The New Abraham Lincoln Brigade

Jorge G. Castañeda (Project Syndicate)
Jorge G. Castañeda was Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2000-2003, after joining with his ideological opponent, President Vicente Fox, to create the country’s first democratic government. He is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, and is the author of The Latin American Left After the Cold War and Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara.

MEXICO CITY – During the Spanish Civil War, thousands of young Americans went to Spain to join the fight against fascism as part of the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” Today, as more people wake up to the threat that US President Donald Trump poses to the rule of law, human rights, and international order, a new global resistance movement is emerging to defend democracy and basic decency.

The resistance could adopt three tactics. One approach is simply to wait and hope that Trump is turned into a lame duck by damning revelations about his administration. Better yet, Trump could be impeached or removed from office under the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, if enough members of his own government deem him incapable of carrying out the duties of the presidency.
A second, less optimistic tactic is to accept that Trump will complete his first term, and spend that time forging stronger alliances among the Democratic Party, the media, civil-society groups, and all other Trump opponents in academia, religious institutions, and labor unions.The third option is to disrupt Trump’s agenda in the courts, with challenges to his travel bans, Mexican border wall, deportations, and proposals to cut funding for the United Nations and foreign-aid programs in Africa.

As Jeffrey D. Sachs observes, there is reason to believe that Trump will not even survive the current scandal over his campaign’s ties to Russia. The troubling questions go well beyond Russian agents hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s servers to release internal emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Many are curious about ties between Trump and Russian oligarchs, and why Russian-tied banks extended Trump loans when no one else would.

Moreover, many wonder if Russian intelligence services have evidence with which to blackmail Trump; or whether American, French, British, and Baltic spies might leak materials confirming that suspicion. Trump may be paranoid, but he is probably right to worry that the US intelligence community believes that he is not fit for the role of commander-in-chief, and that US media will report every credible leak.

With Trump’s popularity falling, Republicans will soon start to fear for their congressional seats in 2018. If incontrovertible evidence of serious malfeasance emerges, congressional Republicans, or even members of the executive branch, could begin proceedings against the president.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have already launched an all-out attack on Trump’s initiatives, such as the border wall and proposed cuts to the State Department budget. At the state level, Democratic governors have filed lawsuits to challenge Trump’s immigration executive orders, and many Democratic mayors have reaffirmed their cities’ sanctuary status for undocumented immigrants.

Democrats are up in arms not only because they dislike Trump and are opposed to his policies, but also because they are being pressured by voters – Democrats and Republicans alike – who are attending town-hall meetings and calling congressional offices. As mass demonstrations and the latest polls make clear, the majority of Americans who did not back Trump may vote for Democrats in 2018. In the meantime, they are calling for defiance, not compromises or concessions.

American civil-society organizations are also playing a central role in the opposition. Many more people turned out for the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration than showed up for the inauguration itself. Donations to groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union – which has led the charge against Trump’s executive orders – have increased. And those speaking out against the Trump administration’s actions include 500 university presidents and many faith-based organizations, not least the Catholic Church.

With a growing number of advocacy groups mobilizing to challenge Trump’s policies, the US may be witnessing its biggest burst of political activism since former US President Ronald Reagan launched wars in Central America in the 1980’s. And these groups are natural allies for Trump’s victims abroad. Many of them sympathize with migrants and refugees, and support human rights and other progressive causes, whether it means fighting against Trump’s border wall, defending the Paris climate agreement, or joining with Canada and Germany to receive refugees from Syria.

To be sure, Trump’s implacable opponents are a minority in Congress and most state legislatures, but this can easily change. And even before it does, political minorities have many tools with which to thwart abusive majorities. This is true even for foreign governments, companies, and individuals, who may, in some cases, have standing in US courts to challenge Trump administration policies that affect them (and even when they do not, domestic groups may be able to act on their behalf).

Moreover, the Trump administration might eventually violate one of many international conventions, at which point other governments could bring suits against it before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Although former US President George W. Bush limited the extent to which the US must comply with ICJ rulings, such cases would still add to the pressure the Trump administration is already feeling.
The Year Ahead 2017 Cover Image

In the US, there are many lawyers who will gladly work pro bono to challenge the constitutionality of Trump’s executive orders, or to sue the federal government for violations of civil, religious, or human rights. Many of these cases will face hurdles if they reach the Supreme Court, which soon will have a new conservative majority; nonetheless, an accumulation of such cases, as well as civil lawsuits over Trump’s behavior as a businessman and candidate, will steadily erode Trump’s legitimacy.

The best resistance strategy would combine the three approaches described here: wait, find friends, and litigate. If Trump’s presidency does collapse, the opposition will have to move quickly. Pursuing a comprehensive strategy now is likely to be the best preparation.

Advertisements