During the long primary and election campaigns of 2016, it became clear that few if any of the old political rules apply anymore. We need to take a long and detailed look at the 2016 elections in order to develop the best strategy to resist the unconstitutional attacks that Trump is already proclaiming. We need to build coalitions and movements, both short-term on specific issues and long-term on wide-ranging fronts. We also need to learn from history, including from the anti-fascist struggles of the last century. In this article I’ll try to do just that.
Changing the rules
First of all, it’s necessary to remember the role of the Sanders campaign. It activated tens of thousands of young people (though we need to note that part of the response to his campaign was due to his decision to run in the Democratic Party primary and to the real possibility he might win). Sanders made a principled stand of refusing big money PAC donations, relying instead on millions of small donations and doing an end run around the stranglehold that money has on both major parties. His rallies and fervent supporters demonstrated the hunger for change, the rejection of politics as usual, and the new openness to socialism.
The Trump campaign blew up the traditional rules of Republican politics.
Second, many aspects of the Trump campaign blew up the traditional rules of Republican politics: outrageous statements, stoking controversy to play the media and score billions in free advertising, flirting with the racist and fascist ultra-right, open sexism and anti-immigrant prejudice, and direct attacks on the GOP establishment itself. Trump called for unconstitutional actions including torture and the intentional bombing of civilian populations and toyed with an assortment of conspiracy theories. These all went against expected norms.
The “Trump phenomenon,” however, was not a fundamental restructuring of U.S. electoral politics. His candidacy and the response to it demonstrate how the old methods of ruling class politics don’t work in the same ways anymore. His victory has resulted in the potential for a fundamental shift in the way political power is used.
While we should reject all claims of false equivalence between right-wing and left-wing populism, it was clear that millions of people rejected politics as usual. The word “populism” is generally used to describe the style of appeal made to voters – addressing, or seeming to address, the needs of millions. Using “populism” to describe both right and left, however, hides a fundamental difference in the actual content of what politicians propose. Right-wing populism demagogically and rhetorically speaks to the working class, while left-wing populism proposes actual programs to solve the challenges that workers and poor people face.
Because the ruling class is no longer able to rule in the old way but the left is not strong enough to pose a realistic alternative (not in policy, but in raw power terms), we see odd and unexpected developments. “Right-wing populists” like Trump are one of them.
Allied with the worst elements of the ultra-right base (such as the KKK and various “white nationalist” groups), he is at the same time closely allied with the worst elements of the Republican policy elite – the Gringriches, the Giulianis, the Gaffneys.
His incoherent and contradictory policy statements result from this alliance of disparate constituencies, combined with the need for populist rhetoric to attract the base. It’s the tenuous job of uniting the disaffected with the elite ultra-right and their anti-worker policies.
Did the “white working class” give us Trump?
Especially in the first few days after the election, there was much punditry about how the “white working class” had undergone a shift to the right. This notion took hold and was uncritically accepted by many, including on the left. For several reasons, this conclusion is limited at best.
There is no such homogeneous thing as the “white working class.” Our working class is multi-racial.
For starters, there is no such homogenous thing as the “white working class.” Our working class is multi-racial, multi-national, multi-generational, and multi-gender. There was not a shift in the working class as a whole, nor among all white workers, and the Trump vote was not all about economic insecurity. Voters with incomes under $50,000 voted in their majority for Clinton.
Furthermore, it’s worth remembering yet again that Clinton won the popular vote by a significant margin, over 2.7 million as of this writing. This would not have been possible without tens of millions of white people voting for her.
For some, casting a Trump ballot was a protest – an expression of their anger against lost jobs, stagnant wages, and disappearing opportunities. While it is true that their tolerance for his racism, sexism, and ultra-nationalism is morally indefensible, it also indicates some of the fault lines that run through the Trump coalition. Polls show huge numbers of people who voted for Trump do not trust or respect him. Some of them can be won to a real progressive program.
Trump’s victory can also be linked to his winning, against all expectations, college-educated whites, including women. This still links his victory to racism, but it doesn’t blame workers or white workers alone for it. Trump won a majority of white voters in every category – men, women, college-educated, and lower-income. To view racism as a problem confined to the working class actually underestimates the scope of the challenges we face in winning a majority of whites to an anti-racist program.
Trump’s vote totals in most places (though not all) did not exceed those of McCain in 2008 or Romney in 2012. This further refutes the claim that a major shift in working class whites’ voting patterns is responsible for Trump’s Electoral College win. In some key areas, the fall-off in Democratic votes among African American and Latino voters accounts for the razor-thin margins for Trump in a few states. Of course this does not mean that those voters are any more “to blame” for Trump’s win than “the white working class.” It just points to the facile, superficial, and false readings of the meaning of the election.
