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How the Trump Administration is fueling a new progressive movement

By Veena Sriram
on February 2, 2017

‘We’re through the looking-glass here, people. White is black and black is white.’ (JFK, 1991)


These past two weeks have felt surreal, and horrifying, to many of us living in the United States and presumably for many around the world. A new day, a new executive order, a new enemy. The immigration ban is the most recent, and most appalling of his policy efforts. But, Trump’s far ranging, deeply conservative initiatives are going to have major impacts – from destabilizing international agreements, to silencing federal agencies of government, to building a wall with Mexico, to throwing his weight behind the anti-abortion movement, to politicizing the National Security Council. For anyone who suggested that Trump might soften once entering the office, think again. He is doing exactly what he said he promised he would. The enveloping xenophobia, misogyny, discrimination, inability to absorb criticism and dissent, and all around lack of decency, adds to the growing distaste. It’s safe to say that when the President of the United States eagerly takes on a beloved religious leader, such as the current Pope, we are in a new era where literally anything is possible.

If there is one glimmer of hope in this windfall of depressing news it is that progressives are not standing for it. The past several weeks have seen growing protests across the country – largely grassroots and driven by social media – that are fueling a burgeoning anti-Trump movement. For example, the women’s marches – the largest protest ever in American history – was largely about protecting and expanding women’s rights, but they also served as a conduit to protest a variety of concerns, ultimately converging on their intense dislike of this new President and his administration. This emerging resistance has fired up the left and the left-leaning, and within a span of days, emboldened Democrats to actively challenge the new Administration and congressional Republicans.

These protests have also sparked a wave of seemingly unabashed progressivism– and after participating in some of them –my sense is that this frustration and anger can coalesce, mature and strengthen into a movement that lasts well into this Administration and beyond. The divisions amongst progressives are real, but so is their unrelenting dislike for this Administration and everything it stands for. I would argue that through this process, groups on all sides and all generations will start to acknowledge, appreciate and begin to resolve some of their differences, leaving us in better shape than where we found ourselves in November 2016.

Much has been written about the handwringing amongst liberals for not broadening and expanding their message of economic inequality. The Bernie-Hillary fight for the Democratic Party nomination exposed the growing divide between the neo-liberal and more progressive factions of the party. Some were perhaps not willing or able to reconcile their own ideologies with what they believed as a political inevitability – an incremental, not sudden, climb towards more left-leaning values – universal health coverage, for example. But any reservations about moving too quickly to the left seem to have dissipated in these distressing ten days of Trump’s Executive Actions. For every callous and cruel stance that Trump takes, this new movement seems to value the exact opposite – tolerance and compassion. People from all ages and all backgrounds are acting out about the authoritarian turn of events, something profoundly ‘un-American’ in the eyes of many (although this country has a history with this sort of behavior). And further, people are becoming more unapologetic about their left-leaning views – something that has not always been in fashion in the U.S. I’ve noticed that these protests are driven by a liberating sense of nothing left to lose – since the worst has come to pass, why not leave it all on the field? That combination of progressivism and fearlessness might in fact be what helps the Democrats slowly undo the damage of the past few years, lose their ‘elite’ sheen, and begin working towards some of the more socially oriented policies that Obama tried, and due to merciless opposition from the right, failed to implement.

Some of this sounds like a fairytale – perhaps it might never come to pass. Trump has been remarkably adept at speaking to his base, and by all accounts, they are on board with his decisions. But, what we are seeing now is their support for Trump’s discriminatory initiatives beyond his economic argument – the immigration ban for example – is dialing down the sympathy that some on the left might have had for their perspectives. The conservative movement might have been better organized in rallying their base, but the other side now has the stomach to fight back. It now comes down to which side will raise their voice the loudest. My money is on the side without the albatross of Trump around its neck.

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