Reckoning with Trump’s win and the dark, difficult struggle ahead.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind,” Mary Shelley wrote in Frankenstein, “as a great and sudden change.”
Twelve days after the 2016 presidential election, I am still having difficulty fully processing the fact that reality TV celebrity, Donald J. Trump will be the next president of the United States. Like most of the pundits, I expected Hillary Clinton to win. (Cue accusations that third-party voters like me “spoiled” the race in three … two … one …)
How wrong we all were.
To put this into historical context, the country’s first African American president is to be followed by a narcissistic megalomaniac and outright racist, sexist, and Islamophobe, with open ties to white supremacist groups including the KKK. This is a man who has a long, disturbing history of sexual harassment of women and young girls, bragging in a now infamous recording that he enjoys “grabbing them by the pussy.” This is a man who began his xenophobic presidential campaign by claiming that Mexicans are “rapists,” and promising to build a wall on the Mexican border, and forcing Mexico to pay for it.
While many conservative critics derided President Barack Obama for his lack of government experience, having served only one term in the U.S. Senate, Trump has no political experience at all. He has never held public office.
And now voters have just handed this man the reins of Executive power, including nuclear launch codes, access to FBI Intelligence briefings, and the ever expanding tools of the security and surveillance state.
When faced with a choice between an arrogant, racist pussy-grabber, and a bellicose Establishment elite, who represents the very epitome of bourgeois neoliberalism–admittedly not much of a choice, at all– voters decided to take their chances with the racist pussy-grabber.
And this is acknowledging that about half of eligible voters were so repulsed by the option of Clinton or Trump, that they abstained from voting, entirely. I can’t honestly say I blame them. So much for the “world’s greatest democracy.”
Make no mistake: Trump’s election marks a chilling turning-point for the country and the world.
Not only has Trump’s victory further emboldened the racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant groups and sentiments whose fear and hatred he has ominously stoked throughout his campaign.
But, on the environmental front, Trump’s climate change denial and vow to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate negotiation and charge full-speed ahead with coal production, spell almost certain doom for the prospects of keeping global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius–the perceived “safe zone” for maintaining a habitable planet for the human species.
While I maintain things would still look considerably (if not quite equally) bleak had Clinton won, we must be very clear about the unique and frankly frightening threat that President Trump will present to our already beleaguered democracy.
Indeed, the next four years are going to be very tumultuous, and we will likely suffer a number of serious losses on our side. Those of us on the left should, by all means, mount a sustained, organized resistance to every aspect of Trump’s vile agenda. But we must be prepared for the harsh reality and difficulties that await us.
As Dan O’ Sullivan writes in a recent piece for Jacobin:
It will be bad–a violent acceleration of America’s drift, and with it, perhaps, the destruction of the last remnants of an enlightened society.
Medicare and Social Security will be on the chopping block. War will reign as the boss universal, the very pretense of diplomacy discarded with, once and for all. America won’t just continue its deportation regime; it’ll be something akin to a reality show now. Capital will surge up the ladder even faster, marrow being sucked from the poor.
So how the hell did this happen? How could the ostensibly enlightened pollsters, pundits, and intelligentsia been so completely wrong in their electoral forecasts?
There are, certainly, a number of answers to this question, and there has been no shortage of post-election assessments from the same clueless, chattering classes. But for now, I think it is enough to attribute the Democrats’ stunning loss to a single name: Hillary Clinton.
The fact is, Clinton was probably the worst candidate the Dems could have run for this election–one in which the clamoring for an “outsider” candidate was so clearly pronounced.
It is not just that, as a politician, Clinton possesses none of the charm and charisma associated with her husband. Rather, policy-wise Clinton’s campaign offered virtually nothing enticing that voters could enthusiastically rally around the way they rallied around Bernie Sanders.
Clinton’s entire response to Trump’s asinine promise to “Make America Great Again,” was that “America is already great.” Not only was this simplistic slogan incredibly inane, but it only further marked Clinton as an out-of-touch elite, so completely detached from the everyday economic struggles of working-class Americans. Calling Trump supporters “deplorable” (even with the understanding that some of them absolutely are) obviously did not help.
While I maintain my criticisms of Sanders’ decision to run in the capitalist Democratic Party rather than as an independent or in the Green Party, as well as his hawkish foreign policy platform, the fact is his campaign offered bold, radical solutions to ameliorate the devastating effects of capitalism. And the thousands of voters who packed into stadiums to hear the 74-year-old, self-described “democratic socialist” talk about universal health care, tuition-free college education, paid maternity leave, and the urgent threat posed by global warming, showed that Americans are ready for, if not quite socialism per se, at least something closer to that concept than voters have been offered in decades.
Clinton, in contrast, proposed that we must “save capitalism from itself.”
In the end, the Democratic Party–not just the DNC or Debbie Wasserman Schultz, mind you, but the entire party–crushed Sanders’ campaign.
And, while the election has been something of a vindication of Sanders to a Democratic Party and its subservient corporate media that never had much time for him, we must not let the Vermont senator off the hook, entirely. Sanders’ decision to play the role of “sheepdog” and campaign for Clinton after the primaries rather than continue his presidential run with the Greens, demonstrates his own culpability in this sad, unfortunate affair.
The left should not forget this going forward. It is yet another reason why we must abandon the Democrats, entirely. They are not on our side.
The one silver lining we can take from all this is found in the dozens of protests that have erupted in major cities throughout the country since the election. At least four major demonstrations have already taken place in Portland, Maine, including a student walkout at the University of Southern Maine on Nov. 15, protesting both Trump’s win and the Dakota Access Pipeline.
We need to make these demonstrations a permanent fixture of Trump’s presidency. After all, as Howard Zinn famously observed, “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House but who is ‘sitting-in’–and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”
We must ignore the calls from accommodationist liberals to “give Trump a chance,” or to “see what he is going to do.” We already know what Trump plans to do. We should not give him an inch to enact any of his horrific, regressive agenda. No, our goal for the next four years should be to make America ungovernable.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we firmly plant the flag of socialism in the hopes of attracting some of the legitimately angry and disaffected workers who, in desperation, voted for Trump (or did not vote at all). We cannot simply write them all off as irredeemable racists. Indeed, a majority of Trump supporters voted for Obama at least once in the last two presidential elections.
We must, rather, offer them a viable left-wing alternative wherein workers can not only improve their current economic circumstances, but eventually establish a world where they have complete control over their economic, political, social and even spiritual lives.
The road ahead is no doubt quite ominous. I cannot say with any certainty that we will succeed in pushing back Trump’s agenda of hate–never mind our prospects of preventing humanity’s very extinction from a rapidly warming planet.
But we are doomed if we do not attempt to resist in every way possible. “I do not, in the end, fight fascists because I will win,” writes Chris Hedges. “I fight fascists because they are fascists.”