The Birth of the “We Party”
Yesterday I outlined the reasons why the seven days that began with the inauguration of president* Trump constituted the most ominous week since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our country is in extraordinary danger from a madman in the White House who is clearly moving in an authoritarian direction. There was, though, a bursting forth in that week of darkness of the brilliant sunshine of one of the most hopeful developments in modern American history. It is to that hope that I’ll turn in this piece.
Less than twenty-four hours after the takeover of our government by people who threaten all that is best in the American tradition, an angry nationalist inaugural speech, the removal of climate change, civil rights, and LGBT pages from the White House website, and much more, the Women’s Marches last Saturday transformed the despair into great hope.
January 20, was one of the darkest days in the nation’s history (certainly not the worst; we’ve had a lot of bad ones. Antietam comes to mind, along with others, but an unstable man with a literally catastrophic — think reversal on climate change) — agenda taking over as president of the United States certainly ranks down there).
But if last Friday seemed to many of us to be the funeral of the American Republic, we didn’t even have to wait until Sunday for the Resurrection to begin. Saturday brought a whole new outlook and optimism. The amazing outpouring of people at Women’s Marches around the country and the world to protest the evil that the Trump Administration represents can and must be the start of something great and powerful. All those people who came out on Saturday are not going to stay home in the next election.
The opportunity is clear. After Barack Obama’s election, the extreme right created the “Tea Party.” This past weekend can give birth to a center-left “We Party” to oppose robustly the “Me Party” that the Republicans have, under Trump, become more than ever before.
Circumstances today are vastly more favorable for the building of a powerful resistance movement than they were when the Tea Party was started.
In 2009, at the time the Tea Party was launched in opposition to President Obama, he had an 80 percent approval rating and most of his policy proposals had the support of substantial majorities of Americans. He had won the election by a margin of 7.3 percent and was loved around the world.
In 2017, a movement in opposition to President Trump is being launched at a time when his approval rating is 36 percent, and most of his policy positions are opposed by majorities of the American people. He lost the vote by 2.1 percent and, apart from Russia and the followers of various neo-Nazi movements, is despised by people around the world.
Barack Obama had won 53 percent of the votes the previous November; Donald Trump won only 46 percent. Obama had won by a margin of more than 9.5 million votes; Trump lost by nearly 2.9 million votes.
Obama was taking office at a time when his predecessor, George W. Bush, had an approval rating of 34 percent. Trump is taking office at a time when the approval rating of his predecessor, Obama, stands at 59 percent. Put another way, shortly before the Tea Party began, Obama had an approval rating 46 points higher than the man he was succeeding. Today, Trump has an approval rating 22 points lower than he man he is succeeding. For those organizing an opposition, that is a 68-point advantage for those mobilizing against Trump over what the Tea Party had in fighting Obama.
The Tea Party began as and has remained a distinctly minority movement, yet it gained extraordinary influence. A We Party would begin as a majority movement that can mobilize the sort of enthusiasm that was evident in the Women’s March.
There are other great advantages for a We Party movement over the situation in which the Tea Party arose. In 2009, when Barack Obama took office, the economy was in free fall, people were eager for positive leadership and the likelihood was, with sensible policies coming from the new administration, that the economy would improve.
In contrast, President Obama leaves in place a strong economy and Donald Trump is saying that he will pursue — to an even more extreme degree — precisely the policies that have led to economic ruin in the past: massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations, concentrating even more of the nation’s wealth and income into the holdings of the billionaires whose grasping hands and underdeveloped consciences are so well adapted for the habitat of the Trump Administration, eliminating the regulations that restrain the predatory behavior that contributed so substantially to the collapses of 1929 and 2008, and reducing government assistance for the middle class and poor that keeps up some buying power during downturns. If history is our guide, a new economic breakdown will result from his policies, though when is more difficult to predict.
The control of the presidency and both houses of Congress by the Republicans at a time when the Administration and many of the party’s officeholders are right-wing extremists is a very dangerous thing for the nation and world. But such complete control of the government will make it crystal clear to most people who is to blame for the exceedingly harmful and unpopular policies that are already being proclaimed from the White House and for the economic consequences of the tried and failed policies of the past. The two sharpest and longest lasting political realignments in American history came when the Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress when the Panic of 1893 hit, leading to Republican ascendancy until the Great Depression began when they were in complete control in 1929, starting a long period of majority identification with the Democratic Party.
While the policies Trump and his party are pushing are likely to result in such a collapse, Democrats and a We Party have many advantages that can be used to regain power and reverse the disastrous course on which the Trump Administration is trying to set the country before a new economic catastrophe hits.
Let us organize that dynamic resistance without delay.
Robert S. McElvaine is completing a book on Trump, language, and the history of misogyny.