If anything's becoming clear in the early weeks of the Trump administration, it's that the script's been flipped for the activist right and activist left. It's only natural when one side's major political party in power, and the other is out in the cold ― it's much easier to generate grassroots fervor when you're punching up rather than defending the status quo. And with how the Trump administration has begun, that's been even more true. Here are seven signs that the protests really do work, and why there's no reason to think they're going to die down anytime soon.
Make no mistake: Not all political demonstrations are equal in terms of the impact they have on public opinion, or the pressures they put on the Washington establishment ― in this day and age, an establishment entirely controlled by the Republican Party. It takes an immense amount of effort, organization, and collective will to pull these things off, and to keep them focused and non-violent, as well ― it's an unavoidable reality that mass movements are prone to pockets of chaos or discord, whether from inside the movement or outside of it.
Which makes those times that people stand together, peaceful and resolute, all the more stirring. And when large groups of Americans get together to make their voices and presence felt, it can help shape the political landscape in radical ways that once seemed impossible. Here are seven of the ways you can tell that's been happening over the last three weeks.
1. He's Expending A Ton Of Energy And Political Capital
If you're a progressive looking for a game plan for opposing the Trump agenda over the next several years, "keep him so distracted and hectored that he can't concentrate on any one thing" isn't a bad route to go. And the massive public protests in response to his most controversial actions, the executive order on immigration and refugees from majority Muslim countries in particular, has clearly hurt.
That's both in terms of his image in the public sphere, and because it's forced him to burn a lot more energy playing defense than a more competent, restrained administration would have.
2. Republican Panic Over Obamacare Repeal
With a massive liberal outcry on a broad range of issues, including the Republican Party's longstanding goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as Obamacare), the GOP seems to realize they're caught between a rock and a hard place.
That was laid utterly bare by a leaked secret recording of a meeting between congressional Republicans, in which members were clearly sweating the reality of trying to undo a law that could cost millions of Americans ― many of them Republican voters ― their health insurance.
3. Trump Tweeting That He Respects Protests
The president is notoriously combative, and not terribly inclined to give credit or show respect towards his detractors. Indeed, this was a huge part of his success in 2016, and he's admitted as much openly ― he identifies himself as a "counter-puncher," although he sometimes throws the first punch, too.
Which is why his tweet during the Women's March on Washington stood out so glaringly. He tweeted that "peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy." It didn't exactly sound like he'd written it himself, sure, but the lack of a stronger reaction suggests he knew full well he'd overpowered on that particular day.
4. Jam-Packed Town Halls
Many Republican members of Congress, those who gleefully rode the waves of public outcry and protest against the Democrats' health care reform push back in 2009 and 2010, are now facing some turnabout, as their town hall events are being packed to the gills with angry constituents.
No doubt activated by the all-fronts resistance grassroots progressives have been rolling out against the Trump agenda, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz endured a particularly raucous, outraged affair this week, complete with hundreds of his constituents yelling "Do your job!"
5. Members Of Congress Hiding From Their Constituents
You have to give Chaffetz this much ― at least he showed up. That's more than can be said for many congressional Republicans right now, who've been ducking public availability while concentrating their efforts on confirming some of Trump's highly controversial cabinet picks. Some have even shut off their phone lines to avoid being inundated with criticism (White House counselor Kellyanne Conway reportedly urged this course of action).
Ultimately, there's only one way to interpret those facts: the pressure is getting to them, however they might try to escape it.
6. Public Opinion Turning Against Travel Ban
Perhaps the single biggest, most inflammatory action of the young Trump presidency was the signing of the executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries ― indefinitely from Syria, and temporarily from Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Iraq, although obviously, Trump could extend the bans whenever he sees fit.
The first public poll released following the signing of the order, by Reuters/Ipsos, showed Americans favoring it by seven points. Now, after days of protest and multiple court rulings against its legality, a poll from Quinnipiac shows Americans opposing the ban by five points, with a margin of error of 2.9.
7. Trump's Approval Ratings Keep Dropping
And, of course, the bottom-line number that you can be sure Trump is paying very close attention to ― the man loves the polls when they're backing him, and calls them "fake news" when they aren't. The fact that he won the presidential election despite losing the popular vote, and the fact that Hillary Clinton's leads in the polls were not nearly as staunch in the final days of the race as many portrayed them, have enabled his insistence that any unfavorable numbers about him are fallacious.
But the trend in his approval ratings is not subtle, and it's all been headed the same direction. He already sat at a record-low approval rating for an incoming president on inauguration day, and in the weeks since he's sunk even further. As of this writing, according to Gallup's daily tracking poll, he's 8 points underwater, with 52 percent disapproving and only 42 percent approving. In addition, The Huffington Post's pollster average has his approval ratings trailing his disapproval ratings by 5 points, 45 points against 50, respectively. And this is all startlingly early in his first term ― generally, new presidents get a period of discernible public support, a so-called "honeymoon." So far, no such unity has been seen, and the sight of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets decrying him can't be helping.