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Resist Trump and Pence, But Watch Out for the Dems

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Four years of Trump?  Eight?  Could the future be that bleak?

With Trump, all bets are off; probabilities don’t matter anymore, or so it seems.

If they did, George W. Bush could still be confident that his reign as the worst President ever would not be about to end after eight measly years.  Having broken a large part of the world and wrecked what we now call “the homeland,” he had every right to expect a longer reign.

What were the chances, after all, that a real estate finagler with political juice who turned the chunk of money his father gave him into a heap of ill-gotten gains, a thin-skinned egotist with the dignity and gravitas of a playground bully, a reality TV star, an ex-casino mogul, a builder of vulgar luxury resorts for the nouveau riche and a peddler of over the top schlock would be elected President of the United States?

He had nearly the entirety of the ruling class against him, along with the leaders and leading figures of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the military and defense establishments, and the respectable media.  Also, the polls left no doubt.  Common sense left no doubt.  The odds were ridiculous.  Nevertheless, Trump won.

Maybe, the stars are still misaligned; maybe, this is the dawn of an Age of Absurdity.

But just in case Reason still has a place, now would be a good time to start worrying about a future with theocrat Mike Pence in the White House.

Pence is a reactionary’s reactionary, a less loathsome, but similarly pernicious, Ted Cruz.  However, he is not as alarming as Trump because, having no charisma at all – for that matter, having no personality whatsoever – he is not one to inspire the inner fascist in the worst of the worst among us.  If it becomes necessary, he will be harder to organize against.

Pence says that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order.”  Trump is none of these.  Because it suits his present purpose, he is now in full reactionary mode, but, in his heart of hearts, he has no ideological convictions at all — only wicked instincts, false beliefs, and an appalling demeanor.

Therefore, even Christians, conservatives and Republicans have to struggle to get behind him.  As the scales fall from the eyes of all but his most “deplorable” supporters, even some of them will find themselves on the side of the millions who marched against the Donald on his second day in office.

That, such as it is, is the silver lining in Trump’s rise to power: conditions now exist for joining together everyone from the far left to the center right to struggle against the calamities that Trump’s presidency will bring on.   There has been nothing like this since the anti-fascist Popular Fronts of the 1930s.

Pence may be as execrable as the Donald in his own way; all the Republicans Trump vanquished were.  But with any of them in the White House, it would be harder for progressives and  “moderates” to make common cause – even if only to fight back.

So, people get ready!  If fortune shines upon us, and Trump is gone in less than four years, Pence will become our problem.  First things first, however; Trump is our problem now.

Trump is great for organizing against, and while his petulant bully schtick is getting old, he is still God’s gift to comedians.  But all this pales before the plain (not “alternative”) fact that the man is a menace of world-historical importance.

The sooner he is gone, the better.

***

Trump is now over seventy and even in this brave new post-election world, people get old and die.  In Trumpland too, while there is death, there is hope.

Even so, the gods or God are not likely to strike their foul creation down over the next four years.  They are not nearly benevolent enough.

And since Trump has not yet been in office long enough to turn the United States into a full-fledged banana republic, it is unlikely that our military will rid us of the Orange Menace.  That could change if it becomes clear that there is no other way to stave off a Trump-induced catastrophe.  But, even then, with its coffers stuffed as always to the gills, the Pentagon would probably not see fit to bite the hand that feeds it.

A cynic might think that Trump has been appointing lapsed Generals to key positions in order to keep the military on his side. This is unlikely, however, because, in his mind, there is no need: he is invulnerable.  Prudence is not among his few virtues.

The generals are there, most likely, for the same reason that Trump sports a super-model trophy bride and cares so much about the size of his hands and crowds.  Psychologists have words for it, but it comes down to this: he wants the world to know what a man he is.

In any case, there has never been a coup in the United States because, as wags in Latin America like to point out, there is no American Embassy there.  For good or ill, that hasn’t changed.

Assuming, then, that no salvation will come from outside, and that good reasons and common sense still count for something, the question is: will the bastard quit or will he be impeached and run out of town?

Neither one is, of course, a possibility too.  For now, it seems the most probable of all.  But this can quickly change.

The only way that Trump will be impeached is if Republicans turn against him.   Before long, it is bound to dawn on some of them that this would be in their interest.

