Earlier today, the Atlantic published an article by David Frum which was originally titled “How to Beat Trump,” but which now has the less aggressive headline “What Effective Protest Could Look Like.” Frum’s message to the progressive protesters currently demanding attention around the country is simple: What you’re doing won’t work.
As I step through the police lines, I bring a message with me: Your demonstrations are engineered to fail. They didn’t stop the Iraq war. They won’t stop Donald Trump.
With the rarest exceptions—and perhaps the January 21 demonstration will prove to be one—left-liberal demonstrations are exercises in catharsis, the release of emotions. Their operating principle is self-expression, not persuasion.
I think Frum is correct about this. Wearing “pussy hats” and marching around Washington D.C. may feel good but is it winning any converts? But in the spirit of constructive criticism, Frum offers some suggestions about how a protest movement could choose to be more effective.
You want to scare Trump? Be orderly, polite, and visibly patriotic.
Trump wants to identify all opposition to him with the black-masked crowbar thugs who smashed windows and burned a limo on his inauguration day. Remember Trump’s tweet about stripping citizenship from flag burners? It’s beyond audacious that a candidate who publicly requested help from Russian espionage services against his opponent would claim the flag as his own. But Trump is trying. Don’t let him get away with it. Carry the flag. Open with the Pledge of Allegiance. Close by singing the Star Spangled Banner––like these protesters at LAX, in video posted by The Atlantic’s own Conor Friedersdorf. Trump’s presidency is itself one long flag-burning, an attack on the principles and institutions of the American republic. That republic’s symbols are your symbols. You should cherish them and brandish them.
Don’t get sucked into the futile squabbling cul-de-sac of intersectionality and grievance politics.
Frum might have well have said, ‘don’t be progressives.’ Take away intersectionality and grievance politics and there would be little or no reason for most of these people to show up at these protests. Frum points to protesters at LAX singing the Star-Spangled Banner as an example of how protesters ought to behave, but one can just as easily find anti-Trump protesters ranting about the need to start killing people as anything that looks like patriotism. As for cherishing the republic’s symbols, you’re as likely to find protesters eager to burn the flag as salute it. Maybe Frum missed this sign at the Berkeley riots last week:
This sign at Berkeley: "America was never great." pic.twitter.com/hWbRecQAG2
— Kathleen McKinley (@KatMcKinley) February 2, 2017
And at the Women’s March:
— Andrew Marcus (@ImAndrewMarcus) January 22, 2017
— Rick Anderson (@rickandersonoc) January 21, 2017
At the inauguration:
Protesters shout "America was never great!" and many in the crowd, Trump supporters, getting angry saying "Yes, it was!" pic.twitter.com/fMsSFOxPx2
— Natasha Fatah (@NatashaFatah) January 20, 2017
That same slogan has been a chant at protests as well:
— SURJ Columbus (@SURJColumbusOH) February 1, 2017
Frum seems to be sincere in his desire to see the protesters not undercut their own message by emoting rather than persuading, but he might as well be asking fish to ride bicycles. The protests we’re seeing around the country are a rejection of the concept that America has ever been great, so much so that it became a comedy bit on The Daily Show last summer:
Good luck getting the people who snicker at the very idea of American greatness to be “visibly patriotic.”