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'Panic' over Trump takes us to activism we haven’t seen in 157 years

caption: People at a women's march on Seattle's Capitol Hill on Dec. 3.
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People at a women's march on Seattle's Capitol Hill on Dec. 3.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

A new Republican president takes office. Half the nation is appalled.

But we're not talking about Donald Trump.

University of Washington history professor Jim Gregory told KUOW's Ross Reynolds that to find another election that produced such division — and such a surge of political activism — you have to go way back in American history.

“The shock of Lincoln’s election and the shock of Trump’s election are somewhat similar,” Gregory said.

“In terms of political dynamics, we haven’t had an election since then that turned out to deliver such a big surprise and such a huge turn in the nature and direction of governance.”

We're seeing "kind of a panic on the part of many Americans" about that change.

Gregory said that the activism surrounding Trump's election differs in important ways from that of the civil rights era or during the Vietnam War protests.

For one thing, the new activism results not out of a specific social issue but out of partisanship, he said.

Then there's the broad support in many places from elected officials.

"We have a mayor and a governor in this state that encourage the protests, join the protests. They almost become official acts of governance," Gregory said. "And that's really different. Imagine the anti-war protests with that kind of support. Never would have happened. Nor did the civil rights movement have that kind of governmental support."

In Lincoln's time, there were also protests like that.

"It was called secession," Gregory said.

Today, he said, on the surface there are similarities to what happened in the 1860s.

"I don't see anybody settling this down," he said. "This seems like a war that's going to continue for some time."

You’ll hear more about the new activism around Puget Sound this week and next. It’s part of reporting by the KUOW politics team on President Trump’s impact on the region.

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