But, for the time being, they are going along – thinking, not, unreasonably, that they can use Trump more than he can use them.   They have an agenda, after all; they want to eradicate a hundred years worth of progress, and they see in Trump their best chance for pulling it off.

In any case, if Trump has any instinct at all for self-preservation, he wouldn’t wait for Republicans to turn against him; he would quite ASAP.   But the Donald is a megalomaniac, with less self-awareness than a fly about to be swatted; don’t count on his instincts.

Nevertheless, at least some of the reasons why he should remove himself could find a way into his head – if only because his egotism has not wiped out his business sense.

Trump’s run for the Presidency was motivated, in part, by vanity and justified contempt for the other Republican candidates.   But it would be fair to say that the main reason he ran was to boost his brand.

That worked for a while, thanks to the essential truth behind the idea that, for hucksters, even bad publicity is good.   And because Trump is, as he boasts, a “ratings machine,” corporate media executives, every bit as venal as he, were more than happy to cooperate with him. Their pundits therefore raged against the Donald, while shamelessly enhancing his fortunes.

After a while, though, even as the campaign wore on, a saturation point was reached and exceeded.  The last thing President Trump needs now is more bad publicity.

His disapproval ratings aren’t yet where Richard Nixon’s were when he resigned, but he is already in the George W. Bush range, and it will only get worse.

If and when Trump finally gets a sense that his presidency is putting his brand at risk, he may decide that he needs to spend more time with his family – not the ones allegedly running  “the Trump organization” but the ones who, at great expense to taxpayers, clog up Fifth Avenue just by being there.

Don’t count on it, though; blowhards and braggarts are always the last to know.

Consider how oblivious he is to the self-made and very real non-pecuniary dangers Trump is facing.

One would expect a seasoned conspiracy theorist – a birther, no less – to be a little concerned, that “the intelligence community,” the CIA especially, would have him in its crosshairs after he spent the better part of a year dissing them on every media platform in creation.   Does he think that they will shrug it off?   Surely, he knows that those motherfuckers don’t forget and that they thrive on revenge.

Trump did head first thing to Langley, ostensibly to make amends.   To hear the corporate media pundits tell it, he did it because he will need the CIA and the others to govern.   That is, or ought to be, the least of his concerns.  If he had the sense he was born with, he should have gone there to throw himself at their mercy.  Instead, he used the occasion to indulge his obsession with size and to complain about the media.

It seems too that Trump staged his little show against a backdrop that honors CIA agents killed in the line of duty, a wall the spies and assassins there consider sacred.   If it were deer season now, would he next strap on a pair of antlers and go out for a walk in the woods?

Trump has been going out of his way too to make a host of other very powerful, though less lethal, enemies: corporate media, for example.  Normally servile to power, Trump is forcing media to be at least somewhat adversarial.  If they keep at it, not all the tweets in the world will save Trump’s sorry ass.  Already, The New York Times is calling “alternative facts” outright lies; and where the paper of record goes, so go the others.  The Fourth Estate did more than its share to bring Richard Nixon down.  It can happen again – yes, it can.

And then there are the government workers Trump villainizes.   He will find before long that he needs them more than they need him.  And if enough of them “go rogue” — if they impede, sabotage and whistle blow — they can make Trump’s life difficult indeed.

Ronald Reagan put the neoliberal turn in high gear by going after the air traffic controllers’ union, just as Margaret Thatcher had gone after coal miners in the UK.  And after the Democrats got shellacked in the 2010 elections, retrograde rightwing governors like Scott Walker –and Mike Pence — went after public employees’ unions in their states.  For the most part, they prevailed.

But that was then.  If Trump tries to follow their lead by eviscerating union protections for federal workers, or even if he only pecks away at their dignity and wellbeing, he will find himself having hell to pay.

Trump ought to be wary too of the grandees of his own Republican Party, and of all but the most execrable Republican functionaries.  They may be slow, but they surely realize that their party’s standard-bearer was on track for decimating their party, and that this would surely have happened, had the Democrats run a less awful candidate.

For now, though, Trump’s fellow Republicans are on board.   He needs them to govern, so he is making nice.   And they are swallowing their pride and sucking up in order to take advantage of his victory.

