Donald Trump's presidency: Dissent and defiance gather steam, signal turbulent times ahead

At one of the many sites of resistance in the US, a protester holds high a poster declaring: 'Dissent is patriotic'.

The three words nicely sum up the defiant mood currently sweeping the US, stoking and driving the upsurge against the Donald Trump presidency. At the same time, these are words that also gesture to the country’s broader legacy of dissent; words that appear to be inseparable from the country’s historical tradition of speaking truth to power.

Arguably, this history of dissent — its roots running deep (which in some cases has led to the institutionalisation of dissent — has been a critical factor behind the genesis of the extraordinary moment unfolding now. Many commentators in recent days have, for instance, drawn an analogy between Trump’s sacking of US attorney-general Sally Yates for refusing to execute the travel ban, and an event known as the "Saturday night massacre" which occurred during Richard Nixon’s presidency in 1973.

Like Yates, then attorney-general Elliot Richardson and deputy attorney-general William Ruckelshaus, refused to endorse Nixon’s dismissal of the independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the infamous Watergate case. In protest, the two high-level judicial functionaries resigned from their posts.

Following Trump’s executive order last Friday, temporarily barring immigrants from seven Muslim majority nations and all refugees from entering the country, America has been awash in an endless tide of protests. What is of particular interest to many is the multifaceted nature of the resistance — the way, virtually every day, a new flank of opposition opens up against the nascent Trump presidency. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is likely to be the next, additional focal point for protesters.

Not only are people coming out on the streets or gathering outside airports by the thousands, strong voices of dissent are also emanating from within powerful institutions — the diplomatic core, the judiciary, the tech industry, universities, taxi unions, corporates, national park rangers, and the ever-vocal celebrities in Hollywood. No institution worth its name is willing to give the president the benefit of doubt, or give him a free pass to use the enormous powers the presidency has.

File image of anti-Donald Trump protesters at a rally. AFP

File image of anti-Donald Trump protesters at a rally. AFP

Soon after the ban kicked in, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his page that the directive "would make all Americans less safe by diverting resources, while millions of undocumented folks who don’t pose a threat will live in fear of deportation". Zuckerberg mentioned that his wife’s parents had been refugees from China and Vietnam. Alongside a host of other corporate entities, Amazon and Expedia extended support to the Washington state attorney-general who had filed a lawsuit against the executive order. While the Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky pledged that his company would house refugees for free, Google co-founder Sergey Brin joined a protest at San Francisco International Airport. He told the media that, having fled the Soviet Union as a child, he himself was a refugee. One of the most striking assurances came from Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz. He has promised to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years, starting in the US.

The transportation sector too reacted to the ban with a host of retaliatory measures, including a strike. While the New York taxi union went on a lightning strike, the co-founders of Lyft donated a million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is suing the government on behalf of refugees. People also quick to punished companies which were seen to be violating solidarity among protesting citizens. Uber faced the ire of subscribers who deleted their accounts and the app after the company tried to break the New York taxi drivers’ strike by halting surge prices.

On the political front, the mayors of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have pledged to continue to provide services to undocumented immigrants even after the US president has warned that he would cut off federal aid to sanctuary cities. Revolt is brewing within the bureaucracy too.

Activating the dissent channel (a process institutionalised within the system), nearly 900 US Department of State officials have signed an internal memo protesting the travel ban. According to a Reuters report, the memo highlighted that the policy “runs counter to core American values of non-discrimination, fair play and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants”.

Only into second week of his presidency, Trump seems to be hemmed in by opposition groups and protesters both within and outside the system. The depth and extent of the popular outrage against the Trump presidency was in evidence in the streets across America the very first day Trump was sworn into office. The massive women’s marches across the nation, a day later, further signalled that protesters were not retreating any time soon.

But what the world witnessed last week, has far exceeded the anticipated boundaries of protest. It now remains to be seen how the protests will play out in the coming days and months. Especially when more Trump policies will begin to kick in. But as of now, the signs clearly portend turbulent times ahead.


Published Date: Feb 02, 2017 08:56 am | Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 02:28 pm


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