The pre-inaugural madness before Donald Trump occupies the oval office makes one nostalgic for the craziness of the campaign season, despite the latter being only ten weeks long while the former felt like an eternity. Meanwhile under the cover of anti-Trumpism, lame-duck President Obama continues to stagger to the right.
Been Right So Long, It Looks Like Left to Me
Leading up to the November election, Peter Beinart writing in The Atlantic reported that the US “ideological playing field” had shifted to the left and that even the “next Republican president won’t be able to return the nation to the pre-Obama era” of anti-liberalism. In a rationale too convoluted to reproduce, Beinart credits Obama with inadvertently contributing to the creation of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements.
Beinart’s “story of the Democratic Party’s journey leftward” is more a reflection on how the venerable Atlantic has drifted to the starboard, which in turn reflects the overall rightward trajectory of the mainstream US polity.
The Personal Is Not Necessarily Political
As the shock of an impending Trump presidency sinks in among the progressive community, focus on Trump’s personal qualities has intensified in the absence of a clear understanding how his politics will translate practically. We will soon find out, but the unpalatability of Trump’s personality may end up being the least objectionable aspect of his presidency.
Chris Hedges, who had brought us the incisive Death of the Liberal Class and has been a supporter of third party efforts, has now launched into an agitated attack on the perceived personality of Trump: “greed, a lust for power, a thirst for adulation and celebrity, a penchant for the manipulation of others, dishonesty, a lack of remorse and a frightening pathology in which reality is ignored.”
For Hedges, whose ethics have roots in Christian moralism, Trump represents “the sick expression of…the most depraved aspects of human nature.”
Hedges adds Trump to his list of “dictators” – Pinochet, Noriega, Hussein, Gadhafi, Assad, Honecker, Ceausescu, and Milosevic – all of whom “seek to immortalize their grandeur in huge building projects that are monuments to their immortality.” Hence Hedges cites the egregious (to him) example of Gadhafi’s bringing irrigation to the Libyan desert, but does not include – for example – FDR’s TVA and Grand Coulee Dam projects among the megalomaniacal works of dictators.
In essence, Hedges criticizes Trump more for his vulgarity than for his class stance. This type of often unproductive analysis tends to equate personality with politics. Obama may have one of most attractive public personas, but that did not translate into a progressive political practice.
Blame Game for Trump
Patron saint of the left intelligentsia Noam Chomsky rebukes the left for not sufficiently rallying around the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer thus allowing Trump to win. In his spirited advocacy of lesser-evil-voting, Chomsky abandons any pretense of building a left alternative to the two corporate parties. The choices Chomsky offers are voting for Democrats or abstention.
Going back in history, Chomsky blames “the ultra-left faction of the peace movement (for) having minimized the comparative dangers of the Nixon presidency during the 1968 elections. The result was six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia.” Sounds good, but the historical allegory doesn’t hold up.
Those of us who weren’t born yesterday remember that Richard Nixon’s opponent was the standing Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey who ran on a platform of supporting President Johnson’s Vietnam War. It would have been unlikely in the extreme for HHH to have ordered US withdrawal from Southeast Asia on inaugural day.
Republican Nixon, on the other hand, did eventually withdraw…or at least was forced to do so. Nixon considered the nuclear option, which might have produced a different outcome, and rejected it to his credit. In contrast, Democrats Truman and Kennedy in different contexts both played the nuclear card. In the case of JFK’s Cuban missile crisis, we have Khrushchev (who backed down) to thank that we are here to recall the story.
Nixon was “the last liberal president” according to no less an authority than Chomsky himself. Nixon raised the minimum wage by 40%, established wage/price controls, and recognized the People’s Republic of China. Nixon’s other progressive accomplishments include the first significant federal affirmative action program, indexed Social Security for inflation¸ and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Office of Minority Business Enterprise.
Since, we’ve come a long way and not in the right direction.
The historical lesson is not to eulogize Tricky Dick as he was called in his day, but to note that when the left was independent and strong it could force a progressive agenda on even such an anti-communist opportunist as Nixon. Had the left voted for HHH and accepted being a captive constituency of the Democrats, unwilling to withhold their vote to demand – for example – peace in Vietnam, it is unlikely that we would have enjoyed the progressive outcomes of the Nixon years.
In short, Chomsky’s example of Nixon is precisely a repudiation of his strategy of always voting for the lesser evil Democrat. What is needed is a politics independent of the corporate parties.
A Double Standard Is Better than No Standard at All
The Ploughshares Fund has launched a petition urging President Obama to “take our [sic] nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert before Donald Trump gets control of them.” Apparently we should rest in comfort that for now the ability to “destroy the world within 4 minutes” is in the safe hands of Mr. Obama.
The Obama State Department offered the reverse-logic rebuttal to the petition, arguing that it is safer for the US to hold humanity on the brink of Armageddon than to reduce the “high-alert, hair-trigger status” to a less volatile level, because if the US were then to return to high alert that would create more instability.
Obama Staggers Right under the Cover of Anti-Trumpism
Imagine Trump’s surprise when he starts to build his “big, beautiful wall” along the southern US border to find that Obama’s Department of Homeland Security is already maintaining over 650 miles of heavily armored and patrolled fencing. Somehow the New York Times and other corporate press have been correctly disparaging Trump’s scheme but AWOL on informing their readers’ of Obama’s current actions.
