Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump last November, I was disappointed with his election, and I want him to be voted out of office as soon as possible. I have published articles criticizing him and I have even crossed party lines to support his opponent (a painful step for any registered Republican).
I only say all of this to convince you that I am genuinely concerned about the direction of the anti-Trump protest movement. I am sad, not because I disagree with its aim to defeat Trump, but because I am worried that it will make our problems worse. As well-intentioned as the vast majority of protesters are, both at Swarthmore and elsewhere, their tactics could actually empower Trump.
Now, more than ever, it is important to remember that good intentions unfortunately do not always add up to good results. Just because the anti-Trump movement has embraced civic engagement this does not mean we will win.
At Swarthmore, groups like the Swarthmore Anti-Capitalist Collective (formerly Swarthmore Marxists and Anti-Capitalists) have decided to resist the current administration by refusing to collaborate with moderates. They believe that the best way to minimize the harm caused by Trump is to advocate for a radical lurch to the far left. Somehow they think that refusing to engage with Trump supporters or the center will build a winning coalition. I am certain that this strategy is misguided.
I am a moderate Conservative. While I didn’t vote for Trump, people of my political persuasion are the folks that pushed Donald Trump across the finish line last November. The people who voted for Trump are blue-collar voters living in suburban and rural areas in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. If the President is to be defeated in four years, the anti-Trump movement will have to convince at least some of these Trump supporters to cross the aisle to oppose him.
The problem, as it turns out, is that most college students aren’t aware of how the rest of the country views them. Large parts of the United States look at angrily protesting students and yuppies with a fair share of scorn and disgust. We come off as elitists—people who are supremely privileged (yet won’t admit it) and refuse to admit for a second that there’s a chance we could be wrong about the way the world works. We come off as dismissive know-it-alls who want to force our ideals on the rest of the country.
Let’s be honest, to some extent there is truth in their stereotype.
Regardless of whether urban elites are right or wrong on actual policy issues, we have to face the fact that we’ve got a massive image problem. We are horrible messengers to bring the anti-Trump argument to the world.
We are so horrible, in fact, that President Trump has used our outrage against us. Every time activists exclude anti-Trump pro-life advocates from a women’s march they give him ammunition to demonize the anti-Trump movement.
We have got to realize that every time protesters show up to marches with signs that say, “fuck the patriarchy” and “fuck the police” they confirm the harmful stereotype that we’re out of touch with the world. We end up giving Trump the tools he needs to convince his skeptical moderate critics that while he might be bad, the left is even scarier.
By using extreme rhetoric, the left is closing off avenues for cooperation and tolerance. It is depriving itself of the very coalition of individuals that it will need to beat Trump. Whenever you tell a Trump supporter that you can no longer be their friend because they support the President you are just allowing Trump to convince them that they are victims of leftist and elitist scorn. You are cementing and radicalizing his base.
Trump has thrived on the narrative that urban elites don’t care about the desires or thoughts of the rest of the country. By pivoting to the far left, the anti-Trump movement will provide the President with all the ammunition he needs to deepen the partisan divide that gives him power.
That’s why I want to make a plea: Please, work to show that Trump is wrong, work to regain the trust of the rest of the country, and work to bring former Trump voters into the movement.
I get that protesting and resisting with righteous anger feels absolutely wonderful. I get that yelling “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” might feel liberatory. But we want to end this presidency as soon as possible we have to change the way we talk to the rest of the country.
While opposition to Trump from all parts of the left is important, we must recognize that without the center it won’t be enough to make any meaningful changes. In a democracy you need a majority of the population on your side to create change.
I recognize that many won’t appreciate the fact that a white, male, Republican, is taking potshots at the movement without offering many concrete suggestions. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of real steps that can help the movement actually accomplish its goals. The next time you decide to take steps to shorten Trump’s presidency, I hope you think about how the tactics you use will help solve our problems.
- Don’t use attacks that are unconvincing to the average American. While chanting “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” may sound great to the protesters you’re marching with, people watching the protest at home on Fox News or their local TV station will think that it just sounds unrealistic and outlandish. Exaggerated statements, even on social media, are a great way to delegitimize your ideas.
- Don’t exclude people from your movement just because you have minor policy disagreements. SACC (the new campus leftist group) refuses to work with Swat Conservatives to protest Trump because they are too moderate. Moderates are crucial allies, not impurities that must be dealt with. Never forget that a coalition is only a coalition because there are people in it who you disagree with. Including anti-Trump pro-life women at the Women’s March, for instance, would have only made the moral force of the event more powerful.
- Don’t just protest in the downtowns of big cities. The people in these places already agree with you. They’re not the people you have to convince in order to win. Instead, go out to areas that voted for Trump like the suburbs and rural areas to get some actual face time with them. While people will see video of your protest on TV if you spend time in big cities, this is no substitute for talking to people in person.
- Don’t just protest; try to solve the underlying problems that caused people to vote for Trump in the first place. If people see you attempting to measurably improve the lives of the people you profess to care about you gain a huge amount of moral capital. A wonderful example of this type of activism that took place the day Trump’s immigration executive order was implemented. When lawyers turned up at airport terminals to prevent people from being turned away, it was a particularly powerful moment for the movement. If people want to show they care about income inequality, for instance, politically charged service trips to declining communities could be incredibly effective. I think we too often forget that Pennsylvania has plenty of these towns and cities just a few miles away from Swarthmore.
- Don’t make your attacks on Trump supporters personal. When you attack moderate Trump supporters rather than their ideas they will never side with you. Don’t call them dumb or ignorant because they’ll think exactly the same about you. Remember, no one has been convinced of any argument with condescension alone.
- Don’t personally attack Trump. This so clearly does not work. Personally attacking Trump allows him to claim that the left is full of hypocrites. If you attack him for his many moral indiscretions he won’t deny it, he will simply turn around and say that the left is even worse. Just look to the debate that featured Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey. Basically, making fun of Trump for things like his “golden showers” only makes him stronger.
- Do focus on policy! Trump isn’t Hitler, let’s be real, but he is pretty similar to a more powerful Silvio Berlusconi. What brought Berlusconi down, in the end, wasn’t his endless list of scandals and controversies; those just bounced right off him. What brought him down was his failure to create policies that improved the lives of average Italians. Highlighting Trump’s inability to “Make America Great Again” makes him look like a hypocrite.
- Don’t use leftist vocabulary. It is essential to use the language of the people you are trying to persuade. Talking about critical race theory, for instance, might be important to you, but a moderate Republican almost certainly will just laugh in your face if you try to convince them using those arguments. Appeal to the values that they care about. Talk about liberty, the Constitution, American values, etc… The framing of our arguments is absolutely crucial. Instead of burning the flag, march with one.
- Do have a set of limited concrete demands. When a movement is fractured around hundreds of different issues it loses focus and becomes far less effective. All of the most compelling social movements in American history had one central goal, this movement needs to find one to rally around.
- Don’t resort to violence. This rule should be self-evident. At the end of the day we still live in a democracy, let’s try to act like it.
I’m confident that Trump can be beaten, but this will only happen if we can put aside our differences and work together to show the rest of the country his flaws. At this moment in history, it is essential that radicals and moderates begin building bridges, not burning them.
Featured image by Patrick Holland ’17/The Daily Gazette.
While Patrick Holland is the opinions editor of The Daily Gazette, his views do not necessarily represent those of the editorial board.