Monday, October 15, 2018

The Dangers of Mutual Radicalization

by Sidney Tarrow

Soon after the election of Donald Trump, a wave of protest bubbled up against the new president and his policies. Beginning with the “Women’s March,” followed by protests on behalf of gun control and against the threat of climate change, and led by new groups like Indivisible and old ones like the ACLU, the movement reached into the legal profession when Trump, soon after entering the White House, abruptly  announced a painful and chaotic ban on refugees and others from several majority-Muslim countries (as described by Michael Dorf and Michael Chu here). When the #MeToo and Never Again movements emerged, it began to seem as if American civil society was rising up in a body against the excesses and outrages of the new administration.

Academics and activists soon collected these varied movements under the rubric of “The Resistance,” but as David Meyer and I argued in our recent book, The Resistance: The Dawn of the Anti-Trump Opposition Movement, that label may say too much and too little. It may say too much because it assumes that the varied protest movements are a coherent whole, and it may say too little because it fails to examine the challenges that the Resistance poses to its supporters. 

Three of these challenges are the most important: first, the proliferation of activist sites and new groups has led to a failure to identify an overarching policy goal – apart from the proximate one of opposing Trump; second, there is a gap  between those who want to defend our institutions against the president and his enablers and those who want to tear down the institutions that facilitated his rise; and, third, there is the danger of mutual radicalization. As was revealed in the conflict that erupted over the Kavanaugh nomination, the third is the most pressing, and could easily weaken The Resistance.

As the midterm elections approach, the Republicans are ramping up this threat. On October 11th, Jamiles Lartey published an article in The Guardian entitled “Republican Attacks Take Aim at Non-White Congressional Candidates.” Both in California (in the congressional campaign of Ammar Campa-Najjar, who has both Latino and Palestinian roots) and in New York (in the campaign of African-American Antonio Delgado) the GOP attacked these two Democrats with scarcely-disguised racist attacks. The California Democrat was savaged for being a “security threat,” because of his family’s supposed “ties to terrorism,” while Delgado was attacked over the lyrics of a rap song he made in 2006 which did not – so the ad claimed – “reflect our lifestyle and values.”

Racist attacks are nothing new coming from the American right, and it may well be that they reflect the desperation of the GOP as it faces major losses in the mid-term  races. The real danger is that such vicious attacks from the cellar of the American right will trigger a spiral of mutual radicalization if candidates like Campa-Najjar and Delgado, who are running in traditionally Republican, largely-white districts, lose their races. A spiral of left/right radicalization of rhetoric – and possibly tactics – can only redound to the benefit of the Trumpist right.

Already, after the savage infighting over the Kavanaugh nomination,  Trump and his enablers described the protesters against his nomination as “a mob,” shrewdly shifting the debate from the nominee’s failings to the actions of his opponents – both in Congress and without. At rallies since the vote, Trump ramped up the rhetoric, attacking both Dr. Ford and the Democrats who supported her claims.

History shows that in such spirals of radicalization, the Right holds more cards than the Left, which can more easily be condemned for the actions and the rhetoric of its extremist fringe. Remember the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign, after the mid-1960s riots and the emergence of the Weathermen from the largely-peaceful SDS? Though a plurality of the American public had grave doubts about the Vietnam War, Nixon’s “silent majority” strategy was highly effective in winning the election.

What can be done? Cooperation can be encouraged between the new groups that emerged after the 2016 election and more seasoned-campaigners like MoveOn and the ACLU. Valence issues like gun control and (now) the Affordable Care Act can appeal to a broad constituency, as opposed to those that divide the left from more moderate groups. And in areas of the country and levels of government like New York and California, policy initiatives that unite the opposition can be put forward.

This is not a plea to turn the other cheek; on the contrary, the legal community should call out every threat to the rule of law coming from Trump or his enablers. But while forcing Senator Ted Cruz to leave a Washington restaurant or removing support from senatorial candidate Phil Bredesen in Tennessee because he supported Kavanaugh  may satisfy outraged liberals, such gestures carry water to the Trumpian well. The legal profession must understand that the ultimate danger of the Trump regime is not this or that policy initiative or tweeted outrage from the president, but his threat to the very survival of democracy.


Shag from Brookline said...

Trump's " ... threat to the very survival of democracy" is demonstrated by Trump's foreign policy, which makes Trump a threat to America's national security. Even Saudi Arabia makes retaliatory threats, economic and otherwise, in response to Trump's weak assertions about the "serious" situation with the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Trump's cost/benefit analysis of getting "serious" with Saudi Arabia did not disclose any impact on Trump Enterprises. It has been suggested that Trump and his son-in-law may have served to enable Saudi Arabia to do what it has alleged to have done to Khashoggi. Have we forgotten the Saudi 9/11 connections? While the Resistance may be disparate, both democracy and national security should be binding. The legal profession must be supporting.

Joe said...

Those hippies at lunch counters are riling up people too much.

