Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.
Many right-wing media figures have accused anti-Trump protesters of being “paid” on a widespread basis to demonstrate against President Donald Trump. Not only do these allegations lack any evidence of a systematic effort, they also ignore the fact that the conservative tea party protests of the early 2010s were “astroturfed” — heavily supported and organized by large, outside groups.
Evidence-free claims and suggestions of paid protesters driving anti-Trump sentiment have circulated throughout right-wing media for years but have increased since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Both Trump himself and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have repeated the claim that anti-Trump protests are, in Spicer’s words, a “very paid astroturf-type movement.” Rush Limbaugh warned that the airport protests against Trump’s Muslim ban were “bought and paid for by George Soros, prearranged. … and waiting for the moment to be cued to action.” The Daily Caller wrote that protests directed against a vocal Trump supporter at the University of California, Berkeley were “backed by a progressive charity that is in turn funded by George Soros, the city of Tucson, a major labor union and several large companies.” The claims have also circulated among fake news purveyors and state-owned Russian propaganda.
Despite the charge being leveled at nearly every anti-Trump protest, there is no proof that they protesters were systematically paid by any group. Recently, claims that a group called Demand Protest was paying people $2,500 a month to protest Trump nationwide were exposed as a hoax, much like a viral claim during the election season of craigslist ads offering $3,500 to protest Trump, which ended up being a lie created by a fake news writer to generate profit.
Right-wing media’s concerns about supposed liberal paid protesters also conveniently forgets times when they were enamored by protesters who were financially supported by outside groups.
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump ally Alex Jones’ website offered a cash reward to protesters that interrupted Hillary Clinton rallies, an open attempt to pay protesters. Even more significant, right-wing media was also an ally of the Tea Party movement during the first term of former President Barack Obama, which was widely documented to be backed by big money donors.
The Tea Party, described as “the biggest Astroturf operation in history,” was heavily financed and supported by billionaires, most prominently Charles and David Koch. In addition to financial support from conservative billionaires, the Tea Party enjoyed glowing coverage across right-wing media, most prominently on Fox News, which encouraged its viewers to head to the “conservative Woodstock.” “Party on!” Fox hosts, such as Sean Hannity, attached themselves to and tried to boost the protests, and Tea Party activists even thanked the network for its assistance in spreading their message.
IMAGE: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.com
An energetic and full-throated resistance is building nationwide to oppose the whims of Donald Trump. Witness the crowds that turned out last weekend to protest Trump’s malicious executive order barring refugees from entering the country and voiding the visas of citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Yet the likeliest way to put a leash on Trump and overcome his enablers in Washington requires much more focus than marching in the street. It’s not as sexy. It won’t give you the same thrill or cachet as playing the agitator extraordinaire. You won’t be able to brag about it to your grandchildren. But it’s what will work.
We need to make our representatives and senators squirm. It’s not that hard, if you know how to do it.
Writing to or calling our elected officials is something we know we’re supposed to do, and yet we so seldom follow through. Even when we do get motivated to write a letter or make a phone call, we often do it wrong. The point is not so much to let our rep or senator know how we feel, although that is part of it. Rather, the point is to make him or her aware that you are watching and listening, and that he or she will pay a price for acting or voting against your wishes.
How do you do that effectively? There’s a handy guide titled “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” This easily digested 27-page document is downloadable at www.IndivisibleGuide.com.
As the guide explains, members of Congress react mostly to their constituents. And they don’t like to look bad. Small efforts of vocal, well-timed and articulated advocacy can work wonders.
“Indivisible” groups are forming in major cities and in smaller communities. At last count there were around 4,500, with at least one in virtually every congressional district.
The document offers plenty of insider knowledge, as it was crafted by former congressional staffers. They share their insights into what made their former bosses listen, and squirm.
Thus, “Indivisible” does a great service in helping the well-intentioned but off-script activist. This is covered in helpful table outlining “what your member of Congress doesn’t care much about.” This includes form letters, tweets, Facebook comments that haven’t generated widespread attention, and “your thoughtful analysis of the proposed bill.”
One chapter, “How Your Member of Congress Thinks and How to Use That to Save Democracy,” elaborates the simple but crucial dictum that congressional members worry first and foremost about getting re-elected and protecting their image. Unhappy and outspoken constituents make for bad optics, which inspires more unhappy constituents.
The pamphlet cribs a few sheets from the tea party playbook. Tea partiers, after all, were adept at organizing, keeping their focus local. They didn’t waste energy developing complicated policy agendas. Rather, they relentlessly hounded members of Congress who supported anything that Obama touched. They were the impetus for the extreme obstructionism that transformed the GOP into the “Party of No.”
