Max Lubell: Protests are good, but denial isn't

Sunday, November 20, 2016 - 3:06pm

Like millions of people these past two weeks, I have been trying to understand the outcome of the presidential election. I have gathered so far that Donald Trump’s rise is far from monocausal. Rather, the election results originated from several sources including, but certainly not limited to, white supremacy, sexism, education disparity, the rural-urban divide and a lack of engagement with the working class on the part of Democrats.

Conversations deducing how Trump rose to the top of U.S. politics have become rather complex. National dialogue and protests have constituted some of the reaction to the election. Dialogue and protests are a necessary next step to figuring out where the body politic goes from here. Much of the dialogue has focused on how Trump was elected and how liberals can move forward, and some of it has been taking place on the University of Michigan’s campus, along with several protests. Though I am a proponent of dialogue and protests, these reactions must focus on fixing the system that got us here instead of promoting denial of the current state of our national politics.

So far, the protests against Trump have expressed rage against his presidential win — they demonstrate the views of a subset of the United States that will never agree with his values. The protests display a United States that believes in denouncing the intolerance and demonization that Donald Trump used to rise to power. Though I think protests are beneficial strategies for any movement, it’s worth noting that protests will only go so far. For the most part, it seems as though protests only unite those who share similar beliefs. That is why the dialogue that is occurring is a necessary addition to the anti-Trump protests. Primarily, this dialogue needs to include engagement within the Democratic Party, to restructure and re-engage the people who decided they disagree with its values. That sort of discussion identifies how the left can ensure that people like Trump never rise to power again.

I believe there is a group of people that thinks the goals of anti-Trump protests are whining cry-babies trying to change the outcome of the election, aimed at showing enough opposition to Trump to make the Electoral College vote against him. I don’t even come close to agreeing with that framing. It may be easy to find a subset of protesters who are trying to change the election results, but I have yet to see a majority stance from an anti-Trump movement or politician attempting to portray the goals of protests as changing the outcome of the election. I believe the general and explicit purpose of these protests is to unite against the hateful values Trump propagates. However, even if the main goal of anti-Trump protests and dialogue isn’t to push against the election results, that intention persists in many ways in the reaction to Trump’s win.

Even if the major goal of anti-Trump protests is not to change the election, it has existed in some rhetoric on the left. For example, one petition was widely spread throughout liberal social circles, calling for the Electoral College to change its votes and elect Hillary Clinton. This argument is based on the idea that since Hillary won the popular vote, the Electoral College should unilaterally elect her and deny Donald Trump his seat in the Oval Office. Even if electors could change their votes, which they probably won’t, the argument misses a very important point: Even if the popular vote went to Clinton, it only did by a relatively small margin. We shouldn’t be celebrating that; we should be afraid of it. We should be questioning why so many people didn’t denounce Trump’s sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia by voting against him. This is the primary problem with denialism.

Denialism fails to figure out how we got here. It fails to question how we deconstruct white supremacy. It fails to question how liberals engage with the working class. It fails to question the role that Hillary Clinton’s gender played in her loss. It fails to figure out why 41.8 percent of eligible voters decided not to vote. These people decided they didn’t share Donald Trump’s values, yet also decided they didn’t care enough about these values to stop him.

A major slogan employed by protesters has been “not my president.” The point of such a slogan seems obvious: Many people in this country using it don’t agree with the beliefs of their new president-elect. The major problem with such rhetoric is that it erases a very obvious and important fact — Trump is your president. The left needs to remind itself of that every day for the next four years. We need to remind ourselves of it every time we lose sight of the liberal ideals of tolerance, equity and safety for all. We need to remind ourselves of that fact, as liberals try to restructure the Democratic Party to fight against racism, sexism, neoliberalism and liberal elitism.

Once again, I am not critiquing anti-Trump protests or dialogue. Instead, I am pushing for a more deliberate, thoughtful agenda that focuses on re-engaging voters. Protests and dialogue need to focus on understanding how the United States and Trump got here. They also need to engage with those who were not sufficiently motivated to vote against his presidency.

So stop chanting that he is not your president. Scream about how you will never accept Trump’s hatred. Scream love for the communities currently living in fear. Scream that you resent it, but that he is your president. Every time you say the words “President Donald Trump,” be reminded of this failure. Let it be a call to action about how you will help the communities that are going to be battered under a Trump presidency. Be reminded of what you are going to do to stop alt-right, white nationalist politics from continuing to rise in the United States.

Max Lubell can be reached at mlubell@umich.edu.