Since the election on November 8, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded by short videos of college students shouting out in the streets, marching as one, waving banners decrying the Trump presidency. The passion behind the words of these horrified protesters is more than evident: in any given picture, their faces plead for the restoration of our national sanity and empathy in the wake of a devastating election result. Yet as much as I want to back these protesters, I find it impossible to do so with a clean conscience.
As a moderate liberal who proudly voted for Hillary Clinton, I share the fears of those who are protesting. In addition to voting for Hillary, I voted against Donald Trump’s disheartening vision of an America where hate, prejudice, and violence are the norms and compassion, integrity, and inclusiveness are rejected. As much as I disapprove of how this man ran his presidential campaign and as much as his comments concerning the rights of marginalized communities frighten me, I cannot deny that he is my president. Our president. Trump was elected according to the laws and tradition of our democracy and as such, I cannot find it within myself to support the protests that are popping up nationwide against his presidency.
Of course, just because I disagree with these protesters does not mean they don’t have the right to peacefully join together in order to voice their opinions. My concern goes beyond whether they can protest and has to do with whether or not they should.
Protests now delegitimize potential protests in the future because they are taking place before Trump has spent a single day in office. Furthermore, the protests do not have a clear goal in mind and are simply voicing discontent with the election results. Bill Maher had a point when he said that in the past liberals cried wolf with their drastic warnings about a Romney or McCain presidency. While Trump has given us every reason to be weary, we must give him the opportunity to govern, but be ready to protest and mobilize if he seeks to undermine the rights of citizens or compromise the constitution. The protests that broke out as soon as the verdict of the election was announced recalled Maher’s warning against premature reactions. Such as-yet-unwarranted claims about injustices to come only serve to diminish the purpose and validity of any later protests.
The idea of a proactive protest seems to go against the purpose of a protest. If we simply start taking to the streets whenever we fear for some possible future horror, without any previous concrete occurrence of a similar reprehensible act, protests will lose their backbone. Again, while Trump’s dangerous campaign rhetoric does suggest that he will enact some egregious legislation while in office, this has not yet come to pass. Grievous actions cause protests, because it is then that people demand justice for said actions, or call for a change in policy in order to prevent another the same things from occurring again. But protest without any firm evidence of wrongdoing will only weaken the feeling of urgency that makes any given demonstration all the more meaningful and effective.
Protesters say they are speaking out against the bigotry of Donald Trump, taking a stand as a populace to disown this man as our leader and our figurehead. While condemning hatred is an admirable objective, it is nearly impossible to effectively disavow our president-elect without simultaneously disavowing our democratic process. After all, how can a fair election be rightfully protested? Furthermore, where were these massive protests and mobilization efforts before the election or even on election day working to get out the vote? The democratic process is utterly central to our values as American citizens, and the importance of that concept is something that should be valued above and beyond individual opinions. Protesting against the very concept of peacefully surrendering power to an ideological adversary would unhinge the very basis of our hallowed democratic process.
Further undermining the legitimacy of the protests is the fact that these protesters offer no solutions to the problem of Trump. If these protests concerned abolishing or reforming the Electoral College, then perhaps they would be useful, but this has not been a central message of post-election demonstrations. If anti-Trump protests are simply an outpouring of public anger and fear, a terrified rejection of election results that many of us simply do not want to hear, they should not be supported. Such unbridled, raw emotions can only serve to further divide our already painfully split nation. After all, what can a protest with no true aim actually accomplish? With no goal in mind, with no feasible alternative to simply accepting a rightfully held election, these protests are rendered useless. Rather than preemptively taking to the streets, the energies of these concerned citizens would be better utilized by getting more involved in their local governments, or having productive conversations with their fellow citizens of differing opinions.
It is hypocritical for protesters to question the legitimacy of the election, as mere months ago liberals repeatedly trashed Trump for threatening not to accept the outcome of the election. Those of us who found his comments concerning worried that his inability to accept his loss would undermine American democracy. We declared that one of the most beautiful and vital aspects of our political process is how power is peacefully transferred between two parties that may vehemently disagree with one another. Not only is there grace in accepting the victory of your opponent, but there is also a stability and maturity in that act that extends beyond any individual candidate and reflects well on the state of our democracy. While it could be argued that this power is already being peacefully transferred, given Hillary's concession speech and Obama's meeting with Trump, the issue of peacefully accepting election results extends beyond our political leaders. The nation must also learn to accept an unwanted result, especially when there is no real way of challenging Trump’s victory without dismantling our democratic system of electing leaders.
Ever since that first fateful transition of presidential power in the US in 1800, we as a nation have managed to come together around a new leader after a divisive election season. Far from learning to agree with one another, those who stand on opposite sides of our political spectrum have prioritized the importance of accepting election results above any personal disagreements of opinion. Rejecting the results of a fair election serves to delegitimize our democracy, the system of governance that we so rely upon and require in order to function as a nation.
I identify with the protestors’ feelings. I fear for my rights and the rights of those around me in the face of this election’s results. How could I not? Our president-elect has been endorsed by the KKK, Roe v. Wade may be challenged, Planned Parenthood is likely to be on the chopping block, and the course of recent Supreme Court decisions may very well be redirected by Trump’s future appointments. Treaties such as the Paris Agreement may be abandoned, (very expensive) deportation squads may be formed in order to forcibly thrust millions from our country, and now Trump even claims that the burning of the flag, a right protected by the First Amendment, may be punishable by loss of citizenship. And the fact that I, as a privileged white woman, feel fear for some of my most basic rights says a lot about how terrifying the policy objectives of Donald Trump are.
Yet I am choosing to wait until our president-elect gives us something worth protesting before I take to the streets. I am not arguing that we should “give the guy a chance”; if anything, Trump has already blown any attempt at regaining the public’s trust by appointing a white nationalist like Steve Bannon as a senior advisor. The public must remain vigilant and channel our emotional response into productive action for change. We must use our passion and our fear in order to become a collective gadfly to the Trump presidency. If we act too soon, we lose some of the power behind our voice and become “paranoid liberals” rather than concerned citizens.
All I am asking is that before we misuse the power of our voice as an outraged public on the unchangeable outcome of a fair election, we stop and think about how much more righteous our protesting will be once we have a reason for it. To protest the threat of some predicted action is much less effective than protesting an actual proposal or order that we, as a people, find deeply offensive.
The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.
Kate Healy is a third year majoring in Political Science major, and possibly double minoring in Spanish and History. Last summer, she interned with State Senator Heather Steans in Chicago. On campus, she is a member of the Women in Public Service Program, New Americans, and Kappa Alpha Theta.