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Beyond Anti-Trump

Photo by Jamelle Bouie | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Jamelle Bouie | CC BY 2.0

Let’s be careful about the phrase “anti-Trump coalition.”  The phrase leaves the door open for everything being about the Big Bad Donald and for progressives to get sucked/suckered once again into the ruling class politics of the Democrats. We need to take on the unelected deep state dictatorships of money, class, race, empire, militarism, sexism, and ecocide – the reigning oppression structures that have ruled under Barack Obama as under previous presidents. As the activist-artist Brian Carlson recently wrote me from Buenos Aires, Donald Trump is the latest “bobble head doll on the dashboard of real [U.S.] power.”  The thin-skinned tyrant Trump is the most terrifying and noxious such doll yet, perhaps, but the point stands.

And dreary corporate-Democratic presidents like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Obama are no small part of the explanation for the ever more right-wing Republican presidencies of the long neoliberal era. Their serial populism-manipulating betrayals of the working-class majority in service to the wealthy Few open the door for Republicans to sweep in and take over for a term or two (2001-2009) or three (1981-1993). (Please see my forthcoming Truthdig essay “Obama’s Neoliberal Legacy”) for a discussion of how Obama begat Trump.)

We must not let Trump become a great red cape in the hands of the ruling class matadors. We charge screaming “Down with Trump” while the owners plunge their weapons into our passing hides. We must learn to head for the masters who hold the swords and spears behind the cloak. Resist him we must, but we cannot afford obsession with Trump.

One of the drawbacks of having Democrats Obama in the White House is the way they put so many folks to sleep on terrible policies and actions people would resist if only they were being carried out by Republican presidents. It’s amazing how many liberals and progressives find things like drone war and Wall Street bailouts and mass deportations strangely acceptable when conducted by supposedly liberal and sophisticated Democrats like Barack Obama. It’s like the matador keeps a special blue (Democratic) cape with the power to render citizen bulls listless in the face of their own slaughter.

But the disease doesn’t go away just because a Republican comes in. The upside of a Democratic presidency is that it provides young folks (and others) with a useful object lesson on the very basic fact that life still sucks when the (not-so) leftmost of the two dominant capitalist parties holds nominal power.  It demonstrates the bipartisan nature of the American System and the persistence of the aforementioned deep state structures when Democrats occupy the White House.  But, conversely, one of the big downsides of Republican presidencies is that they tend to reinforce the idea that’s what’s wrong with the America is that the rightmost of the two reigning parties holds the executive branch. By that logic, the solution is a big get-out-the-vote campaign to put someone from the other party in the oval office – a dismal dollar Dem who just greases the skids for the next and ever more right-wing Republican president.

I’m not saying that leftists shouldn’t participate in anti-Trump coalitions.  I think they ought to but that they must work in (and beyond) such coalitions to create a movement that is about much more than fighting the Deplorable One. The real prize is still the democratic transformation of society. That’s no less true with Trump in the White House than it would have been under a second Clinton presidency. And that means resisting the Democrats’ relentless efforts to hijack and drown everything in the dark, dollar-drenched, and binary swamp of major party electoralism.

The change we need cannot be limited to evicting the next bobble-head from the dashboard of power. It must aim higher, or, really, deeper.  It’s not just about replacing a Bush or a Reagan or a Trump with a more outwardly kinder and gentler symbol atop the visible state. We need more than another ostensibly multicultural re-branding of the American System that keeps the same basic oppression structures intact and sets us up for the next right-wing white-nationalist backlash.  That whole trip goes just back and forth, along with the standard intra- leftist bloodletting over whether to practice “lesser evil voting.” It’s a self-fulfilling vicious circle: rinse, re-cyle, repeat. I’ve seen it all my politically sentient life.

We are timing out of that recurrent game. Trump is an especially awful and eco-cidal Republican president-elect. His ascendancy to the White House is a catastrophe on multiple levels.  But surely it is understood by serious and honest thinkers that the world has been hurtling toward environmental catastrophe with Obama in the White House.  Certainly, it is known that we would have continued speeding over the environmental cliff (and towards global war and economic disaster) with horrid Hillary Clinton in “power” – yes, perhaps at a slightly slower rate than under the openly geocidal Trump but not with enough difference to change the basic trajectory.  The ultimate enemies are systemic and institutional: the rapacious and imperial profits system and its numerous allied and overlapping oppression structures.  Along with these we must confront related behavioral and cultural patterns of cynicism, addiction (including computer- and smartphone-addiction), narcissism/egotism, atomization, fatalism, hopelessness, despair, and apathy.

Let 2017 be a year of radical awakening in the United States. Imagine the following scenario: sparked into organization and action by the kleptocratic corruption and multiply egregious polices of the geocidal Trump administration but mindful of the Wall Street-captive nothingness of the Obama and Clinton administrations, millions of U.S. citizens  rise not only to oppose an appalling right-wing presidency but more fundamentally to confront the unelected capitalist and imperial deep state that controls the nation beneath and beyond the childish, candidate-centered  marionette theater of its quadrennial major-party electoral carnivals. Workers and citizens organize against what activists call (updating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the 21st century) “the 10 evils that are interrelated”: the profit system, militarism, imperialism, racism, sexism, classism, police-state-ism, atomization, cynicism and (last but not at all least) ecocide. The new resistance movement insist on merging numerous struggles previously fought on a dysfunctional single-issue basis. A many-sided peoples’ revolution begins, building on Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock and the lessons of great people’s movement across history.

Fantastic?  Perhaps.  In his brilliant and important (perhaps even indispensable) book The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (Penguin, 2016), Mike Lofgren sadly proclaims that “The idea of a revolution from below, still conceivable in 1933, is almost preposterously unthinkable now” (p.139). The problem with that declaration is that a decent future for homo sapiens and other living things is likely impossible without some version of such a revolution in the next few decades. Given the ecological catastrophe that deep state capital is bringing to bear, “the uncomfortable truth,” as Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 15 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.” It’s not about the crystal ball. We don’t really have any choice but to try to bring about the “almost preposterously unthinkable now” – and to try to use the present maddening and potentially catastrophic Trump moment as a clarifying silver-lining catalyst for the creation of such a movement.

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Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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