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Will 2017 Be Remembered
For Presidential Protests?

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A March for Truth participant holds a sign criticizing President Trump on June 3 in Escondido, Calif. Photo by Brian Beezley
Since The January Inauguration of Donald Trump Protests Have Been Loud And Common, But When Even Republican Strongholds Are Witnessing Protests, It’s Not Hard To Fathom That Bigger Events Are Yet To Come
 
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By Karen Weil
Modern Times Magazine
 
June 12, 2017 — About 150 people showed up, on the corner in front of a massive shopping mall last week in Escondido, Calif., to demand hearings on just how far Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
 
They held signs that read, “Liar in Chief” (that being President Donald Trump) and “Truth Matters.” It wasn’t the biggest crowd, but given it’s a heavily Republican area of north San Diego County on a very warm day, is was still quite a showing.
 
There were several catcalls from drivers – “F*** you! Trump’s our president!” – but there were far more honks in support or thumbs-up signs.
 
One of those demanding Trump be held accountable, Indivisible member Christine Armstrong, said she was here because “I realized the whole part of a democracy is that we can speak our minds.”
 
“This movement isn’t going away,” she added.
 
On the whole, Saturday’s March for Truth rallies held across the nation did not draw the numbers the Jan. 21 Women’s March did -- thousands, not millions, participated.
That doesn’t diminish the importance of what took place. There clearly is a movement, with the focus being one very loud former reality show host who few took seriously until a year ago.
 
Outside of pro-Trump bubble, there’s very little disagreement that his presidency has been a massive disappointment, if not outright failure and embarrassment.
 
Yes, it’s early – but in modern history, there has not been a newly elected president whose tenure has been this troubled from Day One.
 
Trump himself mostly is to blame. Noted columnist Charlie Pierce put it succinctly: “His ignorance is matched only by his incompetence, which is matched only by his obvious instability.”
 
In poll after poll, a majority of respondents make it clear that they do not like, support, trust or respect this man.
 
In the past, even if they didn’t vote for him, Americans in general were willing to give the new president a chance at the outset. But Trump has received no such grace period, for understandable reasons. Several members of his administration are now embroiled in scandal.
 
This past week saw the testimony of former FBI director James Comey, which raised more questions over the investigation of Trump’s possible involvement than it answered.
 
If Hillary Clinton’s presidency had unfolded in the same manner – never mind allegations of Russian meddling – it’s doubtful she’d be in office still, as the GOP-dominated Congress would make sure of that. And they would be right in doing so.
 
The GOP is happy to enable Trump, as they see him as useful in getting their agenda passed even though they’ve achieved very little. (Should Trump’s approval rating continue to fall that could change, quickly.)
 
So Trump remains. There are no daily marches by millions of Americans demanding he be removed from office.
 
Which brings up the subject of civic engagement – or the sometimes odd/indifferent/surprising ways that Americans show their interest in government and how they respond to it.
 
Leaving the Vietnam War protests and Watergate scandal out of it, several examples come to mind over the last 30 years: The 1987 Iran Contra hearings showed Reagan administration officials definitely gave arms to Iran, an avowed enemy, with the goal of helping Nicaraguans fight their nation’s communist government.
 
While that created a media firestorm and damaged Ronald Reagan’s legacy (if not his overall popularity), it didn’t prevent George H.W. Bush from winning the 1988 presidential election.
 
Back in 1998, America learned in graphic detail, about President Bill Clinton’s consensual sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. That lead to Clinton being impeached but not removed from office for lying under oath.

March for Truth protesters hold signs during the June 3 event in Escondido, Calif. Photo by Scott Roleson.
Many were turned off by Clinton’s obvious bad behavior, but polls showed no overwhelming call for removal. No doubt Clinton was helped by a booming economy, a mostly peaceful international situation and his personal appeal. At the same time, there were also no mass demonstrations demanding the GOP leave him alone.
 
Clinton left the White House relatively unscathed. However, the man who hoped to succeed him, Al Gore, paid the price (of course, his clumsy campaign and a certain Supreme Court decision didn’t help either).
 
There were crowds outside the Supreme Court before the infamous Dec. 12, 2000 ruling that handed the presidency to George W. Bush and some protested Bush’s 2001 inauguration, but in general, America went on with its business and tuned out.
 
Bush’s presidency plodded along until Sept. 11, 2001. Less than two years later, U.S. forces were sent to Iraq, a nation that played no role in that horrifying terrorist attack, based on faulty information (“weapons of mass destruction”).
 
Americans and millions around the world did show their opposition, but not in numbers large enough to change the outcome of what would be the worst U.S. foreign policy decision since Vietnam.
 
Perhaps if more Americans voted in the 2002 midterms, things would have been different, but turnout was below 50 percent.
 
As Bush’s second term began to sputter, voters ended GOP domination of Congress in 2006 (only to return them to power in 2010, when many registered Democrats frustrated with President Barack Obama stayed home).
 
Over the years, voter participation has waxed and waned, with 2014 being the worst in 72 years.
 
Last year’s match-up between Hillary Clinton and Trump brought out close to 60 percent of registered voters. Given the unusual nature of both candidates, should have been a good 10 or even 20 percent higher.
 
More than a few were turned off by one or both candidates, or the extraordinarily ugly campaign, and stayed home on Election Day. Ultimately, Trump won the electoral college by just 77,000 votes.
 
Other than impeachment, which still seems unlikely at this year, the only way the public can rein Trump is by voting the GOP out in 2018.
 
Special elections tend to be a barometer for voter sentiment and a prelude to the mid-terms. Two so far -- for Montana’s one Congressional seat (which the Republican won) and the Georgia 6th District (a toss-up at this point) – have attracted considerable media attention.
 
In general, Americans are not big on mass protest. Speaking out, either a town-hall meeting or on social media? Sure, and those are both good things. Voting? Sometimes, so long as the candidate seems “exciting” or there’s a wedge issue.  Just having normal policy debates doesn’t seem to be enough anymore.
 
It’s understandable that everyday life – work, taking care of children or aging parents, health challenges, chores, etc. – doesn’t necessarily leave a person with endless hours to read the New York Times or another reputable news source to better learn what is happening in Washington, Damascus, London or rural Indiana – and how events in one of those places may just affect them and why it’s crucial they vote.
 
But when apathy or ignorance leads to someone generally unfit as Trump, what does that say about our nation and its uneven civic engagement?
 
On the plus side, more people are paying attention and seem genuinely concerned at what’s happening. They’re showing up at town halls in numbers not seen in recent history.  According to CBS News, viewership of Comey’s Thursday testimony was a “blockbuster.”
 
That could lead to millions more voting next year, but it’s a long way to November 2018.

In the meantime, America’s democratic principles – and perhaps its very existence -- may hang in the balance.  
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