The massive, spontaneous, popular resistance to Trump that poured into the streets in the giant post-Inauguration Women’s March had been welling up since election night. Trump and his ruthless, racist, reactionary White House gang now in power, our diverse, multiform, self-organized resistance will have its work cut out for it. The Trump gang means business, and it will be an epic struggle. No one can predict the outcome at this point, but we can at least attempt to evaluate the strengths and weakness of the opponents in this historic match.
The early signs indicate that the upstart contestant — the self-organized American resistance movement — may grow up fast on the job. Nine days after the Inauguration protest, the spontaneous response of large numbers of ordinary Americans to Trump’s Executive Order detaining and deporting well-vetted, documented travelers from seven Moslem countries was immediate and militant. Within hours of the first detentions, small demonstrations sprung up at major airports and soon, thanks to social media, they grew in size and militancy; meanwhile human rights organizations immediately attacked the Order in various courts, and judges began issuing temporary stays.The next day mass demonstrations materialized in Washington and thirty-odd cities, encouraging public officials including Republicans to speak out.
Let us recall that the giant post-Inauguration Women’s March had succeeded in part by bringing together in its ad-hoc leadership a tentative coalition organizations and networks previously separated by the prevalence of identity politics.
Let us recall that the giant post-Inauguration Women’s March had succeeded in part by bringing together in its ad-hoc leadership a tentative coalition organizations and networks previously separated by the prevalence of identity politics. Thus, thanks to the leadership of the women (our oppressed majority!) a fragile alliance was being forged among representatives of America’s oppressed national minorities including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, undocumented immigrants, oppressed sexual minorities, and the movements of exploited, insecure workers fighting for dignity and a $15 minimum wage – a category which includes many of the above.
A Leap in Consciousness
During the Women’s March, we perceived this tentative coalition as the embryo of a possible common front, organized from below. The subsequent massive self-organized popular protests in defense of Moslem refugees seems to confirm the power of this unity. Of all oppressed groups, Islamics and refugees are the most vulnerable and unpopular. Long the stereotyped target of hysterical, xenophobic, racist, fear campaigns, Moslems and refugees are constantly defamed as fanatic Islamists and dangerous “terrorists,” and standing up for them implies a serious rethinking of one’s own prejudices not to mention a certain risk. At the very moment brave U.S. residents were standing up militantly for Moslem immigrants, home-grown terrorists were bombing Islamic Cultural Centers in Quebec and Texas.
The U.S. has been officially “at war with Islamic terrorism” for fifteen years, yet today tens of thousands of Americans have the guts to stand up for Islamic immigrants and refugees, surrounding air-ports and shouting: “Let Them In!” Compare this courageous reaction to the stony silence during WWII when an anti-Semitic U.S. State Department closed America’s doors to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and when the U.S. government rounded up innocent Japanese residents (including citizens) and confined them to desert concentration camps as suspected enemy agents.
Americans have come a long way since I was a lad. What a leap in popular consciousness! What a victory for planetary solidarity! If this solidarity continues to grow and deepen, if the resistance community remains united, we can only imagine how the resistance will react when the Trump Administration attacks women’s right to abortion. Or how it will react when ICE resumes deporting Hispanic refugees and asylum-seekers back to countries in Latin American.¹ Or when police murder more unarmed African Americans and go unpunished (as inevitably they will). Or when workers strike and organize against low-wage employers like Wal-Mart or Amazon. As long as the old Wobbly slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all!” remains the watchword of today’s broad resistance, our mass power will grow and we will move from the defensive to the offensive, while picking up some partial victories along the way. The White House has already back peddled on Trump’s “Moslem ban” decrees, and such victories help build movements’ confidence.
Autonomy: Another Plus for Our Side
Best of all, this massive resistance, although based on existing social movements and organizations in various oppressed communities, is essentially self-organized — like Occupy Wall St. six years ago. And although the 2011 Occupy protests were largely symbolic, they famously succeeded in “changing the American political conversation” and awakening popular consciousness with its slogans: “We are the 99%” and “This is what America looks like.” This new consciousness has now been embraced by a mass movement.
The convenience of Internet and social media enables today’s movements and networks to communicate and organize locally and act nationally. Activist can now leap over the barriers of time, distance, and the high cost of printing and mailing, to come together tactically and confront the Establishment in real time. The Net circulates information rapidly, circumventing the commercial media, and it allows every individual to speak for herself, assuring a real discussion takes place. By removing vertical organizations’ advantage of holding a monopoly of information and internal communication, the Internet also leaps of the barrier of bureaucratic political parties acting from above to inhibit participatory democracy and manipulate movements from below.
