Resistance, supporters remain energized one year after Trump took office

Women's March events are planned around the world this weekend, one year after President Donald Trump took office. (SBG)

Many Republicans view President Donald Trump’s first year in office as one of successfully advancing conservative priorities and fulfilling campaign promises, but Democrats and progressive activists remain committed to resisting his agenda and upending GOP control of Washington in 2018.

As was the case after his inauguration in January 2017, the anniversary Saturday was marked by marches around the country and across the globe that carried messages of support for women’s rights and opposition to Trump. In some cities, the crowds rivaled or even exceeded those at the original Women’s Marches last year.

"Many people wanted the new administration to know that we planned to fight to keep the rights that have been won. This January, there will be even more reasons for citizens to rally and march, as many of those rights have been discarded or eroded," Matthew Fonken, a leader of the Reno, Nev. march, told KRNV.

The second Women’s Marches also took place in the context of the #metoo movement, with the public’s attention trained on accountability and justice for sexual assault and misconduct against women.

“I came to the first Women’s March last year and I thought it was energizing to be with a whole group of women who were really looking forward to making a change in our country,” said Jessica Thimdit, who marched in Columbus, Ohio Saturday.

Some of the weekend’s events emphasized the importance of political engagement and registering to vote in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.

"I think people are waking up, and I think they are saying enough is enough. I feel like [in] 2018 we are going to see a change, a much-needed change," Asheville, N.C. marcher Kim Preish told WLOS.

President Trump responded to hundreds of thousands of Americans marching for women’s rights Saturday, many of the explicitly rejecting him and his agenda, by touting economic progress over the last year and encouraging women to demonstrate in support of him.

“Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months,” he tweeted. “Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”

Though the government shut down on Friday night and negotiations continued on Capitol Hill, some Democrats were on hand Saturday for the Washington, D.C. march.

“The fact that the government is shut down on the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration says a lot about the chaos of the way he’s running the government,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told the crowd. “But this is an anniversary, too, and it’s an anniversary of activism and an anniversary of peacefully getting off the sidelines and being engaged.”

Trump remains historically unpopular for a president at this point in his term, and Democrats are counting on that discontent to propel them through the November midterm elections.

Asked to grade Trump’s handling of the job last week, many Democrats on Capitol Hill offered harsh assessments.

“Sadly, I give him a failing grade for demeaning our democratic institution, degrading our freedoms, and betraying fundamental American values,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has been most troubled by the Trump administration’s handling of public lands.

“He deserves an F for the stewardship he has failed to provide and the fact that he wants to turn this back to oil or gas development is not the highest and best use for this,” she said.

Some questioned the issues that Trump chose to address first and the persistent problems he has allowed to fester.

“Perhaps an F or F minus,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y. “I think we missed all the issues out that are urgent and high priority for my district, my home state and the country.”

Other Democrats declined to assign Trump a grade, but they made clear they consider his first year in office a failure on both style and substance.

“What I’ll say is its been disappointing. It’s frustrating to have an administration that just is over their head on a consistent basis,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., lamented Trump’s failure to work with Democrats in good faith.

“He had the opportunity to come in and work in a bipartisan way with Congress, to get an infrastructure deal, to get input on a tax bill that really helped the middle class in this country,” she said. “He has an opportunity now to help get a deal on immigration and DACA and a budget deal that would give us a full year of funding and he’s blowing it up.”

Republicans defended Trump’s performance.

“I’d give him an A,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. “First of all, President Trump and Vice President Pence and this administration have kept their promises to the American people. The economy is booming, unemployment is at an all-time low, the stock market is doing well, but most importantly, when I speak with my constituents, consumer confidence is so high.”

“On the economy, I’d give him an A,” said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga. “I think he’s done an outstanding job on the economy. On national security issues, I would give him an A.”

However, Scott added that Trump’s Twitter use continues to concern him.

“I think that if he would be a little more considerate and consistent on what he tweeted out, then we could do a lot more for the American citizens,” he said.

Some Democrats are more alarmed by the president’s social media behavior.

“This guy tweets like crazy,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. “He changes his position from day to day…. He doesn’t know what he believes in or what he wants. Everything for him is controversy, change the subject, get people riled up.”

People are indeed often riled up on both sides of the political divide over Trump’s words and actions, and even a year after he took office, the fire has not abated among those fighting Trump’s policies.

