Of all of the think pieces I’ve read on dealing with Donald Trump’s presidency, there is one small, furry voice that we haven’t heard from: Elmo.
What on earth would innocent Elmo have anything to do with our soon-to-be President, who brags about groping women and lies through his teeth? He’s actually dealt with Trump before – or at least a puppet version of him. In a Sesame Street parody of the Apprentice back in 2005, Elmo is a contestant in a contest to be Donald Grump’s assistant. As the other Grouches (including Oscar) say, “Donald Grump has all the garbage!”
All of us looking to get through the next four years with our sanity intact can learn from what Elmo does in the sketch:
1. Stay positive.
This is easy for Elmo, as it appears to be his entire personality. It may be harder for the rest of us, especially when the President adds a laugh track to a press conference or Congress passes laws that put kids with pre-existing conditions like cancer at risk of not getting health care in the future. Nonetheless, wallowing in despair rarely helps the situation. To take action, we have to keep the faith a bit. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for anger – anger can be very necessary. But at least for me, anger alone isn’t enough.
2. Be confident that the work you’re doing is important.
In the sketch, just like in the original Apprentice show, Donald Grump assigns the contestants ridiculous tasks. Elmo approaches them with a focus that only a small child given an “Important Job” can possess. He maintains his attitude even when Donald Grump and the other competitors mock him.
Unlike Elmo, any resistance we put up to Trump and his Congressional allies isn’t silly at all. However, people will frame it as such. They’re already saying that protestors are “sore losers” and citizens calling their members of Congress are wasting their time.
Like Elmo, just try to let those comments go, as hard as it may be. Whether you’re marching, writing emails, calling Congress, acting to influence local policy, or building community through neighborhood organizations, the work you are doing is important.
3. Take him at his word.
No matter how absurd Donald Grump’s demands are, Elmo takes him literally. We need to do the same for his non-furry counterpart. Claims of “he didn’t really mean that” or “you need to look in his heart” are crap. People not taking what he and his supporters say seriously was one thing that landed him in the White House. Donald Trump may be an inveterate liar, but he does seem to believe what he says when he says it. Non-coincidentally, this is also a recommendation from a reporter on dealing with autocratic governments.
4. Don’t be surprised when he doesn’t play fair.
Several times in the sketch, Donald Grump completely changes the rules of the competition. In the end, he doesn’t even give Elmo his reward, just swans off in a blaze of absurdity. Elmo just shrugs and moves on.
The real version has already done the same thing, changing his positions when he finds it convenient, ignoring basic ethical standards, and personally harassing journalists. Never expect him to follow any sort of norms or sense of fairness – he doesn’t seem to believe in them.
5. Don’t get distracted by squabbling.
While the other Grouches seem as if they want to win the competition, they continually lose because they spend the whole time arguing with each other. In contrast, Elmo just keeps on doing his job.
In politics, it’s easy to have your attention drawn away by conflict, whether on your side or the other group’s. You can even feel a bit of schadenfreude watching other people argue. But to protect the rights of women, minorities, and immigrants, maintain important health care provisions, and fight climate change, progressives have to band together. Unlike Elmo, we can’t count on the other side to fall apart. The stakes are much higher than who can count the number of holes in sneakers the fastest.
While the real world is far more complicated than the simple life of Sesame Street, the show has lessons for everyone. Elmo’s brief encounter with the monster version of Trump can both give us a dark laugh and add a little bit of light to the years of hard work ahead.