Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media.
On Feb. 27, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, claimed that Americans protesting the administration of Donald Trump are being paid $1,500 (U.S.) a week, and described them as angry militants who will "engage in criminal violence."
This was likely news to the more than four million Americans who turned out for the postinauguration Women's March – notable not only for its record-breaking size, but for its peacefulness. Noted renegades against the Trump administration have included national parks workers, grandmothers, librarians and the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
One wonders to what use these nefarious operatives would put their covert cash – new knitting needles for more pink hats?
Suffice it to say, there are no $1,500 cheques arriving for the protesters. Under-the-table money is more the purview of Mr. LaPierre, who trades in both lobbying and myths. It's too bad, as the protesters could probably use the influx. Assuming they are typical Americans, they likely have less than $400 in savings: an economic crisis that is one of many crises ignored by the Trump administration as it uses tax dollars to build a vanity wall against Mexico and house Melania in a golden tower.
Under Mr. Trump, the United States has become a country of unlikely dissidents. Given the cavalcade of new disasters the administration has created – Russian interference inquiries, inquisitions at the airport, a rise in hate crimes – it is easy to forget that the United States was in poor shape before he took office. Economic misery laid the groundwork for both Mr. Trump's rise, as he exploited despair; and for the rise against him, as he pushed policies designed to inflict both economic and social injustice.
Now the fragile gains of the Obama administration, such as the Affordable Care Act, threaten to be taken away, along with institutions many Americans took for granted: the separation of church and state, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech.
Americans took these rights for granted because they are enshrined in our Constitution. But the Constitution is just a piece of paper unless it is put into practice. That realization – that the executive branch as well as local representatives are content to throw away more than two centuries of democratic norms – has led to an unprecedented level of civic engagement. This engagement is sometimes referred to as the resistance.
In a country where 48 per cent disapprove of the job Mr. Trump is doing – a record high for a new President – the resistance is broad and mainstream. It includes Americans of all races, ages, religions, occupations, political parties and from all regions, including regions that mostly voted for Mr. Trump. The resistance includes elderly ladies knitting hats and anti-fascist protesters punching neo-Nazis in the face. The resistance includes people who may otherwise not find common cause, but have found it in the Trump administration's assault on democracy and human rights.
This is probably not what the founding fathers meant by e pluribus unum, but the founding fathers likely didn't envision an autocratic White House supported by white supremacists, oligarch cronies, theocrat extremists and a bloviating billionaire as their Celebrity Apprentice.
Some analysts have compared the resistance to earlier political movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party, but there is little similarity in impetus or scope. Tea Party demonstrations were held against a popular president and peaked at about 300,000 protesters in a day; Occupy reflected widespread economic concerns, but never achieved the demographic diversity of the current protests.
What is now called resisting is often Americans simply helping others: a concept so alien to the Trump administration that it is labelled as subversive. Lawyers volunteer to aid unjustly detained immigrants; clergy hold interfaith rallies when one religion is attacked; citizens look out for their neighbours and lobby officials on their behalf.
Unlike previous administrations, when assaults on freedom and safety were usually couched as incidental, Mr. Trump's policies are explicitly aimed at hurting vulnerable people. This means the resistance is unlikely to burn out or fade away, as it is a fight for survival. Citizens will not blithely acquiesce to the loss of their health care, public schools and civil rights.
Many Americans have expressed longing for things to go back to normal: an understandable impulse because of the exhaustion the administration causes. But if Americans have learned anything over the past month, it is that rights need to be fought for in order to be preserved.
Accepting injustice as normal was part of how we got here. Refusing to accept even greater injustice as normal is the only way we will get out.