Not all Trump voters were motivated by racism, nor were all Clinton voters free of racism. The reality that there is a significant number of white voters who voted twice for Obama and then for Trump shows that understanding consciousness among white voters is not a binary exercise. They were not free of racism just because they voted for an African American, nor are they racist (or only racist) because they voted for Trump.
This misreading of numbers is not just a problem of oversimplifying trends among white voters, either. A noticeable percentage of Hispanic voters cast a ballot for Trump – a minority to be sure, but still more than voted for Romney.
Real shifts in voting
There were some important developments in voting patterns which do force us to look at deeper trends though. To focus solely on any single or partial explanation does a disservice to the anti-Trump movement. The sweeping shifts that many blame for Trump are mostly a figment of the imaginations of pundits and political professionals. As Mike Davis argues, writing in Jacobin, we need to look at the real details of voters and voting patterns.
- There were significant shifts among some regional groups of voters, including among white workers in parts of the so-called Rust Belt and among predominately white rural voters nationwide (though even much of this is still in dispute).
- There was a decrease in the percentage of voters who turned out among Democratic constituencies. Some of this is attributable to the identification of Clinton with an establishment that talks a good line about addressing worker’s needs but often fails to translate any of it into real, immediate changes on the ground.
- Some of the lower Democratic turnout is attributable to successful Republican efforts at voter suppression. Exactly how much is not yet clear, but voting days were reduced, ID requirements were made more stringent, and the number of polling places was cut in many districts.
Finding fault lines in Trump’s coalition
Hearing what Trump voters are telling us requires the tough job of figuring out why so many voted against their real economic interests.
Christian Parenti spent many hours listening to Trump’s speeches. In an article in Jacobin, he discusses the cognitive dissonance of Trump’s messaging which resulted in many workers hearing and believing the false populism but not the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Parenti argues that while Trump is indeed a fraud and will disappoint many of his voters, the left should not discount the appeal of some of his rhetoric – both the racism as well as the (phony) anti-war and anti-corporate rants.
Trump’s voting coalition is a mix of those attracted to these two contradictory messages.
Trump’s voting coalition is a mix of those attracted to these two contradictory messages. Seeing the fault lines in this coalition with an eye to defeating his policies is necessary to building a successful coalition capable of defeating him.
The point is to understand people who can and must be won to the anti-Trump side, regardless of how they feel at this moment. To ignore the bigotry of many who supported him would of course be morally flawed. But the fact that many such Trump voters (and election abstainers) do not buy into his entire program is an opportunity to win them away from supporting him on many, many issues.
Some people confuse anger, even justified anger, with a coherent strategy. We face two trends on the center-left. One, mainly in parts of the left, demands that strategy and anti-Trump activities be judged by how militant they are. The other, mainly resident in the center, demands that actions be judged solely on the basis of how broad they are. Both are mistakes.
Developing strategy is about drawing the lines broadly enough that we include all the people who need to unite in order to be strong enough to win. The point of searching for Trump coalition fault lines is to look for ways to maximize division among our opposition and strengthen the unity of our side. These are not abstract moral questions alone; they are also questions of practical politics – of winning the active support of a majority.
Sympathy, empathy, or solidarity?
Reacting to various explanations of Trump’s victory that ascribe it only to the economic pain of white workers, some are responding with anger. They are tired of being asked to “understand” or “empathize with” the pain of white workers who do not acknowledge the pain of women and minorities. This anger is understandable and justified, though their way of expressing it is not always constructive. And focusing on anger alone could enable us to miss several important points.
- Expecting empathy requires that it be offered as well – empathy is a two-way street.
- What the anti-Trump movement needs is not bland, pitying empathy but rather increased mutual understanding, support, and solidarity.
- Since there was not a significant shift among white workers toward Trump nationally, blaming all white workers everywhere does not help build a coalition capable of defeating Trump – something in the interests of all workers, immigrants, poor people, people of color, women, students, environmentalists, good government folks, and many others including many faith communities.
- Contrary to the claims of the “white privilege” theorists, it is not the most important truth that “For hundreds of years, white people have controlled everything in this country.” While true in a literal sense, this way of understanding history refuses to look at the differences within this amalgam of different groups of “white people.” Most white people, the vast majority, have never “controlled” this country, not even most of those who are explicitly racist. That control has always and continues to be exercised by the ruling class – in modern times, that means the capitalist class.
While this class is overwhelmingly white and male, that does not mean that the majority of whites or males benefit from the current power structure. They benefit from not facing the oppression and discrimination that others face, but that does not make them participants in the power structure or beneficiaries of the capitalist system. The latter is a system that benefits only a relative few white males and others.