Historically, the Democrats have been usually been able to coopt the leadership of social movements (e.g. the Nuclear Freeze, the mainstream Green organizations, the elite women’s’ movement, unions, the remnants of the Civil Rights struggle) with the effect of demobilizing the base. There are also bureaucratic “revolutionary” parties with disciplined members, a rigid ideology, and a hidden agenda of “rule or ruin.” These “vanguards” usually attempt to take over mass movements or use them as recruiting grounds, thus provoking splits, dividing and disuniting – thus one year we ended up with two separate anti-Irak marches on Washington on two successive Saturdays!
In 2016 the new social consciousness spawned in 2011 expressed itself in support for Sanders’ grass-roots “political revolution”— enthusiastically backed by millions, especially among the young, who have no investment in the capitalist status quo and few prospects under it. Frustrated in its attempt to seek reform within the rigged political system, faced with the openly counter-revolutionary Trump administration, this new movement has now moved on to open resistance to a power it considers illegitimate both morally and electorally. We have thus entered what the Italian Marxist Gramsci would have called a “crisis of hegemony.” This means a challenge to unquestioning popular acceptance of the existing class rule as normal, natural, socially inevitable, a disruption of the culturally and politically manipulated “consent of the governed.”
De-legitimization of State Authority
Consider that only 19% of the U.S. electorate voted for Trump. Hardly a mandate. Forty-three percent of eligible voters abstained, given the miserable choice, and at least 3% voted for the Greens and Libertarians.
Consider that only 19% of the U.S. electorate voted for Trump. Hardly a mandate. Forty-three percent of eligible voters abstained, given the miserable choice, and at least 3% voted for the Greens and Libertarians. Even so Clinton, the unpopular, shopworn, elitist candidate, won the popular count by around three million votes. To this majority add another three million anti-Trump votes that were not cast or not counted thanks to various forms of racist voter suppression like requiring special IDs, purging voter lists of typical African-American and Hispanic names, Gerrymandering districts, and faulty or missing voting machines. All these disenfranchised folks still feel indignant at being cheated and lied to, and their anger has been building since the disgraceful 2016 election campaign.
[Let us note that under the Obama administration, little was done to protect minority voters’ rights, and the neo-liberal Democrats, dependent on Wall St, made no major efforts to register such voters, which normally would have assured the election of a Democrat (historically the majority party). By failing to register Democrats, by sabotaging the Sanders campaign, and by refusing to campaign in the swing-states, the DNC dismantled its essentially anti-capitalist political base so as to remain cozy with Wall St. and the reigning duopoly. Indeed, the over-confident Democratic elites as much as threw the election.]
Cracks in the Mainstream Media
Here’s nother plus for the resistance: For once The N.Y. Times and other mainstream media are actually covering our public protests rather than ignoring or denigrating them as they did with Sanders’ presidential campaign. Even as late as the Jan. 21 Women’s March, only Amy Goodman’s democracynow.org was actually on the scene with reporters, cameras and mikes talking to people and broadcasting the speeches and music. The major T.V. networks failed to broadcast interviews with participants. Instead, they put on talking head panels of the usual experts and politicians commenting on the March.
So thank you, President Trump, for declaring war on these commercial-hungry buzzards whose greed for ratings catapulted you into the presidency. Maybe now they’ll start barking like watchdogs rather than snuggling up to the powerful like lapdogs hungry for access and sensational sound bites. Unreliable allies to be sure; but maybe if we keep feeding them good material they’ll actually start listening to what we’re all saying. This happened for a while during Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam protests, and may again. The recent Times headlined: “New Yorkers Rediscover Activism in the Trump Presidency Era.”One more plus for our team. (I write this as an old organizer from the ‘fifties: see personal disclosure footnote2).
Composition and Nature of the Trump Regime
Now for the other team. Trump means business, and the people around him are mean, unscrupulous and determined. Our resistance will need all the advantages and allies we can get. The list of appointments Trump made to run our government from the height of his Tower on Fifth Avenue is mindboggling. Indeed, millions of Americans, who maybe didn’t take the star of The Apprentice too seriously, have now awakened to the danger of the cast of characters hired by the CEO of the virtual-reality show “America First.” They are a gang of rightwing extremists, all millionaires and billionaires, including four Goldman Sachs partners, four uniformed generals (two illegal because not properly retired), along with Trump’s business cronies and relatives still active in family businesses (whose wealth and vast international scope Trump still refuses to disclose).
