Gentle Reader – Dissent is as American as our Republic. The very Republican Party that spent 8 years blocking every program President Obama attempted to put into place is in no position to be telling us to “just pull together”.
The President-elect has given voice to some rather terrifying positions, from banning an entire religion, to anti-Semitism, through support for torture, to violence against women.
Does ANYONE need wonder why there are protests in the streets ?
And to my fellow citizens who are in the streets, a word. Peaceful protest is the way. And remember, it is easier to take to the streets than to build a movement. We must do the latter, as well.
What Trump Needs to Learn About Protests
And so it begins. On Thursday night, after two days during which spontaneous post-election protests broke out across the country—in, among other cities, New York, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Kansas City, New Orleans, Seattle, and Donald Trump’s future home, Washington, D.C., where only four per cent of the electorate voted for him—President-elect Donald J. Trump reacted with a tweet. It reflected much of what we’ve come to know about him in the past year: “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting, Very unfair!”
There is, of course, nothing “unfair” about protesting, or about the long and proud tradition of Americans, from across the political spectrum, doing so. And the assertion that these marches and candlelight vigils, gatherings of people with legitimate reason to fear a Trump Presidency—women, Muslim Americans, immigrant Americans, African-Americans, Jewish Americans, L.G.B.T. Americans—could only have been the product of media machinations and hired muscle is consummate Trump. It combines a childish defensiveness, a lack of respect for rights guaranteed in the Constitution, and a penchant for dark, conspiratorial derision of his critics. It shows not even a dim understanding that millions and millions of people feel heartbroken by this election and what it revealed about America, and may want to come together for solace. On Friday morning, Trump thought better of last night’s outburst—or one of his advisers thought better for him—and he issued a new tweet: “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!” That, too, was all Trump: the unexplained lurch from one position to a very different one, leaving his core values a blank, and the solipsistic insistence on his own reality. (“We will all come together and be proud!” Will we?)
Trump could have condemned the excesses of demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, who smashed windows and threw objects at police officers; he could have warned against any future such eruptions—while still praising the American guarantee of freedom of assembly. He could have used the opportunity to acknowledge that he knows how deeply divided the country is—his opponent, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote; the demonstrations were not “small”—and that he is humbled by the enormity of the task ahead of him. But he didn’t, because that is not his way. Even the politician’s most conventional displays of humility have thus far been beyond him. And, as President Barack Obama said at a rally in North Carolina, a few days before the election, the Presidency is “about who you are and what you are, and it doesn’t change after you occupy the office. It just magnifies it. . . . If you disrespect the Constitution before you’re elected President, and you threaten to shut down the press when it writes stories about you that you don’t like, or you threaten to throw your opponent in jail without any due process, or you discriminate against people of different faiths, then imagine what you’ll do when you actually have the power.”
Unlike Trump, who would not commit to respecting the results of the election if he lost, most of those who are opposed to him accept the outcome of November 8th; Clinton herself did so with grace. We live in a democracy, and we have a fine history of peaceful transitions from one Presidential Administration to the next; we value that democracy and that history enormously. Protesting is not the same as calling the election “rigged,” as Trump and his supporters would surely have been out there doing had Clinton won. Instead, raising strong objections to Trump’s view of America—and we know what it is because he has told us, even if we don’t yet know the specific policies he’ll be able to implement—is our right.
The right of people to peacefully assemble and express their grievances is, of course, enshrined in the First Amendment. But, as it happens, the particular group of people who put that right boldly to the test, helping to achieve court rulings and a cultural understanding confirming it, were the radical suffragists of the nineteen-tens. They pushed the limits of law enforcement’s tolerance by putting on parades and pageants in Washington, D.C., and eventually by demonstrating daily outside Woodrow Wilson’s White House, waving banners that compared the President to the German Kaiser and demanded, “How long must women wait for liberty?” One sympathetic observer of the White House pickets, Inez Haynes Irwin, wrote of the insults they faced—the “slow growth of the crowds; the circle of little boys who gathered about . . . first, spitting at them, calling them names, making personal comments; then the gathering of gangs of young hoodlums who encourage the boys to further insults; then more and more crowds; more and more insults. . . . Sometimes the crowd would edge nearer and nearer, until there was but a foot of smothering, terror-fraught space between them and the pickets.”
Wilson deeply resented the women’s unyielding presence as he came and went to the White House, but at times he talked with them, and eventually he would come around to endorsing their goal. In the meantime, scores of suffragists were arrested for blocking traffic and sent to prison, where they went on hunger strikes and were force-fed. Though they were peaceful (unlike their British counterparts), the American suffragists “were considered so radical,” Linda Lumsden, the author of a book about the protests, writes, “that they inspired proposals for repressive laws such as banning provocative banners or loitering.” Yet their cause prevailed: in 1920, women at last got the vote.
There were many voters this week who hoped that those women’s struggle would have a kind of crowning glory in the election of our first female President. It did not, but the struggle continues. Their legacy was not only the right to equal political participation for women—it was the right to equal protest for us all. President Trump ought to have frequent cause to remember, and respect, that right in the years to come.