Beginning before his inauguration as president, Donald Trump has been the focus of protest. On Inauguration Day, his celebratory parade was dominated by protesters with almost every entrance blockaded. He has not had a honeymoon and has record high disapproval rates for a new president. His has been a presidency of protest that has created fear in his administration. Protests are likely to increase.
And, protests are making a difference.
Initial Signs of the Impact of Protests
A president whose party controls both houses of Congress should be having an easy time putting forward his agenda. But, Trump is struggling – and he is in the early stage of getting his appointees confirmed. It will get more difficult when he is proposing legislation and a filibuster-proof Senate is required.
Some of the early protests focused on protesting the Democrats for not being tough enough on Trump. These protests gave elected Democrats some backbone and they began to challenge him. Some of the challenges were theatrical, e.g. spending the night in Congress speaking against a cabinet nominee who would be confirmed the next day, but their tactics and other tactics have had an impact.
Less than half of Trump’s cabinet has been confirmed. Confirmation is usually relatively routine as politicians believe the President should get to pick the executive branch he wants. Democrats do not have the power to stop Trump nominees, since they changed the filibuster rules to not apply to nominees, but they have been using parliamentary delaying tactics and preventing even the least controversial nominees from easy confirmation. In the end, Trump will get his nominees but they are being weakened as they go through a slow process.
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One of the most controversial nominees, Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, had the unprecedented experience of having to be confirmed by a divided Senate, which required the Vice President to break the tie. Opponents have promised this is just the beginning for DeVos, who has no experience in public education and wants to further privatize and corporatize education. DeVos supports charter schools, which have terrible records, especially in communities of color where they lead to expulsions and a path to prison. People plan to fight her every step of the way. Students walked out the day she was confirmed and teachers wore black in protest. When DeVos tried to visit a public school in Washington, DC, she was protested and temporarily blocked. Her appointment is making the destruction of public education, a bi-partisan, system wide problem, more obvious.
The Attorney General and Department of Homeland Security should expect similar treatment as Trump escalates deportations. There are already protests escalating over the issue and we expect to see more as people fight deportations by any means. Too many lives are being unfairly destroyed by Trump’s broad net of deportation. Protests erupted to try to stop the deportation of a mother who came to the US when she was 14 and has lived here for 20 years. The pictures of her two children, aged 14 and 15, looking at her through the wired windows of a deportation van are heart wrenching. Protests against mass deportation are growing across the country. Government officials should expect to have protests outside of their homes as people’s rage will grow with each unjust deportation that destroys people and their families.
The biggest victory of the protest movement has been stopping the restrictions on travel to the United States from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. There were mass protests at airports across the country by thousands of people, which made airport operations difficult if not impossible. There were also protests in downtown areas of many cities. The ACLU and others immediately filed lawsuits to stop Trump’s order and every court considering the issue ruled against Trump. The coup de grace was a ruling by the federal appellate court in Washington State, which reversed the ban nationwide.
On appeal, not only did the Ninth Circuit rule 3-0 against Trump, but they also chided him on his lack of understanding of the checks and balances of the Constitution. Trump seemed to claim that the courts had no authority to review his order and then threatened judges who ruled against him with blaming them if there were any terrorist incidents. The court, while ruling with the protest movement, explained to the President: “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”
Then, on the signature issue of the Republicans, repealing Obamacare, which they have voted to repeal more than 60 times, they are now facing raucous and angry protests at town hall meetings. Republicans seem petrified of the people, even more than Democrats feared the Tea Party when they protested Obamacare’s enactment. A leaked tape of a Republican strategy retreat showed how concerned they were with repealing the law. They see tremendous problems with repeal – even though the law is failing with massively increased premiums, larger co-pays and higher deductibles while providing shrinking coverage – because they don’t have a better solution. In reponse, another healthcare movement is re-energizing calling for National Improved Medicare for All.
The Challenge for the Movement
It is easy to be unified against Trump, but can the movement for social, racial and economic justice be unified in favor of new policies? Can it be unified when it is opposing the Democratic Party? Can people in the movement explain to their Democratic friends and relatives that it is time to stand against the corporate Democratic Party, which doesn’t even support the views of most Democratic voters?
For example, protests opposing the repeal of Obamacare are being organized by groups that are allied with the Democratic Party and do not support Medicare for All, although 80% of Democratic voters do. They are following the playbook of Indivisible – behave like the Tea Party but do not put forward a positive alternative. The reality is that Obamacare has failed to solve the health crisis in the United States. It is not a solution but is the victim of a partisan divide where neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are putting forth a popular solution. The longer term resistance movement knows we must be independent of the Democratic Party in order to put in place the laws and policies that are needed.
