Blame + Accountability in the Times of Trump

Last Saturday, I went to get my hair cut. I was enjoying a grounded, laid-back political conversation with my hairdresser and a few relieved deep breaths during the long-awaited shampoo scalp massage, when a woman walked in to wait for the next appointment. 

She was a white grandmother, there to convert her gray roots to match the blonde - recently activated by the Womens March, and convening her friends weekly to call legislators using the Indivisible Guide. I told her I am thrilled to see so many people getting engaged and thanked her for what she was doing. 

Which launched her into a 30-minute monologue version of what felt to me like the following:

"Have you heard what he did now? Outrageous. Did you see that tweet? Ridiculous. What a disaster. Can you believe it? It's so horrible. He is evil. They all are. PAIN PAIN PAIN. BLAME AND SHAME. OUTRAGE FOREVER."

I know this broken record -- it's been my own voice countless times. I heard it from my own people in Wisconsin about our massively destructive Tea Party Governor Scott Walker for 5 years. And I immediately felt totally exhausted and disinterested.

Many of my friends have been asking me, "How much bad news do I continue to take in? I feel like turning it off is disengagement and I don't want to turn the other way... but I know I can't go on like this. What can I do in the face of so much crisis?! I'm exhausted and I haven't even begun."

I deeply feel this too. How do we keep our eyes open and keep showing up, but not become sleep-deprived apocalyptic bad-news zombies?

Later that day, I re-watched this video and it got me feeling eerie:

Blame is the discharge of discomfort and pain.
It has an inverse relationship with accountability.
— Brené Brown

AHA! moment. Spilled coffee and politics: could the dynamic of blame be working similarly?

There's something about the Trump-haterism that makes us feel like we're doing something. Yes, injustice has to be clearly named. Yes, his actions are horrific and must be responded to. But discharging that deep well of energy that has potential to move us toward sacrifice and brave action for change by complaining... well, that's just an avoidance of accountability. The more we blame Donald Trump, the more we get to place the accountability outside of ourselves, and avoid the excruciating discomfort of looking at the structures and systems our cooperation maintains that are the very building blocks that make this horrifying moment possible.

So what would it look like to shift from blame, complain, and sprints of action into powerful, sustained resistance? A few thoughts for shifts we can make together...

Blame --> Accountability

When you hear the next piece of outrageous news, pause and take a deep breath. Ask yourself:

  • What is at stake here that I love?
  • In what ways might I be accountable for a part of this crisis? (not being involved, staying silent, choosing convenience over aligning my personal life more closely with my values, etc.)
  • What steps can I take now to noncooperate with this threat on my values? (boycott companies that support Trump's policies, speak up, post a sign at my home, donate money, make calls, reduce my own environmental impact, etc. To nerd out about what noncooperation can look like, check out this article for inspiration)

When you feel yourself shifting into super-blame-mode, stay reflective. Notice what pieces you can own and take responsibility for, knowing that the crisis is much bigger than any one of us but also includes each of us. Notice your power to divest from the destruction.

Isolated Action --> Community

Taking bursts of action alone is like throwing back a shot of espresso. It works, it moves energy, and is a good place to jump start. But if you don't get some protein in your system soon, you'll get shaky and eventually crash. If you're new to this work (or not), you need to get yourself into community ASAP.

Taking action together is not only how collective power works to create change, but it also ensures that our own needs for meaning and relationship are met along the way, which is the best way to make sure you can show up for the long haul. Think about where you are already connected... your faith community, yoga studio, your child's school, etc. - can you join or form a group there, among folks you already know? You could also attend or host a Womens March Huddle, join or host a dinner with 100 Days 100 Dinners, join a local Indivisible group, or show up to a local organization. Commit to meeting a second time. Resist isolation so we can resist in powerful community.

Bad News Overload --> Shared Vision

Another insight from Brené is that one of the quickest ways to create cohesion in a group is through a common enemy. Being anti-Trump is an enemy-based uniter for so many of us right now... but it's a shallow and short-sighted point of unity. There is so much action to take to put out multiple fires each day... tragic cabinet appointments, dangerous executive orders, immigration raids, and more. Many of us are overwhelmed by the tidal wave of crisis intake. We're going to need something more than "stopping Trump" to help us focus our way forward.

So let's go deeper. What is the world we are working toward and how do we believe we can successfully get there? If you're not already involved in a conversation like this with a local organization, I love the Womens March Huddle conversation guide, which helps guide you through a visioning session that takes us beyond crisis response. Gather a couple people, lead a conversation (however imperfectly), and start there. Intaking more news can have an inverse effect on showing up more fully. Have a conversation as a group about where you feel most called to focus your effort, and give yourself permission to focus there.

Urgency --> Sustained Commitment

Commit yourself to taking the next active step to be involved, and make it soon. This is a critical turning point moment of historic proportions -- and we need you to show up to help make it tip the best possible way. But feeling more urgent and more rushed is not the same thing as being more committed. Take care of yourself and know that taking the next step in showing up, and then taking the next one, and then the next one, is enough. Peep this article for a few ideas to pace yourself: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for the Resistance.

Through redirecting blame and bad news overload into shared vision, we create the possibility of sustained successful action. And through building community and sustained commitment for ourselves, we combat the possible burnout factors of overresponsibility and reactive urgency so we can stick with it for the long haul. Because for any change strategy to succeed, we’re going to need to be here to move it forward. Our presence is foundational to the strategy.

As we move forward into this new political era in the US, I am working with fellow organizers and wellbeing teachers to support organizers, activists, and newly involved folks in making their change work sustainable, committed, and visionary. If you're in NYC, consider reaching out to me to build community and dig into what you need to be resourced and sustained for the long haul by hosting or attending one of our Resilience for Changemakers workshops. Nationally, there will also be a cohort of changemakers dedicated to sustainability coming together for 9 months of immersion and community building through Liberation School.

And as you take empowered action in your own local context, know that there are millions across the globe that are joining you in deep dedication to transforming our world into a place where all of us can thrive.