This cabinet is the richest in American history. All white. Few women. Few with experience in government. Let’s start with Trump’s closest political advisor, Steven Bannon, formerly of Goldman-Sachs, the white-nationalist millionaire editor of the Alt-right Breitbart News website and Trump’s 2016 chief campaign strategist. Islamophobe Bannon is believed to be the main author of the Jan. 28 Executive Order banning Moslems. It was hastily drafted and instantly enforced in order to build Trump’s image as a “man of action” who takes his campaign promises seriously. Despite this publicity fiasco, Trump simultaneously appointed Bannon as his ideological mouthpiece to the National Security Council’s principals committee, where he can ride herd on the generals and the heads of the security agencies. Presumably Bannon, whose catch-phrase is “blow it up,” will participate in any decision to wage nuclear war.
Concerning the CIA and the rest of the sprawling National Security community, during his campaign Trump had more or less declared war on them. But as President, his first act after the Inauguration was to make his peace by visiting CIA headquarters in Langley, VA and praising fallen CIA agents – and law-enforcement personnel in general -- as national heroes. Trump even agreed to listen to their National Security briefings, albeit in shortened form. ( As President-elect, he had scoffed at their briefings, relying on his own sources of intelligence, like the Internet and talk radio.)
As for the civilian departments of his cabinet, the bizarre list of secretaries Trump appointed is a Rogues Gallery of the rabid right. This hand-picked conglomeration of rich, white, reactionary wreckers with little political experience has another common denominator: most of the “Apprentices” Trump picked as Secretaries are the avowed enemies of the official mission of their Departments — be they Education, Environmental Protection, Energy, Commerce or Justice. Their real mission is to dismantle them. Trumpism’s ideology-driven goal is to eliminate the beneficial social functions of “government” (a pejorative word in Republican-speak) in order to retain only the core state (repressive apparatus, police, army, courts). A quick review of the line-up.
- Betsy De Vos, nominated to the post of Secretary of Education, is exemplary: she merely wants to dismantle our public schools and replace them with for-profit, non-union charter schools. De Vos is the multi billionaire Amway heiress, the sister of the notorious mercenary Eric Prince, CEO of Blackwater. A rightwing Christian fundamentalist, De Vos has long been dedicated to privatizing public schools, and has big investments in a chain of for-profit schools.
- Scott Pruit of Oklahoma, in oil state, has been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma Attorney General and champion of the petroleum industry, Pruit has sued the EPA more than 50 times to prevent enforcement of environmental protections. He denies the human role in global warming.
- Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for Energy Secretary, outbids even Pruit on climate-change denial: the scientists’ consensus “is a bunch of lies and manipulations.” As Governor of Texas, Perry requested the abolition of the Energy Department he will now head.
- At the head of the Treasury, Trump selected billionaire Steve Mnuchin, a crooked banker from Goldman Sachs who apparently “forgot” to declare millions of dollars of profits to the Senate committee as well as his role as the manager of an investment fund based in a tax heaven. As of now his nomination is on hold.
- To head the Commerce Department, Trump picked Wilbur Ross, a billionaire vulture-speculator known as the “king of bankruptcies” specializing in mass repossession of homes of small owners ruined by the 2008 subprime crisis.
- For Secretary of State Trump has nominated Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil the world’s largest oil company. The petroleum king has no governmental experience. However, Tillerson personally managed ExxonMobil’s commercial deals with Russia for many years, and he is known to be close to Putin. These deals include a U.S./Russian consortium to exploit all of the Arctic’s oil deposits, a joint business which continued to operate after Russia invaded Ukraine and in spite of U.S. economic sanctions. Under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil continued to sponsor propaganda debunking climate sceince, of which it was a pioneer. In the 1970’s ExxonMobil specialists were among the first to demonstrate the link between burning carbon and the threat of catestrophic climate change. Management burried their reports and began to sponsor the bogus science of the deniers. Anyone for conflicts of interest?
- Finally, for the crucial civilian department, Justice, Trump nominated as Attorney General Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, long known for his reactionary racism. Unlike some of Trump’s other cabinet appointees, Sessions, a former prosecutor, has the experience (if not the sense of justice) to run the Justice Department. Already back in 1986, President Reagan had nominated Sessions, then Alabama Attorney General, to a Federal Judgeship. However the Senate (then majority Republican) turned down his nomination in an extremely rare decision after Sessions’ Alabama colleagues testified about his numerous racist comments on the job. Sessions reportedly considered the NAACP and the ACLU as “un-American,” if not outright “Communist.” Since his first election as Senator from Alabama, Sessions has voted against all the laws proposed to protect the civil rights of blacks, immigrants, women and sexual minorities.