“I don't see any drop off in passion, drive, or desire,” said Jason Del Gandio, author of “Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists.” “Protests ebb and flow with whatever is happening in the moment, but Trump is still very much a target of scorn.”

Trump has come to represent bigotry in the eyes of many, according to Del Gandio, an associate professor at Temple University, and the president’s polarizing rhetoric has done little to disabuse them of that notion. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed 59 percent of voters believe he respects white people more than other races.

“It is much easier to create a protest movement when there is a poster child,” he said. “It enables us to project all of our fears and complaints onto a single target. [Trump] crystalizes everything that needs to be changed about America.”

While there are rarely events on the scale of Inauguration Day, Arnie Arnesen, a liberal radio host based in New Hampshire, suggested Trump’s behavior is a constant source of outrage unifying his critics and driving them to protest.

“We don’t need a big rally anymore,” she said. “Donald Trump is giving us a reason to rally every day.”

She recalled to a conservative of African descent who recently asked her what shows he should listen to on NPR after Trump’s reported comments about “s***hole countries” frightened him. Trump has similarly alienated others over the last 365 days as well.

“In a way, that’s a gift…but the problem is he’s hurting my country,” Arnesen said.

According to Capri Cafaro, a former Ohio state senator and executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs, there has been a series of issues that have motivated progressive activists over the last year.

“I do think that these marches have created a network whereby individuals sort of have a loose organization of individuals that are willing to advocate on behalf of certain issues,” she said. “It’s not just about women.”

It started with airport protests over Trump’s travel ban and continued through the summer with the opposition to the Affordable Care Act repeal, demonstrations against gun violence, and now the fight for DACA recipients.

“It has been a constant stream of policy developments,” Cafaro said.

Among other things, the momentum of the movement has driven record numbers of women to run for office, with many now gearing up for midterm campaigns.

"Last year was really empowering and uplifting at a time when we women feel we are being assaulted on a daily basis," Mindi Messmer, a New Hampshire state legislator now running for a U.S. House seat, told the Associated Press.

Democrats hope to capitalize on this activist energy to regain power in Congress, but experts warn the progressive base’s support is not automatic.

“People are aching for change, not just a return to a pre-Trumpian status quo,” Del Gandio said. “There's a reason why Hillary lost. Democrats will no doubt win some seats in the midterms, but they better produce a more progressive and inclusive platform over the long haul or they might be back in the same place.”

He observed that many of the social movements that have coalesced against Trump had been percolating for a while, even under a Democratic president.

“Our era of resistance precedes and exceeds Trump,” he said. “Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, #NoDAPL, and the pro-immigrant movement began under Obama. Trump is simply galvanizing the left.”

Much of the organizing and mobilizing that party structures traditionally do is already churning, so according to Arnesen, Democrats must figure out a way to ride the wave without getting in the way.

“Don’t tamp down the passion,” she said. “Understand why it exists and be grateful because you didn’t do a lot to produce it.”

There is pride and passion on the right as well, as evidenced by the March for Life that President Trump addressed Friday. Tens of thousands gathered to celebrate with what Vice President Mike Pence called “the most pro-life president in American history.”

While previous Republican presidents have spoken to marchers by phone, Trump is the first to deliver a speech at the event via video.

“Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence,” the president said. “And that is the right to life.”

Other anti-abortion lawmakers also delivered speeches Friday, noting the enthusiasm and passion among the attendees.

“Can we just thank God for giving us a pro-life president back in the White House?” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said. “What a crowd. This is so exciting. It is so exciting to see so many young people here today. Your energy is so infectious!”

Smaller marches were held in other cities around the country.

"We have a president that has spoken out for the first time in the Right to Life march back in Washington D.C., and there were thousands there," Myrana Shaneyfelt, organizer of the March for Life in Grants Pass, Ore. told KTVL. "And so they were enthusiastic because of not only the president speaking, but hope for the future."

Polls and interviews surrounding the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration have found that much of his base remains fervent and fiercely loyal, even if his support among the general public is relatively low.

“There is certainly a sector of the American population that very much believes in President Trump’s agenda and vociferously are going to defend that,” Cafaro said.

The enthusiasm on each side tends to feed the other. Throngs of feminists marching through the streets will inevitably fuel anger from Trump’s base, which in turn will further energize the resistance. Neither side seems likely to stand down as long as Trump occupies the Oval Office, if not beyond that.

“I don't think it's good or bad but a natural outcome of our polarized times,” Del Gandio said. “It's not just Trump.”

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