By Kermit Hovey

Believe it or not, Trump and other elites can save our democracy as a healthy government and our planet as a livable home. How, you might ask?

Elite Signalers

People are social beings who not only desire acceptance and belonging, but abhor rejection and isolation. In the extreme, one could argue that the world is just one big high school. There are cliques — or, in the metaphor of the moment, tribes. In these groupings, there are official and unofficial leaders, elites whom people look to for signals about what their clique or tribe values, supports, believes, and does. The more people acknowledge an elite, the more they will take direction from them and the more they will look for, listen to, and respond to signals from them.

I would argue that we are all elites within some group, clique, or tribe. Each of us is looked to by one or more people for what we do, say, and signal. In that sense, each of us has a circle of influence, however small. Some elites, however, amass followings of thousands or even millions.

Donald Trump is an obvious case in point. His pronouncements define truth for the tens of millions who make up his tribe, such that contrary evidence floats away as irrelevant and immaterial. Trump can be seen as an ultimate exemplar of the “elite signaler.” And he has used that power to signal two “Big Lies” to his followers that threaten our democracy and the planet.

The Big Lie Threatening Our Democracy

The Big Lie threatening our democracy is that bad people stole Trump’s election victory from him and illegitimately ensured it was awarded instead to Joe Biden. Trump has signaled this lie repeatedly and incessantly, and other elites within his tribe have amplified the message through incessant repetition. As a consequence, some 40%–50% of Republicans assert that Trump actually won. They do so regardless of evidence-based court decisions and the bipartisan testimony of election officials and administrators from across the country refuting that assertion and declaring that Biden won in the most secure and fair election conducted in modern history.

This lie threatens our democracy not only because it baselessly undercuts confidence in our institutions and processes, but also because it provides the baseless false narratives that the Department of Homeland Security has pointed to as underlying the destructive actions of “domestic violent extremists.”

The Big Lie Threatening Our Planet

The Big Lie threatening our planet as a livable home, expressed by Trump again and again by word and deed, is that human-caused climate change is nothing but a big hoax. While president, Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord, undercut the Environmental Protection Agency, and positioned science-rejecting climate change deniers in administration positions, who in turn worked to impede both scientific research and evidence-based action on climate change.

Because of that lie, we lost four years of overdue action to move us to the fossil-free, clean energy future we need to protect our common home from the ravages of human-caused climate change. Because of that lie, we continue to face political resistance to the now even more desperately needed, more overdue, essential climate change action.

Some Truth That Can Set Us Free

We need some simple words. Words of truth. Words of clarity. Ideally, we need words uttered by the most problematic elite signaler in this country. In two brief sentences, Trump could save our democracy and save our planet as a livable home:

“I have listened to all the best people who ran the election. I congratulate President Joe Biden. President Biden won fair and square.”

“I have listened to the USA’s best scientists, the best in the world. Climate change is really happening, really serious, really human-caused, and, with all of your help, we can really fix it.”

Such simple declarations from this elite signaler would free his base from captivity to deception and help the country move forward. The path forward would no doubt still be troubled and complicated. Other powerful players on the American stage would likely step up to sow doubt and discord. And yet, such truth from such a passionately followed voice would remove a powerful excuse for resistance to what needs to be done.

We Are All Elite Signalers to Somebody

I know, I know — fat chance of this happening.

Yet we each can use our power as elite signalers to some group, however small or large, to speak the truth. Further, we can take advantage of our role as citizens to signal these truths to our elected officials.

Regardless of what Trump does or doesn’t do, we can let everybody know that, based on the best evidence we have, these two statements are true: “President Biden won fair and square” and “Climate change is really happening, really serious, really human-caused, and, with all of your help, we can really fix it.”

With those things known, said, and acted on — persistently, firmly, and consistently — we can do our part to save our democracy and a livable planet.

An earlier version of this post appeared in the February 4, 2021, edition of the Middleton Times Tribune.