Donald Trump versus ‘The Resistance’

One thing you have to say about Donald Trump is that he has galvanized grass roots organizations that had been dormant during the Obama administration. People are attending local town hall meetings and loudly voicing their concerns about the measures that the Republicans are proposing, and many of those meetings have been so raucous with overflow crowds that Republican congress people are either avoiding holding them altogether or cutting them short and escaping through back doors. The movement has acquired the name ‘The Resistance’.

Caitlin MacNeal provides links to some of these meetings during the recent congressional recess break. Eric Brandner looked at one particular event held by Iowa senator Joni Ernst.

People who had driven two hours across Iowa to attend greeted her with chants of “We want our voices heard!” and “Your last term!”

Ernst slipped in a side door, ignored the protests and called almost exclusively on veterans. She fielded just one question on health care and abruptly ended the event after 45 minutes, with a long line of people still waiting to ask questions.

Rather than something entirely new, Trump may just be the apotheosis of the long-standing degradation of American democracy as the executive branch increasingly arrogated to itself powers that were formerly seen as the prerogatives of the legislature, while the members of the legislature itself ceased to listen to its ordinary constituents in favor of private meetings with wealthy donors. The mask of democracy is slipping away and the ugly face of oligarchic control is becoming increasingly visible
Jonathan Chait looks at the arguments for and against Trump entirely destroying the American democratic system and argues that at present, he is looking more like a pseudo-authoritarian and that the amorphous but widespread opposition that has sprung

[T]he first month of his presidency has seen Trump metamorphose from a reality-television-populist-outsider candidate into an actual president who sounds — but, so far, at least, only sounds — like the strongman leaders he has always admired.

The prospect that President Trump will degrade or destroy American democracy is the most important question of the new political era. It has received important scholarly attention from two basic sources, which have approached it in importantly different fashions. Scholars of authoritarian regimes (principally Russia) have used their knowledge of authoritarian history to paint a road map by which Trump could Putinize this country. Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, and other students of Putin’s methods have essentially treated Putinization as the likely future, and worked backward to the present. A second category of knowledge has come from scholars of democracy and authoritarianism, who have compared the strengths and weaknesses of the American system of government both to countries elsewhere that have succumbed to authoritarianism and those that have not. Their approach has, more appropriately, treated Trump’s authoritarian designs as an open question. Trump might launch an assault on the foundations of the republic. On the other hand, he might not.

Since his election, Trump has obsessively fabricated a narrative in which he is the incarnate of the will of the people. According to his own concocted history, he won a historically large Electoral College victory, and would have also won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal votes. He has dismissed protesters against him as paid agents, denied the legitimacy of courts to overrule his actions, and, most recently, called mainstream media “enemies of the people.” This is an especially chilling phrase to hear from an American president. Totalitarian dictators like Stalin and Mao used designation of a political figure or a social class as an “enemy of the people” as a prelude to mass murder.

If Trump has a plan to crush his adversaries, he has not yet revealed it. His authoritarian rage thus far is mostly impotent, the president as angry Fox-News-watching grandfather screaming threats at his television that he never carries out. The danger to the republic may come later, or never. In the first month of Trump’s presidency, the resistance has the upper hand.

Sustained popular uprisings that grow in response to strong-arm tactics to crush them are the only way to counter authoritarians. The government should be afraid of the people and not the other way around. The question is whether the American people have the stomach to keep up a sustained level of protest or whether they have become too soft and divided and easily distracted, which is what autocrats always hope for.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    If Trump has a plan to crush his adversaries, he has not yet revealed it. His authoritarian rage thus far is mostly impotent…

    I don’t want to burden this comment with enough links to send it to moderation purgatory, but I’ll start with this Trumptweet™:

    Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and the court system.

    The federal government has already started soliciting bids for The Big Beautiful Wall®. Trump’s Attorney General says the Justice Department will use corporate prisons for an expected surge of detainees, and has swept up hundreds of inauguration protesters, hit them with potential 10-years-in-prison charges, and data-mined their phones and online accounts (even those who did not have phones when arrested).

    Trump himself states what the news media should or should not “be allowed” to state, and his political brain, Stephen Bannon, tells the media to “shut up” and listen; the recently reported exclusion of major news agencies from Spicer’s first WH background press briefing indicates their seriousness. The Dept of “Homeland” “Security” is hiring tens of thousands of new enforcers, and those already on the job have received orders to sweep up all the “illegals” they can find. The Republican leadership explicitly blocks Hispanic members of Congress from meetings about immigration and visits to the US, and how Chait overlooks the chaos produced by the arriving-Muslim ban baffles the hell out of me. Women’s reproductive rights have already been whacked, with much worse grinding through the legislative mills.

    Etc, etc, etc. Yes, most of this affects non-whites (and non-Christians, and non-males) as such, so a lot of us remain oblivious. Need I remind Chait that the Weimar Republic’s Jews were not, to start with, active “adversaries” of the NSDAP regime, and that AH did not reveal his plan to crush them either?

    Numerous survivors of fascist governments have told us to believe the threats from same. I find them much more credible than any wimpy-ass ivory-tower the-water-is-only-boiling-a-little “moderate” (pls read that linked article).

  2. Chiroptera says

    The movement has acquired the name ‘The Resistance’.

    I think that “the resistance” refers to more than the raucous town hall meetings; it is also referring to the large protests breaking out, the various west coast state governments planning on refusing to cooperate with many of Trump’s initiatives, and even employees within the executive branch who are planning on doing what they can to slow down or prevent the worst of this administration’s excesses. And so forth.

    Sorry if that is what you meant and I misunderstood.

    What is interesting is how spontaneous most of these protests are. The NYT had an article where the usual liberal and left advocacy groups are playing “catch up” because many small scale, local protest and advocacy groups seemed to form spontaneously on there own.

  3. lanir says

    I have to admit that after the first few times I heard someone on TV lay out how they thought Trump could turn into an authoritarian dictator I stopped wanting to hear it. Hearing about something repetitively enough can make it seem more plausible and that’s the last thing we need.

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