When we conflate the ruling class with all white people, we end up ignoring the real interests of white workers. We end up unnecessarily driving white workers into support for ruling class politicians. There are certainly important differences in how whites and males are treated compared to everyone else, but we must not confuse that with the exercise of real political and economic power.
- 5. Some conservatives, already anti-Trump, can be won to the fight for full democracy. While we should have no illusions that all those who spoke out against Trump during the primaries or after his nomination victory will be consistently anti-Trump for the long haul, neither should we write off all conservatives as potential allies. They may be partial, temporary, vacillating allies, but the movement needs those alliances just the same.
- 6. One challenge to building unity is that many people of color have had their confidence in the possibility of broad unity shaken by the election results and some of the superficial analysis that appeared in the first few days. Rebuilding trust and hope in the potential of winning white workers and white women (categories that are not identical but that do overlap) to an anti-racism program is necessary.
During the long primary and election campaigns of 2016, it became clear that few if any of the old political rules apply anymore. We need to take a long and detailed look at the 2016 elections in order to develop the best strategy to resist the unconstitutional attacks that Trump is already proclaiming. We need to build coalitions and movements, both short-term on specific issues and long-term on wide-ranging fronts. We also need to learn from history, including from the anti-fascist struggles of the last century. This is the second in a three-part series taking a look at some of these issues.
Lessons from history
The experiences of the Communist, socialist, and democratic resistance to fascism during the 1930s in Europe, and of fighting fascism in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s, offer important lessons for us today..
Summing up some of those lessons, Georgi Dimitrov in his 1935 speech to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, talked about building a broad front of all those who opposed fascism, about confronting fascist ideology, and the necessity of overcoming sectarian obstacles to left and democratic unity.
Communists reacted too slowly to the demagogy of fascism.
Dimitrov noted that, “One of the weakest aspects of the anti-fascist struggle of the Communist Parties is that they react inadequately and too slowly to the demagogy of fascism, and to this day continue to neglect the problems of the struggle against fascist ideology. Many comrades did not believe that so reactionary a brand of bourgeois ideology as the ideology of fascism, which in its stupidity frequently reaches the point of lunacy, would be able to gain any mass influence. This was a serious mistake. The putrefaction of capitalism penetrates to the innermost core of its ideology and culture, while the desperate situation of wide masses of the people renders certain sections of them susceptible to infection from the ideological refuse of this putrefaction.”
This describes exactly the situation in which we now find ourselves. Lunatic policy proposals, incoherent proclamations and tweets, nominations and appointments of patently incompetent people, and foaming-at-the-mouth advisors from the ultra-right fringe.
The challenge to us is political, but it is also ideological. Attacking racists, racist actions, and racist policies must be accompanied by an attack on racism itself – on the ideological underpinnings of the “white nationalist” movement. Even as we reject the idea that racism by itself is the only explanation for the Trump victory, we must prevent further efforts to win even more white workers to fully support racism.
Some on the left fringe glory in every story of left-wing bullies beating up right-wing bullies. They confuse “fighting fascism” with physical violence, ignoring two important realities.
First, fighting fascism will take many forms, most of them explicitly ideological and political. Most of those will be non-violent. Furthermore, the appeal of the pro-democracy forces will, at least at this stage, depend on non-violence.
Second, in Germany before Hitler’s rise to power, the left had “street-fighting” militias, who regularly warred with fascist gangs in the streets of Berlin and other major German cities. They did not stop fascism. Fascism must be defeated politically – and the time to do so is short. So far in history, fascism in power has been defeated only through foreign military intervention (World War II), the death of the fascist leader (Spain and Portugal), or after many decades of internal and international pressure (Chile and Greece).
This is not to advocate laying down in the face of racist and sexist attacks, of hate crimes and swastika-painting, of bullies in our public spaces, but it is to argue that we should not confuse resistance and solidarity with pugilism.
Real shifts in power require initiative.
While there was no significant shift among voters nationwide, and facile claims of such trends do a disservice, that does not mean there haven’t been significant shifts. The real, most dangerous shift is in political power and initiative.
Republicans now control the Presidency and both houses of Congress, as well as nominations for the Supreme Court and other branches of the Federal judiciary. Additionally, Republicans now control a majority of state governorships and state legislative bodies. This opens the possibilities of serious efforts to shift the rules of elections away from more inclusion and democracy.
Trump’s rhetoric and policies will continue to be uniquely American, tailoring his message to U.S. sensibilities and U.S. issues, wrapping himself in the flag and in at best insubstantial patriotic rhetoric.
