Surviving Disasters

by Rob Hansen

It’s a truism – but one worth repeating – that in a disaster you’re more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by whatever’s going on.  Consider a house fire where your only exit is through a door with a blistering-hot doorknob.  A lot of people will say, “well, I’m dead either way, and at least this way I’ve got a chance” as they open the door, thus allowing a flood of superheated vapors to come in and flash-cook their lungs.  The fire didn’t kill them: their foolish and panicked reaction to the fire killed them.  The people who survive are the ones who realize the door doesn’t present a way out, and spend the next few minutes beating a hole in the opposite wall so they can escape into another room which has better avenues of exit.

Surviving a disaster is largely an exercise in controlling your senses of panic, futility, and optimism.  I don’t think I need to explain why panic must be controlled, but the other two might need elaboration.  In a disaster, futility and optimism are two sides of the same coin.  Futility leads you to not exercising effective options because you believe nothing can be done; optimism leads you to not exercising effective options because you believe, incorrectly, your current ineffective option will work.

So let’s talk about the imminent disaster of President Donald J. Trump, and particularly in the context of futility and optimism.

If you feel there’s nothing which can be done and the world is inevitably sliding into a neo-Dark Age, then yes, you’re part of the problem.  There are many, many productive things you can do to directly impact the next few years.  If everyone who’s despondent over Trump were to instead work a couple of hours of overtime and donate $100 to the ACLU, President Trump would find himself facing challenges in federal court just in order to take a whiz in the Oval Office’s executive bathroom.  Fifty million outraged people times a hundred bucks each equals five billion dollars to spend on litigation.  That’s an amount of litigation so extreme I literally don’t know how to describe it except “Speed it, O Lord!  Let Thy Kingdom come!”

Whatever it is you do it will be infinitesimal when compared to the challenge before us.  But that does not diminish your obligation to do it, because when fifty million people each do constructive things the result is a tidal flood that reshapes the country.

And if you feel you’re Doing Something Important™ by calling for audits, investigations, and recounts, just stop.  Stop.  Audits and investigations take time: if they’re not set up in advance before an election, ready to go the moment polls close, there’s not enough time to complete them before the electors cast their ballots on December 19.  Recounts are set up in advance and can be done relatively quickly, but over the last 25 years the average swing in a recount has been about 25 votes per million cast.  In Pennsylvania about six million votes were cast, meaning a recount might change vote totals by about 125.  Trump won by sixty thousand votes.  There is no realistic chance of a recount flipping the election, none at all.

If you’re Doing Something Important™ by advocating for faithless electors to vote for Hillary, keep in mind what you’re suggesting a coup.  The people of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and other states have commanded their representatives (the electors) to vote a certain way.  By advocating these electors should ignore the clear command of their constituencies, you are saying “popular vote be damned, Hillary should be elected.”  Which is all well and good, I guess, up until one considers it’s impossible to simultaneously say “popular vote be damned, the electors should support Hillary” and “Hillary should be elected because she won the popular vote”.  If you support the idea of a popular vote, you must also respect the idea the popular vote of a state should govern how that state’s electoral votes are cast.

Focus your efforts where they can do good.  Support groups like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Write a check to your local legal aid society.  But stop with these deranged fantasies about audits, recounts, investigations, and faithless electors.  Please.

I’m in the house with you.  It’s on fire.  I really need you to not open the door.  I need you to come over here and help me tear open a hole in this wall instead.