There’s a live recording of the 1970s song “Hot Blooded,” by the band Foreigner. Like many guitar-rock performances, it has great riffs, a driving beat and full-throated vocals. (Like so much that’s popular, it dwells in lechery, but that’s another topic.)
Two-thirds of the way through, the time comes for audience participation. “You’ve gotta be louder than we are,” implores the singer with the amps. The band plays a little quieter, and the audience responds on cue — resoundingly, no doubt, to those in the thick of things, but insufficiently from a distant listener’s point of view.
Fellow Americans, we’ve just presented the world’s loudest soundstage to a man who knows how to use it to exploit a crowd’s passions. To the extent he does so to undermine this country’s values and its future, or to work in his own interests, those of us who’ve opposed him are going to have to learn to be uncharacteristically loud.
But most of all, we’ll need to be adaptable — in the ways we look after our country, after our fellow Americans and after ourselves. Here are three ways — not the only ones, but a basic structure:
We should start, despite our every aching impulse, by offering President-elect Donald Trump and his supporters the courteous, if attentive, honeymoon period they would not have offered had they lost. Campaigning isn’t governing, and we do not know for certain what kind of leader Trump will be. But it’s hard to imagine that the traits of grandiosity, authoritarianism and impulsiveness so prominent in his campaign have been erased by victory, despite a conciliatory speech. The honeymoon may be brief.
A key first clue will be his Cabinet appointments. If, like a certain unanticipated Minnesota governor before him, Trump appears to be surrounding himself with competent people who can run the place while he performs essentially as a master of ceremonies and agitator in chief, the next four years may be more stable than they seem to be as we experience them.
But all those promises about Day One — deportations, prosecutions, repeals — will any of these be tempered? (It’s unlikely that Trump will be checked by his Republican majority in Congress. The campaign demonstrated that.) And that’s not to mention the changes that could come about via appointments to the Supreme Court.
Despite our commonly held belief that we live with a broken Washington, and notwithstanding the sacrifices made on our behalf by members of our military, most of us have enjoyed individual lives of comfort and complacency. But, as a nation, we have festering wounds, and with Trump’s win, we’ve ripped off the bandages.
Ahead lie four years of uncommon unrest, and those who want their interests heard will have to participate fully. Expect a wide-ranging escalation in the sort of activities we’ve already seen from movements like Black Lives Matter.
None of this implies, however, the insurrection Trump supporters were vowing if he lost. There is ample space within our nation’s structures for activism that is muscular, yet peaceable and effective. The imperative is for all participants to know their boundaries, including those who enforce boundaries.
It also will be important to begin thinking of ourselves metaphorically as political mercenaries. Trump never was and still isn’t a pure conservative. There will be times when he aligns with both moderate and progressive interests. Be willing to seize those moments.
2) Voluntary redistribution of well-being.
For those with money, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to make more in the Trump era. Unpredictability in a nation’s affairs will create volatility, and investment in infrastructure and a run-up of debt will enrich publicly traded companies, both of which can translate to profits for the nimble investor. The consequences will come later, but in the intermediate term, it won’t pay to stay on the sidelines.
Those without money, however, can expect that their safety nets will be left untended or removed altogether, through budget cuts, neglect and experiments with privatization.
Somewhere in the range between purely acquisitive and purely needy are those who have enough money to help others and the willingness to do so. Many such people would pay higher taxes if asked in order to fill gaps, but they must realize that for the foreseeable future, government is not a viable instrument for this task. Philanthropy and community-minded entrepreneurship will be. The arrangement is neither ideal nor sufficient, but it’s what we’ve got. So put those funds and your efforts to work.
3) Reconstruction of the popular interest.
Understand that Trump didn’t win this election on charm alone. The forces he exploited have been building for years, all the while underestimated and misunderstood. The country is oft-portrayed as polarized — right-left, urban-rural, religious-secular, homogenous-diversified — and those divisions are real. But all of them also are encompassed by a more basic division in the human psyche: the reactive vs. the contemplative. Reactivity is the type of trait that leads to calls for strong leadership and change with only a vague definition of what those might entail. Contemplation reinforces subtlety, complexity, caution — and thus, sometimes to our detriment, the status quo.
The issue isn’t that one trait is better than the other; both are needed in a proper balance. But contemplativeness is predominantly a personal trait, while reactivity is a crowd trait, and that’s why the country’s imbalance leans forever in reactivity’s favor.
Now that the election is over, we are hearing the usual calls for unity. That sentiment is proper but limited in its application. Partisans unwaveringly believe that they are accommodative while the other side is not. We must restock the political benches in all corners with people of true independence and courage — people who are willing to lose their status as a result of their choices — and we’ll need to have their backs so they don’t get mowed down forthwith. We’re going to have to work across our usual divisions to achieve this. And, realistically, we’ll need to start at the bottom rungs.
• • •
In a collection of small essays from members of the Star Tribune opinion page staff published two days before the election, I wrote that the country has an amazing foundation and that, whatever happens, we’re going to be all right. I stand by that. Our nation has never been as great nor as terrible as slogans would have it, but it is always ambitious and always self-correcting. Maybe Trump ultimately will serve this process well.
But if not, getting back to that rock song and paraphrasing the singer’s call and response: He’s got the amps. We’ve got the numbers. There’s strength in numbers.
It’s a nice thought.
David Banks is at David.Banks@startribune.com.