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Two views seem to be dominant among progressives regarding Donald Trump: Either protest all he does, people are holding “anti-Trump” rallies — or “Give Him a Chance”, let’s see what he does, maybe it will be okay.
Both the demonizes and those urging a passive approach are wrong.
“Anti-Trump” is hollow. Trump is a human being who has said a lot of contradictory things. To protest a person is dubious. Too often, “progressives” have simply galvanized against a person — remember “Anybody But Bush”? That’s not a particularly uplifting way of approaching things and doesn’t lead to genuinely positive outcomes.
You can certainly talk about rights for immigrants or women’s rights or ensuring anti-Muslim policies do not escalate. But to say “anti-Trump” or to ignore good things that Trump has said is hollow. And, yes, there are good things he’s said, for example, during the primaries, he attacked the regime change wars waged by George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton:
We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.
But it also doesn’t make sense to say “let’s see what he does”. To stand aside is to allow Trump to be cutting deals with Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will doubtlessly work to take away what populist, anti-interventionist and pro-working class instincts Trump may potentially otherwise follow.
Bernie Sanders has in recent days struck a reasonable tone at times. In this interview and in a statement just after the election, he said: “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. … To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
That seems like a good approach. The major problem with what Sanders is that it ignores foreign policy, a long standing problem with Sanders.
Thankfully, others are addressing foreign policy: Rand Paul is right to press: “Will Donald Trump betray voters by hiring John Bolton?” — as is Diana Johnston at CounterPunch: “After the Election: Don’t Panic, Think!”
One possible opportunity is for progressives to be forging left-right alliances, as Sanders alludes to above. Indeed, the senator’s biographer, Greg Guma, notes that Sanders has done that in the past at times:
One unusual aspect of Bernie’s approach in Congress has been to wage congressional battles with people whose stands on other issues he abhors. In fact, much of Bernie’s legislative success has come through forging deals with ideological opposites. An amendment to bar spending in support of defense contractor mergers, for example, was pushed through with the aid of Chris Smith, a prominent opponent of abortion. John Kasich … helped him phase out risk insurance for foreign investments. And it was a “left-right coalition” he helped create that derailed “fast track” legislation on international agreements pushed by Bill Clinton. The power of that strategy may have reached its apex in May 2010 when Bernie’s campaign to bring transparency to the Federal Reserve resulted in a 96-0 Senate vote on his amendment to audit the Fed and conduct a General Accounting Office audit of possible conflicts of interest in loans to unknown banks.
In fact, if that’s not done, then Trump will be forging alliances with Ryan and McConnell. It may be a narrow path, but the most intelligent one is to attack Trump when he fails his populist promises — and working with him when he pursues them. This would likely strengthen populist elements within the Democratic Party and may lead to a de facto realignment of U.S. politics. It may be less glamorous than filibustering — which may be needed on some issues in any case — but it could actually fix things that need fixing.
Last year, in a piece entitled “In Defence of the Rise of Trump“, I wrote:
[Trump] might pursue the same old establishment policies if he were ever to get into office — that’s largely what Obama has done, especially on foreign policy. Trump says “I was a member of the establishment seven months ago.”
The point is that the natives are restless. And they should be. It’s an important time to engage them so they stay restless and funnel that energy to constructive use, not demonize or tune them out.
Demonizing Trump supporters has been disastrous. It’s time for serious engagement by alleged progressives.