Tea party efforts cleared the path for decisive midterm victories for the GOP and, eventually, for Trump to take the White House. That is why progressive protesters against Trump, inasmuch as they are on the defensive and need to act accordingly, also need to recognize that playing effective defense presents an awesome opportunity to organize for eventual legislative majorities.
Republicans are firmly in control of Congress at least until the midterm elections in 2018. Retaking the Senate, much less the House, will be a tough uphill climb. The first step toward taking Congress back is to say no to Trump’s agenda now. Hence, the authors of “Indivisible” offer tips for “stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.”
Every dysfunctional president has had his enablers. And members of the GOP who do not stand up to Trump’s more egregious moves — which is to say, virtually his entire policy agenda — fit that definition.
Despite his preening and complaining, Trump did not win the popular vote. He has started with a record low approval rating, and he becomes more unpopular with every display of narcissism or cruelty.
So “Indivisible” offers this solid reassurance: “If a small minority in the tea party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”
The greatest weapon the American public has to fight Trump and his minions is the central institution of our representative democracy: the legislative branch.
Progressives must threaten their representatives with removal if they don’t heed the majority that finds Trump repugnant, and they must organize that majority to speak unambiguously in November 2018.
IMAGE: Activists gather outside the Trump International Hotel to protest President Donald Trump’s executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Many Democrats hope the massive demonstrations against Donald Trump will evolve into a Democratic tea party. Sloppy rollouts of incoherent policy dressed in malevolence can rile people up. But Democrats must first understand what made the tea party powerful. Its great success came not from the members’ anger, but from the ability to turn that anger into a show of force on Election Day.
Tea party people vote. They vote in midterm congressional elections. They vote for state reps and for mayors and for judges. They show up.
Democratic constituencies famously disappear in off-presidential years. That said, the party did take control of Congress in the 2006 midterms. To get there in 2018, though, it must first replace the party’s somnolent leadership.
Given the Democrats’ generally dismal performance in the recent congressional races, it was surprising how easily Nancy Pelosi retained her post as House minority leader. She had a competent challenger in Tim Ryan, who was just re-elected in an industrial Ohio district that Trump handily won.
For evidence of the national party’s failure, look no further than Texas’ 7th Congressional District. Hillary Clinton won the 7th, which covers wealthy parts of Houston and its suburbs and has been trending Democratic. But the Democratic candidate for Congress, James Cargas, lost after receiving virtually no support from national Democrats.
Cargas had only $62,000 to spend on his campaign against incumbent John Culberson’s $1.9 million. He still managed to pull in 44 percent of the vote. Imagine if the national party had actually tried.
Some state Democratic organizations have all but flatlined.
In the pivotal state of Wisconsin, the party “couldn’t be bothered to recruit a candidate to take on conservative state Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler,” writes editorial page editor David D. Haynes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And in one of the state’s most Democratic counties, it failed to find people to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s circuit court appointees.
Though Democrats’ gloom may lighten at panoramic shots of throngs protesting Trump’s latest outrage, the party must recognize that crowds, in and of themselves, don’t necessarily translate into votes. Trump had crowds but lost the popular count to Clinton by millions of votes — and so, for that matter, did Bernie Sanders.
If these marches lead to grass-roots organizing, that could be a swell thing for Democrats. But as mere spectacle, protests can grow old. They attract vendors of narrow ethnic, gender, and other identity interests uninterested in big-tent politics. They occasionally provide a stage for anti-social behavior. And they inconvenience motorists, businesses, and locals in their path.
The good news for Democrats is that they have new blood clamoring to run for office. Interest is especially high in the 22 districts that voted for Clinton but elected Republicans to Congress. Many are in former Republican Sun Belt strongholds in Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Southern California.
With the public growing increasingly restive over Trump’s disruptive antics, it’s possible that Republicans will fix the Trump problem themselves. It is not the mission here to discuss what Republicans could do about Trump, but there are various tools at their disposal.
So it’s early for Democrats to count on Republicans’ letting Trump continue his reckless joy ride to a disastrous conclusion. For the good of the country, none of us should want that ending.
But whether the politics are normal or abnormal, it’s a truism that you can’t win it if you’re not in it. In too many places, Democrats are perilously close to becoming a PINO, party in name only. Opportunity knocks, but you can’t open the door if you don’t get out of bed.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com.
IMAGE: Activists march to protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban in Portland, Oregon, U.S. January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
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