Based on our experiences of the Reagan and Bush administrations, what can we expect, beyond the speculation about implementing Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-women policies?
- We can expect a huge increase in corruption, both hidden and overt.
- We can expect a huge uptick in incompetence throughout the administration. This on top of the distressing reality that many of Trump’s Cabinet members will have the explicit job of destroying the departments they will head.
- We can predict that Trump will do the opposite of what he promised on the campaign trail in most economic policy areas.
Those who take solace in the institutional checks and balances of the U.S. Constitutional system would do well to remember the actions of Republican state officials all over the country after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act.
Within days (in some cases, hours) of that decision, at least ten states proposed laws or plans to implement policies to suppress the vote: from voter ID requirements to gerrymandering to eliminating many early voting days to closing many polling places in poor, working class, and African American communities. Since then, many have also instigated specious “purges” of the voting rolls based on little or no evidence.
Remember (or research) how quickly newly-elected Republican state officials propose anti-democratic, anti-women’s health measures as soon as they take office – even those supposedly “sane, reasonable” anti-Trump Republicans like Ohio Governor Kasich, who has cut funding for women’s health, proposed (unsuccessfully) destroying many union rights in his state, and supported a Secretary of State who has made many attempts (some reversed by federal courts) to suppress the vote of workers, African Americans, Latinos, and poor people.
Or look at the state of Kansas under Governor Brownback, with his self-proclaimed “experiment” in Republican economics. His policies are destroying the state budget and state-wide public education, among other despicable initiatives.
There will be attempts to revive full-throated anti-communism, redbaiting, and blacklisting.
We can also expect stepped-up efforts to revive full-throated anti-communism, redbaiting, and blacklisting. This will be added to the already toxic stew of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and overt fascism.
Disgust by some at the increased incompetence and corruption opens the possibility of including some Republicans in the anti-Trump movement. This will likely not include many from the Republican political class, as evidenced by Mitt Romney’s flirtation with Trump (after denouncing him!). But it could potentially include some from the mass of Republican and Republican-leaning voters.
Before you dismiss this possibility, remember how horrified many Republicans were at the incompetence of the Bush administration. This was a noticeable factor in the 2006 and 2008 Democratic wave elections.
Already, there are the signs of some continuing splits in the ruling class. Many Republicans in Congress are of course uniting behind Trump and plan to ride on his partial victory to impose their own policy prescriptions. Paul Ryan is again pushing proposals to gut Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security through budget cuts, privatization, and underfunded block grants to states.
While we should not place any hope in quick or decisive opposition from sections of the ruling class, it should be obvious even for many CEOs that Trump will favor and privilege developers, real estate interests, fossil fuel companies, and the financial sector over businesses that depend on direct consumer spending. This will lead to increasing conflict within the ruling class, opening fault lines that a left-center movement could take advantage of; they represent opportunities for expanding the alliance beyond traditional political boundaries.
The international right-wing threat
There are very disturbing international implications to Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as strategist-in-chief. In addition to worries about militarism, temperament issues, and lack of any diplomatic skills, we should add the worry that Bannon’s stated aim is to build alliances with ultra-right movements around the world, starting with Europe.
Trump’s election has already emboldened the ultra-right in Europe.
Breitbart News is opening branches in France and Germany as part of this goal. Trump’s election has already emboldened the ultra-right in Europe in much the same way it has fascists, “white nationalists,” the KKK, and others in our country. This portends poorly for peace in many parts of the world. It is not that all ultra-right nationalists will have the same aims. Rather, the concern is that their propensity for adventurism distracts from the hollowness of their promises to workers and will lead to instability, dangerous conflicts, and military confrontations.
The ultra-right in the U.S. becomes the excuse for the ultra-right in Europe, and the anti-Muslim proclamations and policies of the ultra-right in the U.S. and Europe become the excuse for a further escalation by the ultra-right in the Middle East. In an endless loop of endless war and terrorism, each action and reaction provide more ammunition – a self-reinforcing process.
We can, unfortunately, confidently predict that the Trump administration will use any new terrorist attacks anywhere in the world to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria, build support for his anti-democratic proposals, and divert attention from his anti-people programs.
Trump’s election has already helped encourage and energize the ultra-right in Europe. Right-wing electoral gains have been occurring across that continent over the last few decades, but they now seem to be reaching a critical mass. The alliance between European right-wing parties and the Trump coalition threatens the peace of the world, as well as the social and economic gains that workers have won over many decades of struggle. It speaks to the reality that the “Trump phenomenon” is not something limited to the United States. It is inherent in the current phase of capitalist political development and will require an international response from working class and progressive parties everywhere.
