Danielle McLaughlin: American endurance in the age of Trump
OPINION: Resistance starts now and we must all play our part when democracy is under threat.
I was told running shoes were a good choice for a march on Washington. Comfortable. Room for two pairs of socks if necessary. Not at all waterproof, but the forecast was for a high of 11 degrees Celsius with no rain. Not bad for DC in winter.
Today, I walk with thousands in the Women's March on Washington. It is Donald Trump's first full day in office as the President of the United States. I march to remind Trump, and the Republican-controlled Congress that I will not stand idle while a politician threatens war crimes to fire up his base.
That I will not look away when mass deportations, both illegal and unconstitutional, are suggested as a panacea to our immigration problems. That I will continue to believe in the importance of fact, of truth, of critical thought and a free press to the proper functioning of democracy, when those who seek to subvert them for their own ends cry "fake news" and "media bias."
And finally, I march so that I can look my daughter in the eye and tell her that when core democratic values were threatened, I showed up.
Inauguration week can be fraught. Particularly when the White House is passed from one party to another. Republican and Democrat solutions to the problems facing America can be vastly different: the size and responsibilities of the federal government; the extent of restraints on corporate behaviour vis-à-vis consumer protection; what the guarantees written into our Constitution really mean.
This year, the incoming Republican President brings a number of ideas from both sides of the aisle with him into the Oval Office. So the tension has less to do with a clash of ideologies, and more to do with the man and the circumstances of his election.
After a rough and divisive campaign, in which a foreign state interfered to assist him, Trump is already wavering on campaign promises, and there is a sense that he and his team may not be ready on day one. Polling reflects this. He is the least popular president-elect in modern history.
If any observer, casual or otherwise, thought that Inauguration Week might be any different to any other since Trump began his run for political office in 2015, they were wrong.
The US intelligence community is in broad agreement that Russia intervened in the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. Trump has mostly rejected this (bar a throwaway comment in a press conference this week). Presumably because it burns him so personally.
On the back of concerns about Russian assistance, the Democratic Congressman from Georgia's Fifth District, John Lewis, said on Sunday that he would boycott the inauguration as he believed that Trump is not a "legitimate" President.
John Lewis is a civil rights hero. He was arrested multiple times in the early 1960s for challenging segregation laws. He suffered a fractured skull from a police baton during the famous march from Selma to Montgomery. He spoke to the crowds gathered for Dr Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech. But as we learned with the Pope and Meryl Streep, no person is immune from Trump's wrathful fingers. In 140 characters, he decried Lewis as "all talk and no action." This can most charitably be described as ironic, considering Lewis laid his life on the line for equality under law.
Lewis was joined by about 70 additional Democratic Congressmen and women, who yesterday boycotted the inauguration. Although I expect their motivations were deeply personal and born of respect for the office (and John Lewis), they have thrust the Trump opposition into a difficult place.
A democracy is held together by laws and institutions, but also by norms and traditions. By ignoring the tradition of participating in the peaceful transfer of power, these Democrats have given away some of the moral high ground. And this ground is where critics stand when they criticise Trump for his rejection of norms and traditions.
He didn't release his tax returns so that Americans could understand the extent of his obligations and whether he pays taxes like they do. He ran a brutal campaign and tore into his opponents (sometimes with utter falsehoods) in a fashion never seen before. He threatened the press and bullied specific journalists. You could say that the Trump campaign's calling card was the destruction of norms and a disregard for truth.
His presidency will be no different.
Despite this, I take solace in America's ability to endure. Born of revolution, she has withstood slavery, a civil war, and segregation. She has withstood two world wars, a great depression and a great recession. She has risen above and beyond politicians who turned away Jewish refugees, interned Japanese Americans, and blacklisted supposed communist sympathisers.
She endures because a country is more than its leader.
As I march with thousands today, I'm reminded of a line from President Obama's farewell address:
"The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some."
New Zealand lawyer Danielle McLaughlin is based in New York and provides political commentary for Fairfax NZ, Fox News, and CNN. Follow her on Twitter: @MsDMcLaughlin
- Sunday Star Times