In this moment, populist intervention is everything, not as hate and attack but as an expression of popular will and power. Or as love, since we defend what we love. It is an extraordinary moment, an all-hands-on-deck emergency in which new groups and coalitions are emerging along with unforeseen capacities in many people who didn’t previously think they were activists. It is saturated with possibility, as well as with danger.
Of course there are also people residing in the US who love the dismantling of healthcare, education, environmental protection and the bill of rights, but they are an increasingly small minority. The most recent Gallup poll found nearly twice as many people – 60% disapprove of the president – than approve (36%).
The graph shows a growing chasm between the minority that approves and the rest of us, and nearly half the public likes the idea of impeachment. Republican approval of the direction the country is going fell an unprecedented 17% in a month, according to a new Gallup poll. People who don’t like democracy and civil rights don’t think what the public thinks matters; that includes the Trump administration, which seems to have thought that power would be inherent in the presidency, rather than dependent on honoring relationships with institutions, allies, with rules and laws. What the public thinks matters, if we turn thoughts into actions. The great conundrum of this crisis is that if people believe that they have the power to change this nation’s destiny, they will act; and if they don’t they won’t. Like many other prophecies, this one is self-fulfilling either way. I believe we have the capacity to limit the damage or even bring down the Trump administration through nonviolent resistance and good organizing, and I see extraordinary things happening in this moment. We are off to a good start. After all this is an administration that has been stymied at almost every turn, unable to kill off Obamacare in its first five months, or build a wall on the Mexican border, or cancel sanctions against Russia, or pass almost any significant legislation, an administration harried by an investigation into its possible collusion to corrupt an election and serve a foreign power. The resistance is an oft-used shorthand for all the forms of opposition, though many of them are institutions – the judiciary, the states, cities – that would probably not embrace the term. But they are opposing, overturning and interfering. In several cases this spring, state courts and the supreme court have ruled against gerrymandering and other forms of discrimination against voters of color and voting rights. The ninth circuit court ruled against the travel ban this week, one of several interventions against it in the courts. And 17 state attorney generals filed an amicus brief with the supreme court against the ban. Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit this week accusing Trump of violating the emoluments clauses by accepting foreign income through his businesses, the subject of myriad lawsuits and complaints filed by Crew (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington). On 12 June, a judge granted a temporary reprieve to Dreamer Jessica Colotl, whose deportation protection had been revoked. More than 2,000 mayors, governors, college presidents, and other leaders have signed a pledge “to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement”. Democrats in the legislative branch of government have been mocking Trump, from the proposed Covfefe Act (it’s an acronym for Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically For Engagement, but also a joke about a peculiar tweet of Trump’s including that word, or nonword) that would ban him from deleting tweets on the grounds that they’re presidential records, to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer’s videotaped parody of Trump’s cabinet meeting in which all members dutifully praised him. (Writer JK Rowling called Trump out for his pettily vindictive response to killings in London. Even Smirmoff Vodka got a dig in with an ad that said “we’d be happy to talk about our ties to Russia under oath.”) Senator Kamala Harris has gone after attorney general Jeff Sessions hard (despite male senators who keep trying to hush her up). Congresswoman Maxine Waters is demanding impeachment. And Congress is holding hearings about the Trump administration’s relationship with the Russian government and its coverups.
Last week fired FBI director James Comey ripped the president to shreds as a liar, a creep, and an incompetent manipulator of truth and staff, and since then things have gotten worse for the administration. The Russia scandal could contaminate Pence, as well as Trump, Jared Kushner and Sessions. In the media, Rachel Maddow of liberal MSNBC has beat Fox to the number one spot in cable-news prime time. Fox is in disarray, with its star Bill O’Reilly forced out after a series of sexual-harrassment charges. Brilliant organizing by the Twitter-based group Sleeping Giants has pushed advertisers to abandon Sean Hannity’s show after the Fox host pushed conspiracy theories about the death of Seth Rich, despite Rich’s parents pleas to desist. Breitbart has lost nearly 90% of its advertisers in another Sleeping Giants victory. Teen Vogue has become a feminist beacon, and other women’s magazines have developed superb political coverage. Newspapers, notably the revamped Washington Post, are doing a superb job investigating and exposing the administration. The bombshell revelations that dropped one after another in May will long be remembered, perhaps as when the Trump administration fell too far to pick itself up. This month already Forbes exposed the Trump family for figuring out how to skim a profit off donations for children with cancer. USA today revealed that in the past year, “about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.”
