It had the same call “to take to the streets.” It had the same promises of overwhelming opposition to President Trump. It has the same pre-demonstration promotion from the left-leaning media. It was predicted that hundreds of thousands of protesters would respond to the call. The goal and early media reports predicted that more than 100,000 would descend on Washington – and tens of thousands more in cities across America. As planning proceeded, the Washington Post lowered the expectation to 50,000 for the nation’s capital.
In addition to Washington, the commons of some 700 cities will be awash with thousands of protesters. The issue of children being separated from parents was the catalyst de jure for yet another demonstration of the power of the left wing #NeverTrump resistance movement.
So, what happened?
In their post mortem – a very apt label in this case – some television activists and pundits did their best to put a positive spin on the day of demonstrations as a huge success. In a bit of media hyperbole, CNN described the gatherings as “massive.”
Looking around the nation, it appeared that the number of cities in which serious demonstrations took place fell far, far short of the 700 predicted – unless you count every hand full of people with signs standing on a street corner or in a park.
Interestingly, in its follow-up report on the Washington demonstration, CNN failed to give an estimation of the size of the crowd. Even without such a count, it was obvious that the turnout did not reach even the lowered 50,000 prediction. Demonstration organizers declared a crowd of 30,000 in Washington, but history shows that organizers always inflate the numbers by multiples. In filtering through all the hype, the D.C. crowd was probably less than 20,000 – even as little as 12,000.
That is still a lot of people, and they can disrupt a city by blocking streets and access to buildings to get maximum coverage. They can make a lot of noise. Television cameras focus on concentrations of people with their paraphernalia and signs – making the crowd appear larger than it is.
Of course, the gathering had the predictable appearances by the celebrity left – politicians and entertainers. They were the same old faces who show up for every such event as a matter of course. Singer John Legend took to the podium in Los Angeles to admonish the gathers to keep engaged and “do something.” California Senator Kamala Harris and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti also took to the microphone. And what left-wing event would be complete without an appearance by Cher. These celebrities provide box office that draws the media to the platforms, giving more attention-grabbing glamour to a movement that the lesser luminaries simply cannot.
What can be said about the Saturday demonstration is that it did not live up to the advertisement. It was not really big when compared to a lot of past demonstrations. It was a failure. Oh sure! It got the participants all steamed up and played well to the already converted. It did not, however, do much to advance the causes that brought them out of their homes. In fact, a good case could be made that in terms of national political support, they may have actually lost ground.
Often the media interviews people who brag that they have been taking to the streets in past demonstrations – mostly for any purpose deemed to be anti-Trump, anti-Republican, anti-conservative and all too often, anti-American. They have a visceral hatred for the American culture of personal freedom, free speech (except their own) and free enterprise capitalism.
Those who make demonstrating an avocation hate the military and law enforcement. They do not believe in the rule-of-law, preferring the rule of the streets – mob rule. They want to be the recipients of government hand-outs in a powerful top down socialist society. I refer to them as the perma-pissed.
While these malcontents are not the majority of protesters by any means, they comprise a significant force within the larger movement. Significant because they are the most disruptive and the most violent.
While most of the political left does not embrace the kind of violence that such groups as ANTIFA bring to the movement, there is a general disrespect for the rule-of-law of a less violent nature. While we have a constitutional right to demonstrate and protest, we do not have a right to disrupt traffic, to block the entrance to commercial enterprises, to harass and assault others or to close down government buildings. Yet these are the common tactics of the left. They deploy these illegal tactics because they are generally allowed to do so.
A bit of an exception took place in what might be called a “rehearsal demonstration” for the main event. On Thursday, three days before the BIG show, a group of demonstrators attempted to illegally shut down the Hart Senate Office Building in a protest calling for the disbanding of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). According to ABC News, 600 demonstrators were arrested, including members of Congress. The illegal protest was cheered on by a number of left-wing legislators, including presidential wannabe Elizabeth Warren. If history is any example, virtually all of them will be released without charges.
The first indication of the failure of the Saturday demonstration to reach critical mass was the next day reporting – or lack thereof. On many stations, including the most favorable to the left, the demonstrations did not make the top of the news. The Sunday interview shows hardly mentioned the demonstration – and some not at all. There was no prolonged praising analysis – just a few seconds of comment.
