The job description for Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander’s communications director starts simply: To oversee and implement communications policy “to serve the people of the 39th District.”
The second part goes in a different direction: The director will help “resist the threats of the Trump regime to American democratic values and vulnerable constituencies,” as the Daily News reported Tuesday.
With just two weeks to go before the inauguration, Democratic politicians at all levels of government are scrambling to demonstrate their opposition to Trump.
Lander’s posting is consistent with his #GetOrganizedBK initiative, which encourages constituents to organize for local actions sometimes civic and sometimes anti-Trump in nature.
He’s not alone. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has threatend lawsuits and Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to protect individual New Yorkers when possible.
On Tuesday, two other responses to Trump came into focus: Sen. Chuck Schumer gave his first Senate speech as minority leader and laid out some points of opposition for fellow Dems. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued his belated recent turn to progressive causes with a proposal for tuition scholarships for many SUNY and CUNY students.
The face of opposition
Politically, there seem to be two related paths for opposition coming into focus in the age of Trump.
One is to directly obstruct Trump’s policies on a federal and more local level when possible.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials have announced their refusal to comply with certain Trump administration orders. In particular city leaders say they’ll refuse to share immigration information — though it’s unclear how this would play out in practice.
Hope for direct obstruction at the federal level, however, falls almost entirely in Schumer’s filibuster-wielding hands.
Critics have worried that Schumer, who knows Trump and has always been a pragmatic dealmaker, won’t be a sufficient bulwark of opposition. In a speech outlining the role of the Democratic minority Tuesday, Schumer pointed to issues such as infrastructure, trade and closing the carried interest loophole as places where Democrats might “work in good faith” with the president.
But he also said clearly that infrastructure compromises must constitute “direct spending,” not “tax credits.” He warned Trump against nominating a Supreme Court justice out of the “mainstream,” an issue on which the Democratic minority could actually halt the president.
He singled out the particular irony of Trump’s choice for Health and Human Services, Tom Price, being a critic of Medicare. Elsewhere, he has had similarly harsh words for picks like potential Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder, “whose businesses have repeatedly violated labor laws” — a possible sign of lengthy opposition during at least some cabinet hearings.
Democrats have discovered states rights
The other avenue for political opposition is to turn away from Washington and build a Trump-less, progressive society without federal help.
Lately, Cuomo has been chiming in on this front, making the argument that New York can be a model — if not for the federal government, then certainly for other states. That was the idea with yesterday’s announcement of “Excelsior Scholarships,” which, if approved and funded by the state legislature, would make public universities free for students from families earning $125,000 or less per year.
It’s a nice idea and one that Sen. Bernie Sanders advocated for during the Democratic presidential primary, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Many students at SUNY and CUNY schools already get grants from state and federal sources. This proposal fills in the gaps, and could foot the bill for some 40,000 estimated students whose families make between $80,000 and $125,000, according to Cuomo’s office.
Sanders, who joined Cuomo for the announcement to ecstatic cheers from the crowd, called this increase “revolutionary.”
A more accurate word might be “political,” given how long it took Cuomo to get on the bandwagon on this issue. It’s not as if Cuomo has fully embraced emptying state coffers for liberal causes. Last week he vetoed a bipartisan bill which would have stabilized funding to provide attorneys for poor defendants, with aides saying the issue would be revisited during spring budget talks.
But a progressive cause celebre, which was central to the 2016 primary? That gets a major presser and unveiling.
More boldfaced progressive initiatives are likely to come from Cuomo and other New York politicians as the year progresses, feeding the local appetite for anti-Trump motions. Opposition too in its various forms will likely be celebrated for some time. It might be crass, but if there is follow-through beyond the bold words and news conferences it also might be what’s needed for the next four years.