Donald Trump

Protesting Donald Trump's Election, Not Wars, Surveillance, or Deportations

Protests about personality not policy are bound to be counterproductive.


Protests and vigils have erupted in major cities and smaller towns across the United States in response to Donald Trump's election as the 45th president last night. Students in California also participated in a walk-out, and there were protests at some college campuses. It turns out it's important for everyone to vote, but also to vote in the correct way.

Protesters chanted various anti-Trump slogans, with some calling attention to Hillary Clinton's apparent victory in the popular vote. The protest in New York City was organized by Socialist Alternative NYC, which blamed the Democratic Party for failing to stop Trump, insisting the party should have nominated Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton. Based on the results, where Trump performed at about the level of the last two Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, while Clinton received millions of votes fewer than Barack Obama did, any other Democratic nominee would have done better.

Some protesters burned American flags, but there were no immediate reports of violence at the demonstrations—protests in the Bay Area last night over Trump's victory did descend into violence, and may do so again. Anti-Trump protests are not a new thing this election cycle, nor is violence, although these are the first after the democratically-held election on Tuesday. In Mid-October, video released by James O'Keefe's Project Veritas showed a Democratic operative bragging about hiring protesters to incite violence at Trump rallies. In March, Trump, then in the midst of his run of primary wins, said protests like the ones that occurred in Chicago outside the Trump Tower had "energized" his supporters. Those protests also did not have specific messages on policy. In June, I wrote that attacks by anti-Trump protesters on Trump supporters because of the danger he posed as an imperial president was an exercise in blame-shifting. "Those so concerned about what Trump might do to the country that they feel called to stalk and attack Trump supporters should take a long look in the mirror instead," I wrote. "It'll have the added benefit of not building more support for Trump, as violence against his supporters certainly will." The tactics and the attitudes underlying them continued, and probably helped Trump pull off one of the biggest upsets in modern presidential history.

Outside of demonstrations surrounding specific police shootings, and the anti-Trump protests, there seem to have been few major protests in the U.S. in the last eight years over the kinds of policies—like U.S. wars overseas and even immigration policy—that purportedly animated protests during the Bush years. Certainly, the candidate produced by the party that claims to be concerned about these issues did not reflect an electorate that voted based on those issues. Clinton was the architect of a number of U.S. interventionists and an advocate of policies like the drug war that contributed to the refugee crisis at the southern border. The Obama administration ramped up deportations, and has continued to rip families apart into its last year.

Trump's election has already re-ignited concern about these issues. The left has rediscovered the usefulness of limited government power, as Robby Soave noted Tuesday night. Although Republicans retained control of Congress in the elections, a number of Republican members did not endorse Trump. While failed presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is a pro-interventionist fan of executive power, others, such as Kentucky's Sen. Rand Paul, could become important advocates of limited executive and government power and non-interventionism. Arizona's Sen. Jeff Flake, another Republican who didn't endorse Trump, meanwhile, is likely to press Trump and Republicans on immigration. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan tweeted a picture of himself, Kentucky's Rep. Tom Massie, and Rand Paul, with the the caption "We're putting the band back together #teamliberty".

On one level, the protests are a neat demonstration of the First Amendment, and would be so if the roles were reversed, although I'm skeptical if tonight's protesters would feel the same way. A progressive friend suggested Trump supporters would have gotten violent if Clinton won—not an uncommon belief. Clinton called the idea that Trump might not accept the outcome of the election, as protesters appear to be doing, "horrific." The protesters are also risking the salience of the message against policies there is now an opportunity to try to push a new president in a better direction on, and avoid the bipartisan continuity of the war on terror and related policies from the Bush administration to the Obama administration.

Donald Trump may personify the problem of unchecked executive power, but the problem is with how the system has developed into that position. Many Obama voters believed they were voting for "change," but President Obama brought a lot of Bush policies along with him. Guantanamo Bay is still open, the U.S. is engaged in military operations in at least half a dozen countries, the post-9/11 security apparatus remains in place. Obama did not personify the solution to unchecked executive power or violent U.S. foreign policy. The solutions have to be codified (and, woah, actually are, in the Constitution), with a rollback of the decades-long project of accumulated executive power and a restoration of co-equal branches of a Constitutional government. If the debates are again made about personalities, the opportunity for positive change could be lost, yet again.