My beloved Steelers were beaten by the loathsome New England Patriots on Sunday for the AFC Championship. It was not a fun game to watch. It was lopsided pretty much from the first snap. Not to go too far into football minutiae, but for as long as I can remember, the Steelers have played a zone blitz defense. Instead of the secondary players and linebackers covering particular players in the passing game, they cover parts of the field (zones). They do this while relying on the defenders up front to pressure the quarterback. Against most teams, this is pretty effective. You give up some passing yards, but rarely big plays. Or you get to the quarterback for a sack or force them into a mistake. It’s a good scheme, and by and large, it has been successful for the Steelers in recent decades.
…except against the Patriots. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady (whose stupid face I hate) have been picking apart this scheme for a decade and a half. Brady releases the ball too quickly to get pressured and his receivers are fast enough to get big chunks of yards after the catch. Just the week before, the Houston Texans had some success against the Patriots by playing man to man instead of zone. It forced Brady to hold the ball longer and he made some mistakes. Not enough mistakes to lose, but some mistakes. What ultimately lost the game for Steelers was not that we have inferior players, but that we were outcoached. We had the wrong gameplan.
Now I happen to believe that it cheapens both sports and politics to make comparisons between the two, but I’m going to break my own rule for the sake of an analogy. I’m worried that those of us who are opposed to the new president don’t have a gameplan and I’m deeply worried that the score is going to get run up against us before we have one.
My worry with Mr. Trump isn’t that he won’t keep his campaign promises but that he will, in fact, keep them. In his first week in office, Trump has issued executive orders that weaken the affordable care act, reopen both the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, halt immigration from specific majority-Muslim countries, authorize construction of a wall on the Mexican border, ban international groups from performing abortions, and freeze hiring for federal employees with the exception of the military. He’s done this while imposing gag orders on federal agencies, removing climate change information from federal websites, and not replacing ambassadors in most of the US embassies. He’s threatening to create a police state in Chicago by sending the national guard to calm the city’s “carnage” (apparently his favorite word to describe large swaths of the nation). All of this is happening while one by one his cabinet appointees are being confirmed by a congress that seems to be picking its battles instead of being in full stop opposition.
I haven’t even mentioned “alternative facts”, lying about the inauguration size, selling off public land, or going on a rampage against illegal immigrants to justify losing the popular vote.
This is not normal. This is not business as usual. These are the machinations of a man with an out of control ego and few checks and balances. Executive orders are coming out at a speed that is almost impossible to keep up with. Throughout the election many of us, myself included, made the mistake of underestimating Mr. Trump. I don’t want to repeat that mistake. I don’t want to assume that he’s not perfectly capable of enacting any policy move he wants to make. His vision of the world, one in which everything is privately owned by the powerful including people, terrifies me and I already feel like I’m playing from behind. Trump’s moves are having the ripple effect of emboldening Republican lawmakers who share his view of the world. There are battles to be fought on many fronts.
It was truly inspirational to watch the thousands of people around the country and millions of people across the globe march in opposition to what is happening in D.C. There was an energy to it that had a sense of urgency and an understanding of the critical moment. I was proud to see so many friends and family out on the front lines. I think such marches will have to continue. And they will have to be more disruptive. While I am overjoyed that there was no violence, some of these protests, like those that happened at the pipelines last year, will need to actually agitate the powers that be in more intentional ways. Arrests will be made. People will be in harm’s way. Without such actions, the new administration will simply dismiss protests with a tweet.
We need to continue to put pressure on our elected officials. Phone calls, tweets, emails, postcards, letters. Those things do have an impact. Frankly, though, I am worried about whether or not our officials have the courage and fortitude to stand up to the new administration in ways that go beyond mere grandstanding. I think what is ultimately going to impact our elected officials is our example, not our words.
It is time for many of us to start to think about what our “sanctuaries” are for. There will be people in the coming weeks, months, and years who need to be sheltered from the administration. Do we have the courage to protect them? Do we have the wherewithal to find them? Do we have the resources to help them? If government protections for the environment begin to disappear, do we have the will in our congregations, denominations, and businesses to lower our own carbon footprints and to divest from those places that will profit from less regulation? Do we have the courage to take our money out of institutions that will finance pipelines and put it into places that will benefit vulnerable communities? Do we have the audacity to speak in unambiguous terms about what we see going on in the world? Can we call a lie a lie? Can we call racism racism? Will we continue to use euphemisms in order to protect people’s feelings or will we speak truths that allow us to face our problems?
What we do with our time, energy, and money has always been a show of our values and faith. Now it is also an act of political resistance. Yes, we need to protest against the systems that exist, but we also need to get to work building the replacements for the safety nets that are soon to be dismantled. We need new health care systems, food systems, financial systems, and educational systems. We’ll need new alliances and solidarity movements. We’ll need warriors who are willing to protect public land saboteurs willing to disrupt the machine. It’s going to take all of us working with a vigilance we may not have imagined before to keep our democracy from eroding. There are things we can all do in the short term, but the new structures we need will require thoughtful consideration. We need a game plan…