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Democracy or Trump Dictatorship?

Donald Trump has made it clear he will not peacefully relinquish power after the coming election, no matter what the outcome. He will brand any legitimate vote count that shows him losing as “fraudulent” and proclaim himself Emperor for life.

With the devastating departure of our beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump’s ability to turn yet another election at the Supreme Court is now dangerously enhanced.

Those of us opposing a permanent Trump dictatorship must first focus our efforts on making sure he is defeated in the popular vote – and that this result is accurately reflected in the official electoral outcome. 

The daily battle for election protection has long since escalated to non-stop hand-to-hand combat against Trump’s daily Dirty Trick attacks on the democratic process. We have already seen maskless Trump intimidators blocking access to an early voting center in Virginia.

As we report at grassrootsep.org and discuss every Monday on our 90-minute zoom calls, the grassroots work of fighting back for a free and fair election is a desperate 24/7 race for survival. 

Those who describe a Trump victory as either inevitable or impossible stab us in the back. 2020’s “trifecta” – voter registration rolls, vote-by-mail/early voting, and vote counting – will be won only with a focussed grassroots resistance meant to save our democracy and our Earth. 

Those glumly predicting an unavoidable Trump victory – especially without doing anything about it – sell a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he wins the election outright, American democracy and our ability to survive on this planet are indeed finished.

But if a fair, legitimate election can be protected, the campaign to do so must be integrated with a nonviolent movement prepared to protect the outcome.

Those of us fighting this daily battle believe a Trump defeat at the polls is within America’s grasp – IF the apparatus of democracy is successfully protected by an electorate big enough and devoted enough to protect the ability of our species to survive.

Shut It Down

THEN comes the question of what to do if Trump defies the people’s mandate for him to go.

In the long run, there may be just one solution – the ability and willingness of an aroused, uncompromising, multi-racial public to shut the country down until an electorally defeated Trump is forced to give up power.

As Trump telegraphs his full Mussolini, much of the labor force in key industries must be ready to literally “shut it down” while occupying the means of production and distribution.

A significant minority or preferably a vast majority of people must be prepared to peacefully disrupt business as usual, and to sustain that silence until Trump leaves.

There’s plenty of history behind a new American general strike.

The first, of sorts, came in Virginia, 1685. An upstart landowner named Nathaniel Bacon wanted Governor William Berkeley to conquer more indigenous land. Bacon summoned an army of black and white indentured servants that overthrew Jamestown, burned it to the ground, and forced Berkeley to flee.

Both Bacon and Berkeley soon died, as did the Rebellion. But Southern landowners quickly separated the races by inventing chattel slavery, history’s harshest form of human servitude. Turning a class system into a racial caste regime, they put Black slaves into the category of “subhuman” and gave whites a “bonus” of alleged superiority. No matter how badly exploited white workers might be, they were still legally favored over blacks. This “invention” of slavery was America’s “original sin,” the racial separation that still plagues us all.

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Centuries later, the Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois dubbed the ceaseless mass defection of Black slaves and poor whites from the plantation South a “general strike” and urged it as a highly effective tactic. 

General Strikes That Won Victories

  • In 1835, a three-week general strike in Philadelphia won the working class some brotherly love in the form of higher pay and a shorter workday.
  • In 1877, railway workers birthed the modern labor movement with the Great Railway Strike. Coming in response to a 10% pay cut by Tom Scott, angry workers spontaneously shut the national system, burning many rail yards to the ground.
  • In 1894, the great Eugene V. Debs led his American Railway Union to again shut the national system in support of workers at the Pullman factory in southern Illinois. The strike was broken with federal troops who killed at least 35 workers, and soon turned Debs into a Socialist. 
  • In Seattle, 1919, some 65,000 workers shut the place down. The generally conservative American Federation of Labor joined with the radical Industrial Workers of the World to run a de facto government, handling essential services like garbage collection and medical care. 
  • In 1936-1937, auto workers seized physical control of the General Motors production system in Flint. With 2,000 unionists on strike, the nascent United Auto Workers won a union contract that was soon duplicated in much of the rest of the industry. Both union and wildcat strikes defined the 1930s landscape. 
  • Amidst the 1946 post-war crash, with some two million Americans unemployed, general strikes erupted in Rochester and Pittsburgh. Workers supporting female retail clerks controlled Oakland, California, for about five days.

In the wake of those strikes, a right-wing Congress passed the brutally anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act over Harry Truman’s veto. Democratic administrations have since had ample opportunity to repeal it, but have failed, vastly weakening the American union movement.

As in France 1968, European and Asian general strikes have repeatedly brought down governments. The Soviet grip on Eastern Europe was broken in 1989 by massive nonviolent outpourings, as was the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Serbia’s fascist Slobodan Milosovic fell to mass nonviolent resistance. 

America’s movements for peace, civil rights, and social justice have mobilized millions. The recent marches for George Floyd may collectively have been history’s biggest.

Disrupt Business as Usual

They have certainly impacted the national mind. But they’ve never been asked to bring down a would-be American dictator. 

Mass marches alone would never make Trump quit. His bully’s joy in having troops and armed militia open fire on peaceful protestors is perfectly clear. 

So tens of millions of Americans could march for days with no tangible impact on Trump’s intent to hold dictatorial power.

Despite our history of localized general strikes, there is also no precedent for a nonviolent movement shutting down the US or toppling a dictator in the White House.

Woodrow Wilson did assume dictatorial power amidst a pandemic in 1918 and his Red Scare in 1919–1920. In the midst of it, he had a stroke, leaving his wife Edith to run the country.

But by then Wilson had shredded the US Constitution, jailed Eugene V. Debs, and destroyed the Socialist Party. Some 675,000 Americans died in an entirely avoidable pandemic. The strikes of 1919 could not unseat Wilson.

If Trump loses the election (while claiming it to be fraudulent) and refuses to give up power, he puts us all in uncharted territory.

Within a nonviolent framework, shutting the country down for as long as necessary may be the only way to force Trump out. 

Would such a departure from office be forced by Congress? The corporations? The military?

Above all, the power to retake our democracy would have to come from the core of our nation … occupying the workplaces, spilling into the streets, grinding the country to a halt for as long as necessary. 

Corner the “trifecta” of election theft

Only a nation in total resistance, grinding the wheels and streets to an absolute halt, could force this despicable tyrant to finally turn tail. 

Do we as a nation have that within us?

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Reader Supported News