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The State of the Resistance Against Trump, According to NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

"There's no door number two that brings you back to normal."


Sometimes the surest defense against despair is to listen to those who are wiser in the ways of the world. Last week, I saw New York State Senator Liz Krueger interview Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on the current state of the resistance. Both are experienced, passionate and adept advocates for progressive causes and legislation, and both have been vocal in their opposition to Trump. Here’s what I learned we should be afraid of—and what should help us sleep at night.

Attorney General Schneiderman has a long and storied history with Donald Trump—he’s the man who went after Trump University on charges of fraud (which resulted in Trump paying $25 million to those he defrauded). Schneiderman has seen Donald Trump’s character up close and personally (let’s just say his contempt for Trump was so alive it was like a third person on stage).

An uncompromising champion of equality and anti-corruption, Schneiderman is a blisteringly intelligent speaker, with the kind of confidence that comes from knowing you have the law on your side. He makes you want to write down everything he says—I filled up several pages. Here’re the highlights of my notes and takeaways, distilled:

  • What protections can we expect from sanctuary cities? Despite the “volcano of bad ideas from Washington,” Schneiderman made it clear that Trump’s declarations are often a lot of smoke without fire. Much of what Schneiderman’s office is working on as of late is making sure other state attorney generals and cities are aware of what, legally, they do and don’t have to do in regards to Trump policies. For example, it’s not true that the federal government can simply take away money already promised because a city rejects the administration’s stance on immigration. Legally, these funds cannot be used in a coercive fashion, no matter what Jeff Sessions might say. Schneiderman and his fellows have pushed back, hard: “We stepped to them, and stepped to them effectively.” You’ll notice Sessions seems to have dropped this particular line of arm-twisting.
  • The beginning of what Schneiderman calls “the legal resistance” started with the first, horribly botched roll-out of the Muslim travel ban (Schneiderman and other attorneys general successfully sued to block the ban, and now the fight could be headed to the Supreme Court). Schneiderman explained that there’s been an incredible unification across the legal spectrum in opposition to Trump’s policies. Even his more conservative colleagues, and unlikely allies like corporate law firms, find the administration’s “total disregard for the rule of law” offensive. It doesn’t help that Trump takes to attacking judges who rule against him. Schneiderman called the first travel ban “malevolence tempered by incompetence,” which he thought also rather well described the Trump approach in general.
  • On environmental law: With “virulent climate change deniers” now in charge of federal agencies, it’s important for states to intervene on the environment on the more local level. On the brighter side of things, Schneiderman pointed out, the Clean Air Act is federal law, and if they want to repeal it, they’d also need to replace it—something the GOP hasn’t proven too great at executing (see: healthcare).
  • Even a relatively liberal state like New York has extremely outdated laws where abortion is concerned, but has counted on Roe v. Wade to ensure the legality of abortion. State Senator Krueger, one of the most outspoken champions of women’s rights in the state, is currently the prime sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act, which “would update NY’s laws to constitutional standards and protect New York women in the face of federal attacks on abortion rights.” Essentially, Senator Kreuger’s law would codify Roe v. Wade for New York. The bill is currently held up in the state senate because of crass politics. Call your representative and tell them to protect women’s rights. (Disclosure: my sister works for Senator Krueger, who is as great as she sounds.)
  • Schneiderman on reproductive health: “There is a deep strain of misogyny” in the White House and the G.O.P.; “women’s rights seem to rub them the wrong way.” He said that 2018 will be the “election of a lifetime” that will determine many rights going forward. Women have the constitutional right to control their reproductive health, and it has never been more important to get involved in politics on the local level, to remind your state and federal representatives that you are here and there is power in individuals.
  • Much of the push-back of the attack on women’s rights will have to come from the states. “You cannot put an undue burden on a constitutional right” which abortion is, and which Congress is threatening will all kinds of undue burden.
  • States must act as a check on overreach by the White House, because Congress “no longer will.”
