|In DC on January 20th to add their voices to those speaking against Trumpism: Jim, Claire and Paul|
But I was also encouraged by the spirit and energy of the protesters, many of whom, like us, had endured long overnight bus rides to get to the capital to help defend our country and our democracy. The protesters were a varied lot, representing a range of ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, and seemed to come from all over the country. By contrast, most of the Trump supporters seemed to come from the South and the Midwest, and most displayed trappings of wealth and privilege. Perhaps this is merely because celebrators of any cause tend to dress more formally than do protestors of the same cause, but the difference was striking.
Many of the Trump supporters also seemed surprisingly thin-skinned and confrontational. We never saw any protester directly confront a Trump supporter. We proudly held our protest signs, but we didn’t chant slogans and I tried to avoid making eye contact with anyone who looked like a Trump supporter. We weren’t there to insult people or to make enemies. But Trump supporters called us and other protesters out throughout the day. Their comments were often rude and insulting and usually involved long hectoring lectures or outright harangues about why we were wrong. I tried to engage some of them in conversation. One woman stopped hectoring us long enough to insert, “This is called free speech” as if she thought we were a threat to her ability to express herself. She then continued on. I got the impression she learned her political conversations skills from AM radio.
My son and I picked up protest signs that were being given out. Ours said to fight for socialism and to fight against racism and sexism. The word “socialism” attracted a lot of disdainful attention from supporters of our new President. No surprise there as this is a polarizing issue. But the venom and lack of awareness that there are different kinds of socialism, just as there are different types of capitalism was disconcerting. The Trump supporters immediately acted as if we were defending the Soviet Union or North Korea. The lack of respect for data was also disturbing. I teach a class on the psychology of happiness at SUNY Geneseo, and I tried to point out that many of the happiest societies on earth are “socialist” as defined by our country’s limited political lexicon. It didn’t matter. I might as well have been quoting climate change statistics.
But my daughter’s poster attracted even more attention, and venom. It was my wife’s idea. “Keep Your Hands Off My [Picture of a kitty’s face] Donald.” All the liberals got it immediately, but many of the Trump supporters did not. They read it as pro-Donald, completely missing the significance of the kitty. Those Trump supporters who did get it were outraged. They didn’t think this was appropriate for a teen-aged girl. They were really outraged. This I didn’t get. They weren’t bothered by our President’s horrible statements, but they were terribly bothered by a young girl calling him out about it. Some of them invoked Jesus’ views about casting the first stone. I wondered why they didn’t have the same attitude toward Hillary’s emails.
Access to the inauguration parade route and to National Mall were all controlled. No one with a protest sign could get close to the festivities, except for one spot close to the Navy Memorial that had a view of a small part of the parade route. This seemed terribly unfair and typical of how “democracy” usually works in this country. Dissent was effectively controlled and sidelined. I understand the need to control contact between protestors and supporters, but isn’t there room for both on the National Mall? What does it say about our “democracy” that only one side is allowed on the “National” Mall at such sacred times?
Media reports make the protests sound terribly violent. Some protestors did smash some things, and I wish they hadn’t, but most were remarkably peaceful. Protesters tried to block the entrances to the Mall and parade route in an attempt to disrupt the inauguration. They linked arms and challenged the police to arrest them. They weren’t able to completely block the entrances, but they did slow things down. I wanted my kids to see this, the great American tradition of civil disobedience in which protestors openly break the law and accept the legal consequences in an attempt to draw attention to and protest injustice. I was arrested three times for civil disobedience during the 1980’s in Nevada for protesting the testing of nuclear weapons. But that was small potatoes compared to what these people were doing. The local Nevadan authorities were overwhelmed by the volume of protestors and it was clear they were never going to be able to prosecute everyone. But the DC police are much better equipped and the inauguration protestors face real legal consequences for their acts of conscience.
One sweet faced and gentle Trump supporter, a woman of about 60 who was standing close by complained that “we” (incorrectly including me among those committing civil disobedience) were keeping her from seeing the inauguration and the parade. She was sincerely disappointed and thought the protestors were being unfair. This set me back and I felt some sympathy for her. But I still believe that the protestors were acting ethically and honorably. They were not physically harming people or property, and civil disobedience against injustice has an honored place in our national traditions.
And it is clear that Trump’s inauguration is a great injustice. Not only did he lose the popular vote and depend on the Electoral College, a system devised largely to protect slave holders, for his victory, he also rode the coattails of a determined voter suppression effort into his new office. For instance, he won Wisconsin, which was critical for his election, by only 18,000 votes after more than 300,000 registered voters were kicked off the rolls because of inadequate identification, etc. And why is it that WikiLeaks had dirt on Clinton but not Trump? The American public was given plenty of secret information about Hillary, but weren’t given Trump’s tax returns, for instance. Why is that? Maybe the Trump supporters’ thin-skinned defensiveness about our protest is a sign that even they recognize the injustice and illegitimacy of his election?
But the biggest injustice concerns the consequences of the election. We have a President who brags about sexually assaulting women and who is arguably mentally ill, showing symptoms of narcissism and possibly other disorders. He seems incapable of acting like a grown up, and has shown no evidence of concern for anyone but himself. And he has a pathological aversion to the truth, the latest example of which is his attack on the media for allegedly underestimating the crowd at his coronation.
The consequences of this are terrible. One of his first actions as President was to eliminate any mention of efforts to fight climate change from the White House website, a brazen act that will further enrich some of the already very rich, but poses deadly threats against the rest of us, particularly the most vulnerable among us. And he is aided and abetted by powerful structural forces. These include a gerrymander assisted Republican Congress intent on chewing up the last of the social safety net, and by powerful corporate interests who place no value or right above their right to make as much money for themselves as possible.
My children and I went to the inauguration to protest, to make our voices heard, and to search for some hope in these dark times. We found some hope in our fellow protestors. There are still people in this country who recognize and are upset at injustice. But there needs to be more. Whatever democracy this country ever had is teetering on the edge, and our very society is at risk. Some people took great risks at the inauguration to help keep us from going over the edge. What will it take for the rest of us to join them?