Turning Noise Into Change
2016’s turbulent and polarizing election has led to a United States that feels more broken than united. Rifts have deepened, tensions have heightened and identity politics have led to othering and an unwillingness to engage in productive discourse. Opinions on every side have morphed into “alternative facts.”
This division is, in part, an unfortunate byproduct of an election that presented voters with candidates that were opposites in many ways. Caustic versus tempered, outsider versus establishment, impulsive solutions versus incrementalism, regression versus progression; the list goes on. They were similar only in their unpopularity.
To many, Trump represented change. Many did not eagerly cast their vote for him, but his 140-character solutions, incessant use of superlatives, dismissal of political correctness (also known, in some cases, as basic respect), and debilitating lack of experience represented a shake-up the likes of which seemed impossible with an establishment figure like Clinton. And it is not controversial to say that he is shaking up our political landscape; it is an understatement.
At four weeks in, the Pew Research Center found Trump’s approval rating at just 39 percent, a lower number than Obama’s throughout his eight years in office. This disapproval has manifested itself in the form of millions of demonstrators turning out since January 20 to protest his immigration ban, his Supreme Court nominee, his push to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his presidency in general.
The Women’s March in particular eclipsed Trump’s inauguration, as the Washington Post reported that upward of 1 million people gathered across the country and around the world to express their disapproval of America’s new figurehead. The march prioritized issues like reproductive rights, health care, equal pay and action on climate change. While this agenda is admirable, David Brooks of the New York Times argued that it doesn’t effectively oppose Trump. The agenda is too narrow, as these issues are prioritized only by “upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities.” To have a legitimate, unifying opposition movement, Brooks proposes that the agenda would include topics like “the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; and the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace,” which are more pressing, universal and relatable.
That isn’t to say that reproductive rights, health care and equal pay are unimportant. But to have those issues drive the agenda is to limit the anti-Trump resistance movement and take away its threat. On this path, there exists a disconnect between the resistance and party politics, and between the resistance’s agenda of the resistance and our current world’s agenda.
What, then, is the solution? The momentum of this resistance movement ought to be harnessed into real change that can begin to heal our divides and move the country forward. The solution begins with renewing hope in our democracy and establishing agency. Policy change comes from the government, so scorning the institution of it is unproductive. Change comes from the people, from democracy, from you. Understanding the game and its players, knowing how to contact them, staying engaged, and voting are what differentiate noise-making from change-making.
Secondly, the agendas of the various protests need to find common ground to unite the messages into one which accommodates a larger following and opposes what Trump embodies, rather than each of his individual actions. This will establish the movement as a viable and credible threat to what Trump represents. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is a foundation for opposition. Trump embodies a regressive, backward-looking patriotism which treats history as a guide book rather than a cautionary tale.
Pink hats, drawings of the female reproductive system, and an overuse of the word “pussy” is not the makings of a productive movement. Do I wish it were enough? Absolutely. But it isn’t, because it’s not inclusive. It doesn’t convince Trump’s reluctant supporters. I’m not saying the demands should be tempered. I’m asking for them to be unified in a movement against Trump and being about real, productive change.
I advocate, therefore, for a forward-looking, intersectional patriotism. A patriotism rooted in the potential of the country rather than its past. Where we can go is more worthy of pride than where we have been, and this mentality is accommodating and inclusive. It is a mentality which supersedes socioeconomic status, geography and generations. We can dream of an America that has both equal pay and a secure border. We can dream of an America that leads in green initiatives and in military strength. An America that values both technological innovation and the arts. An America that globalizes without jeopardizing national interests. One that seeks answers and betterment, prizes its diversity of culture and ideas and is globally respected for its democracy and innovation.
America needs to move forward. With a renewed and redefined patriotism, the United States can be set on a path away from polarization and marginalization, and on one towards an honest greatness that includes and celebrates cultural and ideological diversity. It is not wrong to love and fight for America’s potential, because our greatness lies not in our past, but in our future.
Isabel Brooke is a first-year exploratory major looking to explore alternative ways to be patriotic. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org