For political watchers, news media, political operatives, candidates and officials, 2017 was — let's be honest — exhausting.
The constant churn of news, the unending assaults on our sense of decency and expectations for government officials, the carousel of White House advisers ("according to Kathryn Dunn—Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has tracked White House turnover rates over three decades, the Trump administration's 34 percent turnover rate — 21 of the 61 senior officials she has tracked have resigned, been fired or reassigned — is much higher than that of any other administration in the last 40 years"), the barrage of presidential tweets, the nonstop Trump rationalization and water—carrying from Senate and House Republicans, the twists and turns of the Russia investigation, a series of high—drama special elections, the near—death experience of Obamacare, the ups and downs of the noxious tax bill designed to enrich President Trump and his ilk, the roiling of international relations, the president's disgusting embrace of autocrats and the endless lies left many Americans drained.
Anger — even righteous anger — experienced over a long period of time is exhausting. The solution, however, is not to be less outraged — indeed, sustaining outrage is essential to defense of our democracy — but to follow some simple political survival rules.
First, follow the example of Lawfare blog's Ben Wittes. Seeing the unprecedented and outrageous attacks on the FBI emanating from Trump and his GOP lackeys, Wittes decided to turn the tables on the FBI smearers. "I responded by making a contribution to the FBI Agents Association and tweeting urging others to do so in the names of Andrew McCabe and James Baker," he says via email in reference to the maligned FBI deputy director and FBI counsel, respectively.
"According to the association, more than 2,000 people have done so this month, apparently raising more than $140,000, which they describe as a significant uptick in their donations from last year." He pointed out, "The effort also generated a significant amount of news coverage and media attention (Joe Scarborough tweeted it) and got major buy—in from senior intelligence community leadership." He tweeted that he is looking at "a Proposal to Translate Malicious Trump Tweets into Public Goods." Follow Wittes for more joint efforts — or start your own. You'll find that passive news—watching may be enervating, but action is energizing.
Second, stop expecting Republicans in Congress to "do the right thing." Too many spent too much time waiting for the moment when Republicans "would finally break with Trump." There is no utterance, tweet, action, policy or financial chicanery likely to prompt action by Republicans. A devastating report from the special counsel? Don't count on Republicans to take it seriously. Once you've made peace with that, you can focus on the real action: holding those Republicans accountable in the 2018 elections.
Third, we've already advised to stop paying attention to Rust Belt diners and start focusing on suburban, college—educated women. (Others are now in on the act.) You can spare yourself the frustration of watching the same 25 percent of the electorate, seeped in Fox News drivel, refuse to acknowledge reality. They're not going to confess that they were conned or they were wrong. They will continue to revel in their own ignorance. So be it.
Fourth, Trump's personnel changes hardly matter at all. Trump did not get more sane, more stable or more astute when John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as chief of staff. No one in a position of power can or will challenge Trump; there are only less or more adept enablers. Aside from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the departure of any senior official(s) — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — won't significantly impact the direction of the administration. New officials could be worse, to be sure. If CIA Director Mike Pompeo is replaced by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a ruthlessly ambitious and sycophantic Trump supporter, great damage could be done to the agency. However, don't expect any new addition or replacement to markedly improve the administration.
Fifth, thank goodness the media has stopped announcing that Trump has finally become more presidential. There are no pivots, no turning points. Trump does not learn, improve or mature. Whatever glimmer of rationality and decency we spot will be either illusory or fleeting. Save yourself the disappointment and accept that, if anything, the pressure of the presidency will further destabilize Trump's psyche.
In sum, turn anger into action; lower or eliminate expectations for Republicans; stop fixating on the core Trump cultists; don't expect new personnel to improve matters and understand that Trump will never become an acceptable president. Once you've done all that, you can focus energy on the 2018 midterms (where all the action is), support those candidates and organizations that reflect your values, remain engaged in your community, model good citizenship and civility for your family and friends, and remember, as we saw in the presently tied Virginia House of Delegates race, your vote may be the deciding one.