With a 36 percent approval rating, President Donald Trump will not commence his presidency with the optimism that most recent presidents have enjoyed. Rather, his administration has faced resistance from the start, with #DisruptJ20 protestors blockading entryways on Inauguration day. On the day after his Inauguration, protesters took to the streets against his administration and values in an organized Women’s March. With 500,000 people in Washington D.C. and 673 marches worldwide, the fervor reverberated across the globe in defense of women’s issues and other progressive causes.
A few days later, starting on Saturday, January 28, thousands gathered at airports across the country protesting his recent executive order on immigration. The opposition does not stop there. Additional protests have already been planned in defense of science and LGBT rights in the upcoming weeks. With a historically low approval rating and two widely-publicized protests only two weeks into his presidency, his administration is rife with controversy and instability.
The organizers of the Women’s March called for a protest dedicated to ending violence, as well as preserving reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice. First-year Anna Kim shared what she believed was most remarkable about the Boston protest.
“Something that stood out to me was the variety of people there. There were people aged from babies to grandmothers—it was cool to see such a multi-generational thing.”
It was a march for progressivism rather than strictly women’s issues. When Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke in Boston, she remarked, “We can whimper, we can whine or we can fight back. Me, I’m here to fight back.” By uniting several causes, Senator Warren called for action to translate the spirit of the protest into palpable political change. With over two million participants worldwide, the marches signify vehement resistance to the Trump administration—but the question remains, What’s next?
“The march does something to show that people care, but it’s going to take legislative action to enact change. Are people going to call their senators and representatives? How do we care to place our votes? I think that’s going to be more powerful than marching, based off how Trump has reacted to the march itself,” first-year Kate Lamberti said.
Another first-year, Maddy Reid, believes this spirit will remain alive long after the march. She described how a spontaneous rally broke out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the next day, filled with people hugging and chanting. “After they stood with everyone and felt the power of collective determination, I think people will be more likely to try harder,” she said.
While the need to mobilize these participants is clear to the Democratic Party, the means of doing so remains uncertain. Following President Trump’s surprise victories in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, some Democratic activists, such as Tom Vilsack, called for a policy tilt toward the White working class. In their minds, Hillary Clinton’s message of “Stronger Together” failed to address this cohort’s grievances. However, other activists, like Cornell Belcher, urge the party to remain cohesive and stress solidarity. They fear that a new focus on White working class workers will deemphasize their racial and social concerns.
Various divisions among liberals came to light during the Women’s March. Several protestors’ signs included images of uteruses, linking them to womanhood, which many felt excluded trans women. A queer sophomore who preferred to remain anonymous remarked, “My main issue was with the transphobic assertion that womanhood is tied to being biologically female. Feminism should be intersectional and it’s upsetting when big movements like the [W]omen’s [M]arch fail to do so.” Others felt that women of color and their issues were underrepresented at the march, further undermining the idea of inclusivity. By not fostering a sense of community for all, progressive organizations risk promoting the very same marginalization that they fear will occur under the Trump administration. As senior James Gordon urged, “We must be careful […] that this reclamation does not come to define and normalize what our resistance can look like. If our resistance is to be effective, we must be vigilant that it is intersectional and that it is inclusive.”
Only a few days after the Women’s March, crowds began to gather in airport terminals. Thousands protested an executive order that bans entry to the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and for all refugees over the next 120 days. Like the Women’s March, these protests were embraced by notable Democratic politicians such as Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY), Mayor Bill de Blasio (NY), and Senator Corey Brooker (D-NJ). Tufts Political Science Professor Richard Eichenberg explained that the mass public support is likely driving politicians to involve themselves.
“The rallies and protests have mobilized tens of thousands of people, and politicians are taking notice,” he said.
Several lawyers also offered free counsel to those adversely affected by the executive order, including refugees, government translators, and college students. Temporary relief came after a federal judge in New York ruled citizens of the seven banned countries could not be removed from the United States. However, fear arose once again once authorities and protesters learned that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were ignoring the ruling.
While the Women’s March largely attracted attention from the left, the executive order on immigration has received harsh criticism across party lines. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a joint statement that described the order as a “self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” They continued to warn, “This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
Yet, this bipartisan opposition has not swayed President Trump’s actions. Instead, he released a statement on Sunday evening in defense of his ban, writing, “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban—this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” He further dismissed the protests by tweeting on Monday that “only 109 people out of 325,00 were detained and held for questioning.” However, both these statements were later found to be false. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani revealed that Trump consulted him explicitly about how to legally conduct a “Muslim ban.” Furthermore, the New York Times and other outlets reported much larger numbers of detainees than Trump originally stated.
Though President Trump might try to appear unfazed, the protests have certainty irked him and created controversy immediately at the start of his presidency. In an interview with the Tufts Observer, Professor Roberto Stefan Foa of the University of Melbourne reflected on how the president might seek to restore power in his administration. He believes that President Trump will try to achieve his policy objectives swiftly to give a perception of control and success.
“Protests across the world may have gained visibility, but it will be in the United States that Trump needs to consolidate his weak mandate. In order to do that, he will seek to score policy victories early in his first term. It is by highlighting his failures in this regard, that protestors could undermine his legitimacy in the eyes of voting Americans.”
After already passing executive orders on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, scientific funding, “the wall,” travel to the US from certain specific Muslim-majority nations, and more, Professor Foa’s prediction seems to be turning into a reality. President Trump is not waiting for triumphs during his first 100 days—he is already acting boldly in the first ten.
Eichenberg expanded upon this idea, asserting that President Trump will not reverse his controversial actions. “One thing you can be sure of—Donald Trump will not stop doing things that provoke opposition. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that these things will happen on almost a daily basis. The real question is how much time and energy people have, but so far I don’t see any sign that it’s abating.”
Professor Eichenberg seemed optimistic about this prospect, predicting that the current protests might transpire into a Democratic version of the Tea Party movement during the 2010 midterm elections.
“In many ways this is the Democrat’s side of the Tea Party mobilization in 2009,” Eichenberg said. “Obama started taking initiatives and the Tea Party started mobilizing to stop or modify his policies. Their rallies, though certainly not as huge, were still getting candidates to enter primaries, to replace congressional representatives—it’s all very similar to what’s happening now.”