Let’s face the fact that Donald Trump is the president, whether you call him that or No. 45 or, as I heard one young oppositionist say a few days ago, “46 minus 1.” He will be that for some time to come, barring miracles, legal interventions or defeat at the polls in 2020.
So what’s to be done as he slowly, methodically, chops away at all that makes this a representative democracy? Congressional representatives don’t represent: Republicans roll over; Democrats flail. And democracy is threatened with just about every presidential tweet or utterance aimed at undermining free speech, a free press and an independent judiciary.
Even as the opposition gathers stem for a midterm fight and lays plans for deposing Mr. Trump in 2020, we cannot totally ignore him. We must engage with him and his erratic policies one way or another.
A group of black clergy, most of whom I’ve never heard of, did so in a meeting with the president last week, ostensibly to discuss criminal justice reform, job training and other significant matters. As far as I can tell from the ensuing media coverage, they came away with a deal as solid as the one North Korea’s Kim Jong-un got in Singapore in June and that Russia’s Vladimir Putin got in Finland last month. That is to say: We don’t know exactly what they talked about or how to measure the outcome.
What we do know is that the meeting gave a black preacher from Ohio, Darrell Scott, yet another opportunity to play the role of a hallucinatory sycophant basking in the presence of his omnipotent overlord, the president. Mr. Scott displayed this tendency during the campaign. But this time, given the track record Mr. Trump has amassed in word and deed in 19 months as president, Mr. Scott outdid himself in minstrelsy. I doubt that he spoke for all of the churchmen, but their silence leaves them tarnished by association.
Said the reverend: “This is probably going to be the most pro-black president that we’ve had in our lifetime because … this president actually wants to prove something to our community, our faith-based community and our ethnic community. The last president didn’t feel like he had to. He felt like he didn’t have to. He got a pass.”
That has led a group of oppositionist church leaders, including Baltimore’s Jamal Bryant, to chastise Mr. Scott and company for meeting with “one of the most amoral persons to ever occupy the White House” and, in the process, acting as presidential “cheerleaders with a collar.”
How to engage the president was a topic at many of the panel discussions and workshops I attended at the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in Detroit last week. While chafing at the president’s general hostility toward the press and his insistence that what we produce is “fake news,” some of my colleagues were particularly upset at the president’s latest swipe at journalists: a tweet in which he called CNN’s Don Lemon “the dumbest man on television.” This, mind you, was a gathering of 3,000 where Jemele Hill, the ESPN anchor who has also suffered the wrath of Mr. Trump, was named Journalist of the Year.
Black journalists are in something of a bind: Mainstream media has a mixed record of covering our communities and of opening doors to blacks in meaningful roles. Our fight, especially in the era of Donald Trump, is like that of black soldiers in World War II who waged a Double V Campaign for a victory against anti-democratic forces abroad as well as victory for democracy denied them at home. As journalists, we cannot remain silent when journalism and journalists are under attack. This is where Michelle Obama’s admonition to go high when your adversary goes low comes into play. For us, that means relentlessly bringing to the public the truth — in words and images — so that they can decide the future of our nation.
They do that in large measure by voting, something that advocacy groups like the AARP and the NAACP are encouraging with robust initiatives aimed at those who have not heretofore seen the value of the vote. That’s the ultimate engagement.
The bottom line is that disillusionment is not an option. In this war against national self-destruction, there is no place for flunkies and jacklegs. For everyone else? There’s plenty good room.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.