Politics & Policy

A March to Nowhere

Anti-Trump protesters San Francisco, Calif., November 13, 2016. (Reuters photo: Beck Diefenbach)
Leftist protesters have taken to the streets in opposition to President-elect Trump — but what are they trying to accomplish?

Anti-Trump protests are ongoing, with hundreds still gathering around the country to denounce the results of the 2016 election. This may just be the beginning: The Daily Mail reports that a “women’s march on Washington” is being planned to coincide with the inauguration in January. Within 24 hours of the announcement of the effort, more than 35,000 people had signed on to participate.

Protests and demonstrations have a noble history in the United States, and have been used effectively to awaken people to worthy causes and issues. When done right, they can encourage others who share the protesters’ concerns, but who are reticent to speak up, to join them, thereby building momentum for action.

The Americans planning to march on Washington to protest the incoming president must be hoping to build on this tradition. Yet strategic thinkers on the left ought to consider what these protests will accomplish, and whether they are likely to advance — or might actually hinder — their larger cause.

After all, protests have become increasingly common in recent years. Students on college campuses now regularly stage demonstrations. Many of these protests seem to be an end in themselves, with students rallying against innocuous administration policies or for higher wages on campus, but mostly seeming to enjoy the experience and camaraderie of the protest itself. Yes, some protests are seriously undertaken with the intention of bringing about results: Take the 2015 protests — which include a student hunger strike — at the University of Missouri against the university’s policies related to race and their response to racial incidents on campus, which resulted in both the president and chancellor stepping down.

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While that protest succeeded in bringing about changes that the protesters were calling for, they failed to build support among the public. In fact, a poll taken in Missouri after the protest found that “by a fairly wide margin, the state’s public does not view the University of Missouri’s recent protests and associated events very favorably.” Twice as many Missourians disagreed with student protesters’ message as agreed with them. Sixty-two percent disagreed with student protesters’ actions, while just 20 percent agreed.

In other words, these students may have won the battle, but they were hurting their prospects in the larger war. The polls didn’t dig into why respondents felt this way, but one can surmise from other commentaries at the time that many Missourians thought that the students were being unreasonable in their demands and taking their privilege to attend the university for granted. The poll also found that five times as many people said they viewed the University of Missouri’s administration more negatively as a result of the recent events than said they viewed them more positively. Most likely that’s because the administration cowed to student demands. By a ten-point margin, these same respondents were against increasing the cigarette tax to fund student aid. Perhaps many oppose higher taxes on principle, but disgust with the students’ behavior certainly didn’t help build support for increased student funding.

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Protests against President-elect Trump are similarly likely to fail in terms of rallying public opinion to their cause. Coming immediately after an election, these marches and protests appear to be mostly sour grapes and are laced with hypocrisy. After all, the Left had been lecturing the country about the need to accept the legitimacy of the democratic process days before voting began, when they believed that Mrs. Clinton was a sure thing. Yet now they are the ones destroying property, holding up profane “Not My President” signs, and calling for people to try to change the rules of the election after the fact. This is far more likely to turn centrist voters off than to make them want to join their team.

#related#Republicans are not known for their ability to use protests effectively, but anti-Trump forces ought to consider how the GOP regained its strength after devastating losses in 2008. Most Republicans didn’t protest President Obama’s election in 2008, but instead signaled their support for the new president. It was only after the president pursued specific policies with which they disagreed — such as the mammoth stimulus package and the move toward government-run health care — that conservatives began organizing Tea Party rallies. The Tea Party movement failed to stop the stimulus or Obamacare, but it succeeded in galvanizing conservative opposition, encouraging more people to get involved and ultimately led to success at the midterm elections in 2010.

Marches on Washington and profane social-media campaigns may be cathartic for passionate liberals stinging from a loss. But they won’t accomplish what the Left needs if the goal is to regain a greater share of the public trust and to build lasting, reasoned opposition to policies that Trump will advance during the next four years. They have every right to march, but they should recognize that they are marching against their own interests.

Carrie Lukas is the president of the Independent Women’s Forum.

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