Below are some brief observations from the tumult of last three weeks. SW
1. What is surprising three weeks into Trump? Not his reckless and erratic behavior. Not his narcissism, ignorance, and crudeness. Nor his demagogic appeals to the resentments of his core faithful/ Not his cabinet of corporate, political, and mainly male and white cronies. Not his xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism. Not his contempt for democracy. Not his cluelessness on economic matters. Not the ingratiating and slovenly attitude of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan toward Trump. Not the willingness of his core supporters to stick with him for now.
What surprises, me at least, is the scope and multi-faceted character of the opposition to Trump. The historic women’s march, obviously, stands out and inspires, but it is complemented by the participation of people in politics for the first time, the overflow attendance at local meetings, the positive role of many Democrats, the involvement of millennials, and the organized campaign to block the nomination of Betsy Devos.
I also find encouraging the role of the mass media – and not just the independent media – as well as sport’s figures and cultural workers in calling out Trump.
Furthermore, it is also evident that some circles of corporate capital who prefer a stable and predictable environment to do business are not happy with someone who is so mercurial and unpredictable. Even in the Republican Party, we see some open grumbling, if not opposition. And a raft of conservative voices are forcefully challenging Trump as well.
None of this is reason to sit back comfortably. Indeed, how to extend and deepen the PUBLIC/VISIBLE opposition to Trump and his Republican allies at the level of policy and at the level of ideas and values remains of overarching importance. Authoritarian rulers, like Trump, count heavily on fear and paralysis of subordinated people. But that isn’t happening. Millions are upset, speaking out, and filling up the public square. No paralyzing fear here.
One final thing: Trump’s flurry of executive orders and pronouncements is a reminder of the urgency of forming committees in every congressional district – in most instances under the canopy of the Democratic Party – to begin preparations for next year’s elections at the national and state levels. Things like candidate selection, voter registration, protection, and education, listening meetings, etc. deserve immediate attention. This is a strategic priority if we hope to stall the Trump-Republican offensive. It doesn’t preclude others forms of resistance. It complements them. Moreover, without this dimension of struggle everything else will limp. Here in the mid-Hudson Valley, NY., things are underway to replace the incumbent Republican Congressman.
2. In earlier economic crises – Great Depression in the 1930s and stagflation in mid-1970s – a new economic regime – Keynesianism in the first case, neoliberalism in the second – with their unique set of institutions, rules, rationalizing ideas and common sense, alignment of class and social forces, etc. replaced the preceding regime that triggered the system-wide crisis.
Moreover, in each case, the midwife was not only the open aggravation of and sharp turns in class and democratic struggles, but also the ceaseless molecular movement of capital, hidden deep within the structures and operation of present-day global capitalism.
In contrast to earlier crises however, the neoliberal, financialist, globalist regime that wreaked system-wide havoc in 2008 wasn’t replaced by a new economic regime that set the economy on a new trajectory of growth and capital accumulation. As it turned out, even though the legitimacy of the neoliberalism took a major hit, the effective forces didn’t exist to replace it with a popular democratic alternative at the time or since then.
What Trump, who is a product of the contradictions of neoliberalism and the rise of right wing extremism, will offer now isn’t entirely clear. But a few things we can count on. It won’t address the crisis that millions and the planet are facing. Nor will it bring corporate capital to its knees. And it will be heavily wrapped in demagogic language – nationalist, protectionist, racist, anti-Wall Street, America First – as well as contain a morsel of substance in his effort to buy off his white working-class supporters. Without them, his presidency, and right wing congressional dominance for that matter, become very tenuous.
3. A recent article by Thomas Edsall points out that the elections’ outcome didn’t singularly, or even mainly, pivot on economic discontent among white workers. They felt rage for sure, but to call it class rage, as many have, is a stretch. When they pulled the lever for a candidate who was proudly, loudly, and uniquely racist, it was more a collapse of a thinly constructed class identity into a white racial identity than anything else. Thus, suggestions from people left of center to embrace some abstract economic populism, while at the same time dialing down on “identity politics,” is a surefire loser from more than one angle for the democratic and progressive coalition challenging Trump.
5. Stephen Walt, an international relations theorist, writes that he hoped that Trump would pursue, what he calls a “realist” policy, in his dealings with the rest of the world in contrast to the traditional policy of liberal hegemony of previous administrations. But he is not so sure now, if that is in the cards.
Just as likely, he goes on to say, “is that the Bannon-Trump approach to politics is in fact driven by a paranoid view of the modern world that sees the global economy in strictly zero-sum terms (thereby ignoring a couple of centuries of economic knowledge) and thinks the white, Judeo-Christian West is now under siege from an implacable and powerful tide of dark-skinned people, and especially Muslims.”
Bannon is of this mind for sure; what remains unclear in my opinion is whether Trump is completely sold on this approach and, even if he is, the degree to which he can be coaxed or compelled to bend to the pressures from the traditional foreign policy establishment.
4. Speaker bans and deplatforming speakers are in most instances problematic forms of protest. Even if successful, they can turn into a hollow victories, if their organizers end up appearing intolerant of free speech to the broader public.