2 Weeks in. What’s the road ahead?
On January 20th, 2016, Donald J. Trump took the oath of office to be inaugurated as the forty-fifth President of the United States of America. The sequence of events leading to this moment are both complex and simple. My husband and I are both in our mid-thirties, and at some point, during the dystopian first week of the Trump administration, watching someone regarded as a national joke sign executive orders, it dawned on us that DAMN- we’ve known this man our entire lives. The ascension to the highest office in the World’s most powerful nation is a life journey, and one that takes cold hard cash. Many have aspired, but few have succeeded because there’s no set course in democracy. It’s a killer instinct succinctly described in an exchange between Vincent Mancini and Don Lucchesi in the Godfather Part III:
Vincent Mancini: Don Lucchesi, you are a man of finance and politics. These things I don’t understand.
Don Lucchesi: You understand guns?
Vincent Mancini: Yes.
Don Lucchesi: Finance is a gun. Politics is when to pull the trigger.
The candidacy and election of Barack Obama is considered a historic watershed moment in American history. The Republican party had spoken in dog-whistles since Nixon’s Southern Strategy, but was carful not to cross lines of decency with Obama by keeping their challenge to his policies. A portion of the party that couldn’t accept a black President with Muslim Kenyan roots was ceded to the right-wing fringe that floated racist conspiracy theories to legitimize their frustration. In 2011, Donald Trump fired his first shots — going on network news shows to question the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. By elevating the birther conspiracy from the shadows to the mainstream, a champion for the disgruntled white electorate launched his political run.
In 2008, the entire Democratic Party was led to victory on Obama’s coattails, simultaneously triggering the Tea Party. The goal of this movement was to oust Democrats at all levels and replace the Republican establishment with a new brand of far right leaders to obstruct the Obama led US Federal government. It all began with organizing protests to recapture power from the bottom up. The Tea Party hammered their narrative in opposition to the President’s healthcare reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The movement’s eerie mood of fear and hysteria was bubbling to the surface as early as 2009 when former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin warned of Death Panels:
“And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of healthcare. Such a system is downright evil.”
The Tea Party achieved its first pivotal win in January 2010 — Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts passes away. A special election is held to fill the seat Kennedy won in ’62, when his brother, Senator John F. Kennedy, vacated it upon being elected President. Republican Scott Brown wins what was considered a reliable Democratic seat, giving the Republicans control of the 41 seats needed to filibuster in the Senate. To circumvent a Senate filibuster, House Democrats, to the disappointment of their base, were forced to pass a Senate compromise version of the ACA that lacked a public option.
Repealing Obamacare was an effective rallying cry on the right. At the 2010 mid-term elections, Republicans won 64 seats to take back Control of the House of Representatives. In 2013, De-facto Tea Party leader, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, led the Congressional Obamacare repeal fight into a Federal Government shutdown showdown. In 2014, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was “primaried” by Tea Party backed challenger Dave Brat, making it the first time in US history a sitting House Majority leader lost a primary campaign. As the only non-Christian Republican in both houses of Congress, his departure was symbolic of the homogeneous direction of the party. By 2014 midterm elections, Republicans win the majority of Seats in the Senate, seizing control of both houses of Congress. In February 2016, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly passes away. Republicans deliver a brutal blow by using their Senate majority to refuse Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a confirmation hearing, obstructing the left’s first opportunity for a liberal court majority since 1971.
November 2016, the Coup d’état, Donald Trump wins the 2016 Presidential Election and Republicans maintain their majorities in both houses of Congress. On a visceral level, Trump is the antithesis of Obama. He ran on a platform that was against everything Obama, but there was also a sinister underlying appeal, of an unapologetic, brash and crude persona. He promised to lead with this style to disrupt Washington D.C. and the World Order, on a mission to put “America first” and make her great again. First order of business — tear up each and every Obama administration measure as if to erase the memory a man named Barack Hussain Obama was ever President. Call out the enemies, bang on the war drums and stand up for white “real” America — on an emotional level, Trump is delivering what he promised.
While a large chunk of America is repulsed, others are waiting to see what a completely new administration can accomplish before making judgment. Trump devised a winning hybrid strategy of scorched-Earth, divide and conquer. Approximately half the nation was too disengaged (or disenfranchised) to even vote. He capitalized off disenchantment on both sides of the spectrum while exploiting the nation’s divisions. Trump’s Electoral College victory, in the face of a 2.8 million popular vote loss is a big open sore for the World to see the extent of US polarization.
For those of us that oppose Donald Trump and the Republican agenda, what now? The resistance is off to a strong start with the Women’s March on Washington and nationwide sister marches to greet the first day of the Trump Presidency. Ad-hoc protests and legal aid was immediately dispatched to airports in response to Trump’s ban on refugees and legal residents from 7 majority Muslim nations. The #grabyourwallet boycott of Trump has already scored two victories, resulting in Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to resign from Donald Trump’s economic advisory council and Nordstrom to discontinue carrying Ivanka Trump’s brand. While these are essential actions of resistance to Donald Trump’s authoritarian regime, the left is merely flexing its muscle. A women’s march of 3 million participants does not change the underlying factors that caused the majority of white women to cast their vote for a vulgar misogynist and racist. People of all faiths rushing to airports to protect and welcome their Muslim and Middle Eastern brothers and sisters is a valiant and beautiful sight. The ugly truth is that a Reuters poll found 1 in 2 Americans support Trump’s ban. While the protests at airports are necessary to protect civil liberties, alone, they don’t address the fear that led Americans to elect a man promising an unconstitutional Muslim ban and to slam the door on Refugees fleeing war. To foster empathy, over fear, it’s important to also educate Americans on the geopolitical history of the Middle East, the United State’s role in supporting religious extremism and terrorism and the consequences of a refugee crisis.
