Trump’s rally turnout, unlike Trump, modest

The pro-Trump “Mother of All Rallies” turned out a People gathered on the National Mall in Washington on Saturday to attend a rally in support of President Trump in what organizers are calling “The Mother of All Rallies.”few hundred demonstrators in Washington, DC, rather than the planned thousands. Sympathy rallies across the country were much smaller–or canceled altogether.

Photos showing the assembled on an almost empty mall circulated on Twitter and around the Internet, posted by Trump’s opponents.

The turnout was substantially smaller than the Jugalo March on Washington or the croPHOTO: Protesters surround a car as they march in the street response to a not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in St. Louis.wds in St. Louis protesting the acquittal of another police officer who shot and killed Lamar Smith, a black man thought to be carrying drugs and (maybe) a gun, after a heated chase.

The Juggalos were out in Washington to demonstrate against the FBI’s designation as a gang.
Trump’s opponents take understandable, but mostly inappropriate delight, in the paltry turnout in support of a man who takes offense at such things and brags about the bigness of everything he touches.

But the other marches were staged by people who have grievances and a hard time finding powerful allies in government. Trump’s supporters have, they think, a president who is supported, mostly, by allies in both houses of Congress.

It’s tempting to read the small turnouts for Trump as a sign of his support eroding.  Alas, polls show a surprisingly small and disturbingly stable base of support. The intensity of that support might be diminishing, but we’ll see that in campaign donations, voting, and calls to members of Congress.

They don’t think they need to march.

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The DREAM returns

The Trump administration’s decision to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will unleash a world of trouble, and resurrect Dreamer politics. It’s most intense and threatening for the 800,000 recipients, their families, friends, neighbors, and employers, but the drama won’t stop there.

The Dreamers, young people brought to the United States as children, are the most photogenic, sympathetic, and politically engaged people directly touched by a failed DACA reversal sparks protests outside White House, Trump Tower immigration policy. The DREAM Act would have provided them with permanent legal status and, in many versions, a path toward citizenship. It also would have peeled off the simplest political problem from the larger immigration debate. Versions of the DREAM Act have floated up through the legislature for well over a decade, dramatically failing in the lame duck Congress legislating in the wake of the Tea Party election of 2010. (We’ve discussed the Dreamers since that time, here and here and here.) Brave Dreamers and their supporters marched, lobbied, fasted, and sat in at legislators’ offices to promote their cause.

When Republicans took control of the House, a significant Nativist caucus in their midst, President Obama tried to do what he could–and, it turned out, more than he could, in offering temporary work status and protection from deportation (DACA). An inadequate solution, the policy nonetheless brought some political peace, and the larger immigration debate festered and stalled at the same time. Mostly, the language of the Dream largely disappeared from the debate.

Ending DACA brings the politics of the DREAM back. These young people and their allies A protest near Trump Tower on Fifth Avenuenow have no options beyond politics. Expect the full range of protests from the last wave to come back, only stronger. The protests, in front of the Trump Tower and the White House and across the United States, are already here.

DACA made visible nearly a million young people to their teachers, employers, and neighbors, and their support has only grown. So too has their collective will and political skill in making a case for joining the American project. Their vigorous supporters now include big business, local politicians, university administrations, and many conservative Republicans in Congress. Obama’s Executive Order left the Dreamers not only more committed, but also politically stronger, than ever before.

In what has become his characteristic leadership style, Trump has demanded that Congress fix his political problem without providing a hint of what policy he wants to see. He is clearly more interested in avoiding blame than advancing policy. Because that Nativist caucus is at least as powerful in the Republican Party, Congress will be unable to act without some bipartisan cooperation.

There are some promising signs, like the DREAM bill cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), but any efforts will be opposed by that Nativist slice of the Republican Party–and the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Immigration reformers are going to want action that addresses the other 10 million or so undocumented immigrants in limbo. And any progress made by Congress will provoke the Trump voters who are still waiting for the wall.

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How activists should respond to the racist right: 2. shut them down (antifa) (?)

