Susan J. Demas: How Trump Is Slaying Political Apathy

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If you’d like to see what the heart of the anti-Donald Trump “Resistance” looks like, wandering around the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial here is a good place to start.

I happened to be visiting on April 4, the day that James Earl Ray put a bullet in the civil rights hero’s head outside his Memphis hotel room. The memorial, which opened just five years ago, was easily the busiest site in the city that week.

The 30-foot granite likeness of King seems to watch over the Tidal Basin, which was still abloom with a few cherry blossoms. But perhaps the most impressive part of the monument is the quotes, some of which sadly don’t seem to have aged at all:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Normally when I’m traveling, even in our nation’s capitol, I have to prod people to talk about politics. But not this time; conversations about President Trump, Syria, Russia and racism buzzed around me. What struck me was that there was some anger at Trump’s policies, but there was an awful lot of hope for the future.

And it wasn’t just in the belly of the beast. From highway rest stops in Ohio to trails in the blue mountains of Shenandoah, no one could keep their traps shut about the news of the day. It was like staggering around one of my fever dreams close to an election.

I started writing my column exactly a decade ago. This was after fighting for years with an endless stream of editors who told me that no one cares about politics anymore — and certainly no one cared what a twentysomething woman thought about things. Eventually, I think I just wore one of my bosses down.

I had been one of those annoying kids who was always interested in politics. It wasn’t that I was obsessed with the pageantry or the process — I didn’t beg my parents to stay up late to watch political conventions or election results. But I was deeply interested in what was happening in the world and who was being left behind. It was one of the many, many reasons why I was never popular.

So I tried to write my column for people who generally hated politics, those who I imagined had just stumbled upon my work on their merry way to the sports section. I would break down the state budget, give colorful character sketches of politicians and try to make people laugh with at least one good line.

But as newspapers continue to hemorrhage money, fewer and fewer of them are willing to invest in paying journalists, especially columnists. So in recent years, I’ve found myself writing more and more for publications that cater to political junkies.

The disgust with politics seemed to reach a fever pitch in 2016, as the old chestnut resurfaced (particularly popular with younger people) that there’s really no difference between the parties. Why even vote? Trump or Hillary Clinton — it was all the same. Both were corporate tools and Clinton might actually be worse, as Green Party nominee Jill Stein oh-so-helpfully crowed.

Apathy is a killer. So is cynicism. The worst actors in politics bank on both. But when I’ve tried to make this case to my politically inactive friends, their eyes tend to glaze over.

Trump’s first 100 days have been a rude awakening for many, from his Muslim ban to rollbacks on LGBT rights. There have been marches all across the country — not just during his pitifully attended inauguration. Republicans keep facing raucous town halls. And the GOP came dangerously close this week to losing a congressional seat in blood-red Kansas after Trump won there by 27 points.

Readers and old classmates are coming out of the woodwork, suddenly keyed up about what essential benefits will be covered in the GOP health plan and which Trump advisers covertly met with the Russians.

I think a lot of people are coming to grips with the price of trying to be above it all or not caring. You don’t have to care about politics, but it’s all around you.

It’s a little odd to now find that politics is suddenly cool. But it’s something I’ve been waiting for my entire life. And it’s exactly the jolt our democracy needs.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.