#RESIST and the Splintering of Political Culture
How radicalization and fragmentation may destabilize the democrats and hinder the party in 2020
Donald Trump’s populist rhetoric has spurred a counter movement: the #resist movement. This response is unique in that it is outright aided by major media outlets internationally, as opposed to a grassroots movement localized within the United States. To understand the #resist movement, it is critical to first introduce Trump and provide a brief history of his election. The #resist movement's success originated with corporate activism and private enterprises which, with aid from oppositional media outlets, celebrities, and brands contributed to future polarizing the political atmosphere. These events have led to further radicalization not just on the left within the #resist movement, but also on the right. Lastly, this essay will discuss how the heated and divisive nature of politics may create an environment conducive to second term for Trump by splintering and weakening the liberal vote.
Donald Trumps’ Presidential Win
Trump won the United States presidency, not only defeating Hillary Clinton, but also the Republican establishment. Many influential conservatives announced they were preparing to vote for Hillary. NBC published a list of seventy seven high-profile republicans leading the rebellion, including: senators, attorneys, state representatives and past members of the Bush administration (NBC, 2016). This early insurrection did little to discourage voter support, although establishment figures and media doubted Trump could win. His unexpected victory made him the first (US) American to claim the position of Commander and Chief with no prior government or military service. Due to his unique resume his supporters hailed him as the outsider America needed. His campaign boasted populist overtones, while also catering to mainstream republicans and defecting democrats. He achieved this broader appeal by claiming to support traditional republican orthodoxy while simultaneously vowing to protect core social welfare programs, which allowed him to appeal to low income voters. However, critics analyzed the sometimes disjointed nature of his campaign and accused Trump of pandering (Pierson, 2017). Trumps’ actions, demeanor and celebrity billionaire status stirred up tremendous amounts of controversy as well. The opposition claimed his lifestyle made it impossible for him to understand (or care about) what the middle class and low income voter needs. The mainstream media went into over-drive, finding unflattering past comments and any salacious material, while echoing the Democrat Party and Hillary Clinton’s claims he was racist and a dangerous candidate (Kirkwood, 2018). These claims continued in full force after Trump’s win well into his presidency in a way that had not been witnessed in previous administrations. As a result, tensions grew between Trump, the media and voters on both sides, as well as foreign governments.
Although attempts to counteract Trump began in 2016 and never stopped; #resist as a movement did not officially form until after Trump’s January 27th 2017 executive order 13769 (Zurer, 2017). This legislation greatly expanded the provisions for migrant vetting, which were established in the patriot act post 911 (Pierce, and Meissner, 2017. p. 4). Additionally, travel to and from certain middle eastern countries, as well as refugees from regions considered hostile to the United States, were set to be banned (Diamond, Liptak, Vogue, 2017). In response, Meetup, an online platform designed to bring people together for live social events, decided to make a stand. Until this point #resist was an emerging hashtag. With encouragement from the platform, users created and launched over 1,000 #resist meetup groups, which spawned live and online protests. Typically, organizers have to pay a fee to use the platform; however, multiple barriers were removed to encourage activism. Meetups for resistance activities were hosted for free. Additionally, anyone from anywhere could begin their own chapter through the platform. Meetup’s #resist groups grew to 120,000 members in 50 states and multiple countries, holding 20,000 events in the next two months alone, world-wide. During these campaigns the hashtag and protests gained traction, mainstream media, and other social media platforms (Zurer, 2017). Although the protests and events became part of pop culture consciousness, the actual directives regarding #resist are somewhat vague. Quite simply, it is considered a battle cry for all anti-Trump protesters, a banner under which they can all unite. There are frequent references to ending patriarchy, #metoo, immigration reform, changes to environmental regulation, and American politics moving towards the far right (New York Times, 2017).
By January 2018, the #resist movement was strong within the federal government, with figures like Sally Yates (Department of Justice), Leandra English (Consumer Financial Protections Bureau), Peter Strzok (Federal Bureau of Investigations), a rebellion at the Environmental Protections Agency, and public calls to resist from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (O’Brain, 2018). The success of #resist by Meetup worked in unison with higher than normal levels of overt corporate activism; besides the usual lobbyists and social justice themed messaging, countless major brands began taking openly partisan positions against the president and his voters. However, it seems as though many participants who tout an “anti-establishment” tone miss the ironic nature of their actions, since they are supported by powerful factions within the status-quo. These influences are extremely problematic, yet rarely discussed. Trump squared off against government bodies and media giants that, to this date, have done little to improve social or economic conditions, in many cases, they benefit from want and despair. The fact that many major companies have foreign owners in non-democratically run countries indicates additional conflicts of interest few journalists discuss.
A prime example is CNN and its offshoot CNNi, which became reliant on repressive regimes following the 2008 financial crisis. Their deals go beyond sponsorship, by producing in association with foreign governments. CNNi offers the opportunity to fund specific programs (and messages) about a nation, or its’ enemies. “Eye on Georgia”, “Eye on the Philippines” and “Market Place Middle East” were all docuseries style programs focusing on the positive economic and political aspects of their state sponsors (Greenwald, 2012). This conflict of interest is not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to one network. Media companies like Legendary Entertainment (Dark Knight), AMC Theatres, Dick Clark Productions (Rockin New Years Eve), Voltage Pictures (Hurt Locker), STX Entertainment (Ugly Dolls), Riot Games (League of Legends) and many more, were purchased by Chinese communist firms (Pressburg, 2016). Due to the regimes’ nature, all major business and media activities are overseen by hostile and repressive forces within the government (Ralston, 2006 p. 10). Chinese communist leaders are known to abduct, torture, and assassinate enemies of the state. This means citizens abroad with family in China are automatically compromised and could be threatened and instructed to assist the regimes’ agenda at any time (PTI, 2019). Could hostile foreign agents be actively fueling a rebellion against the democratically elected president of the United States for their own gain through the #resist movement? Or are these companies merely responding to popular opinions and feeding off the revenue generated by the endless controversy. It is important to keep in mind Trump began attempting to undermine China’s position as a manufacturer, while also blocking the purchase of additional American companies early in his first term (Swanson, 2017). He also took a drastically different stance than Obama in the middle east. These activities could help explain some of the overwhelmingly resistance to Trump.
