Of all the words and slogans filling the air on the national day of protest following Donald Trump’s inauguration, this one rang me like a bell.
What began as a national women’s march in Washington, D.C. wound up becoming the mother of all demonstrations as people of every gender, age, color and creed turned out by the thousands — in some cases, the hundreds of thousands — in at least one city in every state across the country. Over a million showed up nationwide. Even more, if you count those who marched in solidarity through world capitals like London, Sydney, and Cape Town.
Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Not on the day after the inauguration of a new president.
I happened to be in Florida, in West Palm Beach, no more than a five-minute drive from Mar-a-Lago, the Spanish-deco fantasia built by Marjorie Merriweather Post (of Post cereals). Trump bought the place a while back; it figures to be his Winter White House. But such close proximity to the Trumpticon did not inhibit Trump’s nearby neighbors. They started arriving at an amphitheater on the other side of Lake Worth before noon and were still coming at two o’clock. They brought their kids, their dogs, their friends and their parents. Some were in costume, others hoisted signs. There were thousands of them.
Defiance, it seems, can be as good for you as sunshine or wild caught seafood. I say this because defiance seemed the prevalent mood among the folks in West Palm Beach. The mayor of that town (a woman, by the way) opened things up by assuring us her city would continue to be a place where women’s health was protected, immigrants welcomed, bigotry spurned and common sense gun laws advocated. Community, in other words, upheld.
Hard to imagine, but upholding community represents defiance in America, circa 2017. The people assembled in West Palm and, I imagine, in Indianapolis and Chicago and Washington, D.C. seemed heartened by being among so many spirits who were, at once, like themselves, yet different. Not all one, but willing and able to get along. Invested, that is, in building a common space where strength is measured not in terms of who’s kept out, but who’s included.
It is not just that we know Trump lost the popular election by three million votes. The unprecedented demonstrations the day after his inauguration pose a stark question aimed at the heart of our country’s clearly tattered politics: What’s wrong with this picture? This is not, as Trump and Pence would have it, a matter of sour grapes or sore losing. It is peoples’ unfiltered response to nonrepresentational government. That Trump should triumph by the very means he spent his campaign attacking puts irony to shame.
But then there’s plenty of shame to go around. Too many of us either didn’t vote, or considered our vote too pure to cast for a candidate who seemed less than perfect. Too many of us, it seems, no longer like democracy’s looks.
So we made a beauty pageant barker president. May the demonstrations continue.
“This is what democracy looks like!”