The first high official in the new administration has been forced to resign. CNN reports that Michael Flynn, national security adviser, is out. Flynn reportedly undercut U.S. policy in a meeting with the Russian Ambassador while Barack Obama was still president; he then is said to have lied to the White House about what he discussed in that meeting; intelligence officials allegedly advised the White House that Russia would be able to blackmail Flynn; Flynn was previously fired from the Obama administration for insubordination; and now he is gone from the current administration.
We’ve had some nasty defeats, to be sure, and more lie ahead. But let’s be careful not to react to each setback as if we’ve lost the whole conflict.
White House operatives are moving rapidly on a wide range of issues. There a couple of reasons why they need to. First, they hope overwhelming flood of bad news will demoralize us. Second, they need to move fast because they have a narrow winder of time before they get shut down again and again by a growing, visible, vocal, and widespread opposition that is still getting organized. Third, the rapid-fire release of outrageous statements and action is a method to control the national conversation.
Let’s start reframing it right now, by focusing on some significant good developments of the past several days.
The first action taken by the new White House that has immediately affected people’s lives is the executive order that attempted to prohibit certain persons from coming to the United States — the so-called “immigration ban” (actually a confused hodge-podge that even the administration seems to be struggling to understand). Two states, Washington and Minnesota, sued, and a federal judge (an appointee of G.W. Bush) suspended implementation of the order. That ruling was later unanimously upheld by a three-judge appeals panel, also including a G.W. Bush appointee.
Whatever the results in court, the executive order has sparked an unprecedented, monumental opposition movement that incorporates almost all sectors of society other than the inner circle of the White House. Consider:
- Briefs opposing the order were filed in court by more than 125 of the nation’s largest companies. Considering that the current occupant of the White House is a narcissistic sociopath who sees every opponent as an enemy, the level of political risk these companies were willing to take is huge. Among the businesses filing court statements against the White House action are Adobe, AirBnB, Amazon, Apple, Coursera, DocuSign, eBay, Evernote, Expedia, Google, HP, Indiegogo, Intel, Levi Strauss, LinkedIn, Lyft, Meetup, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Pandora, PayPal, Salesforce, SpaceX, Square, Squarespace, Tesla, Twitter, Uber, Wikimedia Foundation, Yelp, Zendesk, Zinga, and dozens more.
- Several usually conservative companies put their reputations (and big ad dollars) on the line in another way: In SuperBowl ads defending immigration to the U.S. A powerful ad from a lumber company (whose owner voted for Trump) is worth watching all the way through to the surprise ending. (The Fox network didn’t let the entire ad air, but it’s embedded here.) Budweiser aired a spot depicting how the company’s founder was shunned as an immigrant who wasn’t “wanted here.” Coca-Cola, AirBnB, Kia, and Tiffany are among companies promoting immigration, diversity, equality, and environmentalism in their ads. (For a bit of levity, note the hair-product company whose ad said, “America, we’re in for at least four years of awful hair.”) →
- In the lawsuit, Washington and Minnesota were supported by filings from former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and John Kerry, among other former national security and intelligence officials. President Obama and Secretary Clinton both endorsed the protests against the ban; Chelsea Clinton participated in a protest against it. Former administrations, especially the immediate predecessor, especially the immediate predecessor after just two weeks, just don’t do that. Well, now they do. Also in opposition: several hundred current State Department officers, as well as 16 states, including two that went Republican in the Presidential election.
- Initial rulings by federal judges (including an appointee of George W. Bush) have gone against the executive order. According to an ACLU lawyer who won the initial decision, speaking on the nationwide conference call I joined, demonstrations at airports across the country had a huge effect: He said it was as if the demonstrators were in the courtroom with him, and the judge knew it.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said if the courts throw out the executive order, Congress isn’t likely to step in. No kidding: At least 20 Republican Senators (and a couple dozen Republican House members) have criticized the order. (A document tracking elected officials’ stances on the measure is online.)
Other News of Resistance
These are all signs of a political uprising unprecedented in the U.S. in modern times, and perhaps ever:
Since January 30, I have been on three nationwide organizing calls (each with more than 1,000 participants) on opposing the White House agenda. I’ve attended face-to-face meetings with hundreds of participants. Whenever the question was asked, approximately half of the participants indicated they had never been politically active before, including many middle-aged attendees. In one such call, leaders noted that the ACLU’s membership has more than doubled since the inauguration. I haven’t seen anything like this, not even in the activist heyday of the 1960s and 1970s.
After a group of former Congressional staff members published a little online document (“Indivisible”) explaining how the Tea Party was successful in lobbying Congress and how those tactics could be adapted today, interest mushroomed. The former staffers created an organization, and local groups sprang up by the thousands all across the country (and worldwide, in fact). These are citizens, many new to political organizing, who are studying how to get results from their legislators, and if necessary replace them in the next election.
Perhaps prompted by the Indivisible movement, perhaps spontaneously, town halls held by legislators even in the most conservative parts of the country are erupting as angry voters demand answers. The video on this CNN page (under three minutes) shows several fascinating clips.
The proposal for a wall on the southern border of the U.S. has run into massive opposition, including among Congressional Republicans. And the proposal to pay for it by imposing a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico (which amounts to U.S. consumers footing the bill in the form of higher-priced imports) is raising alarm bells among farm groups; in Nebraska and Iowa, for example, a trade war would be devastating, as Mexico imports a large share of the U.S. corn crop. As one commodities broker notes, this “would be hitting back at America’s heartland,” where a large part of the Republican vote is based.
The media have awakened, calling out the Administration’s falsehoods and extensively covering the opposition. (Most of the links in this blog post are from mainstream sources.) There’s the Associated Press directive to identify the self-described “alt-right” as a white-supremacist movement. The New York Times after careful consideration decided to use the word “lie” in headlines to describe the president’s falsehood. Unlikely sources like lifestyle magazines GQ, Vanity Fair, and Teen Vogue are doing investigative journalism and holding the White House’s feet to the fire.
All of this has sparked unprecedented pushback, even from within the government. Alarmed officials within the White House are leaking stories to the press, and a resistance movement is developing within the federal government. Distrusting the administration’s judgment, fearing it is compromised by Russia, and doubting its ability to keep secrets, the National Security Agency is withholding information from the White House, according to various reports citing former and present intelligence officials.
At the state level, attorneys general are coordinating their fight against the current administration, sharing resources and divvying up duties, according to an in-depth piece about New York’s A.G. In early January, California’s legislature hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to defend the state on a range of issues.
The Presidency isn’t as powerful as its current occupant wishes, and probably not as powerful as he thinks. It will not be a simple matter to roll back climate-protection efforts according to articles in the New York Times (weak federal powers and coal isn’t coming back), the Washington Post (cities and states are leading the charge), and Science. California, which by itself is the world’s fifth-largest economy, will continue to press forward, and has been seen on many other issues, the sheer economic, political, and cultural power of the state is such that many others will come along. (Manufacturers, for example, often find it less expensive to make separate cars and equipment to meet California rules than to simply adopt the California standards across their entire product lines).
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