If you feel stuck in a state of mourning this pitch-black day-after-the-election, if the words “President-elect Donald Trump” fill you with anger and sadness and profound dread, I’d like to make a suggestion. Pick a charity, preferably after a little research. Then go volunteer or make a donation.
I realize that sounds sort of insignificant compared with the world-historic enormity of what transpired Tuesday night. But at a moment like this, when it feels like all hope has been extinguished from politics, adding a little bit of good to the world around us—doing a little bit tikkun olam, to get all Hebrew school about it—is one of the only ways we can all take back some measure of control. And in the age of Trump, small, individual acts of charity are going to be more necessary than ever.
There’s a strong chance that over the next four years, much of the American social safety net will be badly damaged if not outright shredded. Congressional Republicans have been waiting for the entire Obama era to realize a radical restructuring of American government. They want to slash taxes, particularly on the wealthy, and slash spending on the poor. House Speaker Paul Ryan has claimed that his proposed reforms to anti-poverty programs “is not a budget-cutting exercise.” But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the latest House budget plan would eliminates $3.7 trillion from programs that benefit low- and moderate-income households over a decade. “In 2026,” the think tank notes, “it would cut such programs overall by 42 percent—causing tens of millions of people to lose health coverage and millions to lose basic food or other support.” Its not a given that President Trump would sign such a plan. But I wouldn’t bet against it.
Charity will not come even close to making up for that lost spending. We are talking about cuts to health insurance programs, food stamps, Pell grants for college kids, and more. Even if it could, we wouldn’t necessarily want it to; private philanthropy is a poor replacement for a functioning welfare state because it’s less equipped to deal with recessions. The government can always spend more to help people during a downturn, but when the economy sours, private donations tend to dry up.
But we’re not talking about a first-choice scenario. We’re talking about a near-future when lots of people could suddenly find themselves in need without the helping hand of Washington to steady them. Every little bit of help is going to count. And there’s something especially strong to be said for getting involved with charity in our local communities at a moment when it feels like American civil society is really, truly fraying. Our fractured country isn’t coming together anytime soon, but we can at least try to build institutions and community in our own backyards.
I’m not an expert on philanthropy, so I won’t try to tell you what the single, scientifically proven, most-effective use of your time or cash would be. I’m always a little skeptical of those kinds of analyses, anyway. But try to commit to something soon, while you’re still outraged and upset and motivated—before we get complacent under the new normal of the Trump administration, however detestable it might be. Personally, I’ll be increasing my monthly donation to the Food Bank for New York City, and calling my neighborhood food pantry to see if they need some volunteers. We all have to do what we can.