Standing up to a racist fascist movement when it is still small enough to start seems to make sense. Antifa is an umbrella term uniting people who commit to doing so aggressively, as (at right) in Berkeley in April. Of course, figuring out who’s a fascist and how to stand up to them effectively is at least a little more complicated.

A strong moral stance against racism and/or fascism doesn’t immediately justify any and all tactics of resistance. Here I’m less concerned with the moral debates about the nature of evil or the ethics of violence than in the political effects of different movement tactics.

Determined to keep the Bay Area safe from offensive conservative provocation, like speeches by Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter, antifa activists have worked to attack their hosts and command the streets. Because visits to Berkeley might generate confrontation, photos, and attention, the Bay Area  has become the indispensable spot on the book tour of any conservative. I’d code Yiannopoulos and Coutler as offensive and opportunistic, and advocates of policies that would hurt many people–but they were unarmed.

Members of white nationalists clash against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville VirginiaThat’s not the case with the Nazis and Klansmen who have been turning up at white nationalist events. When the Unite the Right rally came to Charlottesville, providing a jamboree for the racist right, antifa activists appeared as well, determined to do more than exercise moral suasion. Carrying sticks and deploying pepper spray or mace, antifa worked to meet the threat aggressively, and to protect nonviolent marchers. Several ministers credit the antifa with saving their lives during the demonstrations (e.g.). Antifa protest gives the young and committed something to do to stand up against what’s wrong.

Let me acknowledge all this before explaining why I think that violent confrontation of the racist right is a poor strategy, and one that is likely to be counterproductive.

First, control of the streets in the United States will not be decided by the strength of the battle between committed (and mostly poorly trained) paramilitary forces. Police and (if they fail) National Guard are far better armed and trained than activist forces on the left or right. Streetfighting invites their intervention. At best, this means active repression that will always advantage those in power. But it could be much worse; cautionary tales The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and its handling of protests that followed.abound. Think, for example, of the militarized suppression of protests against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri. Putting young committed people, perhaps masked, in the sites of scared or angry police forces–or the judicial system for that matter, hardly represents a risk worth taking lightly. Moreover, armed protesters effectively invite that repression for even the unarmed and nonviolent around them.

Obviously, this makes growing a movement tougher.

Second, battle ready and aggressive protesters will always command the most public attention, no matter how large their presence at an event. Oppositional media will focus on the images most offensive and terrifying to their audiences. Mainstream media will focus on the most dramatic story. Street fighting and injury will trump other tactics every time. Ultimately, this kind of coverage exaggerates both the size of the antifa and the power of the racist right they are confronting.

Third, antiracist violence offers both journalists and political opponents easy access to a fake judgment of moral equivalence. Trump supporters saw thin masked men carrying sticks when listening to their president’s assessment of violence on “many sides.” Of course, this is distorted and dishonest, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Fourth, aggressive and virtually automatic response to the radical right puts a small and mostly marginal assemblage in the driver’s seat. The enemy effectively sets the agenda for antifa, again crowding out room for an affirmative agenda.

Fifth, antifa responses give white nationalists exactly the response they seek. The racist right mobilizes around a story of a country that is no longer safe for them, promising young men the chance to fight for their country or their race. Confronting those aspiring fighters with force confirms their story and provides the intense emotional experience they want. It creates drama and produces heroes for the right. (See, for example, the story of “Based Stickman,” who became a meme and a racist folk hero by battling with the antifa in Berkeley.) Violence in the streets invites rather than deters the racist right.

Plotting effective strategy means more than making a persuasive moral case against your enemy; it means considering the likely consequences of your actions. If antifa has made a political case for its approach, I haven’t yet seen it.

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How activists should respond to the racist right: 1. nonviolent counterdemonstrations

Of course it’s heartening to see 40,000 explicitly anti-racist demonstrators turn out in Boston (August 20), dwarfing the assembly they were protesting against.

Was it the best approach to countering white nationalist mobilization advancing in response to Trump adminstration policies and rhetoric? I think it’s a hard question to answer.

