Activism against Trump is only beginning

Voters who opposed Donald Trump may cheer themselves with the fact that Trump was not most Americans’ preference for president. Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes, and Democrats gained seats in the House and the Senate. Areas that are younger and growing rejected Trump.

Those realities could quickly turn to cold comfort, though, as Trump’s opponents watch the new president and Republican Congress quickly undermine Obama-era regulations restraining polluters and Wall Street, adopt executive orders targeting refugees and global health programs, and tout plans that will undermine health care and education for the working and middle class while providing big tax cuts for the wealthiest.

But what’s striking is how little time anti-Trump Americans have spent being discouraged.

Trump critics quickly mobilized. Having many more people protest against Trump than show up for his inauguration was a powerful demonstration of intense disapproval of his policies and persona. The Women’s Marches on the day after the inauguration were far more popular than the Tea Party actions against Obama administration efforts several years earlier. Spontaneous protests at airports highlighted stories of wonderful families separated by Trump’s poorly implemented immigration policies. Some groups stood together to sing patriotic songs such as our national anthem, “America the Beautiful,” and “This Land is Your Land.” Holding flags, protesters declared their commitment to American values.

The Women's March in Chicago on Jan. 21. Nancy Stone | Chicago Tribune via TNS

The Women’s March in Chicago on Jan. 21. Nancy Stone | Chicago Tribune via TNS

Individuals are also organizing around Trump administration policies and nominations, forming new groups and working with old ones. People are calling, writing and visiting legislators, and are encouraging them to hold town meetings to talk and listen to constituents. Maine legislators have been asked to hold public meetings but haven’t, making communication harder. All through the country, lawmakers are hearing from people who rely on health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Some say they wouldn’t be alive without the treatment they received and may still need.

People who never ran for office are stepping forward. Groups that train women about how to run for office held workshops for people attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and state-based candidate training groups are reporting a surge in interest.

Many are proclaiming their support for American institutions. We rely on the press to tell us what public officials do. We rely on the judiciary, as Alexander Hamilton wrote, “to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals,” particularly those in the minority.

Trump has attacked both, claiming factual reporting is “fake news,” yet subscriptions to newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have increased. After Trump called a federal jurist whose decision he disliked a “so-called judge,” people across the political spectrum criticized this effort to undermine the judiciary’s legitimacy.

The public’s response matters to Trump.

If it didn’t, he wouldn’t keep falsely claiming massive voter fraud or that he had historically large crowds at his inauguration. He wouldn’t keep talking about his electoral college win, or tweet that “Any negative polls are fake news.” Indeed, recently Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, told The New York Times: “I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

What’s happened already matters, but it’s just the start. Anti-Trump voters’ activities could eventually include greater efforts to talk to a wide range of their fellow citizens. Most Americans do not support a good deal of the current policy agenda, particularly dismantling financial regulations; privatizing Social Security; vouchering Medicare and Medicaid; and undermining food and drug safety, public education and worker and environmental protections. Coalition-building and close attention to what’s proposed and passes build a stronger movement.

Should these citizens feel discouraged, they can remind themselves that history doesn’t move in a straight line. Protest has already been effective. Dispensing with the Affordable Care Act is no longer cast as quickly repealing and replacing it; the way forward is now described as repairing it over a longer timeline.

As President Obama proclaimed in his farewell address, “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.”

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine and the faculty advisor to the UMaine College Republicans. Fried's views are her own and do not represent those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.