Donald Trump Will Use Every Weapon to Stamp out the Grassroots Resistance
Pundits say Donald Trump is “undermining democracy”. But their concern is often just about elite institutions: the media, the judiciary, the electoral system. What is ignored is the effect that the Trump administration will have on the social movements, which serve as pillars of the resistance. If these fall, our democracy will be irreparably harmed.
Democracy extends far beyond the ballot box – it includes the active participation of labor and racial justice movements in civil society. People tend to think that voting and electioneering are the sum total of democracy. It makes sense in a way; media influences public opinion, and the eyes of the media are trained on the horse-race aspects of American politics. But thinking this way misses the bigger picture.
When we see Black Lives Matter rallying for racial equality, or when the Water Protectors at Standing Rock camp out for weeks to protect their water supply, that’s democracy. When workers decide that they want a union in their workplace, that’s democracy. And when those same workers decide to withhold their labor and demand the compensation and respect that they are owed, that’s democracy as well.
In Donald Trump’s executive orders last week, we got a peek into how the current administration plans to view the relationship between law enforcement and its citizens. It is not pretty. The executive order titled Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers promises to:
- “Pursue appropriate legislation, consistent with the Constitution’s regime of limited and enumerated Federal powers, that will define new Federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing Federal crimes, in order to prevent violence against Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”
- “Review existing Federal laws to determine whether those laws are adequate to address the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”
That’s right. In a country where police chiefs consider resisting arrest a hate crime punishable by ten years in prison and where state legislatures are considering immunity for those who run over protesters, the Trump administration has signaled that, actually, we are not tough enough on protesters and activists. As bad as this may be, however, it is this part of the executive order that is the most chilling:
- “Following that review … make recommendations to the President for legislation …. defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence against Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, as well as for related crimes.”
This administration will not only increase the penalties for already-existing statutes, but are planning on new legislation that would further “protect ... law enforcement officers”. Not that it matters to the far-right buccaneers that seem to be holding sway in this administration, but you are more likely to suffer death as a farmer or a steelworker than you are as a law enforcement officer. In fact, law enforcement officers fall outside the top 10 deadliest jobs in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trump’s campaign promise to be a “law-and-order” administration will doubtless be personified by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Sessions had previously characterized the Department of Justice’s attempts at providing oversight to local police departments as something that would “... cause an officer to be intimidated from doing the very things necessary to protect the African American community if we misread the data, if we over-read the data”.
On the issue of Black Lives Matter, he stated: “I do think it’s a real problem when we have Black Lives Matter making statements that are really radical, that are absolutely false.”
We can expect to see that oversight – limited to naming and shaming without actual legal accountability for the officers involved – diminish greatly under a Sessions-run justice department.
In addition to the problems that activists could face over the next four to eight years, labor unions could find themselves in the crosshairs as well. Despite the efforts of some wayward union leaders to kiss up to the Trump administration, they will probably find that their efforts are to be in vain.
The laws that have stuck in labor’s craw for generations – Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin – are probably going to be enforced to their maximum potential. Taft-Hartley’s provision against solidaristic industrial action is likely to be pursued aggressively. Similarly, the disclosure requirements under Landrum-Griffin will further bureaucratize the labor movement and push the business of unions away from organizing worker-led collective action and towards doing all they can simply to stay on the right side of the law.
Labor unions might also find that the department charged with protecting workers and adjudicating a fair labor-management negotiating process will be no friend to them, no matter who ends up as secretary of labor in this administration.
If the resistance that everyone has been talking about is to be successful, it cannot be led by politicians in statehouses and Washington. It must be a grassroots effort that organizes communities for a common purpose: one rooted in the cause of social, economic, and political equality and justice. These efforts are building due to this administration’s naked disdain for working-class Americans, their families, and their communities.
Donald Trump and his administration knows this, and that is why they will use every weapon in their arsenal to stamp out the spirit of resistance and revolution that is bubbling to the surface. It is on us to ensure that Trump fails in his endeavor.