Home / US News / Trumps lies and cruelty fueled a real resistance. Thats hopeful news for progressivism.

Trumps lies and cruelty fueled a real resistance. Thats hopeful news for progressivism.

“Nothing matters.” The phrase has come to summarize the hopelessness of the Trump era. As president, Donald Trump has told more than 12,000 false or misleading claims about everything from the size of the crowd at his inauguration to weather patterns. He’s been accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than 60 women. He called for foreign countries to interfere in U.S. elections on national television. Yet his popularity has remained stubbornly stable, hovering around the 41-42 percent mark, and GOP lawmakers continue to defend him.

Trump seems so untouchable that the term “the resistance” has even become something of a joke on social media — a put down of those who think that they can oppose the unopposable.

Sociologist Dana R. Fisher in “American Resistance: From the Women’s March to the Blue Wave” offers a corrective to this narrative of despair. Yes, Trump’s voters and Trump’s party continue to support him, even as the impeachment inquiry uncovers more and more evidence of gross abuses of power. And polls suggest the recent House impeachment inquiry has not drastically increased the number of Americans who support removing Trump from office.

Trump seems so untouchable that the term “the resistance” has even become something of a joke on social media — a put down of those who think that they can oppose the unopposable.

Yet, Fisher points out that many of Trump’s opponents have not reacted as if nothing matters. Instead, they’ve responded with outrage, protest and greater engagement. This energy, if sustained, has the potential, at least, to transform the country long after Trump is gone.

Fisher defines “the Resistance” in her book as “people working individually and through organization to challenge the Trump administration and its policies.” It includes participants and organizers of the Women’s March, progressive advocacy groups like Indivisible, and even antifa protesters who are specifically organizing against Trump’s agenda. It doesn’t include someone like retired Gen. Jim Mattis, Trump’s former chief of staff who now sometimes criticizes the president.

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In order to try to find out more specifically who is in the Resistance, Fisher attended all of the large-scale marches from the Women’s March through the 2018 midterms and randomly surveyed participants. Though exact composition differed somewhat, Fisher found that more than 70 percent of protesters had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Participants also tended to be white: The March for Racial Justice was 62 percent white, while the Women’s March was 87 percent white. The average age varied from 38 for the March for Racial Justice to a high of 49 at the March for Our Lives.

Most strikingly, there were consistently more women than men at every march. The Women’s March had, predictably, the highest percentage of women, with 87 percent, but other marches were all above 70 percent: the March for Science had 82 percent and the People’s Climate March had 77 percent. Resistance protest, Fisher concluded, is centered around educated white women.

“That’s new,” she told me. Surveys of the civil rights movement tended to find more men protesting, Fisher said, while protests in the 1980s were about equally divided between men and women. “This is the first time that people have documented that a movement is predominantly female,” she concluded.

One common talking point among pundits is that candidates need a positive campaign message; simply running against Trump is not enough. Fisher found that protesters were energized by a wide range of issues, from climate change to racial justice. However, when she asked why they were in the street, she said, “a lot of the people say they come out specifically in response to Trump and his actions.” In fact, “outrage is a theme that is woven throughout all the different forms of resistance that I study in and document in the book.”

At the March for Science, for example, the vast majority of respondents said they were marching for the environment, but more than half also cited Trump as a motivation. At the Families Belong Together event in summer 2018, 58 percent said they were at least partly motivated by Trump.

What Fisher calls “moral shocks”— Trump’s travel ban on Muslims, his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, his personal attacks on Twitter — all push people to take action.

One of Fisher’s central arguments is that a lot of Trump’s actions — even if they eventually cycle out of the news — have had consequences. What Fisher calls “moral shocks”— Trump’s travel ban on Muslims, his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, his personal attacks on Twitter — all push people to take action. That’s part of why the number of people who have participated in a protest or rally rose after Trump’s election. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, for example, found that one in five Americans participated in political rallies from 2016 to 2018. Almost 20 percent of these protesters had never participated in a rally before.

This new activism has resulted in some clear victories. Protests and call-in campaigns helped defeat Republican efforts in 2017 to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Resistance organizing and voting also helped hand Trump and the Republicans stinging defeats in elections in 2017 and 2018. In the midterms, Democrats took back the House in a wave election; they won more seats than in any election since 1974. And in the just concluded 2019 election, Democrats won control of the Virginia government for the first time in more than a quarter century.

This record of success and heightened activism is very hopeful for the future of progressivism in some respects. However, Fisher also sees some worrisome signs. People activated by outrage or anger at Trump aren’t necessarily connected to specific organizations that will encourage and sustain their involvement long term.

A March for Our Lives rally against gun violence in New Orleans on March 24, 2018.Emily Kask / AFP – Getty Images file

Obama’s community-based organizing efforts helped him win the 2008 election, but they largely evaporated after his victory. Fisher said that new organizations like Indivisible and Swing Left continue to focus on connecting more educated, white activists to phone banks, or turning to them for donations or door-knocking. Like the Democratic Party, new resistance organizations are having trouble reaching out to or embedding in the communities that form the party’s real electoral base.

“Their goal is to use the people who are most engaged, who are highly educated and predominantly white, and predominantly female, to go into communities of color with the hope to turn out and mobilize people in those communities,” Fisher told me. “But that’s a big challenge.”

Republicans, with a more homogenous network of supporters, have done better at using local institutions like churches to do grassroots organizing and activism, Fisher says. But that also might be changing.

“If you look at the ways that a lot of religious groups have been organizing against, for example, family separation, there are more progressive or less conservative religious groups that are starting to get more politically involved,” Fisher told me. “And I think that that’s all building off of the momentum of the resistance.” She also says that the number of people of color at rallies seems to be increasing, which might indicate the beginning of a broader, more sustainable movement.

It’s difficult to know what will happen once Trump leaves office, whenever that may be. It’s clear, though, that his cruelty, his incompetence, his racism and his lies have pushed many people to oppose him. His actions have had consequences. Resistance matters.

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