The United States seems embroiled in protests.
The Tea Party reinvented local and grassroots politics, forcing itself to be heard at the national level. Broadly, they were protesting in the name of liberty and freedom from tyrannical government intervention into their personal choice to rise or fall through their own strength.
Regardless of one’s political persuasion, this was a needed movement, creating responsible citizens who, while protesting, were truly free.
With the rise of Trumpism, we see two movements.
To begin, the “anti-Trump coalition.” These are the citizens who are upset over the rise of Trump. In their minds, they are protesting against sexism, racism, Islamophobia and bigotry of all colors. At root, these individuals are protesting against what they view as a precursory authoritarianism, one that focuses on a single identity; this identity makes multiculturalists uncomfortable.
This coalition seeks a pluralistic America, one where identity politics for underrepresented populations is taken seriously — one where each group or faction has its concerns properly represented in government, and where they feel they are sovereign, as the Founders envisioned.
During these protests, individuals who are peacefully assembling are indeed exercising proper rights and, regardless of one’s political persuasion, these protests should be respected and honored as they represent democratic liberty.
Trumpites should also be respected and encouraged, when protesting properly. The majority in the pro-Trump movement are exercising proper liberty when protesting, expressing their sovereign will to be heard, and to force upon the public their sovereignty which dictates how the government expresses their wishes.
This is precisely the purpose of protests: for a sovereign people to express to the government how it wants to be governed.
Generally, these individuals argue for a great America. Regardless of what one thinks this phrase suggests, it means a return to American economic prowess, expressed through individual pocketbooks and wallets — in other words, not measured through the Federal Reserve or Wall Street but, on average, how much discretionary cash the average blue color worker has in ones’s pockets.
Additionally, this movement wishes to define America through an identity — an identity that is an entity to itself, that assumes the pluralistic identities of all groups or factions and is clearly understood on its own terms as American, rather than the particular hyphenated-American.
It seeks to understand and decipher the General Will, understood in the sense that 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau meant it: the right, true, general interests of the whole.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, this movement should be encouraged and respected. During their protest, those individuals are actually free, acting as sovereigns who are expressing their will for how the government ought to act.
Nevertheless, protests aren’t for the free. They are for the subjected.
Generally, people use protest to express their political will of sovereignty, which is in itself a democratic virtue. Many individuals however, stop here. In order to be sovereign, one uses one’s liberty to express one’s will consistently and constantly. When one is not actively expressing one’s will, one is not free, but a subject to all others who are at that moment, expressing their will.
When not protesting, what is happening? Is one actively engaging in the public sphere, running for office, setting up political associations or taking part therein, organizing for action through network politics, writing for public discourse, or other democratic virtues that preserve freedom?
If not, then one is letting those who are politically active submit oneself to their will. Once that will is enacted, protests form in opposition. Often, the acts against which protests form could have been prevented if said protesters were actively engaged in democratic participation to begin with.
America has become a reactive republic where individuals only become citizens during protests, in reaction to something expressed by government that goes against their sovereign preference. In a democratic-republic, however, one is only truly a citizen when one is engaged in the public sphere, actively expressing one’s will through participatory politics as expressed above.
This is most appropriately expressed through voting in elections. But many do not vote regularly. Why are we letting others subject us to their will? Where has the idea of liberty truly gone? Or are we content in being equal in our servitude?
Rousseau writes, “The English people believes itself to be free. It is greatly mistaken; it is free only during the election of the members of Parliament. Once they are elected, the populace is enslaved; it is nothing. The use the English people makes of that freedom in the brief moments of its liberty certainly warrants their losing it.”
Do Americans use freedom properly? Or are Americans losing their individual sovereignty to the will of the other?
Are you a subject or a citizen? Would Rousseau refer to us as the English?
I would deserve an ignominious fate if I did not remind you through the words of Joseph de Maistre: “a nation gets the government it deserves.”
(The writer is an assistant professor of political science at Augusta University. You can follow him on Twitter, @polscountrydoc.)