15 November 16
esterday marked the fifth straight day of anti-Trump protests in cities across the United States. Thousands marched to show their opposition to his campaign pledges, which espoused bigotry, ignorance, and a disregard for basic human rights.
His campaign promises, if carried out, will drive the country deeper and deeper in the direction of racism and authoritarianism. There is a real chance we’ll end up a long ways away from anything resembling a civilized society.
Just a small sampling of Trump’s campaign promises include the pledges to ban Muslims, to require Muslims to register in a national database, to engage in mass deportations, to ship American citizens to Guantanamo Bay to be tried in military tribunals, to resume the use of torture, to “bomb the shit out of” Iraq and Syria, and finally to open up libel laws in the US, which essentially amounts to a serious crackdown on press freedom.
It goes without saying that these policies are beyond horrific and should be resisted by anyone with a conscience. The almost immediate protests following the election demonstrate that an enormous number of Americans are not going to allow Trump to transform our society into a haven for paranoia, racism, and hatred. These protests seem to me the most healthy response possible to Trump’s victory.
Yet there is a rising chorus of Democrats, pundits, and others calling for the American people to have an open mind about a Donald Trump presidency. They criticize the protests, saying things like “there was just a democratic election” and “the people have spoken.”
Sounds reasonable right? Well, we should recall that democracy is an idea, or a set of values, not a process per se. A process is democratic to the extent that people feel their voices were heard and the process represents their views.
Both the presidential candidates’ unfavorable ratings were among the highest ever recorded. A majority of voters said they would be concerned or scared if either of the two candidates won, and exit polls show that a quarter of voters cast a ballot against one of the candidates rather than for one of the candidates.
The voters were forced to choose between two poisoned chalices.
There were no other choices. Significant obstacles exist for third parties to gain access to ballots in all fifty states, to get media exposure, and to defy the establishment’s constant insistence that a third party can never win. As a result, the Green Party and Libertarian party captured only a very small fraction of the vote.
Despite the dismal votes for third parties, polls show that a majority of Americans believe a third major party is needed. Research from this year finds that 61% of Americans believe that neither political party represents their views.
In a healthy democracy, people would be able to vote for politicians who represent their views. This wasn’t the case in this election. Despite Trump’s election victory, exit polls show his policy proposals were not popular. Seven in ten voters said they support granting undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Of those who supported a path to citizenship, 1/3 voted for Trump. A majority of voters don’t want a wall built on the Mexican border.
Given this lack of democracy in the US election process, protests would be warranted no matter which candidate took the presidency. Yet, while Hillary Clinton would pose immense dangers to freedoms and rights at home and abroad, Trump’s administration is clearly more dangerous. His policies draw up eerie comparisons to the dark and dangerous nationalism of the 1930s, which led to Europe and much of the world being torn to shreds in the Second World War.
Another reason people may feel drawn to protest is the lack of democratic process in the primaries, particularly in the Democratic primary. The Democratic National Committee actively worked against Bernie Sanders and took actions to favor Hillary Clinton.
The media also played an important role in making the primaries and general election less democratic. US major media gifted Trump an astonishing $4.6 billion in free media coverage over the course of his campaign, according to MediaQuant analytics firm. Meanwhile, an analysis by Thomas Frank found that The Washington Post ran five negative op-eds on Bernie Sanders for every positive story. In one infamous instance, the Washington Post ran 16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours.
Then there’s the problem that many Americans had when they tried to vote in the election. Long poll lines, poorly trained poll workers, Voter ID laws, the lack of use of a proportionally awarded electoral system, low voter participation rate, and the massive influence of money in politics resulted in the Electoral Integrity Project ranking US elections the worst among Western democracies.
In Wisconsin, an important state in this election, voter turnout was at 20-year low, and Milwaukee’s election chief said he believes the Voter ID law hurt turnout in impoverished wards.
There’s also a Republican system called Crosscheck, which Greg Palast has reported on. Crosscheck is a system where people with similar names in different states are purged from the voting rolls under the pretense it’s the same person voting in two states. Those targeted are mainly people of color. In both Michigan and North Carolina, both important swing states, the number of those purged due to Crosscheck is larger than the margin by which Hillary Clinton lost.
The lack of democratic process, combined with the very serious danger that the this administration poses to our society, to basic human rights, and to the world as a whole, means that protest is likely the only option left to avert a forthcoming nightmare.