I went down to New York City this past Saturday on Nov. 12 to join thousands of other concerned and outraged Americans in the ongoing protests outside of Trump Tower.
We mobilized in Union Square Park and marched the 40 odd blocks up to that gaudy edifice of phallic self tribute, all the while shouting slogans like “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Donald Trump go away!” and “Not my president!” Unlike the recent protests in Portland, the march did not descend into violence and was, on the whole, characterized by the good vibes that come about when people are united by a common purpose.
I carried these sentiments back with me to Vassar, only to have them brusquely dispelled by one of my more cynical friends who argued that the protests were fundamentally undemocratic and that there was no benefit to marching in them beyond the trivial accumulation of leftist social capital.
Over the past few days, these same criticisms have been voiced by many figures in progressive and Liberal circles. Therefore, I would like to justify my protest actions and by extension the protest actions of the tens of thousands of Americans still out on the streets.
These protests are a warning to Trump that he does not have the sweeping mandate that he assumes he has and that his toxic rhetoric against racial and religious minorities will not simply be forgotten because he has abandoned some of his more extreme policy proposals. Every assembled body is a reminder that he cannot violently alienate half of the population and then expect docility and compliance. By continuously protesting over the next four years, we can show Trump and those who would attempt to emulate his path to power that bigotry makes successful governance difficult in the long term.
I would not be surprised if protests, unauthorized this time around, became the new normal over the next four to eight years if Trump overestimates the quiescence of the American public.
Trump’s first reaction to the current wave of protests only reaffirmed why he should be so vigorously opposed. He tweeted that these were “professional protesters…incited by the media,” which is contradictory in addition to being utterly false. This is the same type of language used by the Putin regime in Russia when it spread propaganda that Ukrainian Euromaidan protesters were in the pay of the “West.” Trump shares the view of neo-authoritarians like Putin and Erdogan that no sensible citizen could possibly be opposed to them and so these protesters must be in the power of outside forces. Suffering from despotic myopia, Trump’s foreign role models have denied the independent political agency of oppositional citizens and thereafter used that as a justification to repress dissent and push even larger segments of their societies to the political margins.
And Trump’s personal enthusiasm to repress was made evident early on in his campaign when he spoke of the need to “open up the libel laws” to sue journalists who wrote unflattering articles about him.
Better to protest early and often before Trump is in power than begin during his tenure and face stiffer resistance to establishing a precedent of mass demonstrations.
Continuous protest can keep the American psyche from normalizing the Trump administration.
Although we must accept that Trump will be our President, we must not accept his base morals and brand of politics as having a normal and regular place in our democratic structures. They simply don’t. Just look at his new chief strategist, Steve Bannon, whose website Breitbart is the principle echo chamber of the white supremacist, antisemitic and sexist ramblings of the alt-right. What does giving this man national security clearance spell for the country? What types of attitudes and beliefs are being explicitly and implicitly upheld?
Or maybe take a look at Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who signed a law (thankfully blocked by a federal judge) that would have forced women to cremate or bury the fetal tissue remaining after an abortion or miscarriage and has professed support for gay conversion therapy.
And let’s not forget that the President-elect himself is an unapologetic serial sexual assaulter.
Having such people in power only further corrodes the strength of our society and democracy. Protesting these characters, far from being undemocratic, is essential in preserving our democracy.
However, I must admit that there is an undemocratic current running through the protest movement when “Not my president” is chanted. Despite the obsolete nature of the Electoral College, framing dissent in calls for regime change instead of regime reform would only more quickly bring about the enfeeblement of democracy we are fighting against.
This would leave us even more vulnerable to the powerful currents of reactionism roaring through our country. Accordingly, I would advise people to recast the chant of “Not my president” as a reminder to the public that Trump never wanted to be a president for everyone in our society in the first place. When he used racist, sexist and Islamophobic rhetoric to mobilize support, he made it clear that he was going to primarily be the president for white male Christian Americans.
I suspect that my sentiments will not catch on and that there will be many protesters engaged in calling for regime change, but I will hold firm to the belief that it’s better to be out in the streets yelling “Not my president” than to stay inside and nod at the TV screen in unwitting acquiescence. The question now is not whether we should or should not protest, but rather how can we protest better? We have four years to find a suitable answer and a lot hinges on it.