Resisting Trump effectively


in Language, Politics, Psychology, The environment

Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum has been making the media rounds with some thought-provoking ideas about the Trump presidency and the risk that protests which lack a specific focus or which come across as a threat to public order may empower rather than constrain him.

In “What Effective Protest Could Look Like“, Frum argues:

With the rarest exceptions—and perhaps the January 21 demonstration will prove to be one—left-liberal demonstrations are exercises in catharsis, the release of emotions. Their operating principle is self-expression, not persuasion. They lack the means, and often the desire, to police their radical fringes, with the result that it’s the most obnoxious and even violent behavior that produces the most widely shared and memorable images of the event. They seldom are aimed at any achievable goal; they rarely leave behind any enduring program of action or any organization to execute that program. Again and again, their most lasting effect has been to polarize opinion against them—and to empower the targets of their outrage.

Even those closely associated with the creation of Occupy Wall Street acknowledge that the lack of a coherent program of action with achievable objectives helped make the movement ineffective.

He also criticizes “the futile squabbling cul-de-sac of intersectionality and grievance politics” — a boldly stated position on the eternal question in progressive activism, namely whether disparate movements with progressive aims (reducing economic inequality, saving the climate, treating refugees justly, ending discrimination, curbing police violence, etc) can better achieve success by attempting to form a unified coalition that can alter policy or win elections, or whether each should be trying to build support among people of all political persuasions, and finding their effort hampered by the demand that anyone who they are trying to influence buy into the whole broad (though not necessarily coherent) progressive agenda at the same time.

In “How to Build an Autocracy“, Frum argues:

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. Immigration protesters marching with Mexican flags; Black Lives Matter demonstrators bearing antipolice slogans—these are the images of the opposition that Trump will wish his supporters to see. The more offensively the protesters behave, the more pleased Trump will be.

It’s also worth listening to The Current’s interview with Frum.

One aspect of Frum’s thinking which aligns with my own but clashes with that of many activists is that meetings are essential. While I have seen an entire activist group fall apart partly because of how frustrated people were with meetings, they are necessary for assembling a program of action that goes beyond socially-motivated and superficial support for causes your friends seem to approve of: Facebook activism and the occasional protest march not linked to a specific demand.

In any event, we need to be thinking carefully about activist effectiveness in terms not defined by what it does emotionally for activists. I would be very interested to hear responses to Frum’s arguments, along with links to any other analysis of the Trump situation which seems perceptive and useful.


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

anon February 7, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Conservatives aren’t going to stop existing or stop holding political power. Dealing with climate change requires policy changes that must stay in place for many years, so an all-left coalition can’t succeed in dealing with it alone. Furthermore, linking an agenda to control climate change with extremist leftist groups like BLM and BDS might end up delaying action and making the damage much worse.

. February 7, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Early in 2016, Obama invited a group of African American leaders to meet with him at the White House. When some of the activists affiliated with Black Lives Matter refused to attend, Obama began calling them out in speeches. “You can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” he said. “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable—that can institutionalize the changes you seek—and to engage the other side.”

. February 8, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Ronald Reagan, whose approval ratings fell from 51 percent in his first year as president to a meager 34 percent by 1982, was also the focus of international and domestic fury. Reagan triggered an international uproar when he insisted on the deployment of 572 intermediate-range nuclear force missiles in Western Europe, fulfilling a NATO agreement that had been finalized in 1979. When Reagan moved forward this plan, there was an outcry from New York to the streets of Paris. Tens of thousands of moderate and left-wing Europeans demonstrated against these new weapons on the grounds that they would escalate the threat of nuclear war. Within the United States, the nuclear freeze movement ramped up into high gear, warning that this deployment was just one among many things that Reagan had done to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.