The line to draw here can be tough, but sometimes public protests that rile up emotions are deserved. When someone who ranted and lied his way with good evidence of repeated sexual assault in his past on to to Supreme Court is up, maybe.

I'm not sure where the line is or a line that will at least lead to a few things that seem unpleasant like shunning at a restaurant. It is human nature that when certain things are amped up a certain level that something like that will happen. I personally find keeping people out of public restaurants unseemly but I also find certain things not merely policy differences. So, stay away from the family, but if certain people here are booed or have to deal with screaming protesters in elevators, it's pretty understandable.

But, I realize that can hurt the side -- some anti-choice protester can honestly go up to some Democrat and in plaintive tones talk about the babies. As to Phil Bredesen, realistically, you are stuck with some less than ideal candidates in red states, especially when the opponents are much worse. It is still tbh very hard at times. Kavanaugh is not some run of the mill policy dispute.

And, there are ways for someone not in the Senate to equivocate. He could have simply said that he didn't have all the evidence and note people like Manchin and Flake only voted late in the game. Honestly, I think that would have been smarter. Since, again, given the stakes, people are going to find it hard to hold their noses sometimes.

Ughbugchugplug said...

Not sure I agree. The center-left could easily just gaslight as the republicans do - when people say chanting at Cruz in a restaurant is uncivil, just start accusing them of suppressing the freedom to protest. When they say the left is becoming socialist, say they’ve said that about Obama and Clinton and that they always overreact. It’s not hard to normalize radical beliefs by deflecting and conflating.

The real difference is that the center-left does not want to do this. They have a different political project than their base, and they join the right in attacking the base in order to keep it in line. They want social justice reformers to vote for them and accept symbolic gestures while they carry out their vision.

David Ricardo said...

The statement in this post “The . . . danger of the Trump regime is . . . the very survival of democracy” illustrates a great fallacy of American thinking , namely that the nation was or is a functioning democracy.
The U. S. was not conceived as a democracy. Direct election of Senators and the President was not proscribed in the Constitution. The franchise was largely limited to white male property owners. Africans were counted as partial persons not because they were regarded as human but as a way to give southern states greater influence in the federal government.
While today America is more of a democracy than it was in 1789, it is only (subjectively) about a 70% democracy. The President is still not directly elected and twice in recent times the President is not the person who received the most votes. A basic premise of democracy, one person/one vote does not exist, in part because of the structure of the Senate, in part because of gerrymandering in the extreme, mostly by Republicans but in some places by Democrats and in large part because of an idiotic Supreme Court ruling that money is speech. America is not governed by the people, it is governed mostly by a ruling political class.
The principle of majority rule/minority rights has been subverted because the Republicans no longer feel compelled to play by the rules. The standard for them is no longer ‘is it right?’ but ‘can we get away with it’.
The right to vote has always been under attack, and a Republican dominated Supreme Court eviscerated part of the Voting Rights Act allowing Republicans to accelerate their attack on the ability to vote. A Kavanaugh court will further accelerate the ability of Republican to rig elections and the electorate.
The nation has an elite political and financial class that can engage in criminal acts with almost near impunity. No one went to jail for the fraud that led to the 2007-08 financial crisis. GOP Rep. Chris Collins, under indictment will not be tried until early 2020 (not that is not a typo) and so will be out on bail and in congress for almost his entire term when he is re-elected in his Republican dominant district. Corruption at all levels of government is the rule, not the exception.

Democracy is a continuum, it can be in a state of existence and failing at the same time. That is the current situation, and unless Americans realize this it will continue its movement toward extinction. The quasi democracy is failing today and its survival is already in doubt, and until this fact is recognized that failures will continue.

Shag from Brookline said...

Corruption is fueled by money. Sp, follow the money? Money is speech? Then more money drowns out the speech of less money. The Trump/GOP 2017 tax cuts primarily for the wealthy extends the power of money by permitting the wealthy to politically tithe Trump 2020 and the GOP from tax savings to fund their campaigns in order to maintain the benefits of those tax cuts in the future in addition to continue defunding the IRS to lessen audits of the wealthy. Tax reform is not part of the Trump/GOP agenda, as demonstrated by recent NTTimes exposes of the tax histories of Trump and his son-in-law Jared, who also have ties, personal and political, with Saudi Arabia. Democracy suffers with inequality.

Shag from Brookline said...

From time to time regular posters at this Blog provide links to their Verdict columns related to their posts. Today in making my rounds I learned at the Take Care Blog's daily digest a link to this Verdict column by a non-poster:

"Reversal of Reputation: How Dershowitz is Taking Liberties to Defend Trump" 15 OCT 2018 by DEAN FALVY

This highly critical review of Dershowitz's recent book on impeachment provides a lesson on separation of powers under the Constitution that is important to maintaining democracy in the era of Trump. Violations of the Executive's responsibilities under the Constitution are greater than statutory violations.