By now, everybody knows that Donald Trump’s election triggered a massive spike in civic activism. From the Women’s March to the health care town halls to the blue wave of 2018, an unprecedented number of Americans started taking politics into their own hands. They’ve opposed Trump at every turn with the hope of ultimately booting him out of office.
But what happens if they succeed in 2020? What does an anti-Trump resistance movement look like when Trump is no longer the President?
That movement, it turns out, is already evolving.
We’ve had a front-row seat to this show. Since late 2016, we’ve been leading Indivisible, the nationwide progressive operation that sprang to life after Trump’s election. We got our start by tweeting out a Google Doc with a strategy for resisting Trump called “Indivisible.” Within weeks, our little recipe – organize locally, pressure your own elected officials, never give an inch – had blossomed into a jaw-dropping surge in organized people power. Soon there were thousands of locally led groups, spread across every congressional district in the country – larger than the Tea Party at its height.
These newly engaged Americans – mostly women, most of whom were not involved in politics before – stormed congressional town halls in 2017 to fight back against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Trump’s attacks on immigrants and refugees, and his tax cuts for millionaires and corporations. They registered voters, endorsed candidates and got out the vote to help Democrats pick up about 40 House seats in 2018. They demanded that Trump be impeached in 2019. And with impressive off-year elections in Kentucky and Virginia, they’re already getting a head start on building the blue wave of 2020.
In surveys of thousands of Indivisible movement leaders and members, and in conversations with dozens more, we asked what comes next. As you might imagine for a nationwide movement, these newly politically active Americans care about a lot of issues – climate, health care, immigration, taxes and more. But in all our outreach, we’ve seen one answer top all the others: The number one priority is saving American democracy itself.
Why? Because they’ve seen how our system has failed us. Our democracy is deeply sick, and it has been for a long time. For decades, conservatives have been rigging the rules of our democracy. They aren’t dummies – they know the country is getting more diverse and more unequal. They know a policy agenda made up of tax cuts to millionaires, corporate giveaways and religious ideologues on the court is unpopular among this changing electorate. So they seek to make our democracy less representative. The attack takes many forms — voter suppression and gerrymandering, flooding campaigns with corporate money and packing the courts with Federalist Society judges, attacks on the press and attacks on unions and civil society. The common thread is simple: they’ll do whatever they can to entrench political power in the hands of the increasingly small, white, wealthy, male minority.
This problem extends beyond the President. While Trump tweets, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls an effort to make Election Day a federal holiday a “power grab” and D.C. statehood “socialism.” While evidence comes to light of Trump extorting a foreign power to interfere in our elections, every single Republican member of the House of Representatives votes against legislation to protect our elections from interference. Trump is a symptom – a grotesque, bile-spewing symptom, but a symptom nonetheless – of a much more dangerous sickness afflicting our country.
If that sounds serious, it’s because it is. But we are not destined for a permanently debilitated democracy. We’ve got a plan to cure what ails us.
First we need to make sure we’re running the right candidates in 2020. Individual activists have already helped make democracy reform a stronger part of the national dialogue this cycle. They’ve held hundreds of debate watch parties and kept tabs on the candidates’ positions in this area. They’ve challenged the 2020 contenders directly to make strengthening democracy a part of their platforms. That activity is going to be vital between now and Election Day. Every congressional or presidential campaign event is an opportunity to push these aspiring representatives to commit to prioritize democracy reforms if elected.
Next, obviously, we’ve got to win. Of course this means replacing Trump, but it doesn’t just mean that. We need a pro-democracy Congress too. As long as anti-democratic forces like McConnell control the Senate, all democracy reforms will die in Congress. McConnell himself is promising as much, calling himself the “Grim Reaper” of progressive legislation. There will be no cures for American democracy unless the pro-democracy candidates running against pro-Trump ones win their Senate elections next year too.This grassroots army can ensure pro-democracy candidates win by knocking doors, making calls, and registering voters.
If we are successful, we will then face a serious time constraint on getting anything done. The 117th Congress will gavel in on January 3, 2021, and it will have only about a year before representatives and senators switch their focus from legislating to their next campaign. A year isn’t enough time for a constitutional amendment (as much as we’d like several), but it is enough for simple legislation that the new Congress can pass and the new President can sign.
What can be done through simple legislation? Quite a lot. The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year, would end gerrymandering, reforms campaign finance and bolster government ethics. This would be a big step in the right direction, but a pro-democracy Congress in 2021 could do more than that. They could make D.C. a state and give self-determination for Puerto Rico. They could provide a path to citizenship, which would mean voting rights for tens of millions of American immigrants. They could unpack the Supreme Court and institute term limits.
Each of these reforms are wildly popular among the activists who built the last blue wave and are building the next one now, but it takes more than popularity to nudge reforms to the top of the national agenda. Just as we have to push candidates to prioritize these reforms, we have to push elected politicians to stay focused on them. We have to keep organizing in the same way we have since Trump’s election, calling their offices, showing up at town halls and letting them know they cannot take our votes for granted. We have to actually demand democracy.
The anti-Trump resistance just turned three years old. As the movement matures and moves beyond childish things like Trump, it’s marching into 2021. On its way there, it will stop by the Iowa caucuses, the Super Tuesday primaries and the voting booths in November of next year. For those aspiring to lead the country into the post-Trump era, they would do well to follow.
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