Trump’s win is mobilizing thousands of citizens around the country to take to the streets under an “anti-Trump” banner. At this nascent stage that banner obscures divergent views on their goals. If their energy is to be harnessed as a popular counterweight to the Trump Presidency, the protesters will need to develop a concrete agenda. This sort of work does not happen overnight, and it means engaging with the mind-numbing bureaucratic structures and procedural issues that make up the day-to-day governance of this country. But to build the support to sustain the transition from outcry to strategy, it might be helpful to start with a few winnable asks on a hard deadline. Here’s one for the taking: #RemoveBannon by Inauguration Day.
Commentators from across the political spectrum have denounced Trump’s decision to name Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. The strong reaction to validating someone who has unabashedly endorsed racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay positions may be the most unified signal we have seen from this divided country since the election results came in.
In support of #RemoveBannon as a first ask, consider the following:
1. Removing Bannon is politically possible.
The GOP has a long-standing dislike of Bannon, and anyone who voted for Trump out of economic anxiety has no dog in this fight. Moreover, Trump has shown himself to be willing to switch things up on the personnel front, cycling through several directors over the course of his campaign. Mass movements shouldn’t only reach for what is politically possible – but a few early victories are crucial to solidifying a burgeoning movement.
2. Removing Bannon signals that there are some attitudes that absolutely must not be normalized.
Bannon’s appointment is not simply a personnel choice. It is about anointing deeply offensive values as having a place in the governance of America. And not a tangential place either: in similar positions inside the White House Karl Rove quarterbacked Supreme Court nominations, David Axelrod helped shape the stimulus, Ben Rhodes literally sat down with the Cubans.
3. The call to remove Bannon will help keep the media focused on how egregious it is to have Bannon in the White House.
Protests focused on removing Bannon will enable journalists to keep covering his appointment, and each time they do so they will have the opportunity to quote Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike about why Bannon’s attitudes should not be dignified with a White House position. As others have noted, the “alt-right” terminology that has accompanied reporting on the Bannon appointment risks sanitizing what it is we are actually talking about here. I’m confident that many journalists will take this criticism onboard and start to course-correct. But they need the opportunity to keep covering the story, and protests provide such a hook. When journalists ask, “What do the protesters want?” the protesters will have a concrete answer.
4. Removing Bannon gives President-elect Trump a chance to distance himself from Campaigner Trump.
I count myself among the many planning for the worst case scenarios of a Trump presidency. But Ryan Goodman’s point about not closing off exit ramps makes a good deal of strategic sense. On 60 Minutes last night Trump said, in response to reports of racist attacks by his supporters: “I would say don’t do it, that’s terrible, because I’m going to bring this country together.” Removing Bannon would be one way to demonstrate his seriousness. President-elect Trump needs help finding a reset button. This is a good one.
Finally, as someone who has spent inordinate time researching citizen movements, I would be remiss not to emphasize that the demand to remove Bannon, even if successful, is nothing more than a starting point. Those who work on building movements recognize such personnel change demands for what they are – quick wins. And quick wins have their place. Bannon’s removal would send an important signal that the American public is not prepared to normalize his values. And it would demonstrate to protesters that if they unify around a specific ask they can get results, which in turn will foster persistence moving forward. But if we are to see a true public counter-weight to Executive power in the years ahead, the most important demands will rarely be captured in a hashtag, and may not even be publicized until long after the fact.