Donald Trump and his supporters were never going to be big fans of the Women’s March on 21 January. And some duly called protesters “sore losers”, and their protests “unfair“. But there was immense hypocrisy at the heart of this critique.
After the march in Washington, which crowd scientists say attracted three times as many people as Trump’s inauguration the day before, Trump tweeted:
Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2017
The President seemed to be suggesting that, after an election, protests don’t make sense. But that was not his attitude back in 2012 after Barack Obama’s re-election, when he called for a “revolution” and insisted “we are not a democracy”:
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— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) November 11, 2016
Trump was tweeting as it appeared that Obama would win through the Electoral College system but not with a popular majority. Obama did win a majority of the popular vote, though. By nearly five million votes. The irony being that Trump himself ended up getting 2.5 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in 2016; and winning through the Electoral College system he had criticised so much in 2012.
But Trump wasn’t only suggesting that the Women’s March – possibly the biggest one-day protest in US history – didn’t make sense. He was also suggesting that protesters hadn’t voted, and therefore should accept the consequences of not voting.
73.5 million people did vote against Trump in 2016, though. And only 63 million thought he should lead the country. A further 113.5 million people, meanwhile, either didn’t vote or couldn’t vote.
In all fairness, Trump tweeted again a couple of hours after his original critique on 22 January, saying:
Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.
Protesting against Trump was “unfair”, but protesting against Obama was fine
Some on the right have called anti-Trump protests “unfair” because Obama didn’t suffer similar protests.
But he did.
And apart from prematurely calling for a “revolution” after Obama’s 2012 re-election, Donald Trump actually helped to perpetuate (for years) the ‘birther’ myth that Obama wasn’t born in the US. So we can only assume that he didn’t have a problem with anti-Obama marches. Like the Tea Party protests of 2009. Or the racist and birther protests we see in the following video from .Mic:
A look back at recent history, then, and we see that protesting against recently elected presidents is nothing new. Just that anti-Trump protests are bigger and less racist than the anti-Obama ones.
The real problem
Street protests are symptomatic of something much greater than simple opposition to Trump, Obama, or any other president. They’re the result of a lack of democracy at the heart of US politics.
There are a number of ways to strengthen the democratic voice of the people. Imagine if everyone could choose someone who genuinely represented their views, for example. Or if everyone’s vote resulted in appropriate representation. If it was a game of ‘everyone wins’ rather than ‘some win while most lose’.
But that’s not how the US system works. The immense economic power of the two main political parties meant that the stark electoral choice in 2016 was essentially between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And why would people vote for one just to keep the other out, if neither represented their views?
What’s worse is that, even if people do vote tactically, they end up with no representation anyway if their candidate loses. The one who crosses the finish line first wins. And everyone else loses. Trump gets the support of a quarter of eligible voters and he’s now President. The other three quarters have no representation.
That’s not democracy. That’s the rule of a minority. And that’s why people take to the streets. Because when the ballot box is a game of winners and losers, those who lose need to find other ways to make their voices heard.
As long as this democratic deficit remains, street protests will continue. And rightly so.
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