Monday, January 23, 2017

Thoughts On the Anti-Trump Protests and Thoughts on a Way Forward

One of my co-workers here in Saigon was very excited about the anti-Trump million woman march happening in Washington DC.
She wanted to do a solidarity event here in Saigon, and asked everyone to come out to the balcony to take a photo.

I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it, but I figured, why not. After all, back in 2001, I had spent all night riding on a bus to get to Washington DC to protest Bush's inauguration.  So compared to that, walking a few steps to the balcony was (quite literally) the least I could do.

But after the photo-op was over, I shared my skepticism with another co-worker.  "I actually went all the way to DC back in 2001 to protest Bush's inauguration," I told him.  "And, you know, in retrospect, I'm not entirely sure it did any good.  After all that protesting, not only was Bush still president, but he still went on to suck really hard for the next 8 years."

My friend nodded in agreement.  "Yeah, that's the problem when protests don't have clear specific goals.  If you're just out in the streets marching to say you hate somebody, it doesn't get you anywhere."


Here's something I remember very clearly from protesting Bush' inauguration in 2001:
We were standing behind the police barricades yelling abuse at all the cars that drove down the inauguration route.
The man behind me was yelling, "Don't even bother unpacking.  Everyone's going home in four years.  Everyone's going home."
Several variations on this were being yelled throughout the day.

We were all so sure that Bush would be a one term president.
After all, he had already been an unpopular candidate to begin with.  He had lost the popular vote, and even the legitimacy of his electoral college win was heavily debated.  Many people saw his election as illegitimate, so we were sure the voters would have their revenge on him in 2004.

And yet, he won re-election again in 2004.

Whenever I hear one of my Millennial co-workers say, "Well, at least Trump will only be a one-term President," I remember the voice of that guy in 2001-- "Don't bother unpacking.  Everyone's going home in four years."

And yes, I know I was the guy who never thought Trump could win in the first place.  But that was different.  Before we were talking about Presidential candidate Trump.  Now, we're talking about incumbent President Trump.  And that changes everything.

Historically, one-term Presidents are very rare.  (A couple of the most recent ones--Carter, Bush Sr--have been within our own lifetime, which perhaps skews our perception of just how rare this actually is historically).
Unless the economy is completely falling apart, most voters will always prefer the devil they know over the devil they don't.
If things are going smoothly enough, then why risk a change?

Of course this isn't the way we liberal partisans think.  We assumed that the country would hold a grudge against Bush over the stolen 2000 election, and over the Iraq War.
But we were in our own little bubble back in 2004, and we assumed that the rest of the country cared about our pet grievances as much as we did.  And we learned.  Or at least we should have.

(From a broader historical perspective, this is also why Nixon won re-election in 1972, inspite of how much liberals hated him.).

So, in light of that experience, let me make a prediction for 2020.
If the economy is relatively stable in 2020, and if Trump succeeds at giving his Republican base what they want, he will win re-election.  The fact that he says and does so many things that drives us liberals into a fury will only matter to liberals.


And here's another thought:

When Bush won in 2000, and saw how much liberals hated him, he (and his stage managers) decided it was useless to try a strategy of reconciling with liberals.

Instead, their strategy became to appeal to their conservative base, and just concentrate on keeping the Republicans really happy.

If the Republican base could be counted on to come out in big numbers in 2004, and if the country was relatively stable, then the fact that we liberals were fuming mad about everything didn't matter at all.

Which was why, right from day one, Bush started appointing a very conservative, very ultra-right cabinet, and started pursuing a very ultra-right agenda.

And it worked for him.

There are ample signs already that Trump is going to be using the same playbook for the next 4 years.  He's already started making a lot of symbolic gestures that show his strategy is going to be giving red-meat to his conservative base, and screwing over the liberals.

If we liberals make it clear that we will oppose everything Trump does, and that there's no way Trump can work with us, but at the same time we aren't strong enough to actually stop Trump, then we've just made ourselves into a target.

At the moment Trump's best strategy would be to just focus on keeping the conservative supporters he already has by giving them everything they want and attacking liberals more.
And if Trump's first few days in office are any indication, Trump has already figured this out.

We're under the impression that we can get victory by just declaring how angry we are.  But conservatives don't care how angry we are.  In fact, if anything, they just think it's funny.  The more outraged we get, the funnier they think it is.  (One example of many from conservative Youtube: Butt-Hurt Crying Hillary Voters Compilation)

So, where do we go from here?

To be quite honest, I don't know.
All I can do is do is point out what hasn't worked historically, and then perhaps we can re-evaluate our options.

If we are under the impression that more protests, more polarization, and more extreme liberal rhetoric is going to win, then we are wrong.  That's what liberals tried from 1968-1972, and they lost, and it's what my generation tried from 2000-2004, and we lost.

Protesting feels great.  It makes you feel powerful.  But it's a false sense of power.  It's an attempt to show strength when in reality we have no strength.  And then we get crushed in the next election.

I know the electoral college is unfair, but it's also a reality, and it's not going to change over the next 4 years.  So we're stuck with it.

Unless we manage to convert more people over to our side, we will lose again and again and again.

But, look at liberal rhetoric?  How much of it is focused on converting the other side?  And how much of it is focused on pushing the other side away?

Examples are too numerous to adequately cover, but let me just give a couple representative samples.

Below is a 2014 interview with Suey Park:

Now, I'm sympathetic with Suey Park on the issues.  (I can understand why Asian Americans are sick of being the punchline of every racist joke).  But notice her rhetoric.
 Instead of saying:
"Join us.  A better world is possible and we can build it together."
She says:
"White men can't possible understand, and so shouldn't speak on this issue.  And I'm not going to go through the labor of trying to explain it to you."

Well, guess what? This is why Trump won in 2016.  White men vote, and under the current demographics of our country, their vote counts disproportionately in the electoral college system.

So if our only strategy is to tell these guys "You are the enemy, and you can't possibly have anything to say to us," then we will lose.

Or, as Fredrik deBoer has already pointed out, the lunacy of Lena Dunham tweeting out "How are you feeling about the extinction of  White Men?" on the eve of the election.

I mean, I get it.  White Men have been in power for too long, and it's time to give someone else a time in the sun.

But until the left has the strength to take the power of White Men from them by force, then they have to accept that White Men have the power now, and it can not be taken from them. It may make you feel good to taunt them, but it also drives them straight into Trump's arms.

Our rhetoric needs to be, "A better world is possible, and you can build it with us."

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - Right-wing Protesters

No comments: