Like many progressive North Carolinians, the election of Donald Trump last November rocked my world to its core, and not in a good way. First came shock and disbelief, which was followed by a rage that was hard to shake over the holidays. But I finally did it, resuming the normal patterns of my life – until the dystopian nightmare of the Inaugural Address, which made it abundantly clear that this is a President only interested in playing to his base, with no thought to the rule of law, or the need to be truthful to the American people.
But the Women’s March in Raleigh the next day revitalized me, almost like a baptism, as I marched with a rainbow coalition of women of all sizes, shapes, and colors, and the men who support them, along with LGBTQ activists, Black Lives Matter activists, and the supporters of undocumented workers. It was simply a joyous occasion; even the cops were nice, despite the chill, for the seventeen thousand-plus participants.
The signs were so funny, as all these people took back the word “pussy” from the world’s most famous misogynist and relaunched it as part of their own battle cry, with a sea of furry pussy-eared hats as the hot new commodity along the march route. Feeling quite buoyant, I remember thinking that we, that is, people who believe in truth and justice, could overcome a Trump presidency.
But then his term started. Like people all over this country, I am gravely offended and embarrassed by this administration. There is no need to list the misdeeds and absurdities of the first month of the Trump presidency, capped by a press conference on February 16 in which the President became, as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it, “totally unhinged.”
News like this makes my blood boil daily. What is most challenging is the feeling of helplessness, as congressional Republicans, who were ready to investigate a Clinton presidency from Day One, are seemingly content with their Faustian bargain with Trump so they can advance their regressive legislative agenda.
But while most of the Republican party puts partisan politics ahead of the national interest, they remain in control of Congress, eager to repeal Obamacare, give the wealthy a tax break, pass a national “freedom to discriminate” religious freedom law, decimate the EPA, and get rid of the Frank/Dodd financial regulations enacted after the Great Recession.
All of which makes hope, if you happen to be liberal, progressive and sane, an elusive commodity to come by. But hope springs eternal and returned once again as I joined a sea of angry yet optimistic voices two weeks back at the Moral March in Raleigh. At the risk of sounding downright optimistic, I really felt I was watching history in the making that day and that I was observing a sea change in attitude, as a coalition of previously disconnected and sometimes antagonistic groupings, pushed up against the wall by the insanity of Trumpism, found a kind of unity that has been long elusive.
Grand coalitions in American history are not easy to come by. When we think of the Civil
Rights Movement, we usually think of an African-American Civil Rights movement, working to end Jim Crow and de jure segregation. But most Americans would not associate the Women’s movement, or Red Power, or gay liberation with the “Civil Rights” Movement. But they were, united in their desire for equal rights under the law.
But the tumults of the 1960’s failed to bring all of these movements together as one, as Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society crumbled into the reaction of Nixon and the birth of the modern conservative movement. What explains this? Deep-rooted racism, misogyny, and homophobia, are certainly near the top of the list.
For decades, people of color have often been made to feel like second class citizens – even within progressive political movements. As a white gay man, I experienced some of this myself in 2012 when I volunteered for the Democratic Party during the campaign to re-elect Barack Obama. At the time, a number of African-American volunteers were clearly uncomfortable working side-by-side with an out gay male couple. It was a disheartening experience, one I felt was unnecessary, as the array of forces against us were much more powerful than religiously inspired homophobia.
But none of these attitudes were present at this year’s Moral March. To the contrary, there was a profound undercurrent among the marchers that everyone in attendance was “in this together.” And when the Reverend Dr. William Barber, President of the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP, took the stage, this unspoken undercurrent was made explicit.
As one would expect from a true leader who reaches beyond his or her base to send a message to all citizens, Barber’s speech bound together a grand progressive coalition of Christians, Jews, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and just plain regular looking folks, all of whom projected a unified voice in their opposition to an unhinged and delusional president, his regressive and polarizing policies, and his hateful rhetoric. Many times that day I heard the phrase that was a staple of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and the 1960s, “we shall overcome.” Indeed, I am starting to believe we can.
Dr. Charles Beem is a Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.