Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in support of Republicans Doug Mastriano for governor of Pennsylvania and Mehmet Oz for U.S. Senate at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre on September 3, 2022.

(Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

We Know That Wannabe Dictator Trump Can Win in 2024—So What Is to Be Done?

With only 11 months to go, this feels like the political crisis of our lifetimes. Where is the resistance we need?

I finally put up my Christmas lights on Saturday, in a T-shirt with no jacket on a warm December afternoon — a fitting finale to Earth’s hottest year on record. Meanwhile, the world’s life-or-death climate summit is presided over by an oil dictator who insists there is “no science” to support phasing out fossil fuels. For those who wonder if humankind is taking global warming seriously, the joke of holding COP28 in the United Arab Emirates is your answer.

Nearly seven years later, it’s easy to forget how remarkablethe first Women’s March that occurred on Jan. 21, 2017, truly was. The most incredible thing was the size of the protest that occurred on the first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency. It’s believed that at least 470,000 people attended the main event in Washington, D.C., but satellite protests across the United States and globally drew an estimated 5 million, likely the largest one-day event in American history.

That success resonated for the next four years, as thousands went back to their hometowns and organized political groups that loosely were hailed as “the Trump resistance” — not only staging local protest events but ultimately knocking on doors and sending out postcards by the millions as Democrats reclaimed the House in 2018 and the White House and Senate in 2020.

But there’s also something else worth remembering about that initial Woman’s March and the early days of those resisters. Their movement was born in the early morning darkness and frustration of Nov. 9, 2016, amid the shock realization that a dangerous demagogue had somehow been elected the 45th president of the United States. The rage that flowered on a chilly January day in a field of pink “(p-word) hats” was in part regret that more had not been done to stop Trump before the election.

Today, Trump is back, and no one calls him a demagogue anymore — because that’s too polite. The 47th presidency he envisions is tyrannical, even dictatorial — siccing zealous MAGA prosecutors on his political enemies and the media, pardoning 2021′s insurrectionists, mass detention camps for deporting migrants, and calling out troops to put down protests, perhaps as early as his Inauguration Day. And yet he is all but guaranteed the GOP nomination, and an even-money bet against President Joe Biden next fall. Even a normally cautious mainstream media is starting to get it.

“Why a Second Trump Presidency May Be More Radical Than His First,” blared Monday’s headline across the New York Times homepage, describing how Team Trump has learned from the failures of its leader’s more outlandish ideas in 2017-21. A super-long Washington Post essay from neocon scholar Robert Kagan — “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.” — was that paper’s most-read article. Not to be outdone, The Atlantic dropped a special issue with 24 separate stories about the dangers of a Trump 47.

It’s great journalism, but will it make any more difference in 2024 than the supposedly fatalAccess Hollywood tape did in 2016? What about the millions of casual voters who don’t know The Atlantic from Popular Mechanics, who’ve convinced themselves that America was better during Trump’s somewhat constrained first term than under Biden in a moment of global chaos?

Even more to the point: Where is “the Trump resistance,” now that we know how truly dangerous the man is — and that he can win again?

Few will argue that some groups have faded and some disappeared after the Democrats’ 2020 victories. Here in Philadelphia, for example, Tuesdays with Toomey is gone, its mission of flipping a Pennsylvania Senate seat accomplished. The American University sociologist Dana Fisher — author of 2019′s American Resistance: From the Women’s March to the Blue Wave— told me “I have been tracking many of the groups and some are shells of what they were” — such as the Women’s March organization — “and others are limping along trying to keep funding.”

But some groups are still going strong, three years after Trump left the White House. Vicki Miller, the group leader of Indivisible Philadelphia, told me her members still chat regularly on Zoom. Although there is the occasional protest — including a boisterous street-corner condemnation on the Jan. 6 insurrection anniversary — the focus is heavily on voter turnout, including postcards and phone banking around last month’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court race won by Democrats, as well as lobbying the state’s U.S. senators. Miller said members still sign up for Door 35, a pledge to knock on at least 35 neighbors’ doors to woo undecided voters.

“It’s sad,” Miller said of those early polls showing Trump tied or narrowly ahead, but she was quick to add, “it doesn’t change what we are doing, which is working our tails off to get Joe Biden and Senator [Bob] Casey elected.” She also believes talking to voters about the things that affect them personally, like reproductive rights or, if done the right way, the economy, is most important — more so than hyping the Trumpian threat to democracy.

Maybe. But with only 11 months to go, this feels like the political crisis of our lifetimes, and I can’t stop wondering if there is more to be done before Election Day. Voter turnout is indeed the most critical, but should there be protests or maybe teach-ins to raise awareness for that true sliver of undecideds? Should there be boycotts of companies whose CEOs support Trump (also known as the Yuengling spit-take)?

As I write this on Monday night, “dictator” is a trending topic on X/Twitter. It could be trending nightly if the too-silent majority of Americans who believe in democracy don’t take a more forceful stand. The moment for resisting Trump is right now, not waiting until Jan. 21, 2025.

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