What do we do now?
After 11 people were killed in a shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, many heartbroken Americans will be asking themselves this question.
Looking to President Trump for comfort and guidance is clearly not an option. He spent the weekend preening, lying, and attacking opponents. At a moment when the public was crying out for the president to tone down his rhetoric, he instead promised to "tone up" — and worked hard to make good on the promise.
Over the weekend, a friend of mine who is involved in public policy said the media needs to stop paying so much attention to the president. "Make him a non-person," my friend pleaded. "Formally ostracize him. ... Refuse to acknowledge his existence. Asphyxiation via inattention. Talk about the policies of the administration, but not about him."
Inattention might work. Some of Pittsburgh's Jewish leaders on Sunday went a step further, outright shunning Trump. Eleven of them signed a letter asking Trump not to visit their city until he disavows the white nationalism that inspired the synagogue attack.
They wrote: "While we cannot speak for all Pittsburghers, or even all Jewish Pittsburghers, we know we speak for a diverse and unified group when we say: President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us."
Still, barring impeachment — and even if the media finds new, less Trump-centric ways to cover the news — America must endure at least two more years of this president's shtick. But just because Trump won't shut up doesn't mean we have to let him suck up all the oxygen in the room. Yes, presidents have often served as the guardians of our public life, leading our celebrations and delivering uplifting words in times of crisis. Trump, for whatever reason, plainly lacks the capacity to meet these expectations.
So, we must look elsewhere. We must look to ourselves.
The first action we can take is voting in next month's midterm elections. Yes, that seems Trump-adjacent, but so be it. Both houses of Congress are currently controlled by Republicans — who have not only failed to check and balance the president, but are increasingly amplifying his worst tendencies: This weekend Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), not usually known as a fire-breather, endorsed wacky conspiracy theories involving billionaire George Soros, one of the recipients of last week's pipe bombs. The only real way to begin to put a muzzle on Trump's excesses over the next two years is to empower the opposition Democrats.
We can also choose to act locally. The Tree of Life Synagogue was not the only place of worship targeted by racist murderers last week: The man who murdered two African Americans at a Louisville grocery store first sought to enter a predominantly black church just a few minutes away. In much of the country, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship are often backbones for the local communities, encouraging social activism, providing assistance to those in need, and generally making their hometowns better places to live. Support them. Write them a check, donate your time, or do both. If you're not inclined to worship, there are plenty of clubs and civic organizations that would welcome your participation. What better way to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives?
Finally, those of us with children can bring them along, let them witness our participation in civic life, and teach them to carry those values forward. Explaining the Trump era in real time has been a challenge for some of us with young kids — you don't want to scare them, and you don't necessarily want to let them see you in the kind of despairing rage the last two years have tended to produce. Those conversations probably aren't going to get easier, but what you can do is let them see your values in action and hope they take root. Years from now they will want to remember how we responded to this moment. Let's give them worthy memories.
It is no easy task to sideline a president of the United States. And Trump has given every indication of being like a toddler who, ignored, proceeds to throw a full-on tantrum. Still, it's very clear that he has only division and fear-mongering to offer the nation. Those of us committed to building a better country and better communities must work without him. And so we will.