Indivisible’s approach will fail. It does not move us toward solving the health crisis. The reason neither corporate party will put forward the only effective solution, Medicare for All, is because it requires them to end corporate control of healthcare. Both parties are stuck because their donors from the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations as well as investors in for-profit healthcare want healthcare to be a profit center, not a public good. They cannot promote the obvious solution that a super-majority of people in the US know is the answer, National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA), because it will offend their donors who are profiting by ripping off people who need health care.
So, we are stuck in a situation where tens of millions of people are without health insurance (likely to rise under Republican “plans”) and as a result, almost thirty thousand people die each year, hundreds of thousands go bankrupt due to health problems and millions more cannot afford to get the healthcare they need. These numbers show the breadth and depth of the healthcare crisis that is occurring even though if we simply improved and expanded Medicare to cover everyone, the crisis would end. Making it even worse, the US already spends enough on healthcare to fund National Improved Medicare for All.
During our successful campaigns to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership and ensure Net Neutrality we worked with some non-profits who worked with the Democratic Party. Our role, as a group independent of both parties, was to push beyond what the Democratic Party wanted and to be uncompromising in our demand. It worked and we won. We stayed united. Can we do the same in a campaign for National Improved Medicare for All?
Another area where the movement will be challenging the Democratic Party, indeed the Republican Party as well, will be over the issue of détente with Russia. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations committee, is leading an effort with Republican hawks to make détente difficult, if not impossible. Cardin is co-sponsoring legislation to prevent President Trump from removing sanctions against Russia. Trump will have a hard time promising to remove sanctions if the Congress has to approve it.
There has been a drive toward conflict with Russia by bi-partisans in Congress, the Obama administration, neocons and ‘humanitarian’ war makers. The media has been putting out constant propaganda to make Russia into an aggressor whenever it plays defense to US aggression, e.g. Russia defending Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine and their base in Crimea when a US coup removed a pro-Russian government and put in place an anti-Russian government; and when Russia responded to its border with Europe being filled with military personnel and equipment, especially missiles, by moving troops and missiles to defend itself.
The anti-war movement needs to step up and oppose Cardin’s effort to put in place roadblocks to détente. Will Democratic Party aligned groups undermine the peace movement, join the work for peace or stay away from the issue? Of course, if the Trump administration‘s threats against Iran continue, the peace movement will have to protest Trump. Protests against a war with Iran could very easily be larger than the massive protests seen against President George W. Bush over the Iraq War.
So, the challenge ahead will be to push the Democratic Party-aligned groups to stand for what is right even if the Democratic Party leadership is on the wrong side of the issue. The challenge for these groups will be that their constituency will be with us, e.g. 80% of Democrats support National Improved Medicare for All but the Democratic Party leadership refuses to consider it. Who do these Democratic Party-aligned groups stand with, the party or Democratic voters? Will they realize their party will continue to lose elections by turning their voting base off if they ignored Democratic voter’s necessities?
More Opportunities Ahead for the Resistance Movement
This period is actually the easy period for the Trump administration. The next steps will be more difficult and more frustrating for Trump. He will need bi-partisan support to pass legislation and confirm his Supreme Court nominee. Trump will be presenting a budget that will be in conflict with the philosophy of many Republicans, including the Freedom Caucus (Tea Party Republicans) who want a balanced budget. Trump’s plans for a bigger military, massive infrastructure spending and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will make balancing the budget impossible. At the same time he will be cutting social programs, which are already underfunded, as well as cutting environmental protection, education and other popular programs. Trump will make the class war more obvious and energize people to fight it. So, Trump will be in conflict with his own party as well as the Democratic Party and the most active supporters of both parties as well as the independent movement.
This presents opportunities for the mass movement to join in stopping the worst proposals as well as beginning to fill the void left by a dysfunctional government. The Democrats are likely to continue to stay focused on blocking Trump rather than putting forth a positive agenda. It is up to the people to put forward a people’s agenda supported by a majority of people in the United States.
As new policies increase the attacks on communities such as immigrants and Muslims, people must continue to do all we can to protect those who are threatened. This mutual aid and solidarity will also build the social movement.
Early in the Trump era, protest is working and the potential ahead is for an even larger resistance movement. The dysfunctional nature of government will add to protest movements, making the country ungovernable. We can defeat the oligarchy, as currently represented by Trump, but which began long before him, by remaining independent of the corporate parties and fighting for the changes we need.