On most days, if you asked me what I would do if I was given a time machine that allowed me to travel back in time to the 1960’s, I’d tell you that I’d go see Jimi Hendrix light his guitar on fire at the Monterrey Pop Festival or watch Sandy Koufax pitch or Mickey Mantle hit. There are a lot of things I wish I could have seen in person.
Only with more reflection might I get it in my head to try to change history somehow, like the protagonist in Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 who tries to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy.
What I wouldn’t do is go to a town hall meeting to confront my congressman about the Vietnam War or join in some vigil in front of the Pentagon. It’s not that those things are unworthy. I joined a protest outside my congressman’s local office just three weeks ago. But they are still small ball.
If that all The Resistance amounts to, it doesn’t amount to much.
That’s why I think Jonathan Chait overstates the case:
It is worth noting that, so far, normal political countermobilization seems to be working quite well. “The Resistance,” as anti-Trump activists have come to be known, has already rattled the once-complacent Republican majorities in Congress, which Trump needs to quash investigations of his corruption and opaque ties to Russia. Whatever pressure Trump has tried to apply to the news media has backfired spectacularly. His sneering contempt has inspired a wave of subscriptions that have driven new revenue to national media, which have blanketed the administration with independent coverage. Popular culture outlets, rather than responding to Trump’s election by tempering their mockery, have instead stepped it up, enraging the president.
As I have tried to make clear in two recent posts, I don’t think it’s really possible to rattle the Republican majorities because they are too ensconced in power to have a need to worry about accountability. Maybe some congresspeople are avoiding town halls that are guaranteed to do them more harm than good, but that doesn’t mean that more than a handful of them are actually more worried about getting beaten by Democrats than by primary challengers from their right.
And the press may not be going docile on Trump, but that doesn’t mean that their reporting is more effective now than it was during the campaign.
As for popular culture, we saw what that was worth on November 8th.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from their efforts to resist, but I also don’t want people to think that what’s being done so far is “working quite well.” It’s not.
What’s working more than anything is what Trump and his team are doing and not doing. Their incompetence and overreach are limiting their effectiveness and creating divisions on the right. Aside from modestly effective obstruction by Senate Democrats, the only thing slowing down Trump and the congressional Republicans is their radicalism combined with their amateurish grasp of how to use the tools they now own.
They will start to figure these things out. They’ll get their people in place. And they’ll begin to really hammer and disempower their political enemies.
Keeping them divided and fighting among themselves is the best strategy for now, but the political resistance needs to be geographic in scope and focus. Local Democratic organizations that have been dormant for years need to lead this charge from below, but the messaging at the top needs to change, too.
Maybe a half century from now it will be easy to fantasize about what we should have done while we still had a chance to change history, but we should try to apply that kind of thinking now while our choices remain real.