Second in a series, Annals of Resistance
November’s political earthquake---the election of the demagogue Donald Trump---sent liberals into shock, even trauma. Heartfelt keening of shame and revulsion was heard throughout the land. Thanksgiving gatherings saw little thanks given; “No politics” was the rule at many tables; non-attendance was the out for many liberals, to avoid Trump-voting relatives. Same for the Christmas holidays, with perhaps more philosophical reflection reigning.
A four-year lamentation looked to be in store.
But that languor---God bless America!---is not the case in the New Year. When the new reality struck---the inauguration on Jan. 20 of President Donald John Trump, his controversial cabinet nominations, with some nominees vowing to take down the departments they would head; his extremist executive orders in his first weeks---it triggered, and continues to trigger, popular resistance, people-in-the-streets resistance (also here). Citizens heretofore apolitical are getting off their sofas and heading out.
Why? Because, deep in their bones, these Americans sense the existential threat a President Trump poses---threats not only to our public institutions, but to America’s foundational ideals: rule of law, equality, separation of church and state, and more. Who knows what other treasured precept will come under attack, since Trump is an equal-opportunity offender. “Existential threat” is often used to describe a crisis, but this time the threat is existential: the existence of our very democracy is at stake, something many Americans did not know was so dear to them until under attack.
Let us survey the ways this resistance---multi-form---is taking shape:
The day after Trump’s inauguration, and planned as defiant resistance to the newly-installed Groper-in-Chief, the Women’s March took place in more than 600 cities around the country, with the largest in Washington and New York. With better diversity than historically has been the case, and with men joining the ranks, the Women’s March proclaimed a broad range of issues---equality and civil rights, healthcare and reproductive rights, immigration rights, among others. At an estimated 4.2 million, the Women’s March of 2017 may be the largest mass protest in American history. (Interesting: It took Donald Trump to get women who once resisted the term “feminist” to cease their resistance and embrace the term.) Sister marches around the world included another 3 million.
Days later, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren persisted when closed down by majority leader Mitch McConnell in confirmation hearings of sometime-racist Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, the #ShePersisted meme went viral and will no doubt persist, both as general rallying cry and as a potential Warren for President 2020 campaign.
Likewise impressive were the spontaneous protests at the nation’s airports to Trump’s executive order banning Muslims traveling from seven Muslim-majority countries to the U.S. (also here and here). Lawyers came forward, from the ACLU and other organizations, to volunteer their services to bewildered families. The order was overturned, thanks to officials from my state (Washington), including the judge, James Robart. Altogether, a good start to Immigrant Nation’s resistance. Long overdue is a solidarity march with our fellow Muslim Americans.
Also overdue is a show of solidarity with the DACA “dreamers,” children born outside the U.S. who were brought here by undocumented Hispanic parents and are thus non-citizens, if Trump rescinds their protections enacted by Mr. Obama. Trump’s recent executive order calling for a crackdown on “sanctuary” jurisdictions (also here) targets not just the undocumented with criminal records, as Trump touts, but can deem an undocumented person a criminal simply by virtue of being undocumented, thus deportable. With arrests now underway, a test looms.
Meanwhile, grassroots resistance groups across a spectrum of issues are rapidly being organized by #Resist: Meetup (already 1,000 groups formed) and Resistance Manual. The Indivisible Guide, formed by former Capitol Hill staffers and modeled after highly effective Tea Party principles, is targeting Republican members of Congress in their districts; to date it has over 10 million page-views and over 6,000 local groups have signed on since it came online mid-December. Protests may be multi-form: As a co-chair of the Women’s March recognized, “This is the moment for us to show up for one another….versus being….stuck in our silos.” Showing up in these protests are masses of young people, bless them. Says The New York Times, this energy is “bursting out at demonstrations and town hall meetings across the country.”
As to town halls, Republicans are finding them suddenly contentious, filled with protesters (also here). As RealClearPolitics, a conservative site, titled a recent commentary, “There’s No Escape from the GOP’s Town-Hall Hell.”
Coming up: Scientists from across America and the world will march on Washington on Earth Day, April 22, in the March for Science (also here and here). On that day scientists will walk out of the lab and into the streets to counter the Trump administration’s claim, among others, that climate change is a hoax: “Listen to the evidence.” Within a week of its announcement, 1.3 million supporters had signed up for the march.
Look also for public-school teachers to mount protests to Trump’s newly-confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. With DeVos advocating that public monies be directed to private and charter schools, outraged tax-paying parents should be out in the streets, too, along with the teachers.
And with Trump rolling back the “fiduciary rule” that President Obama put in place---the rule requiring that financial managers prioritize their client’s interests over their own---look for John Q. Public to protest. The Wall Street and corporate capitalists in Trump’s cabinet, whose top priority likewise is not likely John Q. Public, will also present fodder for protest. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose top priority is John Q. Public, lies in Republican sights. Getting hit in the pocketbook may be the fastest way to turn true-believing Trumpsters into the streets.
Other issues sure to prompt resistance when the new administration acts on them include: the repeal and replacement of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act; any exploitation of public lands; torture. Should Trump order a return to the illegal and shameful practice of torturing terrorist suspects, all humanists should rise up.
