On 2 January 2016, Ammon Bundy and a group of armed militants seized the headquarters of a remote wildlife refuge outpost in south-eastern Oregon. On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump and an unarmed band of extremists seized (through an election, it’s true, but one in which Trump lost the popular vote by a wide margin) the White House, and their first week in power has seemed as bellicose and extreme. Or more so really, since the scope is so much larger. As the journalist Jonathan Katz quipped: “First they came for the Latinos, Muslims, women, gays, poor people, intellectuals and scientists and then it was Wednesday.”
They seem to have launched a crusade against almost everything and everyone. We’ve returned the favor. Saturday’s women’s march was probably the biggest protest in American history. It included small demonstrations from Homer, Alaska, to Abeline, Texas, as well as huge ones from Los Angeles to Washington , and it gave rise to the remark that “Donald Trump just set the world record for the guy rejected by more women in a single day in the history of humanity”. The new administration launched a war against reproductive rights internationally by reinstating the so-called global gag order (there is a lot of gagging going on this week) and against funding all of the 25 programs managed by the Department of Justice’s office on violence against women.
They also immediately launched a war against truth, facts, science and transparency, especially as they relate to climate change. In response, scientists –who climate activists have been trying to prod into taking political stands for decades, and who mostly haven’t – are now organizing a march of their own. Employees at the EPA, the National Park Service, Nasa, and other traditionally neutral branches of government appear to be scared, furious, and ready to fight back, whether it’s continuing to share climate information or speaking out.
After the park service was told to shut up for tweeting information on the comparatively small size of the inauguration crowd, Badlands national park kept sending out climate information, and then a handful of independent voices began speaking up on Twitter, including @AltUSNatParkService, which said on 24 January: “Mr Trump, you may have taken us down officially. But with scientific evidence & the internet our message will get out.” It will take more than tweets, but the tweets show some very encouraging defiance. We are under attack, but we are beautifully insubordinate.
Government employees in many branches are disgruntled or departed. Reports vary on whether the key senior staff at the state department quit or resigned, but they’re gone. Former CIA employees and off-the-record current employees report being disgusted and insulted by Trump’s rambling, self-glorifying speech at CIA headquarters the day after his inauguration. Former CIA deputy director Philip Mudd said on CNN, “It feels like we’re on Mr Toad’s Wild Ride here.” Mr Toad was notable for his vanity and his tendency to drive his motorcar into the ditch. Trump’s offhand remark during his CIA visit, that we should have taken Iraq’s oil, is sure to stir up alarm and resentment in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, his remarks about the border wall were so inflammatory that Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, cancelled his visit to Washington, former president Vicente Fox tweeted a series of attacks on Trump, and the National Review warned that stirring up fury in Mexico could help bring a leftist to power there. China is rattling whatever the modern equivalent of sabers is. The new administration is building disasters as fast as they can, and what comes crashing down may crash down on them.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a lawsuit against Trump on Monday morning, alleging that he’s in violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution, charges that could lay the groundwork for impeachment.
The word resistance is everywhere. Former labor secretary Robert Reich gives a daily address on Facebook Live called the Resistance Report. The group 18millionrising.org, which represents Asian and Pacific islanders in the US, has launched a “100 Days of Resistance” campaign. The Working Families party reports that on Tuesday more than 10,000 people went to congressional offices to protest against Trump. Climate and human rights groups launched Unstoppabletogether.org to link human rights, racial and environmental justice. Greenpeace hung a gigantic banner off a crane next to the White House: it said “Resist”.
Organizers tell me that hordes of people who have never been active before are looking for ways to plug in. People whose immigration status, religion or healthcare needs mean they may be directly threatened are terrified, and in many cases mobilized. Of course the Trump administration has also attacked the media; strategist Steve Bannon declared in an interview published on Thursday: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut.” The media has finally gotten bold about calling lies lies: the Denver Post even ran an editorial titled, “Lying Donald Trump Can’t Be Trusted”. Even the Nixon administration took long, bitter years to get to this point.
All this stirring and discord and messaging and organizing guarantees nothing, but as an indicator of popular will and institutional opposition, it’s impressive. Dislodging Trump may be one lawsuit or scandal or investigation or mental health meltdown away. Or it may take years of broadly coordinated grassroots effort, or it may come down to the next presidential election. Either way, it’s an unprecedented beginning, one that feels like a civil war, but a civil war in which a lot of civil society is already passionately engaged against the government – or what remains of a government that has turned its own employees across many departments against it. We’ve never seen anything like it. It destabilizes almost everything, and that’s both horrific and full of possibility.