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Protesting protests and mass opposition are needed to beat Trump



Watergate is the original text for how Americans imagine the defeat of a sitting president, but that should not be how you think about Donald Trump's violence.

Watergate was a formative political experience for many of the older Democrats who run the House of Representatives these days. And the semi-fictionalized version of the scandal portrayed in film All President & # 39; s Men is an emotional and intellectual touchstone for many journalists. Until today, it is common to state the existence of a political scandal by adding "-gate" to a noun, as if "Watergate" must with water rather than having its origin with a burglary at the Watergate Hotel.


  A man is looking at a copy of the Boston Evening Globe newspaper about Watergate while also watching President Nixon on a small television screen.

President Richard Nixon addressed the country and acknowledged that the Watergate scandal had raised questions about the integrity of the White House, April 30, 1973.
Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

1973 was a long time ago. The party system, the judiciary and the media environment have evolved so much that there are no conclusions to be applied to the current period.

American elites rarely seem to do this, but they should consider the lesson that threw Mariano Rajy's corrupt right-wing government in Spain 2018, Park Geun-hye's corrupt right-wing government in South Korea 2017, and Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson's corrupt right-wing government in Iceland 2016: Major public protests work.

Elected Democratic Party officials who established politicians everywhere are not instinctively comfortable with the idea of ​​popular resistance, but it is not a completely foreign concept to them either. In the extreme political emergency of 2017, they embraced protest politics. It began with urgent mass demonstrations at airports to block Trump's original travel ban, continued through the women's march and was repeatedly seen on Capitol Hill and in congressional halls when people came out in mass to oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act.

A lawless government cannot be limited by the laws alone. It is popular mass resistance that creates a crisis point and forces action. And if Democrats want to beat Trump's stonewalling tactics in 2019, they should consider doing it again.

Watergate was a long time ago

Watergate played under a party system that was remarkably resolved compared to today. Not all conservatives were Republicans, and not all Republicans were conservatives. This probably led to the president's misconduct being evaluated separately from political ideology or orientation as possible.

Arch segregationists – mainly Democrats – served openly in the congress halls. Meanwhile, the greatest masters of civil rights were also most Democrats, but a liberal African-American Republican represented Massachusetts in the Senate. Individual members met transversal ideological and partisan pressures, and even in addition to race, the system was only loosely organized with hawks and pigeons sitting in both parties.


Gerald Ford on television during his swearing-in ceremony as the United States' 38th president, August 9, 1974.
CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

The justice system was also much less polarized. There was no institution like the Federalist Society that organized a coherent conservative legal movement, and there was no ideologically cohesive party to install such a set of judges on the bench anyway.

Meanwhile, the media environment was dominated by three television networks whose nightly news broadcasts between them could essentially dictate "truth" to the mass audience.

Defeating Nixon in these circumstances meant winning a series of tough elite insider games. Historical event meant that an independent scandal had recently elevated Gerald Ford – who really had nothing to do with Watergate – to the vice presidency. Ford presented a compelling solution to the network's news broadcasts, a powerful but less organized judiciary, and the dissonant conservative Democrats and liberal Republican factions in Congress. Building a consensus that forced the president to resign was difficult, and the people who did so are rightly proud of their work.

But none of this is relevant to contemporary politics, more than the Senate's unanimous passage of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act has relevant lessons for contemporary climate policy. Today's congress is much more partisan and much more ideological, with many members having no personal loyalty to Trump but who can still be expected to stand by him through thick and thin, thanks to broader partisans and political goals.

In an extraordinary moment, you must reach beyond ordinary politics.

Lesson 2017: Resistance work

The Democrats entered January 2017 with extremely little formal political power. They controlled neither the House nor the Senate nor the White House, and Trump's victory also dampened their hopes of securing a majority in the Supreme Court.

However, a large segment of the public was rightly upset by the ability of a manifestly inappropriate president to assume office on the basis of the absurd mechanics of the electoral college. His inauguration met with the largest mass demonstrations in American history, demonstrations that served to deny him the traditional "honeymoon" of public opinion that would have made it easy for him to fall through the law.

Grassroots resistance organizations began to form, many operating under the indivisible label, with a fundamental goal of maximizing the political price the Republican Party would pay for each advance. The resistance climate helped inspire courts to crack down on several versions of Trump's travel ban, helped keep the DACA program alive to this day, inspired officials to leak malicious information about Trump's misconduct, and helped lift the burden of the Affordable Care Act.


Pro-DACA and DREAMer supporters get together outside the US capital on March 5, 2018.
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images for MoveOn.org

In addition, this type of mass political engagement is not separate from either choice or long-term persuasion. A study of the 2010 election showed that Democrats did better in places that had bad weather (and thus poor turnout) during the big Tea Party protest days.

Separate studies show that witnessing political protests in Hong Kong leads to more robust political engagement and that changes in gender views followed large women's movement protests between 1960 and 1992. More recently, Michael Brown's deaths protested in Ferguson and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. seems to have led to a large and ongoing transformation of educated white people's understanding of race issues.

The mechanisms through which the protest operates seem multifaceted, with some of the effects driven by direct personal participation, some driven by witnessing the protest itself, and others driven by media monitoring that serves to disseminate key elements of the protest message. The key to everything, though, is that caring to show up to a march is a moderately expensive investment of time and energy. When a bunch of people do it, it acts as a powerful signal to the rest of society that something unusual is happening.

Democratic Party officials, of course, can not only conjure up mass protests with a fingertip, but their words and actions do not matter. If they want people to think that deep constitutional issues are at stake, they should abandon their aversion to mass politics and embrace tactics that worked for progressive pre-center.

Do Democrats believe what they say?

It is no great mystery why the congressional Democrats turned against people's protest. Some party officials believed that the mobilized progressive base pushed them into a tactically unfavorable confrontation over Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 that contributed to the defeat of several sitting red state senators.

In addition, when he took office as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi became immediately worried that pressure from the base would force more and more Democrats to run to hire Donald Trump. For most of the year this was an unpopular idea among the public that she did not want to embrace; mass anti-Trump mobilization would necessarily lead to stronger calls for her majority to exercise its full extent of authority.

The debate about wisdom in this tactical decision is ongoing and will probably never end. However, the most important thing is to realize that the situation has changed.

Pelosi has now embraced violence, and just two weeks ago declared that Trump's actions were "an attack on the constitution."

If true, the Constitution is in need of defense. And it would be extremely silly to think that Republican senators and Federalist Society judges will come riding out of the woods to do the job. Small impeachment rallies have recently erupted in American cities, and it is fantastic to see, but they have been modest in comparison to the 2017 demonstrations, lacked the support of major politicians and have decisively played no part in the official political strategy of the people who run the impeachment process.


Hundreds of activists gather in Times Square and demand impeachment in New York City on October 13, 2019.
Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images

Mass popular resistance helped control Trump in the past and has been instruments for removing corrupt leaders abroad. If Democrats take a serious look at the threat they say Trump poses, they must encourage the return.


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