For the millions who flooded the streets on Saturday, the marches were a cathartic opportunity to blow off steam and send a message to Trump. As one supportive commentator giddily exulted, “This was an uprising; this was a fighting back. This was a resistance … We are America. We are loud, ‘nasty,’ and fed up. We are motivated dissidents and we are legion.”
That’s all fine — as far as it goes.
But as I walked the perimeter of the Philadelphia march, one particular placard caught my eye. It wasn’t colorful or funny or impertinent, like most of the others. In shaky black and white, it simply said: “Democracy is fragile — Vote in Every Election.”
That fundamental priority was barely mentioned on Saturday. I didn’t hear a single speaker bring it up. There was plenty of vocal outrage, but not a single signup booth. I know that stuff isn’t sexy, but here’s an axiom that liberals and progressives never seem to grasp:
Republicans don’t march en masse. Instead, they vote.
Democrats, and those who are generally sympathetic to Democrats, are far less zealous about voting. Trump was partially right this weekend when he tweeted about the marches by asking, “Why didn’t these people vote?” Actually, many did vote in November. But Barry M. Marcus, a Florida reader of the The New York Times, got it right in a letter to the editor that ran today:
“Watching the women’s marches, I couldn’t help wondering how many of those women and young people marching did not vote for Hillary Clinton. What did they expect would happen if she lost because they decided to back someone else or not vote at all? Can one imagine what would have happened if everyone there, and I mean everyone, would have voted for Hillary Clinton? The answer: She would be sitting in the Oval Office now. So to all of those marchers who did not vote for her, you have reaped what you have sown. Maybe next time you will think twice before voting for someone who couldn’t possibly win or deciding not to vote at all.”
If only the exit pollsters had been deployed to quiz the marchers nationwide; with the aid of truth serum, I bet they would’ve found a sizeable share of ’16 abstainers and third-party fools. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Democrats and Democratic-leaners stayed home en masse during the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, when President Obama badly needed them to turn out. Their AWOL behavior ensured that the older, whiter, ballot-loyal Republicans seized and retained control of the House and Senate; and that the Republicans seized and retained control of 900 formerly Democratic state legislative seats, down at the grassroots level where the House congressional district boundaries are drawn.
Left-of-center voters tend to show up only in presidential years; right-of-center voters show up for every election season. Hillary Clinton lamented that during a 2015 interview. She said, “Democrats are really personality-driven,” a habit of mind that was amplified by Obama. The party’s likeliest voters (minorities, young people, diehard liberals) are top-down, not bottom-up. Republicans are so bottom-up that party leaders strategize about the state legislative elections years ahead of time.
But let’s talk about the top race of ’16. The passion in the streets this weekend was totally justified; Trump and his team are poised to roll back the progressive gains — on everything from reproductive rights to climate change awareness to health care — that appeared to be inviolate. But the impending disaster would never have happened if Americans who love the progressive gains had been passionate on November 8. They were not. Black turnout in crucial states was tepid. Young voters were tepid about Clinton. Other progressives didn’t bother at all.
And, perhaps most importantly, the white women who dominated Saturday’s marches were not representative of all white women. Nationwide, Trump won 53 percent of white women, and 61 percent of white women without college degrees. And in the three states that swung the election — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, previously blue since the ’80s — white women put Trump in the White House.
So the marches were all well and good, but they’ll have zero impact unless that energy is channelled long-term into the electoral realm. Those who didn’t vote in November need to show up the way Republicans routinely do — by energizing the complacent and directionless Democratic Party, by reconnecting it to the Rustbelt and downscale women who fatally defected in ’16.
There’s loose talk about a left-leaning tea party movement that could change the party from the ground up. Fine. But it needs to be more than talk. It needs to be ballot-based, because snarky placards will change nothing. To borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, what happened Saturday needs to be merely “the end of the beginning.”
By the way, Trump mouthpiece Sean Spicer (at Trump’s behest) was still whining yesterday about the inaugural crowd size. Here’s the best response, crafted by the conservative Weekly Standard magazine. It’s delicious with a cherry on top:
“If media reports about crowd size are so important to Trump that he’d push Spicer out there to lie for him, then it means that all the tinpot-dictator, authoritarian, characterological tics that people worried about during the campaign are still very much active.You know who obsessed about crowd size? Fidel Castro. You know who did not? George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and every other man to ever serve as president of these United States of America.”