Building the resistance
The right wing is now continuing attacks they have made over the past few years to limit or eliminate institutions that have the capacity to resist. Attacks on union rights and the right of unions to participate in the political process, the destruction of ACORN, attacks on Planned Parenthood, and other such measures are often falsely justified on grounds meant to garner support from the right-wing base. But they are also intended to make it more difficult for the left and center forces to oppose Republican policies.
These attacks on progressive institutions are not separate from each other. Groups such as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) coordinate these campaigns, draft legislation and regulations for right-wing officials in many states, and try to stay behind the scenes so the public doesn’t recognize these attacks in individual states as part of a nationwide strategy.
The coalitions, alliances, and movements we need have many aspects: developing strategy, increasing organizational resources, strengthening the institutional capacity to maintain resistance over a protracted period, fighting defensive battles, and whenever possible waging positive struggles for real solutions,
Building a broad and wide-ranging resistance is not the work of a few days or weeks. It requires not only comprehending reality in a detailed way, but also understanding the different forces which can impact the coalitions we need to build, who are essential allies, and who are temporary or partial allies.
It is the job of the left – and of the center and even some conservative forces and groups – to build a resistance strong enough, broad enough, and persistent enough to defeat attacks on democracy and on the democratic space for ongoing protest and opposition.
The fight for democracy is one of the broadest fields on which to wage the struggle against Trump, and it draws on the long U.S. history of the constant fight to expand the electorate. These struggles protect our ability and our rights to continue waging these battles in the future. If the right can criminalize protest, they can restrict our right to stop them, to wage campaigns for public opinion, to engage in civil disobedience, to petition for redress of grievances, and to exercise our right to free speech.
Berlusconi or Hitler?
As we prepare to resist what promises to be a tsunami of right-wing legislative efforts in the first 100 days of the Trump administration, we face the question: what exactly we need to prepare for?
Will Trump end up being a Berlusconi, a Mussolini, or a Hitler? Is a bumbling, corrupt, incompetent administration in the works? Or is this the early sign of not just fascist activism (already seen in many places) but of full-blown anti-democratic fascism? Do we need to be prepared for the destruction of the Constitution, complete with internment camps, abrogations of all civil rights protections and democratic norms – in the words of Dimitrov again, an open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary ruling circles?
The real answer to this question comes not from any pseudo-psychological guesswork into Trump’s distorted and disordered personality, but rather from the resistance we create. The strength of that resistance is the main factor in determining our future.
Trump and the people around him (Bannon, for example) can be as fascist as they want inside their own heads. Trump’s obvious megalomania and egomaniacal power-hunger can be as out-of-control as possible in his own fevered imagination. But no matter what is in his head or those of the coterie of right-wing loonies he is surrounding himself with, politics in the real world will determine the course of events. Trumps’ narcissism and obsessive attention to the media obviously play a role in public perception of him.
However, that is only a small piece of the political puzzle his election has created. We should have no illusions about what the Trump grouping wants, or about imagined limitations on their power. When Allende was elected in Chile, many Chileans, though worried about the warning signs of a fascist coup, placed too much faith in the long history of constitutional government, the peaceful transition of power, and the pledge of the military to stay out of politics. Fascists are not respecters of tradition, of democratic norms and practices, no matter what they spew for public consumption.
But their actions and attacks do not happen in a vacuum. Bush’s Vice-President Dick Cheney was clearly a fascist, but could not get away with everything he would have liked to. That was not due to any restraint on his part, but due to the opposition his policies elicited.
To develop the most effective strategy against the policies that Trump and his ilk are already proposing, we must soberly deal with reality. Unfortunately, in discussing the causes of the Trump Electoral College victory, too many pundits, pollsters, commentators, and even left-wing analysts are seizing hold of one or another partial truth and proclaiming that partial truth as “the” explanation. This quick-to-judgement approach does a disservice to the unity of the movement we need to build.
During the long primary and election campaigns of 2016, it became clear that few if any of the old political rules apply anymore. We need to take a long and detailed look at the 2016 elections in order to develop the best strategy to resist the unconstitutional attacks that Trump is already proclaiming. We need to build coalitions and movements, both short-term on specific issues and long-term on wide-ranging fronts. We also need to learn from history, including from the anti-fascist struggles of the last century. This is the last in a three-part series taking a look at some of these issues.
Breadth or militancy?
