This Week, Millions of People Made America Great Again

Photo: Jews in Detroit protest against Fritz Kuhn, Nazi sympathizer dubbed the “American fuehrer”, circa 1930
Photo: Jews in Detroit protest against Fritz Kuhn, Nazi sympathizer dubbed the “American fuehrer”, circa 1930

What a week it has been! It began last Saturday, January 21st, 2017 with the Women’s March in over 500 cities. With estimates of 3.3 million proud and peaceful participants, it may have been the single largest demonstration in U.S. history. The images on social media of vast oceans of brave, joyfully-defiant women (and men) in pink hats with a plethora of signs hearkened back to the days of the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, the labor protests after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, the civil rights movement crescendoing in the 1960’s… the list goes on.

It didn’t end with the Women’s March, either. All through the week, acts of beautiful defiance emerged like whack-a-moles: Standing Rock protests rocked the American heartland when Trump’s White House announced plans to resume the failed Keystone XL and DAPL oil pipelines; the State Department’s entire senior administrative team resigned en masse before Trump’s new Secretary of State – and former ExxonMobil CEO – Rex Tillerson could even begin; and under increasing public pressure the State of California announced it would consider withholding tax transfers to Washington if Trump didn’t back down from his threat to suspend federal block grants from sanctuary cities that protect immigrants.

Then, on Saturday night, came the sweet cherry on top of this week’s beautiful American pie: Trump hastily tried to implement his ban on immigrants and refugees from 7 Muslim-majority countries – with the chutzpah to even include legal resident green card holders! – and New Yorkers lept out to JFK Airport en masse to resist. Resistance “came out of nowhere,” said filmmaker Michael Moore, and soon airports across the country were jammed with sign-wielding protesters and refugee “Welcome Teams.” The protests continue into today as I write…

In short, this week millions of Americans awoke to the reality that their self-evident, essential freedoms were under attack by an imposter president – and they stepped up to defend them! How beautifully human (and American) of them.

Protest for freedom and dignity is what makes America great, and Trump has succeeded in sparking it. He’s brought together Jews and Muslims, men and women, LGBTQ folks and their straight allies, even Republicans and Democrats. By villainizing the media, he’s given journalists – whose entire industry appeared to be collapsing under market forces of consolidation, privatization, and automation – a second wind and a raison d’etre: to keep him and his administration honest! And by challenging the core values of our democracy, he’s dealt us cynical and jaded Americans the shot of epinephrine needed to leap into action for our common welfare. Thanks, Donald, for helping us (and not you) make America great again!

The road ahead back to sanity and towards human dignity will be a long one: we will first have to deal with the lasting damage this illegitimate administration has inflicted by isolating its impact and contain its spread. Protests at airports and other border crossings will grow larger, and hopefully smarter: more immigration lawyers, strategic work actions and shutdowns, mutual aid in support of separated families, and more. We’ll have to harness at once both the urgency to confront and resist Trump and the clairvoyance to envision the world after his short-lasting rule.

The international damage done to the U.S. reputation will have to be healed even as we heal the real internal rifts within our country that brought us to this moment: Trump would not have won the support of so many Americans if he hadn’t capitalized on the real systemic failures of our top-heavy economic system that the establishment Democrats barely even mentioned. A complete overhaul of the Democratic Party, beginning with new leadership at the top, is the first step. In parallel, growing third-party and non-party power will be just as critical because the political party system itself has grown less and less representative of a diverse, tech-savvy, and increasingly mobile electorate.

All of this amounts to building a visionary left in the United States, something akin to the populist party of the early 1900’s that paved the way for FDR’s New Deal. Can the popular revolt against Trump be channeled into a principled, visionary left revolution of values? Since Trumpism is built sturdily upon the notion of the Forgotten Man/Woman of the American heartland ravaged by NAFTA and Free Trade, this revolution will be inherently rural as well as urban/suburban. It will also be extremely local in nature. Cities and their mayors have become major power players over the past decade, building massive non-official influence through 501c3’s and innovative public-private partnerships as our creeping federal stalemate has opened up a vacuum of vision and leadership in the country. A visionary left will find alternatives to community-fracturing gentrification that will bridge city and suburb, even exurb – something akin to the populist party’s solidarity of farm workers, factory workers, and students.

The constitutional crisis our country finds itself in requires no less than a total rethinking of the broken “American dream” paradigm of the last century. If it took a pompous bigot like Donald Trump for us to come to that rude awakening, so be it. We should celebrate the challenge he’s laid out for us even as we recommit ourselves to fighting for justice and dignity every single day. We’ll be carrying on the best in this crazy country’s tradition by doing so.