Racial injustice being the essential flaw in American civilization, the Senate hearing on the Sessions nomination stirred up the hornets’ nest. In an unprecedented move, two African-American members of the House of Representatives came to testify against him, including the legendary Civil Rights activist John Lewis, badly injured by Alabama police during the famous 1965 Selma March and subsequently elected to the House14 times as a Georgia representative. The Senate Committee (Republican) made the aged Lewis wait for hours until the end of the lengthy hearing, and he ended up testifying before a near-empty room. “Like an old Negro obliged to stand at the back of the bus during the segregation era in Alabama,” some remarked. In his testimony, Lewis recalled his own humiliations under segregation, when African-Americans could be jailed for not stepping off the sidewalk when a white person walked by. He concluded:
Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’ call for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up. Back then “the rule of law” was used to violate the human and civil rights for the poor, the dispossessed, people of color…. We need someone as attorney general who’s going to look out for all of us, and not just for some of us.
In a TV interview, the 80-year-old Lewis dared to call Trump’s presidency “illegitimate.” So Trump, as usual, spat back with denigrating, personally insulting (“all talk and no action”) and blatantly untrue Tweets. Disgusting.
The Attorney General’s office is the key position in the government. Justice is supposed to be the Department protects us as the guardian of our civil rights and political freedoms. Right now, protestors still command the freedom of the streets, and even the commercial media are experimenting with telling the truth. However Justice is also the department that represses, arrests, sues, imprisons.
In the manufactured post-WWI Red Scare of 1919, it was Harding’s Attorney General Palmer who deported foreign-born radicals like Emma Goldman and led the infamous “Palmer Raids” which purged the U.S. socialist, anarchist and labor movements, arrested their leaders, physically destroyed their headquarters, and set up J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. During the Cold War anti-Communist Witch Hunts, it was Attorney General Brownell, allied with J. Edger Hoover and Sen. McCarthy, who purged “un-Americans,” “subversives” and radicals from U.S. labor unions, media, schools, colleges, and entertainment industry. Imagine what Justice will be like under Trump and Sessions. We can only close our ranks and be prepared for a long struggle.
Crony Capitalism versus Neo-liberalism
The political complexion of Trump’s crony-capitalist cabinet differs significantly from the globalized neoliberal status quo of the Clinton-Bush-Obama-European-Union era. The U.S. has just moved rapidly from the international “Washington Consensus” of neo-liberal globalizers to the realm of nationalistic and authoritarian crony capitalism. So long traditional U.S. allies! As opposed to “democratic” capitalism, which based on an alliance of parliamentary governments and consensus, crony capitalism describes a me-first authoritarian power wielded by an autocratic nationalistic chief surrounded by his “cronies” – favorites and clients with whom the boss has financial ties and whose private interests override those of the nation at large.
Crony capitalism comes in different forms. The Asian varieties of are the most familiar : Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines. (Trump has expressed his personal sympathy for the Philippines’ tough-talking President Duterte, who has personally run some of death squads that have recently been murdering suspected drug addicts by the thousands.) Middle Eastern varieties include Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Morocco among others. Did I forget Israel? All these regimes are authoritarian, populist, nationalist, xenophobic, racist, religious, and corrupt.
The Eastern European variety of crony capitalism, dominated by “oligarchs,” is a degenerate post-1989 form of Stalinist bureaucratic state-capitalism, and it has taken over in almost all of the former Soviet camp: Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia. In Western Europe, nationalist right-wing xenophobic parties are on the rise and poised to take power in Austria, Holland and France. For all their differences, these parties and regimes see themselves as members of the same species. They flock together like the proverbial “birds of a feather,” and are overjoyed at Trump’s victory, which stenghthens them and signals a mighty global shift away from democracy and human rights.
People are already speculating about a new “axis of evil” formed around the triumvirate of Putin, Trump, and Le Pen. It is too soon to tell, and in any case triumvirs tend to fight among themselves. Authoritarian regimes depend for inner stability on wars, and plenty are out there simmering among aggressive regimes like China, Pakistan and India for example. In any case, we can safely conclude that we are no longer living in the era of the famous “Washington consensus” dominated by advanced “democratic” capitalist countries committed to developing globalization through international treaties.