#RESIST And Radicalization
Recent populist and resistance movements are both reactions to the same social and economic factors, such as globalization, censorship, and austerity. However, the supposed causes and solutions are often very different between the two sides. Just as the members of the #resist movement see themselves as rebelling against the status quo (despite being publicly aligned with major players), Trump supporters also see themselves as a resistance to the establishment through the election of a rebel rousing outsider (despite his history as a member of the elite). (Roth, 2017) The never-ending conflicts surrounding Trump have further divided the republic as centrist and moderate views are discouraged in such an aggressive environment— the #resist movement plays a key role in stoking these tensions. As previously mentioned, there are major corporate influences within the resistance, Facebook and Google perhaps draw the most disdain for their partisan participation. Google and Facebook have been caught openly censoring conservatives, while twitter announced in June that it would hide the president’s tweets during the election. These activities combined with Snopes’ biased “fact checking” have created a “ministry of truth” often compared to 1984 (The Free Thought Project, 2019). This has resulted in many conservatives “doubling down,” taking more heated discussions to independent news organizations and emerging platforms (Bell, 2019). Conservative pundits forced to re-establish themselves in new arenas are viewed as martyrs, victimized by the authoritarian left, who threaten America’s civil liberties—their rhetoric generally shifts further right after being banned (Ryan, 2018). Two major problems arise from this situation, conservatives and liberals fail to hear each others' opinions, as well as moderates on both sides finding themselves influenced by extremely biased information. The #resist movement’s corporate backers seem to be creating the problem they claimed they were trying to prevent—conservatives going “further right,” while also causing liberals to veer to the left. It is important to ponder whether this is, in fact, an accident. Most decision makers in the news media and big tech are highly educated and therefore are aware of less biased sources of information and studies regarding censorship, or at least they should be. One such study, “Resisting censorship: How citizens navigate closed media environments,” which focused on Turkey, investigated how citizens navigated political censorship. Upon reviewing the information collected, researchers discovered that as the perception of media freedom decreased the demand for resistance increased. This illustrates that a highly regulated society and media contribute directly to growth in online activity, where individuals seek alternatives; in other words, censorship fuels alternative media. Respondents who perceived censorship as a threat accessed more information online from alternative sources; much of this was in the sphere of political discourse. By exploring these statistics, the research team identified boundary conditions that motivate resistance behavior (Behrouzian, Nisbet, Dal, & Çarkoğlu, 2016, p. 1). Although this study does not focus on US Americans, it is clear people will seek “forbidden” information. Radio host Alex Jones claims to have capitalized on this phenomenon. He states that being banned on every platform has increased his website’s audience significantly. To make the most of this controversy he accuses the media of banning his content because it is “real news” and a threat to big tech and other oppressive collectives (Murphy, 2018). How could media giants overlook the fact that American conservatives would feel obligated to resist the resistance? Could this be an attempt to divide and conquer?
Fragmentation Within The Resistance
Besides stoking tensions and radical tendencies on both sides and inhibiting constructive discourse, the #resist movements radicalizing effects may also aid in Trumps’ re-election. Radicalization creates fragmentation amongst liberal groups, through the formation and growth of various sects of far-left ideologies. Uniting against Trump is one thing. but getting behind a democrat candidate capable of securing a victory in 2020 is a different matter. In the mainstream media there is little mention of “pro-wall” and “pro-life” democrats, who although a minority within the party, can impact election results (Saad, 2011). Afterall, candidates like Obama and Hillary Clinton competed against each other calling for stronger border security in 2007, prior to embracing more open views (Balluck, 2019). The journey further left alienates many moderate groups, as all major 2020 candidates support mass migration, regardless of status (ie: refugee or economic migrant) and abortion, sometimes defending the choice until the moment of birth (Doyle, 2019). However, Joe Biden the top 2020 contender, may find himself at odds with many democrat sub-groups regardless of his platform (KSTU TV & Salt, 2018). His “physically affectionate” behavior with females could be a barrier, considering the #metoo movement. Additionally, the fact he is a white male candidate in a party obsessed with identity politics may prove discouraging to minority voters—especially considering his opposition to racial integration in the 1970s and the loosening deportation restrictions under Obama (Marcetic, 2019). Meanwhile, successful debate participants like Kamala Harris may fail to mobilize voters based on controversial views regarding slavery reparations (Wang, 2019). Competing factions within the Democratic party and voter base may make it impossible for a single candidate to gain enough backing to defeat the embattled Donald Trump. A lack of cohesion could result in a repeat of 2016, when voters defected or chose not to participate in response to Hillary Clinton (Shapiro, 2018).
Although Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric and controversial career invite ridicule and suspicion, it is more important than ever to consider the origins and motivation behind those resisting his every move. After all, he managed to gain support from enough voters to win the presidency, in spite of an echo chamber designed to dissuade them. Even with a possible 2020 win, Trump will only remain president for a maximum term of eight years. However, one sided political coverage, foreign owned media, big tech censorship, and political radicalization will cause broader long-term implications. Audiences must step back and consider Trump a “McGuffin” and look at the bigger picture, otherwise figures far more extreme on the left and right are bound to emerge based on the political environment’s current trajectory.
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