Now that the Blue Wave has washed over the House of Representatives (and continues to grow in some states), will the Resistance join the Graveyard of democratic politics? History suggests that progressive political movements lose their potency after Democratic electoral wins. Just look at the post-9/11 anti-war movement and the Obama campaign in 2008 for evidence. Although some called the campaign to elect Barack Obama a movement to elect the first Black president, the campaign’s infrastructure (which became Organizing for America) was subsumed into the Democratic party quickly after the inauguration. The grassroots army of activists celebrated as the future of grassroots organizing was swiftly disarmed into a cadre of donors and phone bankers. Will the Resistance meet a similar fate?
As part of research for this book, I conducted a follow-up survey with participants in what I am calling the Resistance in the Streets—people who have marched in the largest protests since Donald Trump’s Inauguration, including both Women’s Marches, the People’s Climate March, and the March for Our Lives. Overall, there is clear evidence that the Resistance redirected its attention from the streets to the districts to fight for Democrats to win in the 2018 midterm elections. Participants identified electoral politics generally and the midterm elections specifically as the main solution to what they considered to be the “top challenges” facing America. In fact, almost two-thirds of participants in my follow-up survey (63%) reported working with at least one “Resistance Group” six months before the midterm election (see Chapter 4 draft for more details).
The result of these efforts is a midterm election that saw unprecedented turnout and enthusiasm, particularly by educated white women who make up the bulk of the Resistance. But what happens to a movement that has been laser focused on one election after that election is over? Many leaders of Resistance groups have told me they plan to continue to channel their members’ outrage against the President and his administration, but will the ground troops continue to follow their lead?
At this point, it is too soon to tell. History certainly provides a cautionary tale.
At the same time, President Trump has been fanning the flames of Resistance since before taking office by eliciting the moral outrage of citizens through his statements and actions. My research finds that moral outrage motivated many Americans to participate in the Resistance without strong ties to the groups that were organizing the events: groups didn’t mobilize the activism, outrage did. Moreover, this outrage has sustained their activism throughout the past 22 months.
As President Trump continues to mobilize his base with inflammatory rhetoric and extremist politics, he may be exactly what the Resistance needs to survive. Just one day after the election, MoveOn worked with numerous other groups to organize over 800 #ProtectMueller events in response to the President firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Will people be outraged enough to continue marching in the streets and confronting their elected officials at town hall meetings? It is a bitter irony that the President’s base feeds on his outrageous conduct and so does the Resistance.