In the nearly eight months since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, America has faced the most serious threat to its political system in recent history. Trump became president partly because he spoke for voters who felt that the government is working against them. He pledged to fix our politics by ridding Washington of the elites and lobbyists too self-serving to act in the interests of the whole nation.
But, by any measure, Trump’s approach is not working. He has instilled a political culture that has become even more poisonous than when he first took office. Rather than fight special interests, Trump has employed his elite business cronies in positions of power and done little to detach the presidency from the Trump Organization. And perhaps most frightening, Trump has condoned white supremacy and neo-Nazis. Instead of utilizing the moral leadership of the presidency to condemn the recent bout of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va., Trump defended the actions of the neo-Nazi protestors. Also, in his recent repeal of DACA, Trump has unleashed an undeniably cruel immigration policy that puts nearly 800,000 undocumented citizens at risk of deportation from the only country they have ever called home.
Lastly, let’s not forget the Russia scandal. As special counsel Robert Mueller continues his investigation, there is mounting evidence that Trump and his presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government to win the presidency. It’s important to not gloss over the severity of this scandal. It is treacherous, undemocratic and unAmerican for our current president to have knowingly allowed a foreign power to meddle in our elections. Put simply, the current American political system under Trump is not the democracy that our country has prided itself on for 241 years.
Understandably, the sad state of affairs under President Trump has made many Americans feel hopeless. Democrats and other progressive Americans like us feel despondent. How can we even begin to organize and make the necessary liberal reforms to our political system when Trump is threatening the basis of American democracy?
We at Tufts Democrats believe that this year, we can take real steps towards resisting the Trump administration and affecting progressive change at the local, state and federal level. The Tufts Democrats aim to be the home for liberal, progressive Tufts students who want to actively organize against the Trump administration by working within the structures of the American political system. We serve as a voice for progressive ideals on campus, and this year we plan on being active in tangibly advocating for those ideals.
When organizing and advocacy are done right, they can make a tremendous difference, even in the Trump era. Over the past several months, the few bright spots have been primarily powered by grassroots movements to stymie the administration’s cruel proposals.
Perhaps the best example of this was during the struggle over the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), the Republican Senate’s amorphous bill that intended to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and take healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans. Perhaps due to how outlandishly cold-hearted this legislation was (not to mention economically inviable, according to analysis by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office), thousands of Americans across the country organized passionately against it. People protested in massive numbers, flooded Congressional phone lines and harassed Senators who were considering supporting the bill in any way possible.
This enormous wave of pressure worked. The bill eventually was rejected by just one vote, after John McCain (R-Arizona) dramatically returned to the Senate after getting brain surgery to vote against the bill. Senator McCain cited pressure from citizens as one reason for his ‘no’ vote, and other GOP senators who voted against the bill echoed his sentiment. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who opposed the bill from the beginning, said that the activism in Maine against the bill helped her stay resolute in opposing it.
“I heard, over and over again, encouragement for my stand against the current version of the Senate and House health-care bills. People were thanking me, over and over again. ‘Thank you, Susan!’” Collins said.
Just because activism was able to overcome the BCRA does not mean it will always be effective. These four years are going to be difficult for all of us, and there may frequently be reason to want to give up hope. But the way that pressure from citizen activists was able to overcome an effort by a Republican-held Congress and a Republican President shows that with enough hard work and forceful organizing, progressives always have a shot to make a difference.
This may be the most important time in our lives to get involved in politics. The battle may be uphill, but it is one that we can win and must win in order to ensure a better nation. So come join Tufts Democrats, and let’s continue the fight.