Administrations around the world are figuring out how to work around the administration. The European Union and China are working on moving forward on addressing climate change, while cities and states throughout the USA have made their own commitment to honor the terms of the Paris climate agreement, despite Trump (whose pullout is symbolic, since it goes into effect after the next presidential election; many don’t expect him to serve out one term, let alone win another). The environmental ministers of the Group of Seven nations are moving forward without EPA head and climate denier Scott Pruitt. The Guardian reported: “The greater ‘bang-for-buck’ resulted from plummeting prices for solar and wind power and led to new power deals in countries including Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates all being priced well below fossil fuel or nuclear options.” Trump celebrated coal as part of his backward-looking agenda, but India is cancelling plans to build coal-power plants while South Korea is shutting them down. Britain rejected Theresa May’s right wing politics in an election she called that shifted power to Labour; it followed on the heels of centrist Emmanuel Macron’s victory over far-right Marine LePen. Angela Merkel and Macron have made it clear they are happy to assume the mantle of leadership the US has dropped. Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, keeps trolling Trump online about the wall.
All of this is to say that there is tremendous opposition from many kinds of groups, institutions, and individuals, here and abroad. This doesn’t mean there isn’t suffering and loss. I’ve heard from great organizers who are heartbroken and exhausted; I know Muslims who are fearful; an undocumented woman whose father has been imprisoned by Ice. I am horrified by the defunding of programs to prevent Aids internationally, which could result in a million deaths. And the brutality is real. I’ve also talked to everyday citizens who have become activists and longtime organizers who are doing extraordinary things, and who are exhilarated by the solidarity and the possibility – of what we have become together, and of what they themselves have become. Taking action is the best cure for despair. I’ve listed a little of what officials in the judiciary and legislative branch are doing, the shifts in the media, the response overseas. But it’s the residents of the United States whose response will matter most in the end. Civil society awoken and arisen is a power adequate to counter the power of an increasingly isolated, confused, frightened and bumbling administration. Many are organizing now to change the direction of the country in the midterm elections. In Utah, Mormon women have organized in solidarity with undocumented families. Philadelphians are training to disrupt deportation raids on undocumented immigrants. In Southern California, a Latino-Muslim alliance started a project called Taco Trucks at Every Mosque, timed to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan. The group Common Defense unites veterans and military families for civil rights and against the Trump agenda. Queer, trans and feminist groups have proliferated. Earlier this year, Muslims raised $100,000 to repair a Jewish cemetery in St Louis. There are far more generous-hearted such project than I can list, strengthening ties far beyond tolerance, restating the case for environmental protection and social justice including feminism, trans rights, immigrant rights. And there is a level of engagement with electoral politics the likes of which I have never seen, pushing on legislation and pressuring politicians, supporting progressive candidates, including many people of color and women running for the first time. First-time candidate Danica Roem, a transgender journalist, beat three other candidates to win a Democratic primary in Virginia and may beat a Republican homophobe for a seat in the state assembly. This activism needs to be sustained, and it needs to be strategic. It needs to address voting rights, and midterm elections, and it needs to remember all the powers and possibilities that lie in activism beyond electoral politics as well. So far so good. Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard told me that they don’t have to try to recruit or inform people anymore, that they can’t “answer the phones fast enough”; that people are showing up ready to try to change the world. She said everything groups like hers have been doing for decades “was all practice for this moment”. People like to predict the future, often a dismal future, but the future is not written. It is ours to write. In this moment of utter turmoil, civil society must be the counter to a rogue administration, one whose victory is a surprise equaled by its myriad defeats ever since. A crisis, says one dictionary, is “the point in the progress of a disease when a change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death; also, any marked or sudden change of symptoms, etc.” This crisis could be the death or the recovery of a more democratic, more inclusive, more generous America. Where we go from here is up to us. RELATED