With the world’s largest incarcerated population, President Obama announced his end-of-term pardons on December 19th for 78 individuals jailed on drug and other federal offenses. Not included on the list were US political prisoners such as Puerto Rican independentista Oscar López Rivera, or Native American activist Leonard Peltier, or Colombian leftist Simon Trinidad, and certainly not any of the whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, serving a 35-year sentence.
If Obama truly wanted to make a legacy that Trump could not reverse, pardons of these individuals would be a starting point. Instead what Obama wants to perpetuate is continuing hostilities against Russia. Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch wryly observed that some of the same characters who took such pleasure in ridiculing Sarah Palin for her gaffe about seeing Russia from her house are now seeing Russians everywhere.
In a precautionary move to ensure that at least 35 Russian diplomats won’t be hiding under his bed, Obama expelled them on December 29 and closed down two of their country retreats.
Putin did not retaliate in an example of political jujitsu, where the opponents’ position is used against them, underlining the Kremlin’s contention that the Obama administration is paranoid anti-Russian and spoiling for a fight. Rubbing salt into the wound, Putin then invited the children of US diplomats in Moscow to celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas with him.
Obama’s Christmas present to the nation on December 25 was establishing a $160 million ministry of propaganda to stifle dissent, called the Global Engagement Center. This Orwellian project will engage the departments of State and Defense and the National Security Agency to combat those that don’t accept the government’s word as truth.
December 10th, the Pentagon announced its intention to nearly double US troops in Syria, while increasing arms shipments to the jihadi terrorists there. Prior to that Obama pledged what Foreign Policy called “a nearly $40 billion gift card at the Pentagon’s weapon bazaar” to Israel and what the State Department bragged is the “single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history.”
Meanwhile Obama’s aggressive pivot to Asia escalates threats to China, and his massive nuclear weapons “modernization” threatens far more. As befitting the world’s sole superpower, Obama boasted in his farewell letter to the American people on Thursday, “almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger.”
The logic of an empire lurching toward war is the legacy that is being handed over to the untested but mercurial Mr. Trump. Can that global military offensive inheritance be reversed and will there be a social movement powerful enough to make that happen?
Emerging Political Movements against Trump
When ownership of the Iraq War seamlessly transferred from Republican Bush to Democrat Obama, many liberals abruptly abandoned the anti-war movement. Now with the imminent switch of parties, signs abound of renewed activism in the liberal camp. Anna Galland, head of MoveOn.org (the unofficial Clinton Democrat outfit masquerading as a grassroots organization) reports her group “and our allies are sprinting to catch up to the mass movement that’s emerging” with anti-Trump actions spontaneously popping up across the US.
The Million Women’s March, now re-branded as the Women’s March on Washington, is scheduled for a day after Trump’s inauguration. Led and organized by former supporters of Hillary Clinton, their champion will not be joining the protest…actually no longer called a protest either. According to the March’s co-founder Tamika Mallory “This effort is not anti-Trump, this is pro-women.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, whom the Black Agenda Report in their more generous moments calls a member of the black misleadership class, has made a career of supporting Democrats in high places. His National Action Network is calling for a January 14th protest at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington.
OrganizingUPGrade advocates an “inside/outside approach,” which swings to the left in non-election years and returns to the “corporate Democrats (who) can and must be part of the opposition to the extreme right” in election years. Their paramount task is to put a Democrat in the White House in 2020. Ditto for the Communist Party USA.
In opposition to a strategy of supporting the center, which is ever drifting further to the right, in order to defeat the right-of-center are groups working to promote a left alternative – to reverse the rightward trajectory. Their political actions are unambiguously anti-Trump protests with explicit demands, though returning a Democrat to the White House is not one of them.
The ANSWER Coalition is planning inaugural day protests in DC and elsewhere to “say NO to the Trump agenda.” A social media campaign, #NotMyPresident, plans an inauguration day silent protest on the Capital Building steps. They “refuse to recognize Donald Trump as the President of the United States, and refuse to take orders from a government that puts bigots into power.” World Can’t Wait and their fellow travelers are promoting a plan to “prevent the Trump/Pence regime from taking power” under the banner of “in the name of humanity we refuse to accept a fascist America.”
Dangers of Politically Incorrect Anti-Trumpism
This renewed anti-Trump political activity is a positive development, especially if informed by an underlying critique of neoliberalism. However, Cinzia Arruzza warns about the dangers of ill-conceived anti-Trumpism from the perspective of the lessons learned from struggle against rightist Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi and Trump are both reputed misogynists, sport artificial tans, and are filthy rich businessmen who came to power from outside of politics. But the political contexts are different for these two right-wing insurgents.
Berlusconi’s first term in office was a mere six months. A center-left coalition replaced him, espousing a program of neoliberal austerity and even anti-immigrant measures; that is, a Berlusconi-lite program in the name of combatting him. The major Italian labor unions acquiesced to this drift to the right to combat the right.
After six years of a little-less-evil, the center-left had alienated its constituency who voted Berlusconi back stronger than ever. Further, Arruzza reports the “excessive focus on his character actually worked to strengthen Berlusconi’s power instead of weakening it.”
“And here is the lesson,” according to Arruzza, “Italian anti-Berlusconism ended up consolidating and strengthening Berlusconi’s power, rather than undermining it, by consistently avoiding the real causes of Berlusconi’s success and by justifying and legitimizing years of harsh austerity in the name of preventing Berlusconi’s return to power at all costs.”
She concludes: “As the disaster of Italian anti-Berlusconism shows, the only way to effectively oppose authoritarian, racist, and sexist neoliberalism is by offering a radical and credible alternative.”