In the fifties, in Los Angeles schools, students routinely participated in civil defense drills. We were taught “appropriate” actions to take in the event of a Russian nuclear attack, such as “duck and cover.” Sixty years later, many Americans are bracing for Donald Trump’s attack on the foundations of our democracy. How will we respond when Trump uses some traumatic event as an excuse to claim dictatorial power?
Many Americans worry that the White House is planning for a “Reichstag fire” moment, a traumatic event the Administration can use to leverage Trump’s power. On February 27, 1933, the German parliament building, the Reichstag, was set on fire. (The Nazis named a young communist as the arsonist, but this was never proven.) Hitler used the Reichstag fire as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and attack German communists — thus ensuring that the Nazis would be the dominant force in the German parliament. Many of us believe Trump is capable of a similar coup.
Given Trump’s demonstrated instability, it does not matter whether America’s Reichstag-fire moment is a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or a smaller event such as last year’s Orlando nightclub shooting; it might even be a natural disaster, such as a killer hurricane or a ghastly epidemic. Whatever form the event may take, Trump will use it as an excuse to declare that the United States is under siege and attempt to assume extraordinary powers.
Here are five steps to take to prepare for Trump’s coup attempt:
1. Identify your affinity group: In the Bay Area, we prepare for earthquakes by forming neighborhood “earthquake preparedness” groups comprised of the residents of a few adjacent streets — typically 20-30 homes. When the “big one” comes we will support each other by checking that everyone is accounted for and then doing whatever is required such as providing first aid, putting out small fires, or sheltering the homeless.
In the event of an attempted Trump coup we’ll need the emotional support of our closest friends and family. (These should be people who live near you.) Identify who they are ahead of time. When the “Reichstag fire” event occurs, quickly meet with them, and assure them of your support. Then jointly plan a response.
2. Preselect your communication network: Once the coup attempt happens, the White House will be all over the mainstream media pushing their narrative: “America is under attack; it’s time to take the gloves off and fight back with everything we’ve got.” Underlying this narrative will be the Administration’s characterization of Trump as a strong leader unafraid of taking action to protect the homeland.
In the face of the anticipated Trump propaganda onslaught, the resistance needs three things: an alternative communication network; a designated speaker; and a narrative.
While the resistance speaks with many voices, the Indivisible movement is perhaps the best organized to respond to a coup attempt. Indivisible has more than 6000 chapters linked by email, Facebook, and Twitter. The national Indivisible leaders (headquartered in Washington DC) are well positioned to get the message out to local chapters and to pass it on to the progressive media outlets, as well as progressive politicians. Thus, in a crisis, the Indivisible network can be become an effective alternative to the mainstream media. Furthermore, if you are attached to Indivisible, your affinity group can use the Indivisible network to rapidly respond to Trump’s actions.
In a time of emergency, the White House will dominate the mainstream media. Therefore, it’s important to identify, ahead of time, reliable alternative sources of information, media outlets that can provide you with an objective perspective. Among these news sources are NPR, The Guardian, BBC, Mother Jones, Talking Points Memo, Democracy Now, and The Rachel Maddow Show.
3. Focus your response: When Trump makes his move, the resistance needs to speak with one voice. While we can count on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to take a strong stand, our most effective national spokesperson is likely to be Rachel Maddow. Information passed through the Indivisible network, or other progressive channels, will get to Rachel.
Another response channel is communication with your local (progressive) member of congress.
4. Prepare a narrative: Resistance to a Trump coup attempt begins with a simple assertion: “Trump cannot be trusted.” The resistance needs to speak with a unified emphatic voice: “Trump is a failed President desperately attempting to stay in power. He is not trustworthy. Therefore, Trump’s interpretation of [the traumatic event] cannot be the basis for national action.”
After the traumatic event, the resistance needs to immediately appeal for calm and decry hasty action. You and I need to communicate with our affinity group, our national network, and our members of congress. Above all: we need to question authority.
5. Mobilize for Action: The appropriate response to a Trump coup attempt depends upon the nature of the traumatic event. For example, an environment calamity may require tight coordination with your local member of Congress. On the other hand, invasion of North Korea should inspire direct action such as demonstrations, marches, and strikes.
Work with your affinity group, and your national network, and plan a coordinated response. One possible response would be a “No war, no Trump” march a few days after the event.
Above all, prepare for the worst. Trump isn’t going to go down quietly.