Trump’s visits necessitate public response, protests

Sam Groves

The president was in Texas last week, and wherever the president goes, protests follow. A crowd of several hundred including protesters, supporters and spectators, lined up along Koenig Lane last Tuesday to greet President Donald Trump’s motorcade as he arrived in Austin. On Saturday, more than two dozen people demonstrated outside of Houston’s NRG Center while Trump was inside the building.

More than seven months into an administration that began with mass demonstrations of unprecedented proportions across the country and around the world, “Protesters greet Trump” is hardly a shocking headline to read. But this was no ordinary presidential visit. Trump was in Texas to survey the recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. And given the magnitude of that storm — at least 60 dead and as much as $180 billion in damage — the occasion deserved a measure of solemnity that doesn’t usually accompany this president’s comings and goings.

So were the protests appropriate? To some, at least, they seemed in bad taste. Matt Mackowiak, the chairman of the Travis County Republican Party, told the San Antonio Express-News he had hoped that “partisan politics and policy differences would stop at a moment of national disaster like we’re seeing in Texas.”

It’s worth noting, however, that while the occasion certainly deserved a more solemn disposition, that’s not what we saw from the president. Instead, he pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt in July, on the night of Harvey’s landfall, later explaining that his choice of timing was meant to achieve “far higher” ratings for coverage of the pardon. In Corpus Christi last Tuesday, he gushed about the number of people his presence attracted: “What a crowd, what a turnout.” And in Houston he took shots at the media while meeting with members of the Coast Guard.

Perhaps most significantly, his administration began preparing to end DACA — which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation — while Houston was still being battered by the storm. Of the 800,000 beneficiaries of the program, at least 124,000 live in Texas. He announced the end of the program Tuesday, plunging the future of thousands of Houston families into further uncertainty and compounding the damage caused by a natural disaster with the threat of a political one.

It was this threat that brought out many of the protesters last week. They carried signs with slogans such as “Mess with DACA, you mess with Texas,” “We are here to stay” and “Defend DACA.” And there was an urgency to these protests brought on by the president himself, who chose this moment of all moments to make such a far-reaching decision.

Hurricane Harvey made life tangibly worse for millions of people. For a good portion of those people, the Trump administration is doing the same, albeit more gradually, and under the cover of partisanship and purported good intentions. No matter how well-meaning Trump’s visit, and no matter how solemn the national moment, you can’t fault those people for taking advantage of their best chance to be heard — even if it’s as hopeless as trying to hold back the storm.

Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas. He is a Senior Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @samgroves.