Both coalition breadth and militancy have to be part of our judging process. Anything else leads us in wrong directions. Using only militancy as the measure, we end up refusing to “tactic shame” the anarchists who bust windows as a way of expressing their anger, turning off many potential allies, wasting efforts and resources on dead-end actions and dead-end legal wrangles over side issues. Using only breadth as the measure, we water down programmatic demands till they are almost meaningless in the pursuit of an elusive broad coalition – arguably one of the problems in the stance of the Clinton campaign’s focus on Trump’s lack of character.
Real breadth and militancy go hand-in-hand. Militant actions around specific issues, such as the Dakota Access Pipe Line struggle, inspire millions to join in and express solidarity. Broad unity built on opposition to Trumps’ Cabinet and appointments shows the power of a broad united opposition.
While we need to build the broadest opposition, we should not have illusions about institutional obstacles to Trump’s policies. While we should certainly call for and struggle for full democracy and constitutional rights, just having a constitution and civil rights is no ultimate protection – see the example of Chile in the 1970s. That country had a long tradition of constitutional protections, restrictions on the military’s role in politics, and of peaceful transfer of power to newly-elected representatives. That all went out the window when General Pinochet overthrew President Allende.
Part of our struggle has to include calls for Trump and his minions to respect constitutional rights and political norms, but we can’t count on it. Already, Trump allies are calling for anti-Trump demonstrations to be outlawed, for criticism of Trump to be muffled, for demonstrators to be “quelled.”
Calls to maintain democratic traditions are part of the most broadly-unifying efforts right now.
Calls to maintain our democratic traditions, even though those traditions have always been more limited in reality than in our high school history books, are part of the most broadly-unifying efforts right now. Many Trump supporters expect that he will not represent a break with the Constitution, and to the degree that we show him to be unconstrained by such considerations, to that same degree we can win or neutralize this group.
To take one small example, Trump, Pence, and their surrogates proclaimed throughout the campaign that Trump would eventually release his tax returns. One small part of our efforts should be to hold them to that promise. He said it, Pence said it, it is on tape; we should demand that he keep his word. By itself this is but a minor sideshow, but it is one part of exposing his lies.
Part of the fight for democracy is the fight for truth, for facts. Exposing Trump and some of his supporters as outside the normal constraints of U.S. politics is part of winning a coalition broad and powerful enough to defeat his policies and the normalizing of racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Condemning the growing anti-Semitism is also a piece of this.
There is a fine line to walk; we must challenge Trump’s distortions but still avoid getting caught in his trap of an endless loop of refuting each and every tweet, keeping the focus on whatever outrageous thing he says. Our refutation of his lies needs to be more substantive, based on his whole program or major aspects of his policies, rather than falling for his bait.
Another fault line in Trump’s coalition is between the more “standard” Republicans who want to use the system to their advantage, and the ultra-right fascists who are acting out on our streets, inflicting violence on innocent people, painting swastikas on churches, and sending terror threats to mosques. Supposedly “mainstream” Republicans need to be held accountable for the actions of the ultra-right that they have loosed on the nation.
Increases in corruption and incompetence will also open the door to broadening anti-Trump alliances. Already the conflicts of interest, the self-serving use of governmental office to line the pockets of the President-elect, his family, and cronies are self-evident. Some center and even conservative voices will be horrified at the levels of corruption, past and present.
The race for democracy
We must put the fight for democracy at the center of our unity-building efforts. We are in a race – a race between those coalition efforts and the efforts of the Trump circle to change the political rules of the game to guarantee their continued ascendance. We can predict a wave of rejection and revulsion against his anti-democratic policies, but will that happen quickly enough to defeat them? We are moving toward a tipping point – either we tip toward fascism or we tip toward the left to a program that addresses the real needs of our class and people with real solutions.
We can already predict that Trump will do as he has promised: work to damage democracy civil rights, women’s rights, union rights, and the environment. He and his allies will use this shift of political power and initiative to attempt to fulfill their fantasies of eliminating abortion rights, eliminating unions, eliminating or at least depressing voting rights, abolishing immigrant rights, privatizing Medicare and Social Security, and many more anti-people policies. Other battles loom over privatizing education and incarceration, climate policy, over militarizing even more of U.S. foreign policy. The list keeps growing.
Defeating Trumpism means fighting every effort to weaken democracy.
Defeating Trumpism means fighting every effort to weaken democracy. As Georgi Dimitrov noted [see part 2 of this article for more on Dimitrov], “before the establishment of a fascist dictatorship, bourgeois governments usually pass through a number of preliminary stages and adopt a number of reactionary measures which directly facilitate the accession to power of fascism. Whoever does not fight the reactionary measures of the bourgeoisie and the growth of fascism at these preparatory stages is not in a position to prevent the victory of fascism, but, on the contrary, facilitates that victory.”
