I turned down an interview request yesterday on what to say to make the “rioters” stop. I said I had nothing to contribute. Shortly afterward, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I could have said:
It’s understandable that young people who voted against a vigorously racist, xenophobic, and misogynist campaign that actively avoided the truth, who lived in communities and states that shared their views, and in a country where their candidate actually got the most votes, are frustrated. They’re scared about seeing their friends or family deported, health insurance eliminated, reproductive rights curtailed, and planet desecrated.
I could have said:
President-elect Trump could explain that he made campaign promises only to win votes and has no intention of following through on them, and then apologize for scaring people.
It’s not surprising that the first fallouts from the Trump victory have emerged. Students have held rallies and marches on college campuses that expressed general horror and opposition, sometimes under the hashtag #notmypresident. Trump initially tweeted a whine about the unfairness of it all, blaming the media for inciting “professional protesters.” (If someone out there is being paid, please let me know. If someone out there is going to a demonstration because of an op-ed that she read, please let me know.)
But this is the kitchen that Trump chose to enter. Protests will continue at least up to the inaugural, which will surely feature much colorful opposition. This isn’t just about Trump; counterinaugurals are now a standard feature in our political life. Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Reagan all faced such demonstrations. A Million Women March has already been announced for the day after Trump takes the oath of office, and surely there will be much more.
Somebody must have explained this to President-elect Trump, who later tweeted that he “love[d] the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country” (my italics). Perhaps he even realized that having an inexperienced billionaire just elected president of the United States whining about being mistreated isn’t a way to get people to stop protesting.
Scarier, I think, are the thus far scattered incidents of anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-women harassment across the United States, including many college campuses. It’s robbery, ridicule, and vandalism–so far.
Some of those who lost at the polls, seeing no other immediate recourse, have taken to the streets.
Some of those who won, finding support and encouragement in their victory, have celebrated by reclaiming spaces they think they own. It’s hardly new in America, but I’d venture to say it’s not what made America great in the past.
Organized demonstrations are harder to sustain than vandalism and violence perpetrated by small groups of people. What happens next is a function of both organization and responses. Trump’s opponents have the task of orchestrating a campaign that extends beyond limited events in supportive settings; it’s hard to think Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, is worried much about a march in Berkeley. But much more is possible.
Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters have the responsibility of not allowing thugs to define their victory. The president-elect’s opponents charge that his victory is a triumph of racism. Trump must now show that this is not the case, even at the risk of antagonizing some of his supporters. I fear this is another challenge that will be beyond him.
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