What have you done in the last year to respond to the upheavals in American politics? This is an installment in a series of short essays that reflect on the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
As a political scientist focused on political history, the politics of health care and public opinion, there’s been no way to turn off my brain or even my feelings in the age of Trump.
At the state university where I teach, I work hard to be unperturbed on the job. While there were students shocked and saddened by Trump’s election, there were also others who were pleased he won and hoped he would undermine the Affordable Care Act, pass tax cuts, and decrease immigration. That discipline helps me get through many a news cycle.
Another part of my work has involved being a public intellectual, particularly through a regular column and blog in my local paper, the Bangor Daily News. I also co-lead my state’s chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which has as its goal explaining public policy and promoting democracy. That sort of work keeps me able to deal with what’s been going on since November 2016 because I’m using my disciplinary knowledge and organizational skills to counter dangerous and damaging politics and policies.
But probably the most important way I’ve coped is by joining my local Indivisibles group. While I’ve been politically active on and off for decades, it’s been my most persistent political activism. The group started right after Trump’s inauguration when forty people showed up in response to one person’s Facebook post. I didn’t intend to be a leader, but the role of boiling down proposed legislation and explaining it to the group was an obvious fit for my knowledge and interests, so I took it on.
Tocqueville called local government “a school for liberty” that taught civic skills and this Indivisibles group has fit that bill. There was so much interest in getting together to talk about the week and plan actions that, when the leadership group proposed holding fewer in-person get-togethers, members instead decided to meet more often.
The weekly gatherings, a few with potlucks, bring in people who have never done anything political but vote and ones with a history of being organizers. I force myself to listen and not try to talk too much, not to be pedantic, and to make suggestions about how we could operate without being a heavy-handed academic expert.
While Bangor Indivisibles is in part a support group where people talk about how we are coping, we clearly played a role in moving Sen. Susan Collins from talking about “outside agitators” trying to scare people about health care repeal efforts to becoming an outspoken opponent of Republican proposals.
In an early meeting, I said that we would probably have more losses than wins but we had to keep going. I still believe that but also think that getting together with my fellow citizens props me up when Trump times are strange and scary.
Amy Fried is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. Fried oversees the Maine Policy Scholar Program at the University of Maine. She formerly served as Associate Dean for Research in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.