Town hall protesters must allow discourse to occur

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In this photo taken Nov. 17, 2016, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. speaks to media at Trump Tower in New York. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Sessions for the job of attorney general.
Photo Credit: AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster | Daily Texan Staff

It isn’t hard to understand the appeal behind calling yourself part of a “resistance” movement. The word “resistance” is evocative of a dystopian epic — like something out of “Star Wars” or “The Hunger Games”. If you’re not a pop culture obsessive, it’s most evocative of the French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II.

And indeed, it often seems these days as if we’re living in a movie, or in times as remarkable as those of the 1930s and 40s. So in reaction to the president’s disturbingly autocratic tendencies, opponents of Donald Trump have taken to calling themselves the “resistance” — or more often, the #resistance.

Does this movement live up to the lofty expectations set by its name? Sure, those massive protests in January were impressive. But are the more recent town hall protests, in which grassroots activists flood the town hall meetings of GOP representatives and shout their grievances, really effective?

It’s certainly encouraging to see such high turnout at town halls. And anyone — including the White House Press Secretary — who claims that the protesters who show up are paid professionals is deluding his or herself.

That being said, there’s no evidence that these protesters are people who Republicans would actually be inclined to listen to — i.e. swing voters. Yes, they are real constituents, but they’re also very liberal. Many of the protests are being organized by progressive activist groups via sites like MoveOn.org and ResistanceRecess.com. At Rep. Pete Sessions’ town hall in Dallas last Saturday, protesters chanted and held signs in support of various liberal causes, such as preserving Obamacare, protecting Planned Parenthood, responding to climate change and taxing the wealthy. These may be worthy causes, but Sessions and other entrenched Republican lawmakers have ignored them for years and survived the wrath of their most left-leaning constituents.

And while it’s true that most Americans disapprove of the president’s job performance, opposition to Trump remains highly partisan. Eighty-six percent of Republicans still support him, and only three percent of Trump voters regret their vote.  

Town halls are meant to be venues for frustration and anger, and while being loud and assertive is a perfectly legitimate form of civic engagement, there’s a difference between shouting at representatives and shouting them down. But at the Sessions town hall, Sessions was “frequently drowned out by boos and angry outbursts from the audience.” The audience would demand yes or no answers from the Congressman, and interrupt him as soon as it became clear that he wasn’t providing them.

GOP representatives should have to face their constituents and answer for their complacency in the actions of the buffoon their party installed in the White House last November. That goes for Sessions, and it goes for Austin representatives like Lamar Smith and Michael McCaul, both of whom have yet to hold town halls since the inauguration. But once they do, they deserve the chance to provide answers — even if those answers are unsatisfactory or disagreeable. Shouting every Republicans down will only alienate the kinds of people whose support Democrats need in order to defeat those representatives in 2018.

Groves is a government sophomore from Dallas. He is a Senior Columnist, follow him on Twitter @samgroves