Charleston S.C. harbor, February 2017 – For this visitor, Fort Sumpter, looming three miles out in the harbor, inevitably summoned up ghosts of “States’ Rights”, “secession” and the calamitous U.S. Civil War.
In the immediate wake of President Trump’s divisive, arguably unconstitutional (and incompetent) international travel ban and refugee prohibition, those spirits seem especially timely and relevant.
A growing number of U.S. state governments — as well as cities and civil society organizations — are already litigating, adjusting or ignoring that federal discriminatory diktat based religious identity.
This follows unprecedented national resistance to a two-week series of attacks on several well-established national policies and traditions by the Bannon/Trump(Pence) Administration.
Call it “Secession-Lite-by-Issue”.
This is happening, of course, within U.S Federalism – famously, a system in which our states share power with the national government. The relationship has often been controversial but post Civil War, rarely as divisive as it is now. A central issue is the federal government compelling states to enforce federal statutes; but importantly, the new administration’s edicts are not Congressionally-passed laws. And extremely broad popular resistance to them is encouraging state governments from California to New York to test their validity and popular resistance.
The administration executive orders are also being hotly contested by many American cities, as well as by a plethora of issue-oriented citizen groups. And social media networks have facilitated the rapid growth and impact of these movements.
The “showdown” with cities was well described in this January 25th Washington Post report:
“Trump’s intervention into policing, voting and immigration sets up showdown with America’s largest cities”
The historic national outpouring of protesters during the January 21st Women’s March on Washington and the many airport protests this week have set the stage for more “vertical” demonstrations in the weeks ahead: Americans are organizing for demonstrations issue by issue.
A March for Science on Washington and throughout the country (date to be determined). Organizers “want the march to be a non-partisan protest that addresses issues including government funding for scientists, transparency, climate change and evolution “Scientists planning their own march in Washington.”
The Trump Taxes March, April 15th, Washington D.C.. Website copy: “…It’s clear that Trump isn’t going to show us his tax returns unless he feels like he has no other choice. And without those tax returns, we won’t have the basic information we need to unravel Trump’s entanglements with foreign governments, to discern whether he used illegal tax shelters, or to figure out if he’s actually as rich as he claims to be.” [Emphasis in the original.]
The perhaps surprising importance of social media networks in the success of these movements was summarized by New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo’s commentary, “The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests Against Trump”. Key analysis: “The stirrings of a remarkable national movement that could be democracy-defining.”
The abiding question is whether all these entities, many with specific issues, can cohere into a viable and enduring national movement with political clout. There seems to be only common denominator to their demands for change: President Donald J. Trump.