But when the time comes, as it surely will, that Trump is political poison even for card-carrying reactionaries in safe gerrymandered districts, they too will seek revenge.

But won’t their paymasters hold them back?

With their class brother in the Oval Office, high-flying capitalists can look forward to tax breaks, watered down regulations, and corporate welfare; Wall Street too can expect the same level of service that it received under the Clintons and Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, Trump needs to watch out for one per-centers too.  Some of them will, of course, be blinded by greed, but the vast majority, moved by enlightened self-interest, will prefer the mature capitalism they know to the crony capitalism that Trump seems intent on installing.

For decades now, capitalists have been singing the praises of self-regulating markets, and railing against governments that pick winner and losers.  At the same time, though, capitalists are, by nature, “rent-seekers” on the lookout for revenues from sources that governments, not markets, provide.

But having to rely on the good graces of someone as mercurial, irrational, and vengeful as Trump may be too much for many, maybe most, of them.  If they turn against him in sufficient numbers, poor Donald’s best, maybe only, recourse would be to duck and run for cover.

Finally, Trump ought to worry too about his many legal problems, especially the ones that he incurred immediately upon taking the oath of office.  As everyone who follows the news is aware, Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause and is not honoring the terms of the lease he signed on his Washington hotel.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Trump’s mentor, the iniquitous Roy Cohn, taught the Donald how to turn what is ostensibly a government of laws into a government of men.  Meanwhile, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appointed centrist judges while Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes turned the federal judicial system into an adjunct of the GOP.

Still, if there is any integrity left there at all, the courts will hold Trump to account.  We will soon know how much and what kinds of illegality they will be willing to tolerate in his  case.

***

As a showman, Trump is determined to get a lot done quickly – ideally, in the first hundred days.   He is already on it.  Before too much voter’s remorse sets in, he wants to show the chumps he got to vote for him, one more time, that he really does mean business; and he wants to throw the vilest among them some red meat.

But because he knows little and cares less about governing, he will run out of steam after issuing all the poorly thought out executive orders he can manage, leaving his appointees will be in charge.

Senate Democrats will make a show of delaying a few confirmations. But, like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, “Little Marco” Rubio and other anti-Trump Republicans, they will eventually cave.

Those Trump appointees, the ones awaiting confirmation and the ones already confirmed, are something else.  It is as if he told his head hunters to find him a fox for every henhouse, and to seek out the most villainous, incompetent, and filthy rich reactionaries they could dig up.

Trump’s less noxious voters suffer from a seemingly irrepressible will to believe, but even they are are bound to recoil from much of what Trump’s underlings will do.  Therefore, expect that, before long, the Donald’s already prodigious disapproval ratings will climb to prodigious heights.

If that affects his bottom line, Trump will notice and care.  If it affects the fortunes of the Republican Party, he will care only insofar as he sees the future of the Republican Party intertwined with his own.   Insofar as it reflects anything that could plausibly be construed as the will of the people, he will not care at all.

Trump had not been in office twenty-four hours before several million people across the world took to the streets in protest.  There were worldwide marches in 2003 as well – before George W. Bush launched the Iraq War.

Those demonstrations, though not nearly on the same scale, were also impressive in size.  They had no effect at all, however, on Bush or his éminence grise, Dick Cheney; Bush wanted a war, and war is what we got.

This time, it could be different.  In that massive anti-war march and in countless other demonstrations before and since, when it’s over, it’s over.  Then people go back to their lives, wondering “is that all there is?”  Not this time.

Most demonstrations, including the ones that tried in vain to block Bush and Cheney’s efforts to invade Iraq, aim to get governments to do or forbear from doing one thing or another.  That was never the idea behind the Women’s March.  It was about launching a movement to stop Trump in his tracks.

In this respect, it was more like the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the late sixties and early seventies than anything since.

Solidarity with the Vietnamese people was a factor in those demonstrations, of course, as was the immorality of American policy.  But what made them game-changers was the draft; it brought the war home.

It also helped make the war a problem for economic and political elites, not so much because their sons and grandsons were being put in harm’s way – most of them could find ways out – but because a large part of the opposition was coming from the colleges and universities that trained America’s leaders, raising the concern that the men and women then coming of age, we call them “baby boomers” now, might become a lost generation.

There is little fear of anything like that now.  The ruling class of 2017 sees no need to keep American Muslims and undocumented Hispanics on board.

