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[Publisher's Note]

Living with Trump

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"Loathing for Trump makes people forget that, among other horrors, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats has already wasted around $3.7 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, sacrificed the lives of nearly 7,000 American soldiers, and wounded more than 52,000."

A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on July 4, 2017. Translated from the French by John Cullen.

How to act, how to live in Trump’s America? As a U.S. citizen, I’m haunted by these questions every day—every time the president makes some idiotic statement, or some violent and preposterous declaration issues forth from the White House. I’m going to be addressing these questions on July 14, in Autun, in eastern France, at the journalism festival where I’ve been invited to speak, along with Jorge Castañeda Gutman, the former secretary of foreign affairs of Mexico, and others.

I know that I have civic responsibilities. Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father and the third president of the United States, wrote that “We are never permitted to despair of the commonwealth.” I try to take those words to heart whenever I’m confronted with the hideous reality of Trumpism. After the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Jefferson feared that, unless the “principle of rotation” was followed, a president elected every four years might turn into a dictator. What he was afraid of, I imagine, was a man like Donald Trump.

Jefferson believed in the idea of America as an ongoing experiment, never concluded, and he therefore accepted the text composed in Philadelphia in 1787, in the hope that it would be improved by amendments over the years. Indeed, much time had to pass, but in 1951, Congress ratified the Twenty-Second Amendment, which limited the president to no more than two elected terms in office. Defending that Constitution to the death (even though it is in constant need of reform) is the principal responsibility of a good American citizen in the era of Trump.

But Trumpism must also be dealt with in practical terms and requires engagement and analysis subtler and less rigid than simple loyalty to an eighteenth-century document. Trump’s America is an expanse of territory contaminated and deformed not only by the vulgarity of its loutish chief executive but also by its respectable enemies. I must confess that I sometimes sympathize with the criticisms of our president that border on hysteria, shouted incessantly on TV screens by commentators and comedians who are supposed to be working in the name of democracy. Dazed by anger, I find myself wishing only to be rid of Trump—without respect to the circumstances that brought him to power. The easiest method, advocated by numerous media personages, would be an impeachment triggered by business dealings between the Trump family and Russian interests, or by the obstruction of justice involved in the firing of James Comey, the former head of the FBI.

Unfortunately, this dream of a quick fix for Trumpism doesn’t address the real despair Jefferson warned of—the despair of ordinary working people suffering from industrial outsourcing, from a plague of killer drugs, from endless wars, from a pathetic minimum wage, from deteriorating schools, and from an increasingly expensive health care system. Among the obnoxious hypocrisies of the anti-Trump media—whose audiences and profits the president’s clownish behavior has caused to grow enormously—the one I find most irritating is the way that soldiers who have been killed or maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan are being exploited to demonstrate journalism’s solidarity with a working class that continues to send its children to meaningless deaths. I’m sick of listening to pious eulogies exalting the “sacrifices” made by these young people (at the moment, I’m thinking about a Marine lieutenant named Michael LiCalzi), who have been dispatched to distant quagmires for the benefit of politicians as ignorant of real war as George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Loathing for Trump makes people forget that, among other horrors, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats has already wasted around $3.7 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, sacrificed the lives of nearly 7,000 American soldiers, and wounded more than 52,000. Today, Bush is considered a practically serious portrait painter and Hillary a feminist martyr. Obama, the architect of the famous 2009 so-called surge in Afghanistan—a military intensification that accomplished nothing other than polishing up his image as commander-in-chief—is admired and missed like no other political figure.

Instead of coming to grips with the real American sickness, the media produces such special reports as The Russian Connection: Inside the Attack on Democracy, which was broadcast last month on CNN and discusses Vladimir Putin’s alleged plot to help elect Trump by hacking. Alas, the most serious attack on democracy is coming from within, promulgated by the patrons of the two political parties, the barons of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and the cynical executives of the television networks.

At the festival in Autun, my response to the menace of Trump will be to quote Jefferson on the menace of despotism, as stated in a letter he wrote while serving as the United States minister to France on the eve of the French Revolution: “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people, enable them to see that it is in their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve it, and it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” Maybe educating and informing the public can also provide “the only sure reliance” against despair.

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