Democracy works when those in power respond to those without. The American brand may have been put through the wringer of late – and even come under direct attack by a foreign power – but its cogs have kept turning,; the transmission belt linking elected and electors kept whirring.
Perhaps it doesn’t feel that way, but remember that while democracy demands a response from those in office, it cannot determine the type of response received. Donald Trump is responding to the American people: in a childish, throwing-his-toys-out-of-the-pram kind of way, but responding nonetheless. This, at least, should give those lamenting the end of the republic a moment’s pause.
Last weekend’s tax marches are a case in point. Mohammed Naeem, an organizer for the New York march, well articulates how they laid bare the enduring vibrancy of American democracy: “We marched in solidarity with one another, in the tens of thousands. A pronouncement of our unity, around issues of fairness in our economic system, government accountability and transparency, and most important of all – to demand from the President of the United States his tax returns. He is now well-aware that we do care – as was evident by his twitter tirade.”
The call, made by around 100,000 marchers in over 150 cities, was for Trump to release his tax returns. His personal response was an ill-tempered tweet.
Infinitely more valuable, however, has been the response of those in the legislative branch. A growing number of Republican lawmakers are echoing the calls of the marchers and asking Trump to come clean on his personal finances. Their consciences may have been pricked by the images of thousands snaking past Trump Tower in New York, or crying “shame!” at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. More likely, they spoke out from a growing awareness that their constituents are pissed by their commander-in-chief’s obdurate opacity.
Congressional Republicans’ siding with the American majority on this issue is a sign that the plumbing underpinning the democratic system is gurgling away happily. Yes, they are responding the way they are out of electoral self-interest, but that’s how it is supposed to be. As long as lawmakers are more scared of their constituents than they are of the Trump White House, then the US will be spared a descent into authoritarianism.
Democracy isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it system, however. As Clementine Havemeyer commented, the weekend’s tax marches were a vivid demonstration of popular dissent, one that could not be ignored – even by a president more interested in himself than his country. They were a sign that the resistance movement is “alive and well.” It will have to continuously demonstrate this vitality going forward, or risk allowing the Trump administration to believe it has ridden out the storm and indulge in its more fascistic tendencies without fear of reproach.
“We’ve got our point across,” says Naeem. “[But] the resistance isn’t over. We will keep showing up.”
For democracy’s sake, let’s hope we do.