But the anti-war demonstrations of the late sixties and early seventies were about more than just conscription or even the Vietnam War; they were about building counter-systemic social and political movements.  That is why social and political elites found them so alarming.

The Women’s March had a similar aspect.  It too is part of an on-going process; one that only starts with Trump.

Once circumstances in Vietnam and the United States forced Nixon and Kissinger to end the draft and then to withdraw American troops, the movements that alarmed elites began to wither away or else become absorbed into the Democratic Party.  Something like that could happen with the anti-Trump movement too.

But for as long as Trump is in the White House, there is no danger of the opposition to him withering away; he is that awful.

Democrats in the Nixon era were a lot better than Democrats are now.  The party still had a genuinely progressive wing, and its centrists stood far to the left of their counterparts today.  Therefore the transition from radical to strictly electoral politics under the aegis of the Democratic Party was not quite as disastrous a turn of events as it would be were today’s Democrats to take over the resistance movement born at the Women’s March.

Along with all the rest, Trump does have an outraged citizenry to face.  It is comprised of more than half of the country’s adult population, and it is growing fast.  But one thing that he does not have to fear is the Democratic Party.

Unless it changes beyond recognition quickly and radically, it is as useless as it ever was – except, of course, to too-big-to-jail banksters and its corporate paymasters.

Fortunately, the organizers of the Women’s March seemed to realize this, at least enough to keep the event from turning into a Clinton-fest.  Along with the vast majority of demonstrators, they kept the spirit of Clintonism at bay, and they kept Hillary revanchists out.  Even shameless Hillary supporters like Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Warren got the message.

It was, after all, Clinton-style neoliberalism that made Trump possible — by abandoning the working class, black, white, and brown, the better to serve the interests of finance capitalism.

It is thanks to them that the ninety-nine percent have had to fend for themselves since long before anyone took Trump’s political prospects seriously.

Trump promised to make the situation of the ninety-nine percent better; in all likelihood, he will make it worse.  But were it not for the Clintons and others of their ilk, including Barack Obama, he would now still be running Trump University type scams, taping dumb TV shows, and building over-the-top pleasure domes.  The only way he could get inside the White House, except as a tourist, would be if the Clintons, always on the lookout for “campaign contributions,” invited him.

Trump won because HRC was such an awful candidate and because she and her people ran an awful campaign.  But without Clintonism making rightwing “populism” possible, if not inevitable, Trump would never have stood a chance of running against her, much less of defeating her.

Therefore, in addition to the clear and present dangers posed by Trump and/or Pence, there is the danger that the Clintonized Democratic Party will coopt the movement forming to resist Trump and Pence – turning it into the opposite of what it could become.

How wonderful it would be if the energy on display at the Women’s March could somehow be channeled into an alternative to the Democratic Party.  But that isn’t going to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future.

It would be different if the Greens could somehow gain traction.  But if they haven’t yet, after so many years of trying, it is unlikely that they ever will.  They certainly won’t in time to stop Trump’s first hundred days.

Fortunately, though, there are ways that the resistance movement can work productively with Democrats at local and state levels, where Clintonization is less of a problem.   There are, for example, natural tie-ins between movement efforts to stop deportations of undocumented individuals and efforts by municipal governments, led by Democratic mayors and councilmen (and women), to establish sanctuary cities.

Trump and his minions are already targeting sanctuary cities, threatening to cut off federal monies to municipalities that don’t cooperate with his depredations.  Needless to say, being the President, he has a strong hand; but he doesn’t hold all the cards.  With ingenuity, it should be possible to find ways to fight back.

Along with other estimable traits of mind and character, ingenuity is sorely lacking in the Trump ambit.  It abounds in American cities, however; even in their governments.  In this respect, Trump has the weaker hand.

In national politics, liberals who vote for Democrats are like the Charlie Brown character in the comic strip “Peanuts”; the Democratic Party is like Lucy.  Charlie Brown is always trying to kick the football, and Lucy is always lifting it away.  Perhaps at the municipal level, it doesn’t have to be that way; perhaps liberals can force Lucy to be honest and play fair.

If the anti-Trump resistance is to deal at all effectively with the vileness descending upon us, this is our best, perhaps our only, hope.

More articles by:

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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