NORTHAMPTON — So the unexpected has happened, MSNBC news anchor Rachel Maddow told a crowd of more than 2,000 people at Smith College on Monday: Real estate mogul and reality television star Donald J. Trump is officially the 45th U.S. president.
“Now we know we were wrong about what is possible,” Maddow told the crowd that packed John M. Greene Hall to capacity. She added that in some ways the country’s traditional, two-party political system is already “dead on its feet.”
Maddow, who lives in Cummington and New York, spoke during a “presidential colloquium” sponsored by Smith College. She offered reflections on the election and its results. The event was free and open to the public, though because the venue was full some people were turned away at the door.
Now, she said, it’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and dive into the “nuts and bolts” required to come together and build a better future.
The Democratic Party is the weakest it has been since the 1920s and Republicans “have no idea who they are anymore,” she said. Still, the GOP’s shift secured its victory in the November election.
“They ascended to power on the strength of that incoherence,” she said, adding that Trump is no traditional Republican.
Maddow said people are justifiably worried about the precarious state of the American political system in that it has reached a new era that has no basis in history. She said sometimes the unexpected is exciting, as with blind dates and mystery meat, though when it comes to the state of our country it gets scarier.
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” she said quoting the famous William Butler Yeats poem, “The Second Coming.”
Maddow began her career on the Pioneer Valley’s WRNX and WRSI radio before launching Emmy Award-winning “The Rachel Maddow Show” in 2008, which features Maddow’s take on the biggest stories of the day, political and otherwise, as well as in-depth analysis and debate. She also is the author of “DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power,” which debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list in March 2012.
Maddow said she didn’t mean to be melodramatic, but wanted to be clear about a few things going forward, the first of which is that Trump’s administration did not handle the acquisition of power well.
“They have not announced a single hire at the sub-Cabinet level,” she said, adding there are 600 positions that still need to be filled.
Maddow likened the country’s current political climate to a wintry drive down Interstate 91. Imagine, she said, that you’re driving along the highway and no one adjusts their speed for the freezing rain and snow pouring down. Then, you look inside the cab of the tractor-trailer next to you only to discover it is being driven by an 8-year-old smoking crack and texting — or tweeting, she said. This brought her to her next point: If Trump and his team are not capable in the White House, then who?
“If they can’t govern, do they deliberately hand over the keys to those that do want to govern?” she asked the crowd. “Or will capable hands step in, take over and do it themselves?”
Those more capable hands, she cautioned, can be — and already are — big business leaders. Trump’s pick for secretary of state is, after all, at the helm of ExxonMobil. Or relief could come in the form of foreign government, she said, given there’s evidence Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered with the U.S. election. She noted that if Trump colluded with the Russian government in its attempts to undermine the U.S. government, a possibility intelligence officials will investigate, then “that’s doomsday.”
“It’s worth being very clear about it,” she said. “Liking Putin is not a crime. Collusion to undermine our government is.”
The best-case scenario would be that Trumpism is a mirage and that Michael Pence will be the true leader, she said. While that would still present a host of ethical issues “that pile up like snowdrifts,” the country could recover in a few years, she said.
Maddow was only offering her assessments, and predictions often fail, she said.
“It is entirely possible that I’m an idiot,” she said to boos from the audience. “If I’m going to denounce myself as an idiot I’m going to need support from you guys.”
She urged the crowd to stay informed and get involved — not just with the inspirational moments, like this past weekend’s women’s marches, but in the day-to-day grassroots “nuts and bolts” that will hold the country together. Band together, get active and organized, she said, and make friends with people who disagree with you.
“Figure out what your role is going to be,” she said, adding that Democrats can’t wait for “some bright light in the dark” to save them. “When things fall apart — when the center does not hold — your country needs you in that time.”Bubble burst
Maddow’s call to action was both invigorating and depressing, said one member of the audience.
“She burst my march bubble, you know?” said Liz Friedman, longtime program director at MotherWoman in Hadley who recently left the organization. “But that’s her job — to show us the reality.”
Friedman said she’d been riding high after participating in the Boston Women’s March, but Maddow reminded her to get back down to business. Friedman said Maddow made clear that “the work that you thought you were going to do in the world has changed.”
“For all of us it’s that moment of, ‘we have to step fully out,’” said Friedman, who recently decided to run to represent Northampton as Ward 1 delegate in the Massachusetts Democratic Convention.
Jennifer Page, who watched Maddow’s talk on Facebook Live, said the current political climate is partly what inspired her to run for Amherst School Committee. She said Maddow ratified her inclination to run for office, and her feeling that the American political system is amiss.
“It’s actually great to get that validation, that the world is upside-down,” Page said.
Rima Dael attended Monday’s talk with her 11-year-old daughter, Karana Braxton. She said the two were unable to join in any of the marches and so the event gave them a sense of solidarity.
“So much of what she said resonated as next steps from the marches,” Dael said. “Now it’s really about the day-to-day work.”
She said her daughter felt inspired to email Maddow questions about how to resolve the conflicts between what she’s learning in school about facts and compassion and what President Trump exhibits.
As executive director for institutional advancement at Springfield Technical Community College, Dael also appreciated what Maddow said about higher education getting pigeonholed as liberal institutions and the need to unite.
“When one of us in higher ed gets attacked, we really all should band together,” she said.
Maddow will be followed by CNN’s Ana Navarro on Tuesday night at Smith College. Navarro is an American political strategist and commentator and one of the leading Hispanic Republican political voices in the United States. She is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and Telemundo and a Republican strategist with expertise on Latin America, Florida and Hispanic issues.
Navarro will speak at 5 p.m. at John M. Greene Hall. Her talk is also open to the public at no charge and with no tickets required.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at email@example.com.