The protests against Donald Trump that happened directly after his election victory appear to be petering out. They were never very large, and were always going to end given the indisputable fact – which the protests can’t change – that Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States.
The protests have, however, attracted a great deal of attention and in view of that, and because I know of some people who have taken part in them, I feel that I should offer my views of them.
Firstly, people have a right to protest provided they do so in a lawful and peaceful way.
Secondly, whilst they have a right to protest against Donald Trump, they need to be clear what they are protesting against. If by protesting they are trying to stop Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States, then since Trump has been elected legally and constitutionally, they are taking a revolutionary position.
That is true even if, as some of them have said, the purpose of the protests is to persuade some of the electors on the Electoral College to switch support to Hillary Clinton from Donald Trump, defying the voters of their states.
If the purpose of the protests is indeed revolutionary – intended to overthrow or set aside the result of an election carried out in accordance with the established legal and constitutional processes of the United States – then the protesters need to be honest with themselves about it, and cannot in that case avoid scrutiny of some of the organisations which appear to be involved in organising the protests, or to hearing questions about them.
Alternatively, if the protests are against Trump’s policies or what the protesters think Trump’s policies will be, then they are a legitimate form of political activity carried out within the established norms of US politics, provided they are carried out in a lawful and peaceful way. Though, since coming in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election victory, they inevitably provoke comments about the protesters being sore losers.
I make these points because in the second case I would offer the view that, over time, protests may lead to be a positive development in US politics.
No one looking at the US political situation objectively before Trump’s election victory could be satisfied with the state of the US political system. Virtually everyone agrees that it has become calcified, corrupt and increasingly detached from the people of America.
Hillary Clinton’s victory would simply have perpetuated for a further four years this failing and discredited system. It is a system where democratic politics has ceased to function in any meaningful way, so that countries like Libya, Iraq and Syria can be destroyed, and democratically elected governments can be overthrown in Honduras and Ukraine, without anyone protesting or even properly knowing about it.
As I have discussed previously, the situation has now become so bad that just a month ago the US found itself in a dangerous military stand-off with the Russians in Syria, and with the American people left in complete ignorance of it.
And this is not even touching on the way in which US domestic politics has been captured by powerful organised lobbies so that social inequalities have been allowed to grow with more and more people left behind.
In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt spoke of how “government by organised money was as dangerous as government by organised mob”. Who can deny that that is the situation the US has had up to now? How else could someone like Hillary Clinton have been nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President?
Donald Trump’s election offers an opportunity to break with this system. If the protests that followed his election were the beginning of some sort of return to real politics – as opposed to the virtual reality post-modern politics we have had up to now – that could turn out over time to be a good thing.
However, the protesters must in that case ask themselves what it is exactly that they are protesting for, not just what they are protesting against. Are they protesting for Hillary Clinton and for a return to the unloved and unsatisfactory pre-Trump status quo? If so then the protests will be no more than a spasm of a discredited dying system, rather than the promise of something positive and new.