There is no denying the damage that the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency have done to our institutions, our civic culture and our well-being as a country. Billions of pixels have been devoted to enumerating the seemingly endless ways that our outgoing president has challenged the norms and principles underlying American democracy. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his electoral loss is the most recent case in point.
Yet from the early days of the Trump presidency, a loose coalition ranging from liberal activists to Republican “Never-Trumpers” joined together under the #Resist hashtag out of a shared sense that democracy must be defended in the face of demagoguery.
As the Trump era nears its end, it is worth appreciating the impressive degree to which the “Resistance” worked. Faced with racially charged rhetoric from a president practiced in the politics of hate and division, millions of Americans took to the streets to defend Muslims, immigrants, victims of police violence and other vulnerable members of our communities. In the process, the Resistance has helped usher in a sea-change in American consciousness of racial injustice.
Trump and his supporters warned of a so-called “deep state” determined to undermine his presidency. Something of the sort did exist, but it consisted of dedicated civil servants – public health workers, postal service employees, environmental scientists and election officials – who doggedly persisted in following the law despite the efforts of Trump appointees to undermine the missions of the agencies they headed.
At great risk, whistleblowers emerged to shed light upon wrongdoing. When pressured to send American soldiers into the streets to confront peaceful protesters, top officers publicly affirmed the military’s apolitical role and its loyalty to the Constitution above all else. Former high officials warned the public about the dysfunction of the Trump White House.
The courts again and again repudiated the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine regulations rooted in law and science. The mainstream media carried out penetrating reporting on corruption. The House of Representatives impeached the president for attempting to enlist a foreign government in falsely discrediting his political opponent. Even the Republican-controlled Senate eventually produced a report that established collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian intelligence.
Fact-checkers identified and corrected Trump’s lies. Though far too late, social media networks eventually began flagging the political disinformation that has done so much to poison our politics in the age of Trump.
To be sure, Republican power-brokers failed – with a few exceptions – to call out the president’s misdeeds and tens of millions of Americans twice voted to elect Trump as president. Trumpism is far from spent as a political force. Yet Trump lost the popular vote in both elections and the electoral college vote in 2020. America’s democratic institutions have proven resilient enough to survive the most demagogic presidency of modern times. But the credit for this beleaguered victory goes not only to the system of checks and balances designed by the nation’s founders, but also to the determined efforts of the many people, high and low, who drove the Resistance.
First appeared in the Des Moine Register, November 2020