The white nationalists represent a sliver of the American population, and today really can’t mobilize large numbers in the streets. Their opponents, who include most Americans, have suggested a range of responses to racist right protests, including disciplined nonviolent counterdemonstrations, ridicule, ignoring them until they go away, and violent resistance. You’d hope that serious study of movement politics in American history would provide clear answers. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that consistent answers are hard to find. (See sociologist Pam Oliver’s smart overview of what we know so far.)

Over the next couple of days I want to look at the costs and consequences of different tactical responses to white nationalist protests.

At least on the surface, Boston offers an encouraging story.

Those at the big rally saw the “free speech” assembly,  which drew a few dozen to the Boston Common, as a cover for white nationalism, and demonstrated to show support for Image result for free speech rally bostonpluralism and tolerance. Police were out in very large numbers, and worked hard to keep the two sides apart. Despite a few scattered confrontations and 27 arrests, all reports emphasize nonviolence and discipline. The conservatives gave up and left early.

National audiences saw the anti-racists outnumber the provocative rally by more than 1,000-1. The “free speech” rally looked frail and marginal, and even its organizers sought to distance themselves from the KKK and Nazis in Charlottesville. It’s hardly an encouraging sign to their allies.

In contrast, local organizers demonstrated the depth of their support as well as their organizing strength. That should be a boost to the large numbers who share their views across the United States.


A few dozen poorly resourced and marginal provocateurs wound up organizing the day for tens of thousands of Bostonians. The counterdemonstration generated attention for the conservatives that they would have never been able to get on their own. Organizing the response to white nationalism surely consumed far more effort than anything the conservatives invested.

In Boston, with a strong activist history and many well-connected progressive groups, the turnout was overwhelming; how many other cities could generate something similar? With intensive efforts, both the demonstrators and the police were able to limit violence and most confrontations. It’s a mistake to assume that most other activist groups and most other police forces could do the same. And if others can replicate the Boston success story, it will only be with a massive effort.

And what was the message?

Boston counter-demonstrationBecause many groups were involved and because it’s citizen activism and America, many messages floated across the crowd, but the national take-home was opposition to racism and violence. Although this surely isn’t bad, affirmative messages on, say, policing or voting rights or health care, for example, were drowned out.

American politics favors the defense. Although the nationalists didn’t advance any ideas or policies, it’s not clear the far more numerous counterdemonstrators did much better.

Letting your opponents set your agenda may not be the most effective way to organize for lasting social change.

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How Trump encourages and provokes political violence

Donald Trump has done great damage to more than his presidency. With his remarks about the tragedy in Charlottesville, Trump dramatically increased the nourishment and encouragement he has been feeding the racist right.

Activists respond to signals, and racist right leaders saw Donald Trump, standing in front of the gilded elevators in Trump Tower. frantically waving them on.WHITE NATIONALISTS MARCH: At the University of Virgina - @DAILYPROGRESS

In his misplaced and myopic commitment to a dishonest and evenhanded assessment of blame, Trump affirmed the white nationalist protests of those who support him, and warned their opponents that more were coming. It’s every bit as awful as you imagine, and maybe a little bit worse.

Whether or not the president realized what he was doing, his audience certainly understood; racist leaders got the message.

Klansman David Duke, whom Trump condemns every few years under duress, tweeted his gratitude:  “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

Richard Spencer, the white supremacist “identitarian,” didn’t even wait for the meltdown press conference, explaining that Trump’s earlier condemnation of the violence wasn’t to be taken seriously. “Only a dumb person,” he said, “would take those lines seriously,” identifying Trump as the “first true authentic nationalist in my lifetime” to be president.

Although a far larger number of Americans, including Trump’s putative allies in the Republican Party, were appalled by Trump’s response, social movements don’t need majorities to mobilize, nor to make a difference.

(AP Photo/Steve Helber) White nationalist demonstrators class with counter demonstrators at the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.Seeing an ally in the Oval Office, especially one beleaguered by mainstream politicians, fuels the difficult work of building a movement. Trump’s encouragement makes it easier to go to a meeting after work, stay later and talk to another potential convert, to find the temerity to go out in public and face people protesting against you. And if the counterprotesters outnumber you, it’s even easier to find justification for carrying arms.

