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How Trump is helping to save our democracy

E.J. Dionne Jr., Thomas E. Mann And Norman J. Ornstein on

Large-scale demonstrations are part of the response, and so are grass-roots efforts by citizens to confront their legislators at town halls and any other venues where politicians can be found. They have won concrete victories against Trump's agenda and have changed minds, most dramatically on Obamacare. In April, Gallup reported that 55 percent of Americans approved of the Affordable Care Act, up 13 points from November. It was the first time that a majority registered a positive view of the law.

The need to contain Trump has given life to new forms of organization. People of faith, across traditions, have stood up for the most vulnerable in confronting measures that have targeted immigrants and sought to roll back social protections. Lawyers have organized to combat the president's travel bans, to protect the rights of undocumented individuals and to challenge Trump's financial conflicts of interest. Public interest groups such as the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Project on Government Oversight have expanded their efforts on behalf of political reform, forging new alliances to fight the influence of big money in politics, protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, strengthen anti-corruption statutes and challenge the electoral college.

Will these initiatives lead to a sustained, long-term project? Will they build a new politics that acts as a counter to Trumpism and survives beyond his time in office? The evidence is promising.

Many of the new groups are developing models of citizen activism designed to promote lasting engagement. The largest of these, Indivisible, started as an online guide to political advocacy from former congressional staffers, but it amassed several thousand local chapters across the country with astonishing speed, assisted by full-time organizing staff. While Indivisible chapters do take action to resist Trump's agenda at the national level, they emphasize advocacy in their states and counties. Although Trump is doing great damage through and to the federal government, the decay in our civic culture and institutions must be addressed from the bottom up.

Swing Left, another group formed in the aftermath of the 2016 election, is helping to connect progressives living in comfortably blue districts with opportunities to support Democratic congressional candidates in nearby swing districts. And #KnockEveryDoor is recruiting and training volunteers to canvass in their communities with the goal of promoting progressive policies by engaging voters in civil conversations -- imagine that! -- about the issues that matter most to them.

Organizations that existed prior to Trump's victory have reconsidered their political strategies and rededicated themselves to building the capacity of grass-roots activists. The ACLU has launched the People Power platform, an online network to train its members in activism and connect them to events in their communities. The progressive MoveOn.org launched Resistance Summer in June to educate 1,200 people in political organizing and advocacy. This was matched by a similar Resistance Summer effort within the apparatus of the Democratic Party.

To a greater degree than before, left-of-center issue-based advocacy groups are uniting behind a broad progressive agenda. At the women's marches in January, the many signs calling for gender equality and reproductive justice were joined by placards opposing voter suppression, defending the Affordable Care Act and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. This ecumenical spirit has continued. And when Trump announced his decision to repeal DACA earlier this month, a diverse coalition including the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, People for the American Way and the Sierra Club joined immigrant rights groups in condemning the president's action. After many years when activists often focused on their own particular causes, we're seeing a tilt away from single-issue politics toward multi-issue coalition building.

These displays of solidarity are significant in the short term because the anti-Trump movement is much stronger when it overcomes internal divisions. They demonstrate that the tensions that have surfaced on the left and within the Democratic Party, between supporters of a progressive economic vision that appeals to working-class white voters and supporters of a politics aimed at traditionally marginalized communities, are predicated on a false choice. It's worth remembering that the great civil rights march of 1963 was organized under the slogan "jobs and freedom," linking economic rights to racial justice. These concerns must be seen not as mutually exclusive but as mutually reinforcing.

Perhaps the clearest sign of long-term commitment has been the surge in the recruitment of candidates for public office, especially among younger activists who can speak effectively to peers turned off in the past by political action.

Emily's List, which trains and funds pro-choice Democratic women running for office, says it has already had more than 18,000 potential candidates seek its assistance ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, compared with fewer than 1,000 in the last election cycle. To address racial and gender disparities in politics, Higher Heights is working to recruit more black women to run for office. A new group called Run for Something is focusing on electing young progressives to state and local offices by publicizing their campaigns and connecting them with potential volunteers and donors. It announced its first batch of endorsements in August.

A broad and powerful movement has arisen to defeat Trump and Trumpism. Its success will be a triumph worthy of celebration.

But this is not just an end in itself. It is also an essential first step toward a new politics. It will be a politics that takes seriously the need to solve the problems Trump has exposed. It will nurture our dedication to the raucous but ultimately unifying project of democratic self-government. For it is our shared commitment to republican institutions and democratic values that makes us one nation.

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Dionne, Mann and Ornstein are the authors of "One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported," from which this essay is adapted.

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E.J. Dionne's email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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