Concerned citizens have been antagonizing Republican lawmakers in state town halls for the past several weeks. Their concerns range from worry about how they’ll survive when Republicans take away their healthcare to wondering how our fragile civilization will survive with a lumbering, fascist orangutan in the White House. Republicans have done such a terrible job addressing their constituents’ concerns, many are simply skipping the events altogether.
So-called President Trump hasn’t tweeted much lately, but he did say, “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” Trump is right that the confrontations are, to some extent, planned. That hardly makes them illegitimate. If Trump didn’t want to contend with an organized citizenry, he should not have sought public office in a democracy – even one as flawed as ours.
Republicans insist that protesters are paid agitators, even the millions of Americans who protested Trump’s inauguration. Protesting isn’t easy, so to believe that is to believe they’re being paid well. In reality, many protesters take time off from work to march, and many don’t have jobs with generous leave policies. Walking, shouting, braving harsh weather, making signs, risking a confrontation with the police – all of it is a sacrifice compelled by concern for the country and the world.
That’s why the big protests tend to be liberal. The Republican platform consists primarily of cutting taxes for the wealthy, cutting entitlements for the poor, selling public land to business concerns, restricting access to the polls, and deregulating big business. None of this inspires citizen solidarity. What inspires solidarity are activists seeking to correct injustices and make gains for the general population – opposition to police brutality, the deportation of human beings, starvation wages, environmental degradation, and the suppression of human rights.
People who want to protect the environment, for instance, will put their bodies on the line for it. Activists protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline faced state violence so cruel and unusual that the United Nations condemned it. Eventually, enough bad publicity forced President Obama to halt construction. It took no similar organized effort for President Trump to reverse that decision. It took only the wealthy oil oligarchs, including the pipeline’s owner, whispering in his ear.
One of Trump’s first acts overturned one of President Obama’s last: the Stream Protection Rule. The rule was designed to prohibit coal companies from dumping debris in nearby streams. No mass chorus of aggrieved citizens demanded the coal industry be allowed to poison their waterways. It’s preposterous to even imagine such an uprising. Wealthy donors wanted it, and Republicans gave it to them.
The Republican Party is explicitly the party of the 1 percent. Trump, himself a member of that class, riled up a populist base, but he did so by mimicking the most liberal candidate in decades, Bernie Sanders. Trump’s opposition to TPP, his critique of Hillary Clinton’s corporate ties, and his pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare were all progressive positions. They’re also important to Americans, which is why so many now feel the need to protest and speak at town halls.
But these aren’t the concerns of the 1 percent, and therefore, they aren’t the concerns of Republicans. So Republican lawmakers have gone on the offensive, trying to delegitimize their own constituency as being “professional protesters” paid by George Soros. Several Republican state legislatures, including in Arizona, have openly discussed brazenly unconstitutional bills to criminalize protest. They know such bills will disproportionately target liberals – even during Obama’s presidency, the biggest protest was the left-wing Occupy Wall Street.
On the conservative side, the biggest protests tend to target abortion or advocate for weapons. This, too, shows that Republicans simply aren’t nearly as aggrieved. At a CNN-sponsored healthcare debate, a Republican owner of five hair salons complained that Obamacare’s requirement that she provide her employees health insurance restricted her from expansion. This, to her, constituted real oppression – she owns only five salons instead of six. Other than that, the most oppressive thing liberals have done is force bakeries to accept customers.
Republican voters do suffer – under Republican policies, like low wages and reduced benefits. But ask a Republican why liberals protest and they’ll say it’s because conservatives have jobs to get to. If there’s any truth to that, it means Republicans are rewarded for their cooperation with the system. Liberal activists cannot cooperate with a system that denies rights to people or perpetrates intolerable injustices. That – not an email from George Soros promising them money – is what compels them to activism.