Washington Despatch |
Town hall meetings in which American political leaders come face to face with ordinary voters are the most intimate encounters in the country’s democracy. From the President to local body members, political leaders interact with constituents at town halls despite the complete mass media penetration in the country. However, these meetings have become nightmares for Republican lawmakers who are seeking re-election in 2018.
GOP lawmakers are being hauled over the coals by angry constituents not only for their personal omission and commission, but also for those of President Donald Trump. The healthcare bill that they rustled up recently is increasingly a millstone around the neck for many Republican lawmakers. The bill passed by the House and awaiting Senate approval undermines many of the protections available under the existing Obamacare. The bill is difficult to defend and in their attempts to do so, members of Congress find themselves in quicksand. More than 500 town halls have been held by lawmakers of both parties combined, and this is a few dozen less than the number in 2015, as many are shifting to virtual town halls on social media platforms or tele-ins. Some are restricting people’s entry into the meetings.
Electors are angry and they are not hiding it. Just over the past week, Tom Reed of New York was booed throughout; in New Jersey, Tom MacArthur was cornered by protesters who shouted him down; in Virginia, Dave Brat could hardly have a word tossed above the din that didn’t stop until he did not stop; in Idaho, Raul Labrador’s explanation that “no one has died” because they didn’t have access to healthcare did little to calm the agitated crowd. No Republican lawmaker is exactly looking forward to events scheduled in the coming days. “I feel town halls have become a circus and a forum for people to vent,” Lou Barletta said in Pennsylvania, after several of his town halls ended up in chaos last month.
Part of these protests have been spontaneous and localised, but it is increasingly being organised under an umbrella group called Indivisible. Founded by some former aides to Democratic lawmakers, the group has spread across the country. It has also found support from Hillary Clinton, who has announced a new Political Action Committee this week to fund and support anti-Trump movements.
Tea Party effect
In these protests, the hyper right-wing among the Republicans are getting a taste of their own medicine. Several of these lawmakers are products of the Tea Party movement that mobilised grassroots white anger against President Barack Obama. Indivisible openly admits that it has taken a leaf out of the Tea Party book. “We know this because we’ve seen it before” the group says in an online guide for protesters. “The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular President with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism — and they won.”
“Donald Trump is the biggest popular-vote loser in history to ever call himself President. In spite of the fact that he has no mandate, he will attempt to use his congressional majority to reshape America in his own racist, authoritarian, and corrupt image,” it says. More than 6,000 local groups have linked themselves to the Indivisible platform. Republican lawmakers are caught between the devil and the deep sea. With Mr. Trump’s popularity among the Republican base still intact, they are unsure of disowning him. For now, they are trying to run away from town halls.