Yesterday my wife flew from LAX to the Sacramento airport – she stepped through history on the way. Seven thousand people came to LAX to protest President Trump’s Muslim and refugee ban. My wife happily joined in.
It took barely a week into the Trump presidency to create the first crisis and mass chaos. Part of the problem, it appears, is that the administration officials were not sure which citizens would be banned from entering the country. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security were left to make legal analyses on the fly. The White House quickly pulled back by saying the ban would not apply to those with green cards granting them residence in the US.
Given that Trump had been planning this move since his campaign days, the chaos and conflict should not be seen as reassuring. Instead of carefully crafting policy through deliberate process and coalition building, this looked impulsive or, as some are saying, “slapdash” in nature.
Still, the bigger story is the response to this. Mass protests. Throughout the day on Sunday, many seemed surprised that the response to Trump’s policies was as heated as it was. From my vantage point, the response was a natural culmination of what had occurred during the election and since.
There were a lot of people who believed that the rhetoric during the campaign was just that. In fact, many would defend Trump, saying that those were just words and that if he became president he would pivot and become more moderate. Others would say, hey give him a chance.
The reality was that the idea of giving him a chance to enact reprehensible policies was a nonstarter for many of the millions that opposed him. But, at the same time, we were all waiting to see what a Trump administration would look like.
The first week of the Trump administration proved that his campaign rhetoric was not just words. He backed those words up with action. Not just action – but poorly thought out, ill-conceived, and unvetted orders.
From the White House perspective, they blamed the chaos on the “hyperventilating news media.” The president doubled-down to defend his order.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” he said in a written statement. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
“This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country,” Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement. “That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
Fueling the belief that this was an order aimed at Muslims were the president’s words that framed this as a temporary ban on all Muslim visitors. Indeed, part of his order gives preferential treatment to Christians who try to enter the United States from majority-Muslim nations.
In a tweet, the president mentioned the killings of Christians in the Middle East, omitting the killing of Muslims who have died in much greater numbers in places like Iraq and Syria.
“Christians in the Middle East have been executed in large numbers,” he wrote. “We cannot allow this horror to continue!”
Those who are surprised by the strong reaction are failing to understand the lessons of history. During the lead up to the Holocaust, Hitler was able to increasingly isolate vulnerable populations and persecute them with little resistance. This incrementalism paved the way for the mass executions of many groups, including eventually six million Jews.
The protests and legal action sent a strong counter-message that if Trump wants to carry out his policies, he’s going to have to do so in the face of massive resistance. Indeed, one of the most poignant signs I saw this weekend was “First They Came For the Muslims and We Said Not Today Mother F—!”
A week after the Women’s Marches brought out millions, the anger over the Trump administration’s policies is generating another surge of spontaneous activism. This is equivalent or perhaps even surpasses what we saw back in 2010 when the Tea Party movement emerged opposing President Obama.
As the New York Times wrote, “The fury is also spurring liberal voters to demand uncompromising confrontation and resistance from their elected officials to a president they believe poses an existential threat to the country. The Democrats’ increasingly assertive base wants the party’s leaders to eschew any cooperation with Mr. Trump: They are already expressing rage at some senators for confirming the president’s cabinet appointees, and for their willingness to allow a vote on his pick for a vacant Supreme Court seat.”
“The Tea Party didn’t really become a force until it started ousting Republicans it didn’t feel represented them. That’s clearly going to have to happen here,” said Markos Moulitsas, the progressive activist who founded the Daily Kos website. “Democrats either need to feed, nurture and aggressively champion the resistance, or they need to get out of the way in favor of someone who will. The usual rules no longer apply.”
In a way this has been building for quite some time. The aftermath of the November 8 elections were mass protests. In early January, the Democratic Party held its normal delegate selection process and hundreds of people turned out to sweep in more progressive delegates. Hundreds of people have turned out in Davis for various events.
What this ultimately means will depend on a number of factors – including whether the Trump administration decides to continue this fight or whether they start to moderate. What is unusual is that, while there is normally an ebb and flow to politics and policies in this country, there was no honeymoon period for President Trump.
He started out with low ratings and he started out with massive public resistance to his initial policies.
Had Germany reacted to Hitler’s policies in this way, the Holocaust likely would have never happened. That’s the lesson that seems to be burning bright these days – and Trump is barely in office before he has his first crisis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting