What has been the Impact of The Resistance? Part I: Efficacy By Eric van der Vort

What has been the Impact of The Resistance? Part I: Efficacy By Eric van der Vort

This series will examine the anti-Trump movement (loosely referred to as “the resistance”) as it approaches the six-month mark. I will look at its efficacy, its strengths and weaknesses, its likely evolution, and its meaning for scholars of American politics and citizens in central New York.


Let us start with a hard question: Is “the resistance” working? This is hard to answer because we usually think of political outcomes in yes/no terms. Did a bill succeed or fail? Did a candidate win or lose an election? Did a citizen vote or not?

Thinking in these terms is easy to understand and for social scientists, easy to measure. We know that politics is more complicated. One can win while losing, or vice versa. Social movement effects and outcomes are particularly tricky to think about in terms of absolute success or absolute failure. So, I’ll consider the impact of anti-Trump resistance in two contexts which are important to consider, but difficult to pin down success and failure.

Party Politics

Following Donald Trump’s inauguration, Democrats faced a tough question: how would they engage with the 45th President? Would they compromise on key issues, or would they mount vigorous resistance?

Before the inauguration, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicated that Democrats would consider some compromise. That approach did not sit well with the Democratic base. Protest quickly became a familiar tactic for many Democrats, as the Women’s Marches and spontaneous protests against Trump’s executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries brought people out of their homes. Less than a month later after his signal about compromise, an uncomfortable sight confronted Schumer: thousands of angry New Yorkers protesting on the streets in front of his Brooklyn home. Their intent: to stiffen Democratic spines.

Democrats heard this call and appear to have heeded it. Led by their grassroots, Democrats have generally opposed the president’s agenda with some success. Thus far President Trump has been unable to pass major legislation with unified GOP government. The Democrats haven’t been able to develop policy either.

Office-holders and office-seekers, with an eye on 2018 and beyond, are flirting with resistance groups. The resistance is clearly shaping Democratic Party politics, with big consequences for party strategy and electoral prospects in coming elections. The emergence of new waves of office-seekers, particularly women and Millennials, is especially important for Democrats’ prospects. Moreover, while Democrats have so far failed to win special elections, they are performing better than expected, which could be impactful in 2018.

The Mass Public

Protest is not just influencing Democrats. The mass public is a critical element of the resistance. Research on participants has shown that many of the people involved in anti-Trump organizing are new activists and are diverse in their politics (though less so along lines of class and race). While the majority are Democrats, research suggests that the movement is growing to include non-Democrats. The ability to engage, teach, and continue to mobilize new activists is critical to social movement success.

By this metric, the resistance has succeeded beyond reasonable expectations. Involvement has ebbed and waned, but the proliferation of groups like Indivisible, which boasts more than 5,000 chapters across the country, suggests the possibility of long-term movement maintenance.

One challenge the movement faces among the mass public is turning the protest-focused energy of its first six months into other forms of power. It is an open question whether the resistance will provide Democrats (or a third party) with sufficient energy to influence the outcome of elections leading into 2018. Democrats need time, energy, and resources to repair neglected state party infrastructures. This is happening and the surge of activism could potentially be helpful.

While clear victories have been elusive so far, six months of resistance have affected U.S. politics and have provided Democrats and progressives with energy that may otherwise have eluded them in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s loss. My next piece will examine the effectiveness of the resistance in relation to local issues and how The Resistance has influenced policy outcomes.


Eric van der Vort is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University.


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