Donald Trump’s electoral victory is not the only evidence that we need a new mass movement of progressive activists. While the Democratic Party expresses its contentment at handing presidential power back and forth with the Republicans, the people who will suffer under Trump’s agenda, and all committed to true democracy, need a better response.
The day after the 2016 election, President Obama said that he would work for a “peaceful transition of power” and that “we are now all rooting for [Trump’s] success.” The next day he said in a joint press conference with Donald Trump that he and his staff would “do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.” Even on the Monday after the election, after so many troubling appointments had been announced, Obama said we should “let him make his decisions” and passively “judge over the course of the next couple of years,” when the Democrats will next be asking for votes.
This is a variation on the note Al Gore struck after the 2000 election, when he said that he “personally will be at [George W. Bush’s] disposal, and I call on all Americans . . . to unite behind our next president. This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done.”
In reality, the stakes are highest when the policies are being implemented, not when the two parties are fighting over who will lay claim to leadership. And we do need a transition of power, but not in the nature of what the major parties envision; we need the people to mobilize and exercise their power.
President-elect Trump’s first order of business is to assemble his team. If he is successful, there is no doubt that bigots and science-deniers will take the reins at administrative agencies that are charged with enforcing civil rights, environmental regulations and other laws. His success in doing so will not enhance the “rule of law” that President Obama claimed he was honoring in his embrace of Trump’s victory.
To take just one less-discussed example, Trump’s Secretary of Education will almost certainly rescind both the Agency’s interpretations of Title IX that have required universities to take allegations of sexual assault more seriously and the “dear colleague” letter that sought to protect transgender students. For his administration, greater success would mean stopping schools from allowing access to bathrooms on the basis of a student’s gender identity or expelling student rapists in the absence of a criminal conviction. The people can block this, forcing schools to protect students regardless of what Trump wants, but only if the school administrators’ fear of the people’s response outweighs the incentive to go along.
These are stakes that cannot wait for the next election cycle. The major parties and successful politicians have an interest in monopolizing our idea of what the contest for power looks like, but more than 100,000 people have already taken to the streets, and more will by and on Inauguration Day. We have the power to keep the Trump agenda from succeeding, blocking it legally where possible and obstructing attacks on oppressed people directly when the institutions fail us. That’s the transition of power we need.
The author is an attorney, author and professor at George Washington University. He is author of the legal treatise Hate Crimes Law (Westlaw), periodically revises the First Amendment chapter in Sexual Orientation and the Law (Westlaw), and authors amicus briefs on behalf of various human and civil rights organizations.