  • One of the points Schneiderman kept coming back to again and again is how crucial and excellent it is that so many people are finally paying attention, tuning in, and getting involved. Democrats and other progressives need to take over state governments from the ground up. In the past, Republicans have been much more active on this front.
  • On healthcare: The GOP spent years demonizing Obamacare, but now, polls show that more Americans than ever before in history believe that healthcare is a right. “I don’t think the American people are going to take a dialback” on this, Schneiderman asserted. He pointed out that any repealing of Obamacare would have a devastating effect on GOP voters and ultimately result in a fraying of their coalition. Of course, this wasn’t the approach or result to hope for.
  • People are scared,” said Senator Krueger. “How do we fight back effectively? What can we do?” Schneiderman responded that we can’t just be in opposition to GOP/Trump policy; we need to actively work to make lives better and provide a better way forward.
  • “We go local. We have to get back down to the grassroots level” because states have control over so many laws
  • It was wonderful to hear that it makes a “tremendous” difference when we speak out, protest, demonstrate; before Trump, “so few people used to show up.” And “be tough” with Democrats in Congress—if they’re finding their voices now, it’s mostly because of constituent pressure.
  • This Presidential election was a repudiation of the status quo, not an endorsement of Donald Trump. We HAVE to have a Democratic party that actually stands for something, that becomes a movement for positive change and equal justice on the law. The American public is actually more progressive than we give them credit for—majorities are now on board with LGBT equality and agree that far too many Americans are in prison.
  • Should you focus on one issue you’re passionate about or try to follow/protest many? Schneiderman advised that we’re in this for a long haul and it’s important to be able to sustain ourselves and our momentum. We must look to what’s most effective as collective action for the common good, and it’s essential to focus on substance, on what the Trump administration and Congress are working on that actively hurts people. “There’s a lot of dangerous stuff” that slips past while we focus on Trump’s “flamboyance” and strange behavior, like net neutrality; also, “they are going after reproductive health with everyone they have.”
  • Smaller actions we can take: voice support for those politicians who are doing the right thing; give them small donations if you’re able.
  • On immigrants. It’s a “very challenging time” for those without documents, but certain institutions, like schools and hospitals, are a safe zone where ICE can be turned away legally. Call the New Americans hotline, a toll-free, multi-lingual resource, with questions or if in need of assistance. In New York, “we live off of the flow of immigrants,” and “the American experience is an immigrant experience,” despite times of intense xenophobia throughout this country’s existence.
  • And try as they might, Schneiderman said to great effect, the Trump administration “cannot criminalize” your decision to help your friends and neighbors.
  • Audience question we’re all dying to know: IS IMPEACHMENT POSSIBLE? “Anything is possible,” but it’s a “slow process” and would ultimately be a “political decision.” The scrutiny directed at Trump is correct; his conduct is outrageous. “Certainly, the bright lights are on,” said Schneiderman.

However, for all that many of us dream of a Trump impeachment that somehow fixes everything broken with our administration, our country, and our relations with the world, here Schneiderman had an extremely important perspective to share. Mike Pence would be “no ticket to paradise,” as a man who acts like the Spanish Inquisition. “There’s no door number two that brings you back to normal,” so we must keep doing the substantive work to build a local base to fight back.

“We will work our way through this,” Schneiderman assured us, which is the first time I’ve felt better about Donald Trump being President in a long time. But in order to do so, all of us need to be working hard to create a collective movement for equality and justice. We can’t just vote and go home—America was not intended to function that way, “we’re not built like that.”

Instead, we must “stay aggressive,” Schneiderman said. “This is what we were designed to be.” Knowing that there are such accomplished and dedicated public servants fighting every day against Trump, but requiring our aid and input to succeed, has fired me up anew.

TL;DR: Organize locally, be vocal for your marginalized friends, insist on equality, keep those who represent you accountable, stay aggressive: these are the best ways we can resist right now. There’s no doorway back to normal that we do not construct for ourselves.


(image: Kaila Hale-Stern)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.