Trump’s election is not the triumph of fascism, but it does give neo-fascists the political power to chip away at and attack the very basis of U.S. democracy. Dimitrov pointed out:
“The accession to power of fascism is not an ordinary succession of one bourgeois government by another, but a substitution of one state form of class domination of the bourgeoisie – bourgeois democracy – by another form – open terrorist dictatorship. It would be a serious mistake to ignore this distinction, a mistake liable to prevent the revolutionary proletariat from mobilizing the widest strata of the working people of town and country for the struggle against the menace of the seizure of power by the fascists, and from taking advantage of the contradictions which exist in the camp of the bourgeoisie itself.”
He continued, saying:
“But it is a mistake, no less serious and dangerous, to underrate the importance, for the establishment of fascist dictatorship, of the reactionary measures of the bourgeoisie at present increasingly developing in bourgeois-democratic countries – measures which suppress the democratic liberties of the working people, falsify and curtail the rights of parliament, and intensify the repression of the revolutionary movement.”
Republican efforts to chip away at democratic rights have been going on for quite some time. The attacks on the democratic right to vote has been fierce and multi-pronged, although varying in detail from state to state. They include voter ID requirements, rules making it more difficult to register, cutting or eliminating early voting days, gerrymandering, closing polling places, purging voter rolls without proof, stopping efforts to automatically register voters, threatening various voter intimidation tactics, and promoting the role of big money in politics.
These are all part of Republican efforts to restrict the ballot, to make it difficult for students, minorities, and poor people to vote, to prevent felons from regaining their right to vote, to limit the franchise in as many ways as possible and resist the demographic trends that are turning against the right.
One of the limitations of U.S. democracy was put on display as the Electoral College played a bigger role in determining who won the election than did the popular vote. The Electoral College itself is an undemocratic hangover of our past, a compromise with slaveholders that more populous Northern states wouldn’t control the Federal Government at the expense of the slaveholders. Its elimination is one piece of the fight for full democracy.
Another piece is reversing the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling that allowed unlimited money in politics. Money is not speech, and billionaires contributing massive sums behind the scenes with no public accountability is not the same as political freedom. Billionaires are as free as anyone else to vote for whomever they want, but that does not give them the right to buy politicians or elections.
Fighting for democracy means fighting for union rights.
But the fight to reverse the anti-democratic attacks lies not just in electoral reform or legal fights to protect the right to vote. It also lies in fighting for union rights – for the right to strike, the right of unions to participate in the electoral process, to represent their members, and to fight for the needs of all. Missouri just passed so-called “Right-to-Work” legislation, and there will be Republican efforts to get a similar law passed nationally.
The fight for democracy is not a side-show, a tangent separate from “real” resistance to Trump and his ultra-right allies. It is the broadest possible field for drawing on the democratic traditions and expectations that permeate our culture. It is the fight to win the broadest possible rejection of his policies, to convince even some conservatives to stop implicitly supporting some or all of Trump’s program.
Anti-Trump demonstrators greet members of the Electoral College as they arrive at the Illinois State Capitol to cast their votes on Dec. 19, 2016 in Springfield. | Keri Rautenkranz / PW
Building layers of coalitions
In practical terms, there will not be one, united, massive anti-Trump coalition, brought together into a single organizational form. We might think of it as layers of coalitions, a combination of permanent and temporary alliances. The people’s movements need a deeper understanding of and approach to building coalitions.
Coalitions can be groupings made up of people and organizations that disagree with each other – otherwise, they would already be in the same organization! Such temporary or partial coalitions come together around one issue or one set of issues where they have common agreement, and their focus must of necessity be on those areas of agreement. Successfully growing unity depends in part on acknowledging and respecting those differences, not pushing them away but taking them into account. Coalitions increase the strength of struggles, but they also have built-in limitations we cannot afford to ignore.
Coalitions can also be long-lasting alliances between organizations which share many common values and goals – in some senses all major movements are coalitions of this type. The labor movement itself brings together workers from many different backgrounds, points of view, and political opinions. Alliances between unions, religious groups, and other community organizations have a different character than single-issue coalitions. Broad progressive alliances for democracy, civil rights of all kinds, are already in existence and planning resistance.
Building unity and analyzing the reasons for Trump‘s success is not the same as settling old scores or assigning blame, as too many are attempting to do. There are many battles to wage, many ways to unite. We can’t reduce the broad movement we need to some abstract notion of political purity.
We can “unite” with Lindsey Graham’s call to investigate the role of Russian hacking in the election without uniting with his support for most aspects of the Republican program. We can support his bill to protect the Dreamers. Over 750,000 are terrified that Trump, with the stroke of his pen, will place them in immediate jeopardy of deportation from the country they have grown up in. Agreeing with Graham on this one issue would be a temporary, partial unity, not a unity that we could expect to show up across the board, maybe not anywhere else. But for one short political moment, we can agree to join together.
