Here is the harsh reality: Donald John Trump has won the election. Barring the most unlikely of circumstances, he will become President on January 20. The Republican Party will control the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House, and the Supreme Court. He has already began talking about the executive actions he will sign. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. have taken to the street to protest the normalization of Trumpian politics. In spite of thoughtless criticism, these demonstrators deserve some respect as they fight the first battle against the incoming Trump administration.
The main argument against the anti-Trump demonstrations boils down to this: some rallies featured acts of violence, and that is not good. I am not here to enter the debate over whether violence should be deemed legitimate form of protest. Regardless, it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that the vast majority of anti-Trump demonstrations have been lawful and peaceful. Among the small minority of protests that were not, some of the violence was in fact started by pro-Trump counter-protesters.
But even if we accept that a small minority of the anti-Trump demonstrators did break the law at a small minority of the rallies, is this surprising? Mass movements often feature some violence, particularly when their participants skew toward being young adults. (The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s was no exception, despite its reputation for being entirely peaceful.) Sidelining an entire movement due to the actions of so few people is intellectually lazy at best.
Other critics charge that the anti-Trump protesters just need to give Trump a chance. Many alt-right social media accounts have taken to mocking devastated Hillary Clinton supporters–mainly women and people of color–as being “crybabies”. But, are protesters’ concerns worthy?
After the disastrous “Brexit” vote in June, hate crimes in the United Kingdom spiked. That increase has not died down the levels before it passage took place. Given the commonalities between supporting Brexit and supporting Trump, many predicted that a Trump victory could produce similar results in the United States.
Given that over 300 hate crimes have been reported since Election Day, these concerns were not without merit.
Personally, I spent much of the post-Election Day week checking in with friends. I spoke to friends who are Muslim, people of color, non-U.S. citizens, recipients of abortion, and even undocumented immigrants. There was a palpable sense of fear not only of Trump’s policy proposals, but also for what white nationalists, the United States’ most common terrorist threat, would do.
One might argue, despite the half-heartedness of Trump’s plea for his supporters to stop attacking people, these are the actions of individuals, not Trump himself. This isn’t the full story – Trump’s rallies were noted for their frequent violence. While one should not condemn all Trump supporters for what a minority of them did at a minority of Trump’s events, one should criticize Trump for egging on and enabling the violence.
Looking at the bigger picture, what will a Trump administration look like? Some commentators surmised that after a lifetime of shifting political positions and a historically dishonest campaign a post-election Trump would be able to give better insight into his leadership style. They were wrong. Every day since Election Day has been filled with mixed messages.
Here are a few examples. After using South Korea as a punching bag for the entire election cycle (dishonestly), Trump called President Park Geun-hye shortly after Election Day to assure her that U.S. policy would not change. A welcome flip-flop! On the other hand, Trump slumped low in picking Stephen Bannon, a noted white nationalist, to be the White House Chief Strategist. (White supremacists rejoiced.)
Quite sensibly, Trump proposed a nationwide plan to rebuild outdated infrastructure; the plan even gained some support from Democratic lawmakers, even if it is inadequate. Yet Trump has not disavowed support for a “Muslim registry”, which made headlines when a surrogate argued that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was ample legal precedent.
Trump has scaled back his lofty promises to erect a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, conceding that he would accept a fence instead of a wall in “certain areas.” But, he has doubled down on his promise to restrict abortion rights, admitting that women may have to cross state lines to obtain the surgery.
The conclusion to draw is not that this is simply a mixed bag of good and bad. Even watered-down versions of the aforementioned policies would inflict pain and suffering on millions of people. Not to mention many of his other proposals, such as trying U.S. citizens in military tribunals, assassinating innocent family members of terrorists, closing down parts of the internet, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, or punishing women who have abortions to name a few. It does show, however, that legitimate questions remain about what Trump will seek to do.
Despite the allegations of Trump’s critics being too emotional “over nothing”, anti-Trump advocates have many issues that are more than a shallow dislike for Trump. These are the very issues that protesters want to prevent from being normalized.
This does not mean that valid critiques of the protests do not exist. A recent opinion piece that ran in the NY Post tabloid argued, “Keep crying wolf about Trump, and no one will listen when there’s a real crisis.” While the piece was slanted from a center-right point of view, the headline rings true: could well-intentioned, morally-justified protesters cause unintended harm?
Dara Lird of Vox raised other important questions: “But what if the reality of the Trump administration turns out to be not quite the worst-case scenario? What if it is simply very bad in less unprecedented ways? Won’t that seem, by comparison, normal?” With Trump’s approval rating skyrocketing since the election, there are some serious worries that critiques of Trump will just be viewed as partisan hackery, not righteous indignation.
Progressive champion Bernie Sanders highlighted a good dynamic for pushing against this: “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
Some have criticized Sanders for ceding too much legitimacy to Trump, who by all accounts is enabling white supremacy on a massive scale. While these concerns should be considered, the long-term political efficacy of Sanders’ strategy outweighs any rhetorical surrender that some may perceive. By offering to work together on points of interest while also criticizing racism, progressives craft a narrative that escapes sore-loserism while also maintaining anti-racist pressure on Trump.
Under the hashtag #DisruptJ20, organizers are hoping to have mass demonstrations on January 20, Inauguration Day. While I support movements to put pressure on Donald Trump and his ilk, I hope that the #NeverTrump and #NotMyPresident movements will adopt tangible strategies over time. Reclaiming state legislatures, planning for the 2018 midterm elections, spreading news of post-Election Day hate crimes, and encouraging colleges to be sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants are great places to start. Barring some unusual incident, Trump will be president until 2020; the hard work has only just begun.
In Post Notes, I add some additional thoughts or context to a blog post I’ve previously written. That can be found here.