The anti-Trump movement in this country is off to a pretty great start. The biggest single day of demonstrations in the history of the country was on the man’s first full day in office. They were held all over the country, in red-state cities like Boise and Missoula and Charleston, West Virginia, as well as around the world. Then the beautiful spontaneous uprisings at airports and, again, in major cities the following week.
That’s all terrific. The big question on a lot of people’s minds, though, is how to turn these demonstrations into a movement. That’s the harder part. Enthusiasm for marches peters out, eventually. If we look to history, even just recent history, we must admit that the Tea Party movement did the converting part really well. Literally within weeks of the famous Santelli rant, there were hundreds of local Tea Party groups up and running around the country, having meetings in which they educated members on how to pressure their state legislators and members of Congress.
The Tea Party movement wasn’t my cup of, uh, you know, but I admit that it had a lot of things going for it. It had passion. It had people with time on their hands—an underestimated but important factor in the building of any movement. It had a good organizing principle—pressure Republicans to move to the right and stand up for what Tea Partiers understood to be their principles. All things the new anti-Trump movement ought to try to emulate in some way.
But the Tea Party movement had one more thing that was of vital importance: a kick-ass name. This movement needs one, too.
Too often in my experience on the left, people think names don’t matter as much as ideas and plans of action. Names, they think, are just public relations and packaging, which by definition makes them both superficial and dishonest. If you think this, you could not be more wrong. Names matter. They communicate intention and vision and ambition. And what I understand to be the leading contender for the name of this movement is terrible on every count.
We’ll get back to that. But first: I don’t remember out of which mouth I first heard the words “Tea Party movement,” but I do remember that as soon as I heard those words I thought: uh-oh. That is one killer name. What American doesn’t like the Boston Tea Party? Its coding couldn’t be clearer: We are the true patriots, rising up against tyranny. The name itself makes a person want to belong, pick up the phone, start emailing. Loads of people are going to want to join this.
It accomplished the trick the right almost always accomplishes with names, which is to position itself as the majority, the normal people, the ones defending what’s right and moral. Take, well, Moral Majority. Yes, I disliked every single thing they ever did. But man, that was another great name.
On the left, things have usually been more straightforward. The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement. Fine, fine, and fine. They’re descriptive, and they all did a very good job of communicating intention, vision, and ambition to middle America.
There are two great left-movement names of recent vintage. The older of the two is MoveOn. It started life in 1998 as an online petition for Americans to sign who wanted to “move on” from the very unpopular impeachment of President Clinton. It was strong, assertive, optimistic, and crystal clear.
The other is Black Lives Matter, which started as a hashtag after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case. It took off, and no wonder. It communicates everything in those three words, which even have a little poetry to them. Do you remember seeing the words spray-painted across Confederate memorial statues in the South? As examples of impromptu art striking blows against the empire, those images were as gripping as some similar ones from Prague in 1968.
So now let’s circle back to the matter of what to name this movement. There is one effort afoot, started by former Democratic congressional staffers, called Indivisible. They published an online guide to resisting Trumpism and got a piece on the Times op-ed page, and apparently there are Indivisible chapters all over the place.
That’s great. Indivisible is a good name for an online action resource, but it isn’t really what you would name a movement. I have some friends who are involved in these movement-naming conversations, and they seem to suggest that the leading contender right now is The Resistance. This is understandable, since the movement started out as a resistance movement against Trump. But it is a catastrophically horrible name for a movement, which sends all the wrong signals.
First, it’s defensive. It positions the people within the movement as the minority. Resisters are by definition a small and hardy band. No! We’re the majority. He got 46 percent of the popular vote and finished second. Any name should strive to remind regular, apolitical Americans of that fact. He is a minority president, representing a minority of Americans.
Second, it’s angry. People on the left always want to think of themselves as fighting the power. But that’s wrong for this moment. Our side needs to convey optimism, communicate that we plan to win this fight.
Third, it’s weak. Resistance members throughout history are some of the noblest people who’ve ever lived. They die nobly and romantically. But they die. They get shot by people who have more guns. Occasionally they win one, but after like 30 years in prison, like the African National Congress.
While the name Tea Party made people want to join, I think the name Resistance will prove off-putting to all but already highly politicized people. Trump is not popular. There are millions of people out there who are not highly politicized in their lives but are recruitable to this movement. Speak to them.
Do I have great ideas? No, I admit I don’t. But a name has to be optimistic, welcoming, strong, and in an ideal world it may resonate with something in American history. The Real Majority. The Patriotic Majority. The 2.8 Million. Patrick Henry clubs. Tom Paine clubs. Common Sense clubs. Gettysburg clubs—that’d depress membership in the South, but that will be low anyway. Happy Days societies, to echo FDR’s famous campaign slogan. We Shall Overcome leagues.
I don’t know. But not The Resistance. When it comes to American democratic norms, it’s Trump who’s the resistor. That has to be the point of this movement, and it has to be the message of its name as well.