Column: Trump Won A Battle; We Can Still Win the War

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Anti-Trump Rally. Photo credit: Michael Kandel, CNN.

These are the remarks from Howard L. Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida to the PFLAG Annual Luncheon in Naples, Florida on Nov. 13.

PFLAG is formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

 

This is not the speech I expected to give; this is not the speech I wanted to give.

No doubt like many of you, I went from shock to grief to fear -- for our country and for the civil rights and civil liberties values that we cherish.

It was difficult to meet with our staff the day after the election to plan how we would use our resources to respond to the difficult times that are surely coming. We were all stunned.  So much of what happened in this election felt like a repudiation of everything we have worked for and achieved over many years. 

But we cannot afford to be immobilized. The stakes are too high and too many people are counting on us.

My analysis of what happened and why has no more validity than yours, but I do want to offer a few comments and especially a few notes of caution - mostly I want to warn that there is no single explanation.

Yes, it is true that the inept and unprincipled meddling of the FBI had some effect on the outcome.   Yes it is true that black voters came out and voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton but – shockingly? -- in smaller numbers than for President Obama.  And yes, 30 years of continuous assault on Hillary Clinton including often irrational personal hostility also had its effect.

But it has to be said that much of the campaign run by now President-elect Trump involved disgusting racial, ethnic and religious scapegoating -- 

This was so reminiscent of the movie The American President in which President  Andrew Shepherd/Michael Douglas accuses his opponent of running a campaign based entirely on telling people what to fear and who to blame.

  • to those who fear the rapid pace of cultural change and see this as an assault on their cultural and religious values (involving issues as abortion and LGBT equality), Trump promised to change Supreme Court and reverse or at least halt that change.
  • he told people that their security was threatened by the Muslims who are our neighbors.  That Muslims are terrorists and we should be afraid.  He went to Minneapolis to tell people that they should be concerned about that security because of the Somali refugees in their community.  And he told the nation that we are threatened by the presence of the Syrian refugees who have been admitted to this country -- fleeing the violence and chaos of their own country.  
  • he, and especially his surrogate Rudy Giuliani, told people that the safety of the cities was threatened by the Black Lives Matter movement because it has decreased respect for the police -- leaving police afraid to do their jobs and vulnerable to assault.
  • and he told the nation, and especially those in the Rust Belt towns and small cities of the Upper Midwest, that they have faced hard economic times and underemployment not because of a changing global economy, not by increasing mechanization and robotics in the work place and robotics, but because illegal immigrants are taking away their jobs.

It would be a mistake to come away from this election believing that everyone who voted for Trump was expressing racial resentment.  He may have misled those who have been suffering the effects of rapid economic change and the insecurity that it produces, but he was addressing their needs.

These are the people who as Robert Reich notes, did not share in the growth of our economy since the Great Recession they received few of its benefits while suffering most of its burdens in the form of lost jobs and lower wages.

They voted for Trump in spite of his racism and misogyny, not because of it.

Nevertheless, Presidential elections have consequences -- and President-elect Trump made five explicit campaign promises which if he tries to implement will throw the country into a severe constitutional crisis.  He said he would:

  • amass a force to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants
  • ban the entry of Muslims into the country and institute an aggressive surveillance program targeting them
  • restrict women’s right to abortion services
  • reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture
  • change our nation’s libel laws to go after critics in the media and, more generally, restrict freedom of expression

Make no mistake about it we are in for some very tough times.

Certainly one chief target, maybe the chief target, undoubtedly will be the LGBT community. I say this in large part because of the prominence and influence that now Vice president-elect Mike Pence will have in the Administration and the debt owed by the new Trump Administration to the religious right which voted for Trump in greater percentage than both of the last two Republican nominees.

We will need to fight the impact of reversal of executive orders and Administrative agency guidelines that have protected the LGBT community from discrimination:

  • ν Guidance from the Departments of Justice and Education addressing transgender children in the public schools, and
  • ν Bans on anti-lgbt discrimination by federal contractors,

In addition, Congress and the military could reinstate “don't-ask-don't-tell”

Beyond actions by the Executive, we are likely to see a halt to the progress we and our allies have made in other areas of life to secure full equality for the LGBT community: 

  • Efforts to provide civil rights protection by barring discrimination in employment undoubtedly will be very difficult, and probably just come to a halt 
  • And we may even see funding in the federal budget for a particular passion of the Vice-President-Elect, conversion therapy.

