being complacent.
We are now in the midst of a national emergency, so every reinforcement, every call for truth, every decision by every corporation to suspend or stop their donations to the neofascists that voted to decertify the election, these all must be welcome. Even if these are fair weather soldiers, moving late and only because the wind finally turned on them.
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The inflection point means all kinds of open breaks with past decorum. Like these:
-Here’s Chad Sweet, a major Republican political consultant, finally breaking with his longtime friend and ally Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, whose 2016 campaign he co-chaired.
-Here’s Harvard’s Institute of Politics, kicking Rep. Elise Stefanik off of its senior advisory committee for her continued denial of the truth of the election outcome. (You know the winds are shifting when the IOP dumps a Republican fantasist; this after they made Trump press secretary Sean Spicer a fellow while rescinding a similar fellowship for Chelsea Manning.)
-Here’s Randall Lane, editor of Forbes Magazine, throwing down the gauntlet at corporate America, urging it to not hire any of the people who worked in the Trump White House: “Hire any of Trump’s fellow fabulists …and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie. We’re going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we’d approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world’s biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away.”
-Here’s my friend Farai Chideya, a veteran journalist, openly criticizing Nate Silver of 538 for blocking her efforts to cover racial resentment and white nationalism when she was a reporter for him in 2016, and Milo Beckman, another 538 reporter, revealing that a long article he wrote on the racial roots of voter suppression was rejected because his editors couldn’t believe that race was a factor.
-Here’s Harvard scholar Joan Donovan, one of the country’s leading experts on online platforms and hate speech, exposing Tristan Harris and his Center for Humane Technology for their partnership with neofascist Republican Senator Josh Hawley, one of the leaders of the Trump rump in Congress. (CHT’s statement condemning the January 6th attack makes no mention of their work with Hawley.)
-Here’s James Slezak, the founder of Swayable, a tool for helping campaigns and organizations make sure their videos are actually effective at moving voters, explaining how they’ve been successful rejecting clients who are anti-truth: “When we started @Swayable, most Silicon Valley funders told us it was crazy to deny use of our technology to MAGA—that all 'successful' tech companies like Facebook were 'open'.” Swayable’s policy on who they will work with and who they won’t is a model of navigating this issue.
Odds and Ends:
-Here’s a really useful Google Doc tracking how the various tech platforms are responding to January 6th, maintained by First Draft.
-If you are wrestling with the dilemma of having to trust a few very rich and very unaccountable tech bros with the power of de-platforming the organization of armed insurrection and fascist hate speech, then the best fresh piece to read to help you think through the issues is this one from Cory Doctorow in Locus Magazine.
-One important difference between the violent mob that besieged Congress and the angry protests in Portland against police brutality last summer: When Jay Danielson, a Patriot Prayer activist, was mortally shot during one of those Portland encounters, a protest medic from the other side rushed to apply pressure to his wound, as Sarah Jeong recalls. Whereas when a Capitol Police officer was being crushed in a door, screaming in pain, the Trumpite mob kept crushing him.
-Food for thought: Political science professor Nicholas Grossman argues in ArcDigital that January 6th and QAnon have awakened the real “deep state” and it is now taking them seriously as a threat to the nation state.
-Robert Kuttner’s essay on “The Movement, the Party and the President” is a tour-de-force look at the relationship between the grassroots and institutional forces shaping the Democratic party, with a look toward the future prospects of more and better party-building at the state and local level.