As progressives search for the next step in a world where Republicans will control the White House, both chambers of Congress and the majority of statehouses and governor’s mansions, the nascent anti-Trump resistance movement has been doing civil disobedience outside Trump Tower, pushing for bipartisan congressional investigations into Russian election meddling and itching to expose his Cabinet nominees’ conflicts of interest with the hope of sinking one — or perhaps even two or three — of them. Green Party-led recount pushes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin drew national attention but in the end had little impact, other than to recertify Trump’s win, and Democratic efforts to urge Republican electors to vote their conscience, not their party, similarly sputtered.
Still, the liberal resistance to Trumpism has only started to gear up for what will probably be a series of epic battles around touchstone issues of race, immigration, health care and authoritarianism itself. Trump is weighted down by a 43 percent approval rating, making him the least popular newly elected president in the past half century. As the liberal-left works to organize in this environment, it confronts a set of opportunities, as well as tough questions about the path forward: Who should be the leaders of this resistance? Which strategies and tactics should they employ? What organizations and institutions could prove to be the savviest and most influential in curbing Trump’s authoritarian tendencies?
The answers will have implications not just for politics but also for the entire country during the coming Trump era. And the paths forward are in part illustrated by America’s rich history of political resistance on the left and the right — a legacy that’s both fraught and inspiring, filled with blinking yellow lights and solid-green guideposts. The resistance leaders will have at least four modes of viable dissent as they seek to launch a robust movement that can block some of the most feared aspects of Trump’s agenda.
Direct action. Though conservatives typically decry antiwar and other street demonstrations as emblems of a time defined by left-wing excesses that contravened political norms and moral behavior, the nonviolent mass protests of the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s offer clues to potent models of political and cultural dissent. Nonviolent marches helped pressure elected leaders to overturn segregation in the South and expand legal rights and social protections for women. Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations made it harder for policymakers to prosecute the war with the free hand they sought. President Ronald Reagan’s refusal to recognize the threat of HIV/AIDS as a public health crisis provoked mass protests, which pricked the country’s conscience and ultimately led to more funding for research and better treatments.