Nota Bene: As we bid farewell to “neoliberal globalization,” let us not forget the name of the game is still capitalism, arguably in a more primitive form. Leftists who have heretofore been condemning only “neoliberalism” (not the capitalist system based on wage-labor itself) should seriously revise their theories. So should those who continue to condemn “imperialism” only in its U.S. form while giving a free pass to the predations of allegedly “progressive” crony-capitalist dictators like Putin, Assad, Gaddafi and the like.
Perspectives: What Next?
Today Trump remains unpopular, and his regime is facing a crisis of legitimacy. His lies and bizarre behavior alienate even Republicans who share his goals. His administration lacks the political credibility and cultural hegemony to maintain control of the mainstream media and reduce the population to passivity. If militant, popular resistance continues to rise, his authoritarian regime’s only alternative will be repression. Banning protests. Arresting leaders. Ordering police attacks on demonstrators.
Crony capitalism, although often dictatorial, is not yet fascism. It is of course
nationalistic, authoritarian, racist, misogynist, fundamentalist and warlike, and it might easily degenerate into fascism — for example in the case of a crisis triggered by its Leader. But we are not there yet, and the goal of our united resistance is to block the road to fascism and nip it in the bud before it overwhelms us through the usual violent blitzkrieg tactics. Fascism’s rise depends on organized, aggressive movements allied with elements of the official police, capable of intimidating opponents and social movements in the streets. Mussolini had his Red Shirts, Hitler his Brown-shirted Storm troopers. Trump — although he is worshipped by the members of the KKK, white nationalist militias, right-wing racist cops, and domestic terrorists who bomb abortion clinics, mosques, synagogues and black churches — is so far only a virtual-reality one-man show. That could change, so let’s watch out.
In any case, government repression is a double-edge sword. The beating of non-violent student demonstrators against segregation led to the Civil Rights revolution. In 1968, the repression of student demonstrators in Paris provoked a nation-wide general strike and forced an authoritarian President, the legendary General de Gaulle, to momentarily flee the country and beg protection from the Army. In 1970, after Nixon bombed Cambodia, unarmed student protesters were massacred by National Guardsmen at Kent State and Jackson State, provoking a nation-wide student strike and paving the way to Nixon’s resignation. Sympathy for and solidarity with popular movements struggling for a just cause are powerful social forces, as we have seen over the past few days.
Aware of this, repressive governments often employ agents-provocateurs to provoke violence, discredit the protests, and justify subsequent police violence designed to drive them off the streets. This tactic was observed in France last spring, during the nationwide wave of strikes, blockades and demonstrations against new, restrictive anti-labor laws. Videos were broadcast showing longhaired young cops and hoodlums recruited by the cops wearing black ski-masks being filtered through the police lines, then picking fights with the demonstrators and smashing the windows of banks before suddenly disappearing (filtered back through the police lines). Some protestors and a handful of cops got hurt in the melee, and overnight the main topic on the networks was no longer workers’ rights but respect for the police. Security at demonstrations became more and more restrictive, and the atmosphere became more and more unpleasant. Ultimately the movement dwindled out.
To be sure, it was not only police provocateurs that were out to smash windows and trash stores, and that’s the point of the story. With 20% youth unemployment, French youth have plenty to be angry about. Who dares blame them? But from a strategic point of view, all the trashers might just as well have been paid by the cops. Our strength is in our numbers. As Michael Moore put it: “The good news is that we outnumber them.” But violent individual macho tactics divide us, invite repression and make joining the demonstration uncomfortable for women, little kids, old folks and the handicapped. Such tactics are counter-productive if not counter-revolutionary, which the #Blacklivesmatter folks already know. Remember that today’s movement was launched by a coalition of American women revolted by Trump’s bullying machismo. This resistance is and must remain feminist, massive, creative, open to all, forceful and militant, yet peaceful.
As Gandhi put it: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
- For example Honduras run by a death-squad dictatorship since 2009, after right wing coup which was ultimately legitimized by Obama and Secretary of State Clinton
- As Freshman in the Spring of 1958 I participated in the Youth March for Integrated Schools along with twenty thousand black and white students from colleges and high schools twenty odd states. My first big demonstration. Totally integrated. Magnificent ! Biggest march since the Bonus Marchers in the ‘Thirties. The Eisenhower White House refused to take our petition, but we didn’t care. We had made our point. Or though we had until I bought that Sunday’s NY Times (all two pounds of it) and couldn’t find a word in it about our Saturday march. In retrospect I see that that was when I became a revolutionary.