I watched 40 hours of GOP town halls, and here's what I learned


The resistance to Donald Trump came into its own at town hall meetings across the country these past two weeks, and it feels like I have watched every second of them. Along the way, I have learned a lot about my fellow human beings — for better or for worse.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have sparked a resistance that has changed American politics, led by everyday Americans speaking out at town hall meetings across the country.

Shareblue readers have seen a good bit of that resistance covered here, but what we have published only scratches the surface of the long hours of town hall video I have watched, an undertaking that has simultaneously been a grueling task and an enlightening privilege. Over the course of about a week, I watched 20 town halls, totaling about 40 hours of viewing time.

David Axelrod famously said that political campaigns are MRIs of the soul, but these town halls have been a great deal more revealing than that. Throughout the many hours of footage I reviewed, those town hall constituents and the politicians who ostensibly represent them came into much deeper focus.


Here are the three most important things I learned from this experience, as well as some moments that did not make it onto these pages.

You Are Powerful!

I have to confess that in the Trump era, sometimes the encouragement I offer feels more than a little bit wishful. Yes, the resistance claimed early and frequent victories, but at the end of every day, Trump's ill-gotten presidency and legislative majorities are still a soul-crushing fact of life. I am a lifelong liberal Democrat, but for the past 10 years, my job has been more that of a political journalist than an activist, which consequently imbues my activism with a heavy dose of cynical political reality.

But after watching these 40 hours of resistance, that nagging feeling of doubt has shrunk considerably. Republicans were on the receiving end of blistering town hall resistance on issues ranging from Trump's ties with Russia, to Trump's tax returns, and especially health care and Planned Parenthood.

And it wasn't just the crowds. There were truly inspiring individuals, like 16-year-old Deja Foxx, who stood up to a United States senator in defense of Planned Parenthood, and more importantly, vowed to replace him someday.

The power of these moments has even forced some Republicans to change their minds, even if temporarily. In one stunning moment, a town hall crowd forced a reversal within a matter of seconds:

The power of resistance was also evident at Democratic town halls, which have mostly been ignored by the political media establishment. Shareblue reported on the son of a Holocaust survivor at a Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) town hall who powerfully reminded us just how abnormal Trump's presidency is, and of the deadly serious stakes involved.

But there were also potent statements and rallying cries from Democratic lawmakers that went unnoticed, but deserve to be amplified. We covered Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), who delivered a comprehensive critique of Republican governance in a 30-second anecdote in which he urged a GOP colleague to act in his constituents' best interests on occasion.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) held a town hall that was the most soul-nourishing two hours I've spent since Trump was elected. We covered Clarke's encouragement to her constituents to keep fighting and stay vigilant in opposition to the entire Trump administration. There were many other moments during Clarke's town hall that packed a punch. For me, her response to a young autistic woman really hit home, at once voicing my hope and frustration:

There were also several moments at Democrat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries' town hall in New York that made me want to stand up and cheer, but none more than when he, too, vowed to hold the line against Trump and the Republicans, and finished with a solid burn:

So far, the line is holding, and 2018 is approaching quickly. Yes, we have miles to go before we sleep, but the power of these voices will keep us going, and it has been a privilege to play a small part in lifting them up.

Republicans Really Are (Mostly) That Awful!

This second lesson does not sound like good news, but the degree to which Republicans have shown themselves to be heartless, craven, and just plain obnoxious liars is as explosive a fuel for the resistance as our own resolve.

We covered Ohio Republican Rep. Warren Davidson's shocking declaration to one of his constituents that her son does not deserve health care because of his service industry skills. At that same town hall, Davidson also lied about Planned Parenthood, suggested that women seeking health care from Planned Parenthood should just "pay cash," refused to demand Trump's tax returns, and alternately compared health care with a gas station and a "flip phone":

We also covered Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who literally turned his back on a woman who had just told him her family members could die under the Republican repeal plan. In a similar vein, Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) delivered a stunningly insincere response to a disabled veteran who is having trouble making ends meet:

In another particularly ugly moment, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) accused his own constituents of supporting the chemical weapons massacre of children because they booed his support for Trump's Syria policy.

This behavior by Republicans might feel like mere confirmation of something we already knew, but for voters who are less engaged, especially during midterm elections, or who have never attended meetings with their elected officials before Trump's presidency, exposing Republican soullessness is a critical revelation. Although it has been hard to watch, at times, busting them on it has made this all worthwhile.

We Are Fighting for All Humans!

It was easy to be inspired by the likes of Deja Foxx, who is exactly the kind of strong young woman I'm raising my daughter to be, or by those three brave souls who rose to resist in a sea of hostility, but watching all those hours also forced me to grapple with the people who are on the wrong side.

One of the many unpleasant features of Trump's presidency has been the media's unrelenting pursuit of the inside of the Trump voter's head, so I will spare you that bit of torture. I do not care to get inside the head of the man who was ejected from a Ted Lieu town hall, and promptly went outside to chant "Build that Wall!"

Similarly, I do not much care to know what's in the mind of this guy, who got up at LaMalfa's town hall to urge a monumental act of spite:

Truthfully, my first impulse was to mock him. But even he is human. And so are all the Republican lawmakers whose horrible behavior I have spent hours watching. And so is Donald Trump. As Democrats, we fight for all of them, because as human beings, they deserve the rights we fight to protect.

For me, a moderately hard-boiled political journalist, these town halls were an important reminder of our humanity. When I was a White House reporter, I tried hard to remind my colleagues of that, but in the wake of Trump's presidency, a certain numbness seems to have set in. It is painful to care about people when bad things are happening.

But by sharing their pain, and their strength, the resistance has become the hope that we all need, and it has been my privilege to watch them in action.