Violence and confrontation brings attention to the white nationalist movement and, like their president, its activists welcome any attention. The president of the United States has accepted them, and effectively endorsed at least part of their cause in defending the Confederate monuments. In the face of policy defeats (the monuments are coming down), Trump’s support is feeding a new “Lost Cause” story.

Trump has expanded the space and attention available for white nationalist advocates, and you can expect them to try to fill it. They will be met by larger crowds of anti-racist activists and, at least sometimes, a smaller would-be vanguard of antifa activists ready to fight. Every confrontation will feed the beast.

Eager street fighters ready for violent confrontation with each other won’t make the police work easier. Indeed, first hand reports from Charlottesville credit antifa fighters with protecting non-violent activists–and even saving lives. They stepped in when police were not around. Depending upon committed amateurs to keep the peace is hardly a recipe for peace and civility. It’s particularly awful that sets of young men with very different political commitments are prepared to see themselves as the good guy with a gun–or shield or stick.

What’s even worse, whenever and however the Trump presidency ends, those who see him as their champion will view his failed presidency as yet another indictment of the degradation of the political mainstream, all the more reason to take to the streets–carrying Confederate and Nazi paraphernalia, brandishing whatever weapons they’re allowed to show.

Imagine what the president of the United States could do to counter this growing danger, then look at your Twitter feed tomorrow morning. I fear you won’t feel better.

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Business defections, updated

Donald Trump’s advisory councils are no more.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that Trump will no longer be taking advice; it’s not clear that he ever listened to these groups anyway.

But, since the horrifying events in Charlottesville, and especially since Trump’s far more disturbing response to them, a few of America’s CEOs have decided they can’t, in good conscience, work with him. And then a few more followed, and then…

Initially, Trump announced that he could easily replace the defectors with more committed, patriotic, and energetic leaders.

And then he announced, via Twitter, that he would dissolve the councils altogether to take pressure off business leaders. (And so that he won’t have to make good on recruiting new corporate participants.)

But it was the executives on the council who first decided to disband, perhaps to take pressures off themselves. It’s hardly surprising that Trump claimed credit for something he could no longer do anything about.

Does it matter?

Presidential advisory councils like the Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum virtually never met anyway, and executives, when leaving, expressed disappointment about their lack of influence. It was all symbolic politics anyway. A few CEOs used their departures to make their own statements about the administration.

It’s hard to imagine that the end of these boards, which offered only a veneer of inclusion and consultation, will change anything materially. Then again, we will get yet another sign of the administration’s isolation.

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Varieties of disruption: business defections

Protest can exercise influence by disrupting the usual politics of the moment, and there are lots of ways to create disruptions, and different people have vastly different opportunities.

Women's March on Washington (32593123745).jpgLarge demonstrations are one way to show strength, but you need to generate lots of people, as the Women’s March did earlier this year.

Less popular causes, like white nationalism, generate attention with smaller numbers and more aggressive tactics.

For those deeply entrenched in positions of power, sometimes disruption only requires saying no. Over the past day or so, four corporate leaders resigned from the Trump administration’s advisory American Manufacturing Council in response to Trump’s tepid response to the violence in Charlottesville. (Elon Musk, of Tesla, had already left the Council over Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Accord on climate change.)

Ken Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck, is leaving President Trump's American Manufacturing Council because of how Trump responded to the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kenneth Frazier

Kenneth C. Frazier, the Chief Executive Officer of Merck pharmaceuticals was the first to defect, explaining that it was a matter of moral conscience. The president quickly attacked him and his company on Twitter, but Merck’s share price increased over the day. Bizarrely, Trump was able to elicit sympathy for the had of a multinational drug company. At the end of the day, Frazier was followed by by Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour and Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel.

Trump pilloried the defectors as “grandstanders,” proclaiming that he had three replacements available for each of them. Then, Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, resigned as well, because “it’s the right thing for me to do.”

The business protest doesn’t make for great pictures, placards, or police involvement, but it can matter.

Note: It’s a little easier for the second defector than for the first, and even easier for the 47th, and more CEOs may follow. If enough defect, it may become financially unwise to continue to work with the administration.


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