On July 12, 1982, almost a million people came to a protest in New York City to express their support for freezing the production of nuclear weapons and to state their anger about Reagan. “My belief,” said then-Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), “is that Reagan was not put on Earth by God to bring us supply side economics. His role is to sit down with Brezhnev and end the arms race, to do for nuclear arms what Nixon did for China. My role is to create the atmospherics, the public and congressional support, that will make Reagan the greatest man who ever lived. He can reject, it, of course, but we will have tried.” The freeze movement drew millions of adherents, while in Congress, the House passed amendments that prohibited the administration from sending any more assistance to anti-communist forces overseas. The protests would continue over the following year, and Reagan’s approval ratings would remain low until 1984 (reaching 41 percent in January 1983). But it wouldn’t matter.

The problem was that Reagan’s support among Republicans kept growing.

alena February 8, 2017 at 6:15 pm

I think that resisting Donald Trump comes instinctively to many people. I don’t know if the protests will continue for long time, but I am sure that they will make a difference. People with a lot of pride are deeply affected by being criticized or challenged. Taking a position is better than just being stunned and sad.

. February 13, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Inside the black bloc militant protest movement as it rises up against Trump

Scorned by critics on both the left and right and hunted by police, the black bloc is bringing its radical tactics to the massive protest movement sparked by the presidency of Donald Trump.

The masked militants went fist to fist with neo-Nazis at the state Capitol in June, where five of their allies were stabbed. Black bloc tactics also dogged Trump’s inaugural ceremonies in Washington, leaving broken windows, vandalized banks and a torched limo.

And early this month on the UC Berkeley campus, black bloc militants tore down police barricades, broke windows, started a fire and assaulted Trump supporters.

They represented a small percentage of the 1,000 mostly nonviolent demonstrators who went to Berkeley to protest a speech by controversial Breitbart columnist and conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos, but they dominated the outcome.

. February 13, 2017 at 7:40 pm

Its aim was, and still is, direct action. Practitioners care little for speech or to shape public opinion, and the media are held in disdain, as are liberals who espouse nonviolence.

Members operate in small squads that organize themselves around flags during the havoc of a protest. Many are anarchists, and anarchist websites such as It’s Going Down provide a public platform for reports from the underground.

They say they battle police brutality, corporate greed, immigration bans and erosion of civil liberties. The Bay Area has provided a fertile base for the group, especially Oakland, birthplace to the armed militias of the Black Panther movement.

“I subscribe to self-defense in the very same sense that the Black Panther Party does and that Malcolm X does,” said a veteran Bay Area black bloc militant who spoke on the condition that he not be named because much of the group’s actions are illegal.

He described himself as an employed college graduate, the product of youth incarceration and a household where street respect — not pacifism — was preached.

“Which means for me to recognize one type of violence, which is people being beat up for having certain types of political views and being brazen about them, compared to the everyday violence … like I go through the Bay Area and there are people sleeping in the doorways of million-dollar condos that are empty. … Is that not violent?” he said. “That is the most cruel and violent thing I think I have ever seen.”

. February 15, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Shugerman’s approach uses a whole lot of Latin words, but in a nutshell, he wants to use state laws of incorporation to investigate and revoke Trump’s business charter in New York. In an article last week, Shugerman laid out the theory that corporations are creatures of state law and that attorneys general have the authority to bring actions against corporations that are acting against the public interest. As he put it, “State attorneys general can bring quo warranto proceedings to access information about whether the entities are conduits for illegal emoluments.” By asking state attorneys general in the states Trump businesses are incorporated to sue, the standing problem disappears. As Shugerman puts it: “Instead of private parties suing the public official (Trump), public officials can sue the private parties (the Trump hotels and other business entities). Corporations are a creature of state law, and state attorneys general have a special role in making sure that corporations adhere to federal and state law.” Not only does the standing problem disappear but because standing requirements are lower in state court than in federal court, the state AGs will be more likely to be allowed to proceed.

. February 19, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Jeffrey Medford, a small-business owner in South Carolina, voted reluctantly for Donald Trump. As a conservative, he felt the need to choose the Republican. But some things are making him feel uncomfortable — parts of Mr. Trump’s travel ban, for example, and the recurring theme of his apparent affinity for Russia.

