There’s a theory that President Donald Trump and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, are testing how far and fast they can go to drastically change policy before resistance forces them to pull back.
If that’s how Trump wants to govern – and it sure looks that way after two weeks – then the response must be strong and swift.
There’s still a chance he could end up being reasonable and inclusive. But to resist Trump’s most extreme moves, it’s all hands on deck – and the early lesson is that it all adds up and can make a difference.
Politicians from Congress to city halls must continue to speak out, loudly, but also follow through with action. California is leading the charge, though the state’s leaders must offer more than stern denunciations. They must provide an alternative by showing they can govern.
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Democrats in Congress are debating how forcefully to oppose Trump, including his Supreme Court nomination. Republicans need to show backbone since they allowed him to rise to the presidency. Where, pray tell, are all those critics of Barack Obama’s executive orders who accused him of seeking an imperial presidency?
Corporate leaders can’t stay on the sidelines; indeed, they may have the best chance to get Trump to listen, one CEO to another. Federal judges must limit his authority when he overreaches or jeopardizes civil liberties. The media must uncover and explain Trump’s actions, notwithstanding the insults and “alternative facts” lobbed from the White House.
Most significant of all, Americans from all walks of life can be active citizens, contacting their elected officials and peacefully protesting, as millions did at women’s marches the day after Trump’s inauguration. More marches in Washington are planned, including ones pushing for Trump to release his tax returns (on Tax Day, April 15) and a March for Science on climate change and energy policy (on Earth Day, April 22).
We’re seeing how resistance to Trump can play out.
The negative reaction to his despicable executive order on immigration and refugees, targeted at Muslim-majority countries, was immediate, fierce and in some ways effective. Diverse crowds protested at major airports across the nation, prompting Obama to praise the demonstrations as the defense of democracy he called for in his farewell speech. He said he would weigh in only if American values were at risk. Trump crossed that line in a week.
Silicon Valley CEOs denounced the order, and Starbucks announced it would hire 10,000 refugees in the next five years, focusing on those who helped the U.S. military. Even the billionaire Koch brothers, who bankroll conservative causes, were critical.
Importantly, it wasn’t just Democrats in Congress who objected to the refugee ban. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona are trying to be voices of reason on national security. But words are not enough. Republicans must be prepared to cast votes to rescind and defund the order.
As criticism kept mounting, the administration softened the temporary ban by making clear that green card holders are not covered and by moving to expedite waivers for those who helped the U.S. military in Iraq.
Team Trump also backtracked when the media exposed and opposition organized against some smaller moves, such as scrapping all Obamacare ads and outreach during the final days of the enrollment period, though it still canceled some TV ads. When bipartisan outrage grew that Trump gave Bannon a permanent place on a key National Security Council committee despite scant relevant experience, the White House added the CIA director. And it seems more than a coincidence that faced with determined activism to protect Dreamers, Trump has yet to overturn Obama’s order that defers their deportation.
Yet, as part of Bannon’s “disruption” strategy, alarming proposals keep coming, almost daily, however chaotic their rollout. The administration is reportedly seeking to change a program that counters violent ideologies at home to focus only on Islamic extremism. A leaked draft of another executive order would exempt from anti-discrimination laws those who oppose same-sex marriage and abortion on religious grounds. Friday, he took a step toward shredding rules put in place after the 2008 Wall Street meltdown to prevent another.
By now, we know to take Trump literally as well as seriously. All those campaign promises that even some backers believed were too extreme to keep are actually happening and are hurting real people. We should also know that Trump cares about polls, ratings and his popularity.
As can’t be said often enough, these are not normal times. To confront this president, it will take extraordinary commitment. We can’t get distracted or lose heart. It’s going to be a long slog, and it’s going to get worse – maybe a lot worse – before it gets better.
As the Trump storm clouds darken over America, the silver lining is that resistance is building and our democracy is starting to show its resilience.