It seems likely that the coming year will bring unprecedented challenges in our social and political lives — racism and xenophobia, economic inequality, the excessive power of corporations, international conflict, environmental disaster, and the politics of hate and division, to name several. Many of these impending problems have to do with the expected policies and behavior of the incoming president and his administration. So it is hard to celebrate the turn of the New Year with the usual degree of optimism and good cheer.
But the American people have confronted dark times before, and we have risen to the challenges we face. We care about the fundamental values of our democracy, and we need to struggle to maintain them.
The most immediate threats on the horizon to our democratic rights include things like these —
- removal of tens of millions of Americans from access to health insurance
- further restriction on voting rights of poor people and people of color
- legal pressures and deportations directed against millions of immigrant Americans
- further restrictions on women’s right to choose
- repressive treatment of Muslim Americans
- pressure on the press and news media
What are a few avenues of hope that we can turn our minds to? What resources and strategies exist to help make the coming year better than we expect?
Here are a few key resources available to us —
- Institutions and the rule of law
- An independent judiciary
- The power of broad-based social organizations and movements
- The persistent advocacy of civil rights organizations
- Public opinion supporting longstanding civic values
- A free press
- Large peaceful demonstrations
It must be conceded that part of our fears about the future have to do precisely with the specific ways in which each of these avenues is undermined by Trumpism. The president-elect’s contempt for the press is longstanding. The attacks on organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are well-funded and focused. The ability of the President and Congress to appoint Federal judges whose ideological orientation fits their wishes is evident. The use of fake news and phony science to influence public opinion has become a major industry. So none of these avenues of progressive defense of our democracy is unchallenged.
That said, these are the best resources available to us to insist on preservation of our constitution and our democracy — civil rights, racial equality, economic opportunity, environmental protection, and freedom of speech and association.
Our country has a long history of largescale popular protest against unjust policies and actions — the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, the anti-War movement of the 1960s, the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s, the movements for women’s liberation and LGBT rights throughout these decades, and most recently the Occupy and BLM movements of the 2010s. Large peaceful protest can be a potent weapon for progress.
We must have the courage to stand up against hatred, against the erosion of civil rights, against misuse of political office, and against the politics of division. And we will be strongest in these efforts when we make use of the courts, civil rights organizations, and a free press to make our case.
So Happy New Year, America — and have hope and courage for the struggles that are to come!