For many, the days after the 2016 US presidential election were spent mourning what was lost, and dreading what lay ahead. Yet, despite a general worldwide despair over Trump’s unexpected win, not all the consequences of this victory are discouraging. It has spurred a nationwide political uproar against Trump’s rhetoric and actions in the shape of protests and other forms of activism. It has also invigorated new energy into the Democratic progressive base. In my opinion, the coming four-year term of office is an opportunity for redefinition of a new political story in the US.
First off, it should be emphasized that Trump’s first year in office has been gruelling. The decision to terminate the ‘Dreamers’ program is one example of how Trump has specifically attacked minorities, as his decision to cancel the program affects nearly 800,000 young undocumented migrants. Another recent example is the Supreme Court allowing the enforcement of Trump’s executive order to refuse entry to travellers from six Muslim-majority countries. Furthermore, these decisions have injected instability into international politics. Take for instance his announcement to pull out of the Paris Agreement or recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
It is not an understatement to say that our news feed is constantly overflowing with media coverage of new “Trump-related incidents.” Just recently Trump incited a racially-charged controversy by calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” and inflamed a discussion about the administration’s extremist inclination by sharing anti-Muslim videos from a British ultranationalist group. In fact, one of the scariest issues that we face is the normalization of Trump’s rhetoric. Each outrageous act surpasses its predecessor. During Obama’s time as president it was unthinkable that an openly sexist presidential candidate would one day win the presidential election. Yet, here we are. Therefore, it is essential to keep in mind that what is happening right now is not normal.
Having said this, there is a bright side to the seeming dark landscape of American politics. Amongst the mass upturning of norms, the resistance movement against Trump is mounting.
The resistance movement began with the Women’s Marches that took place shortly after Trump’s inauguration. The marches were held in more than 650 cities and towns around the US with over 4 million participants. Together, the marches were the largest single-day protest in American history. Following the protests, the resistance movement has sprawled into thousands of locally-based groups, huddles and organizations. SwingLeft and Our Revolution are two examples of grassroots organizations that have formed post-election. In addition, national organizations have gained a more prominent voice and have been central in resisting Trump, such as the ACLU that played a central part in striking down the Muslim ban. However, the ACLU was greatly aided by the efforts of thousands of people protesting the ban at various airports.
One particular grassroots organization, Indivisible, has published a step-by-step guide – “A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” – for individuals, groups and organizations to use when advocating an end to Trump. What started off as a Google Doc written by a couple of Congressional staffers now counts more than 6,000 chapters and has been downloaded over 2 million times. It has fuelled and is still fuelling thousands of grassroots movements. The combined resistance of several organizations has succeeded in derailing central parts of Trump’s agenda, such as defeating the Republican healthcare bill by questioning representatives at town hall meetings, planning sit-ins, demonstrating against the bill and pressuring politicians.
What really stands out is the fact that these movements are being headed by “everyday people” people, who are channelling their frustration into political activism. Protests give citizens of a democracy a voice to pressure their government. Many times they lead to political and legislative change. Take for instance, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 that led to the passage of civil rights legislation. However, the big take-away from the upsurge of post-election political activism is not only the results, but that way it has motivated attendees. One study by Harvard University showed that the interactions produced at demonstrations affect citizens’ social contexts and in turn have a lasting effect on voting, participation and ideology.
One article discussing the positive effects of Trump’s victory labelled the few that he found as the result of “the perverse law of unintended consequences.” I would beg to differ. The collective anger towards the emergence of a right-wing extremist administration existed before his victory and has doubled three-fold following it. Naming the efforts to resist Trump an “unintended consequence” misses the central point as to why they are happening. People are furious that their common ideals, such as women’s reproductive rights or immigration rights, are being opposed by the Trump administration and are making their voices heard. The fact that people are rallying is not an unintended effect of Trump’s presidency – it is a conscious choice to protest that what is happening is wrong. It is more appropriate to claim that the election woke a sleeping giant of progressive activism.
History swings back and forth like a pendulum between periods of extremism before returning back to equilibrium. Trump’s victory has thrown us into a crisis in which bigotry is becoming normalized, rights taken away and the democratic system eroded. However, this crisis can also be seen as a turning point for the redefinition and recovery of a more inclusive and democratic society. People are pooling their frustration into a resistance movement that not only knows what it is against, but more importantly knows what it stands for – a more inclusive and generous America.
Rui Johnson Petri