With Donald Trump in power, his opponents will have to improve their strategies if they want to combat his actions successfully.
Shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, protesters in the capital set fire to a limo belonging to a Muslim immigrant. (Photo: Associated Press)
The past few months have shaken American liberalism to its core. Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election and his subsequent inauguration have provoked a lot of soul-searching amongst his detractors, who wonder how they can stop such an unconventional politician.
The election campaign proved that many traditional tactics are ineffective and sometimes even counterproductive. While experts were once venerated in American society, as demonstrated by the high regard Alan Greenspan was held in until the financial crisis, the amount of respect they command reached a nadir last year, when their speeches and op-eds criticising Trump were ignored by the masses.
The last few months have also proved that, somehow, mindless rioting is also detrimental. Images of radical students clashing with cops on the streets of Washington D.C. will damage the credibility of Trump’s opponents with the swing voters of Pennsylvania and Florida, who place a high value on law and order.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Trump’s success has dealt the final blow to the theory that Twitter is in any way representative of the public as a whole. Although just seven per cent of Americans are actually on Twitter, there were still people out there who believed that because their timelines were filled with declarations of “#ImWithHer”, Donald Trump had no realistic chance of winning the presidency.
Now that Donald Trump resides in the White House, people no longer have the luxury of “opposing” him in ways that make them feel good about themselves. Snarky tweets about Trump’s IQ do nothing to win over swing voters and “Love Trumps Hate” placards don’t resonate with people living in the Rust Belt.
This is not to say that these methods are entirely useless. Twitter can be utilised as an efficient way of organising campaigns, whilst going on marches can boost the morale of those fighting Trump’s actions. But these methods must feed into a bigger strategy, one involving tactics that have been proven to get results.
Firstly, it is crucial to remember that, amidst the flurry of dictatorship comparisons, America remains a democracy. While executive orders do give Trump a significant degree of power, he will have to rely on the goodwill of Congress for many of his ideas to actually be implemented. For example, all of Trump’s cabinet picks have to be confirmed by the Senate and, after Congressional hearings, Trump’s opponents settled on Betsy DeVos, his Secretary of Education nominee, as their prime target.
They then launched a massive campaign, urging people to call their senators and request that they vote against confirming DeVos. The effectiveness of this campaign was demonstrated by how they convinced all 46 Democratic senators, as well as the two left-leaning Independent senators, to vote against confirming DeVos. Even more impressively, they also got two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to vote against DeVos as well.
In the end, the Senate was tied at 50-50, which led to Vice President Mike Pence stepping in and breaking the tie by voting to confirm DeVos. But this shows that, although the Trump administration won a narrow victory this time around, it is far from invincible. It is also reassuring that DeVos was one of only two individuals who the Democrats targeted extensively — Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions being the other. Embarking on a more general campaign against all of Trump’s picks might have alienated moderate Republicans and prevented them from siding with the Democrats on issues like the DeVos confirmation vote.
The other important thing to remember is that the law supersedes Trump’s executive orders. After his executive order on immigration, which banned the citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the US, the ban was challenged through the courts. After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) intervened on behalf of two Iraqis detained at an airport in New York, a federal judge ordered their release, which blocked valid visa holders from the seven countries from being deported.
Donald Trump holds up his executive order, which bans the citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US. (Photo: Getty Images)
A few days later, after a lawsuit was filed by the states of Washington and Minnesota against Trump, the ban was halted on 3 February and an appeal against this ruling was later lost. Humiliated and defeated, the president then lashed out against the American legal system on Twitter, but for now, the ban is as good as dead. The moral of this story is that the American judiciary is still more powerful than the president, although Democrats will have to spend the next four years fighting the confirmation of Trump’s SCOTUS nominee if they want to prevent a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
This case has also shown that, if people want to oppose Trump, they can simply donate to organisations like the ACLU, who have the expertise and resources needed to successfully challenge Trump’s executive orders. Hearteningly, the ACLU received $24 million in donations during the weekend after the ban was announced alone and its membership has more than doubled since the election, suggesting that people are becoming more aware of the legal avenues by which they can effectively oppose Trump.
Over the next few years, President Trump will continue to outrage his detractors and there will no doubt be times when this anger isn’t channelled into constructive ways of challenging him. So it is important that the DeVos confirmation process and the challenging of the Muslim ban are lauded as case studies in effectiveness by his opponents and that they use these examples as templates for action in the years to come. Otherwise, if liberals stay within their own echo chambers, they risk committing the same mistake as they did in November – allowing a beatable opponent to triumph again.