Hank Minor: Trump, two years later

Thursday, January 4, 2018 - 5:27pm

This month a year ago, Donald Trump was sworn in as President of these United States, and many of us were bracing for the worst. It seemed too simple — 30 seconds with his hand on a Bible, rain drizzling down on the CNN camera — for such a momentous event. I’d spent the last three months dreading that moment, reevaluating how great a sin it had been for President Barack Obama to be such a mild liberal. And then, all at once, it was over.

I think the biggest surprise is how accommodating our society and political structure have been for someone that seems so out of the ordinary. Every scandal, for me, has this moment where I think, “this is it, this is the one that’s just too much.” Trump seems to weather each media storm with ease, though, and so it seems that outrage alone isn’t enough to actually affect anything.

We know that, if nothing else, people opposed to Trump only have to wait him out. It’s still uncertain whether or not we’ll see him after 2020, but it’s impossible that we’ll see him after 2024. President George W. Bush had some ridiculous moments, but after eight sanitizing years of the Obama administration we have largely forgotten these moments — and Bush was much more destructive than Trump has been with regard to civilian life.

In spite of all of the energy of #resist, we are largely resigned to the next three years and everything they might bring. Just over a third of the country is fully on board with Trump; the rest is waiting with a patience that is uniquely, admirably, American: remembering that Trump is only temporary.

Organizers and political activists know this more than anyone else, especially now that many are questioning whether the indignant backlash of late 2016 and early 2017 has started to fade. It’s nearly impossible to force a Republican-led government to suffer the electoral damage that impeachment or another drastic action would cause — it would alienate a significant portion of their base, embolden liberals and would hurt the party’s overall brand. Grassroots alternatives suffer from their own problems; people don't actually want to march for four years, even if they’re angry.

Even given the above problems, I don’t know whether or not waiting until the 2018 and 2020 elections is an acceptable strategy either. On one hand, there are millions of people who could be hurt by the policies implemented during Trump’s presidency. On the other hand, Trump is just a figurehead. It’s easy to forget that the Senate and House of Representatives, along with the Supreme Court, also have a Republican majority when the man at the head of the party is making so much noise about himself.

Our situation isn’t the product of one choice — Hillary Clinton or Trump or protest vote — it’s the result of numerous other small decisions. Low turnout for state-level elections means that 67 of 99 of state legislatures are Republican controlled. Low turnout in midterm elections may have influenced the resulting Republican majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. There were chances to take back these institutions; there were chances to hobble a Trump presidency the way Republicans had hobbled Obama’s second term.

Liberals didn’t manage it, though. Midterm elections don’t get the media attention or national scrutiny the way presidential elections do, but the legislative balance of power depends on them. The use of a president, however accomplished or charismatic, is limited significantly when — as with Obama for the majority of his years — they have no legislative power behind them.

Politics has to be more than a “sport for nerds,” and if we intend to win we have to focus on turnout, not the number of nominal partisans in one area or another. When trying to stop someone accused of sexual misconduct, hammering home the fact that he’s assaulted a number of teenage girls and women isn’t going to flip his voters (it may, in fact, strengthen their resolve). Bringing more of the people who already oppose him, or who support his opponent, to the polls is more effective than trying to convert people who are already resistant to the Democratic party’s ideas.

In one year, the first 2020 candidates will be declaring their candidacy for the position of president. In two years, we’ll have seen a number of debates, and will be coming up on the primary elections (perhaps in both parties). Trump, as he has this last year, will most likely have made an impossible number of gaffes and horrible statements during this time.

In three years, we’ll have another presidential election — and a House of Representatives election that will determine legislative redistricting after the census. It’s critical, especially after Trump’s surprise victory, that we remember the many people who are already decided on progressive ideals, but still need to be reminded to vote in support of them. Make sure, if you’re already weary of this president and his politics, that you show up to cast a ballot.

Hank Minor can be reached at hminor@umich.edu.