It is not clear that even with more appointments to the Supreme Court marriage equality can be undone -- but it might be undone in practical terms by the coming battle to dress up anti-gay bigotry as religious liberty... the right to discriminate in the name of religion, in the form of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, such as the one that Gov. Pence signed for the state of Indiana.

Even if the Trump administration and a hostile Congress cannot reverse the gains we have achieved for LGBT equality, they will seek to make LGBT marriage a second class thing by these so-called religious freedom laws that will provide a legal basis for discrimination against gays and lesbians and LGBT relationships as long as the business owner invokes a religious motivation.

This is what now reelected Senator Rubio has been talking about and it will probably be the first major battle that we all have to face.

We can win this battle as we did in Indiana and Arkansas when they attempted to do this in the last two years if we can win the public relations and organizing battle within the business community and convince people that: 

  • There has not been sufficient an appreciation of the unintended consequences. 
  • Laws can’t provide an exemption only for those with religious objections to gays and lesbians:
  • There will be an exemption from laws based on any expression of religious conscience generally
  • Then we will face the chaotic problem of a society in which people pick and choose which laws they will obey
  • Laws that grant broad exemption from legal obligations based on sincerely held religious and moral beliefs also have dangerous consequences for public safety and health – as well as license to discriminate generally.

In some respects this is a rerun of the battle in 1964 public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act; there are broader social responsibilities of those who open a business to serve the public; 

But at bottom, we need to convince the public that religion cannot be used to discriminate and that these laws are mainly an effort to write religious bigotry against gays and lesbians into our laws.

As I said earlier we cannot afford to be immobilized -- the stakes are too high.

We must get up, dust ourselves off, get ourselves organized, figure out how to talk to people and organize people who are not always in agreement with us, gather up the needed increased resources essential for the bigger fight coming.

There is a gubernatorial election in two years and either the outgoing Governor or the next Governor will make two appointments to the Florida Supreme Court which has been the principal protector of freedom in Florida.

Beyond that, we have a Florida idiosyncratic Constitutional Revision Commission that will be appointed in the next few months and will be charged with placing amendments to the state constitution directly on the November ballot.

The CRC is an opportunity for significant mischief that could change the fundamental principles in our state constitution that have served to protect the freedom of Floridians for decades.

For example, the Commission could ask the people of Florida to change our constitutional principles that have – in some cases for a century and a half – protected the right to privacy, (which protects women’s access to reproductive health care), separation of church and state and voting rights.

The coming threats that are likely from the incoming Trump Administration and the need to protect the Florida Constitution mean that we will need to work together more closely than ever before.

We will need your help, and honestly we will need your dollars to do this work.

But I know that as hard as the road ahead looks now, I also know that if we work together we can prevail.

This nation has faced difficult times for civil liberties and human rights in the past –

  • from the decades of Jim Crow that were brutally enforced by state officials and state and local police,
  • to Palmer Raids in the 1920s and the attack, round-up and deportation of immigrants during that period,
  • to the internment of 120,000 mostly American citizens of Japanese origin during the 1940s,
  • to the McCarthy hysteria of the late forties and 1950s,
  • to the FBI’s assault on the Civil Rights Movement and the freedom to dissent during the 1960s,
  • to the Nixon assault on civil liberties
  • to the tragedy of 9-11and the inept anti-terrorism policies of the Bush Administration, including the USA Patriot Act.

Our country faced these crises; the outlook was bleak – but we marshalled our resources, built coalitions, filed lawsuits, organized and organized some more – and we emerged stronger than before, and constitutional values ultimately prevailed.  

We should draw inspiration from those who came before us in this continuous fight for human rights and the powers that were aligned against them – sometimes in the face of public hostility and bigotry, but sometimes in the face of a violent reaction to their courage. 

  • Fred Korematsu
  • Rosa Parks
  • The college students who went to the deep South of Mississippi in the Summer of 1963 to break the resistance to voter registration by Black citizens
  • Linda Brown
  • Mildred and Richard Loving
  • Norma McCorvey
  • Edie Windsor
  • And also some of our Florida heroes: Martin Gill and Arlene Goldberg

We cannot be immobilized; we need to dust ourselves off and get back to the fight. 

Speaking for the ACLU, we have a 100-year track record of effective non-partisan human rights advocacy and we have a rich capacity and nationwide infrastructure.

We will take on the serious challenges that are ahead – as we have in the past and as we will with regard to challenges to human rights presented by future Presidents.

We've prevailed in crisis before and we will together again.


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