Trump demonized his opposition as out of touch “elites.” Ironically, those with the luxury to download taxi apps on smart phones and shop at high-end retailers are, in fact, elites. Does #DeleteUber reverse the overall business trend to undercut labor, environment and tenant protections? Is Ivanka the only business person who has outsourced manufacturing to exploit the labor of the global poor? Boycotting Trump’s associates are a good first step to resistance, but the left must think bigger and take on the the root causes of inequality beyond existing fault lines to create an inclusive movement that’s large enough to create change.
Democrats fell short of winning back the Senate, but did manage to pick up one seat for a total of 48 and the ability to block the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court appointment along party lines. There’s a mood of anger among the party’s grassroots base towards their representatives for lacking resolve to fight special interests and Republicans. After a bruising electoral defeat, many party loyalists are beginning to lose patience as well. The Republicans played dirty by refusing even a hearing for President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee Merick Garland. Senators Ted Cruz and John McCain are on the record stating they would continue to obstruct the appointment of any judge, had Hillary Clinton won the election. Senate Democrats absolutely must have the spine to block Trump’s SCOTUS appointment given that the vacancy is stolen.
The Republican Party’s obstructionist strategy towards Obama doubly stung Democrats because the treatment of the first black President turned uncivil and disrespectful. Many people on the left feel the Democrats should give Trump the same respect Republicans gave to Obama by obstructing everything. From my perspective, the vast majority of Trump’s cabinet appointments are dangerous, but there is an uncomfortable truth that they represent the views that won the election. The Republican Party did not start out Obama’s Presidency with obstruction. First they challenged the merits of his policies, organized at the grass-roots level, identifying the issues that resonate with the public and incrementally won back power democratically. Senator Ted Cruz from red Texas had 2016 Presidential ambitions, so he jumped on every opportunity to grandstand by railing against Obama. However, the most effective Republican obstruction measures were the ones with teeth behind them. The liberal/progressive base can focus energy on lobbying Democrats to unanimously vote against everything the Trump administration presents on the grounds of obstructing an authoritarian regime. We can even swear revenge at the ballots on Democrats that confirmed his appointments. But what’s our end game in this strategy? Republicans have the power to hand Trump victories by simply voting along partisan lines. Is the objective to force Democrats in Congress to score points with their own base? If Senator Elizabeth Warren could somehow pull off torpedoing Ben Carson’s nomination as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, what guarantee does she have from Trump to not nominate a swampier figure to lead the department? In my opinion, it’s a self defeating strategy to subject our representatives to purity tests. The smarter approach is for Democrats to stand united to thwart Trump where they have power to do so, while the grassroots base organizes around the issues to unseat Trump-enabling Republican representatives in every state and Congressional District.
Obstruction for no other reason than an all-out resistance of Trump could also backfire by triggering Republican free-range retaliation via “nuclear option”, i.e., undemocratic power grabs during a window of time that Americans appear to be comfortable with authoritarianism. So far this has already taken place in North Carolina, where a Republican controlled State Legislature voted to strip the power of the incoming Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper. A more recent example occurred during Senate confirmation hearings for Secretary of Health and Human Resources Secretary nominee Senator Tom Price and nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin. Rather than allow the 2nd round of questions requested by Democrats, Republicans changed the rules to allow a vote without all committee members present to ram through confirmations for both nominees.
If the 2016 election taught us anything, we can’t count on moderate Republican’s as our saviors. The long, hard, battle to resist Trump must be fought strategically; focusing priorities, engaging in fierce debate and identifying the actions to leverage and build power. Laws punishing protester have already arisen in Michigan and Minnesota, and must be pushed back on immediately to defend the people’s 1st Amendment right to assemble. The movement to divest public funds from fossil fuels and banks funding pipelines is a good example of exercising power in Democrat controlled cities and states. It’s also vital to support NGOs challenging the Trump administration in court and journalists investigating the administration.
The right wing taught the entire left a valuable lesson during the Obama years. Committing to grass-roots, bottom-up, power building at the state and local level works. We can make change in both red and blue states by engaging in the democratic process year round. While we should be vigilant on what happens in Washington, it’s just as important to be informed and organized to cast votes in city council and state assembly elections too. Local civic participation builds local voter bases to turn out for Congressional and Presidential races. Most importantly, democratic participation encourages new leaders, in touch with the struggles and aspirations of their communities, to run for office and replenish the party with fresh blood.
The toxic, divisive nature of national politics put us on a trajectory to the Divided States of America long before Trump entered the picture. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook make it easier to disseminate information, but they’ve also made it easier to retreat into group-think bubbles. Trump and the extremist wing of the Republican Party won by exploiting our divisions. We will win by bridging the divides. It’s time to engage in hard conversations outside our immediate circles and with those we disagree with. To move the needle on the issues, we have to start talking to each other and listening to each other again. Fear, insults, intolerance, condescension, lies and contempt are what dragged us into a gutter. The only way out is dedicating ourselves to patience, courage, humility, empathy, honesty and respectful dialogue. It feels like a tall order right now. I leave you with the Obama White House’s final tweet.