Mr. Medford should be a natural ally for liberals trying to convince the country that Mr. Trump was a bad choice. But it is not working out that way. Every time Mr. Medford dips into the political debate — either with strangers on Facebook or friends in New York and Los Angeles — he comes away feeling battered by contempt and an attitude of moral superiority.

“We’re backed into a corner,” said Mr. Medford, 46, whose business teaches people to be filmmakers. “There are at least some things about Trump I find to be defensible. But they are saying: ‘Agree with us 100 percent or you are morally bankrupt. You’re an idiot if you support any part of Trump.’ ”

He added: “I didn’t choose a side. They put me on one.”

. February 20, 2017 at 12:41 pm

MELBOURNE, Fla. — Many of President Trump’s most dedicated supporters — the sort who waited for hours in the Florida sun this weekend for his first post-inauguration campaign rally — say their lives changed on election night. Suddenly they felt like their views were actually respected and in the majority.

But less than one month into Trump’s term, many of his supporters say they once again feel under attack — perhaps even more so than before.

Those who journeyed to Trump’s Saturday evening event on Florida’s Space Coast said that since the election, they have unfriended some of their liberal relatives or friends on Facebook. They don’t understand why major media outlets don’t see the same successful administration they have been cheering on. And they’re increasingly frustrated that Democrats — and some Republicans — are too slow to approve some of the president’s nominees and too quick to protest his every utterance.

Mussler said the women in her family are especially divided right now. She supports Trump, while they do not. She’s opposed to abortion rights, while they support them. They attended the Women’s March, while she found it not at all representative of her way of life.

Can this nation ever be united?

“I hope so,” Mussler said with a shake of her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. It would be nice, and I think if — I don’t know, I don’t know. I think the only thing that’s going to reunite us is maybe the Lord coming back.”–and-are-frustrated-with-critics-who-dont/2017/02/19/496cb4b4-f6ca-11e6-9845-576c69081518_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_trumpsupporters-0711pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

. February 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm

We don’t need the Democratic party to tell us what to think – we have vibrant and engaged movements out there that are reshaping public opinion every day, in the airports and on Facebook. Black Lives Matter leads our movement intellectually in a way that the Democratic party never will. But we may need the Democratic party for the fairly limited purpose of winning elections and hence consolidating power.

. February 21, 2017 at 6:34 pm

Sam Altman, the president of the Silicon Valley seed accelerator Y Combinator, went on the road to listen to 100 Trump voters from around the country. He says the TL;DR quote is this: “You all can defeat Trump next time, but not if you keep mocking us, refusing to listen to us, and cutting us out. It’s Republicans, not Democrats, who will take Trump down.”

. February 22, 2017 at 4:57 pm

The final thing to note is that Trump’s disapproval rating is unprecedentedly high for a newly elected president, but not for a president overall. Obama’s disapproval rating was at Trumpian levels through most of his tenure. So stop counting chickens and high-fiving. A lot of people like what Trump is doing. Why they like it is up for grabs: maybe they’re racist assholes, maybe they feel no stake in the existing order and want to see it burned down, maybe they are dumb enough to believe Trump’s spin. Maybe none of the above, or a combination.

. February 22, 2017 at 7:36 pm

And despite Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory, Donald Trump won about 2,600 counties while she won 489. That might have been enough to keep the electoral college tally close, but it’s also a recipe for losing pretty much everything down ballot.

Democrats need to dig themselves out of a big hole from state legislative races on up, and it starts by treating voters as more than a check box on a census form. It will require building a big-tent coalition based on values and experiences, not just demographic groups, and rethinking the party’s pitch and policies to respond to the needs and concerns of Americans across the country, not just in cities and on coasts. Only if the Democratic Party can transform itself to meet those goals will it be ready to counter Trump and his noxious, dangerous strain of right-wing populism over the long term.–and-wont-be–destiny-for-democrats/2017/02/22/576a3a60-f91c-11e6-9845-576c69081518_story.html

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