Now, of course, nothing I say is meant to downplay the threat at all; it’s all designed to get us to see it more clearly (clearly, of course, by my lights), and while I don’t see my posts or tweets primarily or even secondarily as organizing tools, I’d like to think they give us some potential sense of leverage over the situation....
In any event, among the many reasons the election of Trump has so depressed me, and why I’ve not commented much since the election and have mostly stayed off social media, is that it has given license to the politics of fear on the left. Particularly on social media. Once again, we have that sense that we are face-to-face with some deep, dark truth of the republic. Once again, we have that sense that those of us who insist the horribles of the world should not and cannot have the last word, are somehow naifs, with our silly faith in the Enlightenment, in politics, in the possibility that we can change these things, that politics can be about something else, something better. I find that sensibility deeply conservative (not in my sense of the word but in the more conventional sense), and I resist it with every fiber of my being....
So while I won’t ever look away from what Trump is, I insist on looking upon him through the categories that I would look upon any other political formation. I insist on focusing on things like policy, law, institutions, coalitions, ideology, elites, and so on. (Matt Yglesias is quite good on this issue.) I insist on seeing in him the normal rules of politics and the established institutions of politics: it wasn’t the beating heart of darkness that sent him to the White House, after all; it was, in the most immediate and proximate sense of a cause, the fucking Electoral College.--Corey Robin Against the Politics of Fear @Jacobin.
If you think that President-Elect Donald Trump will be a ruthless dictator (think, say Putin, Castro, or, more recently Erdogan--somebody that jails or assassinates political opponents, confiscates their wealth, etc. ), then, unless you are eager to become a dead or mutilated hero, the wise thing to do is to lay low if you can and hope you, your loved ones and children to ride out the awful days ahead, while praying for a coup d'état that will restore a Republican order (while knowing that civil war is the likely consequence of such a coup).* Since a President-for-life Trump will not live forever one can hope for regime change sooner rather than later.
A slightly more courageous strategy is to lay low, but quietly develop allies in the armed forces and the decentralized court system to slow down and obstruct any grab for power. Ensuring that the media stays partially outside the new government's control means that it cannot impose its narrative on events. Given that support and opposition to Trump are geographically unequally distributed, this could slow down totalizing government considerably. After all, a would-be-dictator Trump also has to recognize limits to his power because some of the the wealthiest and most populous parts of the nation are not exactly strong areas of support (although we should not underestimate the ability of totalizing governments to bribe and seduce would be opponents).
Because I like to think that my friends are wise (lots of them are philosophers, after all), but have no reason to suspect that they have above average likelihood to be courageous, I suspect that lots of them, who have been outspokenly opposed to and extremely fearful about Trump on social media (which we know leaves traces for the national security state) recently, do not really believe right now that President Trump will really be a dictator of the sort that assassinates, jails, confiscates, prevents fair elections, etc. (Putin, Castro, increasingly Erdogan, etc.) To believe he will not be a dictator is compatible with the thought that Trump will be bad for civil liberties, the environment, the rule of law, illegal immigrants, and international peace--all reasons for genuine concern sometimes even existential concern.
Correy Robin managed to put words to my bafflement about my friends' reactions, which manifest what he calls 'the politics of fear.' This is a politics that is grounded on fear, that takes inspiration and meaning from fear, that sees in fear a wealth of experience and a layer of profundity that cannot be found in other experiences (experiences that are more humdrum, that are more indebted to Enlightenment principles of reason and progress, that put more emphasis on the amenability of politics and culture to intervention and change), a politics that sees in Trump the revelation of some deep truth about who we are, as political agents, as people, as a people.
As it happens, I agree with Robin's analysis that many of our political friends exhibit the politics of fear. Even so, I don't share Robin's particular Manichean opposition between the politics of fear vs Enlightenment reason and progress. In part, that's because I have always been attracted to the more skeptical party of the Enlightenment -- the one that thinks reason often undermines itself or is deployed by overconfident experts; the one that recognize that progress tends to rely on a teleological conception of history which so much Enlightenment thought allows us to question --, especially because so much Enlightenment thought itself has been implicated in awful political enterprises (of imperial domination and racialized colonization, of the embrace of humanitarian war to bring the 'fruits' of 'progress' to others, etc.) and because of the many ways in which Enlightenment thought becomes a fig leaf for ideology. (So, one can like the Enlightenment but be clear about its warts and worse.) But also, because fear can be healthy when it recognizes reality for what it is, and is properly redirected to prudent and far-sighted action, especially when hope is not extinguished. As Descartes wrote (omitting his theory of spirits):
Hope is a disposition of the soul to persuade itself that what it desires will come to pass.... And fear is another disposition of the soul, which persuades it that the thing will not come to pass. And it is to be noted that, although these two passions are contrary, one may nonetheless have them both together, that is, when one considers different reasons at the same time, some of which cause one to judge that the fulfillment of one’s desires is a straightforward matter, while others make it seem difficult. And neither of these passions ever accompanies desire without leaving some room for the other.--The Passions of the Soul, 165.
That is to say, my own view (recall) is not far removed from the politics of fear, but one that always leaves room for some hope. In particular, my politics recognizes the imperfection of all political agents and that recent political history provides ample room for creative (and simultaneously true) narratives of progress and decline along many dimensions. It is to recognize that (always other people's) naivete is often a crucial ingredient in generating political improvements, while allowing that it can also cause moral disasters; to recognize that bad things happen to good people, and that bad people can have good fortune. It is to recognize that the bullet can silence the pen, but that ideas can be more powerful than a squadron of drones, sometimes.