There are probably several reasons why the Demonstration failed to draw out the promised numbers and failed to capture the positive attention of the general public. First and foremost, there was a sense that we had seen this movie before – too many times. All the imagery and language had the feeling of a re-hashed old script. The language was trite, clichéd. Its images were fungible, almost appearing to have come from the dusty media archives of years gone by. (In the case of the detained children, some images on the television screen were really from years gone by).
The second problem was the subject itself – the situation of family separation at the border. There was a seeming lack of urgency. While the speakers and spokespersons talk in the most Draconian terms of the plight of the children and the suffering of the parents, many Americans saw kids receive excellent care and recognize that the parents had broken the law. The images were described as horrific but did not actually look horrific at all. Horrific is that iconic image of that dead child on the beach in Europe during the Syrian migration triggered by President Obama’s tragic leading from behind policy.
The imperative of the demonstration was undermined by the fact that a policy to reunite the children has been put in place. So, the issue was not reunification, but how fast. That is not the kind of call to arms that stirs a lot of passion.
Finally, like many of these demonstrations, there was a loss of focus. Though it was advertised as an event to get kids reunited with their parents, all the other planks of the radical left platform homogenized on the streets. There were demonstrators opposing the yet-to-be-named nominee for the Supreme Court and protestors pushing back against the reversal of gay marriage – although such a notion has not been part of any serious discussion by political leaders on either side of the aisle.
The most obvious sub-demonstration was the call for the disbanding of ICE. With more than two-thirds of the American people opposed to disbanding ICE, that clarion call was not about to recruit more participants or allies. Quite the opposite. It played into a widely held belief that the left and the Democrats favor open borders.
So, what did the demonstration accomplish? Even bigger ones have accomplished very little. Yet, there have been times when demonstrations, protest and civil disobedience have altered the course of public policy. Martin Luther King’s crusades of the 1950s and 1960s made a huge difference. Before that, the labor protests of the early Twentieth Century brought about better working condition, higher pay and the end of child labor. At around the same time, the movement to secure the right to vote for women resulted in the Nineteenth Amendment – the so-called Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Before that, demonstrations and riots led up to the end of slavery – even if it did require a civil war.
So, what is so different about these quintessential left-wing demonstrations that they come and go like snowflakes (pardon the double entendre) on a spring day. Perhaps it is because they are so highly political in a partisan sense. While they claim a moral underpinning, they lack the imperative and obvious injustice that characterized the fight for such basic rights as voting, integration and working safely. The injustices being addressed by of those earlier successful public movements were obvious to any fair-minded person. The modern demonstrations are more a matter of opinion.
Because of the seriousness and justifications of those successful movements, protesters and proponents risked life and limb in the pursuit of justice. The modern movement seems more of a social occasion – posing little more of a risk than a wine and cheese party. The only thing that creates any sense of danger is a fear that ANTIFA might join in.
Unlike the successful protests, the recent ones offer no solutions. They curse what they see as darkness without lighting a single candle. The marches for civil rights, labor rights and women’s rights all were pro-active. Their objective was to achieve a specific and worthwhile result. They were not demonstrating against. They were demonstrating for.
The modern protests seem little more than an opportunity to vent spleens, voice belligerent threats, insult those who hold different opinions and assure the world that “THEY shall overcome.” They can sing that anthem of the civil rights movement, but they cannot legitimately attach it to their cause. It is a form of political blasphemy.
Finally, the modern demonstrations are also self-mocking. They have more of a carnival or Mardi Gras atmosphere than a life and death fight for justice. There is no comparison to the images of innocent blacks being beaten and attacked by dogs. Women wearing “pussy” hats or dressed up like oversized vaginas are not only offense and vulgar, it distracts from any serious message they hope to deliver.
In a few days, this latest national demonstration will fade in the face of new issues, new events and new news. It leaves nothing enduring in its wake. In fact, by the time you read this commentary, they may already be gone from the public consciousness.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and political issues. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, and he has served as a consultant to the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress and lectured at Harvard University, Northwestern University, Florida Atlantic University, Knox College and Hope College. An award winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at email@example.com.