African-American children gather near a voter registration booth in the early 1960s.
(Image by (Kheel Center, Cornell University / Wikimedia) Details DMCA
The passivity of the American populace in the face of the endlessly outrageous presidency of Donald Trump is chilling to behold. There were some meaningful outbursts of mass anger over and against his patently discriminatory travel ban and against early Trump-led Republican efforts to throw millions of Americans off health insurance. Beyond those early protests, however, it's been abject surrender for the most part.
There were no mass protests when President Trump embraced and advanced the greenhouse gassing-to-death of life on earth by pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord or when Trump approved the ecocidal, planet-cooking Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
No mass marches rocked the nation when Trump advance-pardoned a convicted racist and fascist county sheriff (Joe Arpaio) who created deadly open-air "concentration camps" (Arpaio's own proud term) to detain suspected undocumented immigrants of Latino background.
The streets stayed silent when Trump defended neo-Nazis and other vicious white nationalists, offering them dog-whistle encouragement after they marched and killed in defense of Confederate (slave power) war statues.
Nobody marched on the White House when Trump threatened genocidal and thermonuclear war ("fire and fury") on North Korea, putting millions of lives at risk on and around the Korean Peninsula.
Trump's remaking of the federal bench in the image of the hard-right Federalist Society has yet to elicit significant mass protest. The same goes for Trump's brazen killing of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Syria, his support for Saudi Arabia's U.S.-equipped devastation of Yemen, his epic bungling of Puerto Rican disaster relief, and the numerous insults he hurled at Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Trump's moronic and arch-nativist wall to be built on the southern U.S. border has failed to spark mass resistance. Neither has his push for an openly plutocratic tax cut that will make the already obscenely hyper-opulent U.S. super rich even more grotesquely wealthy -- this even as the top 10th of the upper 1 percent in the U.S. already possesses as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and half the U.S. population is poor or near poor.
The passivity of the citizenry in the face of all this and more is particularly chilling when seen against the progressive, social-democratic and left-leaning profile of majority U.S. public opinion. As the left-liberal magazine In These Times reported three days before Trump's inauguration, a "broad consensus " has emerged in the United States around progressive policies." The progressive consensus, author Theo Anderson noted, "cuts across economic and social issues and includes even traditional culture-war flashpoints. On most policy questions, polling shows that about three-fifths or more of the public prefers progressive positions." The nation's all-too-silent progressive majority supports federally funded universal national health insurance, progressive taxation, collective bargaining rights, campaign finance reform, a higher minimum wage, free child care, legalized marijuana, abortion rights, LGBT rights, and a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
An October CNN poll showed that just a third (34 percent) of Americans support Trump's tax cuts, whereas 52 percent oppose them and 14 percent are unsure. Only 24 percent agree with Trump and his Republican allies that the cuts will make families "better off if they are passed." An October CBS poll found that 58 percent of Americans believe the Trump tax "reform" favors the wealthy, with just 19 percent believing it "treats everyone equally" and a mere 18 percent agreeing that it "favors the middle-class."
Surely, this graphic chasm between majority citizen wishes and government policy is the stuff revolutions, or at least great social protest and resistance movements, are made of in nations claiming to be democracies, yes? Not in the contemporary U.S., where the populace is staying off the streets and out of social movements for the most part.
"We the people" have other, supposedly more urgent and meaningful things to do with our lives than joining together to confront a corrupt and sociopathic right-wing government that brazenly defies majority sentiment by pushing for an ever-increasing concentration of wealth, for more racist mass incarceration, for a deepening decimation of the public sector, for the removal of millions of poor and sick people from health coverage, for the right-wing takeover of the judiciary, for the shift of yet more taxpayer money to the nation's giant war machine, and for the accelerated ruination of livable ecology.
What gives? Part of the problem is that the disconnect between majority opinion and policy is anything but novel. It's hardly restricted to the Trump era. It's a long-standing and richly bipartisan phenomenon. As the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern University) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) show in their important new volume "Democracy in America?":
"[T]he best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups -- especially business corporations -- have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. ... The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves. "
This is equally true regardless of which of the two dominant political organizations hold nominal power in the executive and/or legislative branches, as Page and Gilens show.