It doesn’t mean agreeing with the anti-Russian fulminations of some Democratic leadership circles, it just means that exposing Trump’s ties abroad and the efforts of the Russian oligarchy to influence the U.S. election will help expose Trump’s lies and obfuscation. Exposing his business conflicts-of-interest is another piece of exposing and defeating his whole program, cutting away at his claims of honesty and legitimacy.
A winning strategy
What kind of strategy does the broad movement need? In the post-election discussion, some are using this period as an opportunity to settle old scores, or to limit the discussion to “inside baseball” considerations.
Who is going to be the next chair of the DNC? What will Chuck Schumer do? Is Tulsi Gabbard a rising star or a traitor for even meeting with Trump? How can we blame the Clinton campaign and no one else? Is every statement issued by Sanders or Warren the perfect encapsulation of resistance, or are they conceding too much by promising to work with Trump if he delivers on his promise of a major infrastructure bill (which likely will come with the poison pill of an end to Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections)?
Just as we should feel no need to rush to judgment about voting patterns and trends, so too we should not be in too much of a hurry to settle on what we think the perfect strategy is. There are competing voices and tactics that may or may not be compatible with developing long-term strategy.
Most of the country has not yet recovered from the shock of Trump’s Electoral College victory, much less to his projected appointments and policy proposals. Some experimentation and testing of the waters is necessary. We should not be too quick to attack except for rejecting clearly self-destructive tactics like smashing windows. We also must quickly reject illusions and pointless debates about “giving Trump a chance” and musing about whether or not he really means all the contradictory things he says.
Our time and attention needs to be on the unity needed between all the many movements that will resist his policies, especially those that attack fundamental democratic and Constitutional principles and laws.
We have to do better at listening to each other.
In addition to doing a better job of listening to the real pain behind the anger some Trump voters feel as well as the anger and pain felt by all those opposed to Trump, we also have to do a better job of listening to each other.
Some pundits are engaging in rather pointless arguments about whether or not the Democratic Party should engage more in class-based politics or continue to focus on so-called identity politics. The answer of course, is that all who oppose Trump, from the Democratic Party to the Communist Party and from the millions who voted for Clinton to the millions who stayed away from the polls, must be engaged. And doing so requires a better understanding of both class and race as well as other forms of identity.
Those who argue that the left and center must focus more on speaking to the economic needs of workers of all kinds are correct; the Democratic Party has moved away, far away, from championing workers’ rights and needs. But those same people are wrong when they claim, explicitly or implicitly, that the reason for that mistake is due to identity politics. It is rather due to the influence of money, of capital, of ruling class demands and interests, of compromises with right-wing politicians over many decades (for example, Bill Clinton’s policy of “triangulation”).
The Republicans, almost all of them, encouraged and depended on the Tea Party and the ultra-right to keep their hold on power for short-term political gain, only to find that they had unleashed a monster that had turned on the Republican establishment. So too the Democrats, for short-term political gain or for decades-long political gain, relied increasingly on their ability to raise money from the super-rich, only to find that this helped lose part of the working class base they had come to take for granted. In both cases, these strategies worked for a while, but no longer – that is, in part, why the ruling class can no longer rule in the old ways, why the old political formulas seem meaningless.
We get to determine the future
So what will be the long term result of Trump’s Electoral College win? Will we end up with a short-term Berlusconi (as cartoonish and corrupt and sleazy as the original), an escalation of the long-term rightward push in U.S. politics? Or will this be the next step in the destruction of democracy and our last chance to defeat full-blown fascism in the U.S.?
The great German playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht, pointed the finger at all of us in his poem, “To a Waverer.”
To a Waverer, by Bertolt Brecht
You tell us
It looks bad for our cause.
The darkness gets deeper. The powers get less.
Now, after we worked for so many years
We are in a more difficult position than at the start.
But the enemy stands there, stronger than ever before.
His powers appear to have grown. He has taken on an aspect
We however have made mistakes; there is no denying it.
Our numbers are dwindling.
Our slogans are in disarray. The enemy has twisted
Part of our words beyond recognition.
What is now false of what we said:
Some or all?
Whom do we still count on? Are we just left over, thrown out
Of the living stream? Shall we remain behind
Understanding no one and understood by none?
Have we got to be lucky?
This you ask. Expect
No other answer than your own.
Photo: Ben Sears.
This article was originally posted in 3 parts at peoplesworld.org.