(And if white supremacist/apocalyptic visionary Stephen Bannon continues to exert his influence on Trump as senior advisor, especially if he keeps his principal’s seat on the National Security Council, a place where political advisors never should be, most definitely not one with an apocalyptic bent, he may inspire his own dedicated anti-Bannon resistance.)
Resistance needn’t be registered only in the streets. Staying at your post and doing your job despite heat from the administration also qualifies as resistance.
While it’s a fair criticism to say the press prior to the election actually abetted the showman in the race, by focusing on the campaign’s horse-race aspects, it is also fair to say that, since the election, the press has been rigorous in exposing the new administration’s misrepresentations---and not afraid to call them lies when needed. Solid reporting is best resistance to Trump’s incessant accusations of “fake news.”
The federal civil service is gearing up. The Washington Post quotes an anonymous Justice Department employee, vowing: “People here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.” Methods to resist orders considered illegal include slow-walking those orders; leaking to the press; posting vital public information via social media. Legal counsel is being sought on what to do if illegal orders are received. At the State Department a dissent cable on Trump’s refugee ban drew 1,000 signatures. A former CDC immunologist created a “resistance page” to post vaccine information (Trump is famously anti-vaccine). The union representing EPA scientists may form a fundraising arm to “defend federal scientists we anticipate will be disciplined for speaking out or for defending scientific facts.” Writes the Post, speaking generally of federal workers: “The resistance is so early, so widespread and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis.”
Resistance can also manifest across the partisan divide, theoretically. Republicans are invited to create their own profile in courage, by resisting Trump when need be. So far most GOP leaders, including those who vowed “Never Trump,” support the new President. The standout is Sen. John McCain, who vows to fight Trump on torture, opposed Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and, most recently, defends the media, warning that suppressing a free press is “how dictators get started.”
Congressional Democrats of course form the left’s frontline resistance. Though badly outnumbered, they are fighting the good fight. Democratic-controlled states such as New York and California vow to invoke states’ rights if ordered to comply with federal directives they deem unconstitutional; some cities will do likewise.
How effectively will this multi-form anti-Trump resistance manifesting itself around the country work out? Some commentators worry that, in this diffuse array, coherence will be lost, also that such resistance is less for something than against.
But it can also be argued---in fact, it’s the argument being made now, organically, by the activist public---that a resistance movement made up of many moving parts is precisely the way to combat Trump’s multi-form provocations: every resister protesting that which he or she cares most passionately about. Moreover, that resister, in defending a treasured precept---be it rule of law, equality, separation of church and state, or other---is actually engaged in a positive action, is for something. It just may happen that, in this resistance to save our democracy, we’ll all become constitutionalists, ethicists, and small-d democrats, but that’s a subject for later.
Of course the ultimate question, the decisive question, is: Will this resistance endure, will it sustain itself, to become a proper, capital-r Resistance? To do so requires---in addition to a compelling idea that compels allegiance---organization, strategy, long-term commitment, and an esprit de guerre combined with adherence to nonviolence. A recent example, Occupy Wall Street, was a disappointment in this regard: While Occupy had a compelling idea---that the American economy works for the 1% but not the 99%---it disdained political involvement and organization, and ultimately it fizzled out.
One bright sign of current staying power: Since the November election, and energized by the success of the Women’s March, a reported 13,000 women---that’s right: 13,000---plan to run for office, according to New York Magazine, with most running in local races. (This figure combines Emily’s List data and sign-ups at the incubator sites She Should Run and VoteRunLead.) It is to be hoped that, the further Trump humiliates the office of President, even more women will run, will persist.
In a sobering cover essay “How to Build an Autocracy” for The Atlantic, conservative David Frum writes that he fears Donald Trump could set America down the path to a “repressive kleptocracy”---if Congress remains polarized and the public listless. In this quest, a strongman leader like Trump seeks to discredit the media, “nurturing the idea everybody lies and nothing matters,” and to subvert democratic institutions (Trump’s claims of voter fraud and rigged system). For a manipulator like Trump, resistance can be a “resource,” not a problem, with “the conservative entertainment–outrage complex” eager to assist him: “The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.” Still, in “this moment of danger,” says Frum, who again is a conservative, we have a “duty to resist”:
“By all early indications, the Trump presidency will corrode public integrity and the rule of law---and also do untold damage to American global leadership, the Western alliance, and democratic norms around the world. The damage has already begun, and it will not be soon or easily undone. Yet exactly how much damage is allowed to be done is an open question---the most important near-term question in American politics. It is also an intensely personal one, for its answer will be determined by the answer to another question: What will you do? And you? And you?”
To the Resistance.
For the first post in this series, “How to Fight the Forthcoming Ethics Scandals? Make a Phone Call,” see here. For the Washington Post’s site, “What I’ll Do Next,” where resisters, some never political before, commit themselves to various causes, see here. For the special issue of Harper’s Magazine, “A Resister’s Guide,” see here. And for the special issue of The Nation, “The People vs. the President,” see here.
Carla Seaquist’s latest book is titled “Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality.” An earlier book is titled “Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character.” Also a playwright, she published “Two Plays of Life and Death” and is at work on a play titled “Prodigal.”