So the neoliberal ruling classes are putting on a little revolution, to which you and I are cordially invited. The occasion is the takeover of the United States by Vladimir Putin and his Manchurian President or the official launch of the Trumpian Reich, whichever hysterical scenario you prefer. Dress is casual. Children are welcome, as this is a strictly non-violent uprising, which will take place on the weekends, mostly, so as not to interfere with school or work. Colorful signage and puppets are encouraged, but you can leave your gas mask and welder’s gloves at home, as there won’t be any tear gas canisters or rubber bullets coming your way. Oh, and it will definitely be televised.
The rebellion began on January 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, when the nation’s capitol was stormed by thousands of militant liberals in pink woolly hats. Michael Moore and Madonna were there, as was John Kerry, and his dog, apparently. Expletive-laden speeches were delivered. Virtue was signaled. Selfies were taken. Requiems for Saint Obama were sung. Notwithstanding the totally unthreatening nature of the whole affair, according to Charles “The Withering Gaze” Blow, Resident Guerrilla Fighter at The New York Times, this was the birth of a new “dissident” movement. “This was an uprising! This was resistance!” The Withering Gaze cried out from the barricades, or from his offices high above midtown Manhattan. Much of the mainstream media concurred. “The Women’s March will spark the resistance!“The Guardian assured its Jacobinian subscribers. “The Resistance Rises!” proclaimed Time‘s new cover. CNN featured “The Twitter Resistance.” Rolling Stone introduced “The Leaders of the Resistance,” a coalition of grassroots activists, NGOs, and business interests, but mostly it was the Pussy Hat People that were being marketed as the movement’s vanguard.
Which, all right, credit where credit is due to the organizers of the Women’s March. Calling it a “Women’s March” (a) imbued it with a grassroots aura, (b) obscured the larger power struggle between the neoliberal establishment and the neo-nationalist Trump regime, and (c) rendered it impossible to criticize without coming off as a misogynist creep. What kind of monster, after all, would want to criticize millions of women dressed as vaginas and other reproductive organs for “being proactive about women’s rights,” and “joining in their diversity,” and so on, because they accidentally happened to organize their protests in a way that perfectly aligned with the aims of the global neoliberal establishment, which is relentlessly delegitimizing Trump for reasons that have nothing to do with women? Imagine, if they had called it a “Liberals’ March,” or a “Deep State March,” or a “March to Restore the Democrats to Power as Soon as Possible.” It wouldn’t have been anywhere nearly as effective, in terms of framing the official narrative.
The “Resistance” sprang into action again in response to Trump’s “Muslim Ban” this weekend. Following word that he had ordered a blanket entry ban of people from a list of seven so-called “countries of concern” (that the Obama administration had identified in its Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, and stripped of Visa Waiver Program privileges), Michael Moore blew his Twitter horn, summoning thousands of outraged protesters to Terminal 4 of JFK Airport to militantly assemble in a designated area (so as not to impede the normal flow of traffic) and completely shut down an adjacent parking lot. The protests spread to airports throughout the country and “sparked “fury and anguish around the world,” according to the Sunday edition of The Guardian (which, as of approximately 08:30 this Sunday has gone to Emergency Live-Tweet mode to cover every fascistic twist in this evolving Fall of Democracy story).
Now, before any Trumpward-leaning readers get too excited about where I’m going with this, I should probably state for the record here that I regard the man as a dangerous idiot, made even more dangerous by the fact that his program appears to be primarily the work of Steve Bannon, who is not an idiot and is much more dangerous. I’m imagining Bannon slouched on a couch in his lair in the White House this Sunday morning, sporting his signature impish grin as he scans the reaction of the mainstream media to his latest perfectly calculated gambit. The man knows exactly what he’s doing. With a stroke of Trump’s pen he has simultaneously reassured his neo-nationalist base that Trump’s promises were not just empty threats and provoked the media and urban liberals into an understandable but mindless frenzy of unfocused anti-Trump “resistance.” This is a textbook insurrectionist tactic that Bannon has been employing with alarming success.
The reason he has been so successful is that the Trump regime and the neoliberal establishment are playing to two entirely different audiences. The Trumpians are playing to “flyover country,” not just nationally, also internationally. For reasons I’ll get into in more detail shortly, many of these non-urban working class folks are not real thrilled with Globalism and are responding to Trump’s neo-nationalist message. The neoliberal elites are playing to their base, most of whom are no less misguided than the folks they deride in “flyover country.” This is mostly due to the identity politics that have been part and parcel of neoliberal ideology for going on the last fifty years, and is why the so-called “resistance” to Trump is centered around issues like racism and misogyny, rather than any kind of cogent reading of the global political dynamics at play here.
This is the problem with identity politics when divorced from a broader political discussion and over-simplified for mass consumption. By occupying the conceptual territory where any deeper or more threatening analysis of political dynamics might take place, it prevents the formation of such analysis. It answers the question “Who is fighting who?” in advance of the question being asked, in order to prevent it being asked.
So who is fighting who in this case, if it’s not as simple as the forces of Love fighting the forces of Racism and Hate? Well, here’s one way of looking at it …
What we’re experiencing throughout the West at present is a neo-nationalist insurrection against Globalism. An “insurrection” because global Capitalism is a global-hegemonic system. It has no viable external enemies. People, unhappy with how Capitalism has been restructuring their lives since the end of the Cold War, and aware that power has been gradually shifting from sovereign nations to supranational entities, multinational corporations, international institutions, and so on, are reaching for the only alternative on offer, Neo-nationalism, in one form or another. Which is what the Trumpians and the Brexit gang are promising, a halt of the spread of global Capitalism and the restoration of national sovereignty.
The neoliberal ruling classes, naturally, would like to prevent this from happening. Which, make no mistake, they are going to do (although they may let Trump, Bannon, et al. go ahead and have their War on Islam to finish destabilizing the Middle East first). What is being marketed to us as the “resistance to Trump,” technically, is a counter-insurgency operation … the global neoliberal establishment quashing the neo-nationalist uprising. But that kind of thing doesn’t sell very well. What sells much better is Hitler hysteria, neo-McCarthyite propaganda, and emotionally loaded trigger words that short circuit any kind of critical thinking, words like “love,” “hate,” “racism,” “fascism,” “normal,” and of course “resistance.”
The irony is, the actual resistance (if the word “resistance” still has any meaning) is the one being waged by the neo-nationalists, who are in fact resisting something, namely Neoliberalism, which is clearly the dominant force in this equation. This doesn’t make them any more righteous, unless you’re in favor of racism, sexism, theocracy, and other such despotic values. “Resistance” is not a virtue in itself. Its virtue depends on who is doing the resisting, and what they’re resisting, and on various other sociopolitical and historical factors that won’t fit into a tweet or a sound bite.
In any event, the quandary folks on the Left are currently facing is twofold: (1) how to oppose the Trumpians, and other neo-nationalist insurgencies, without serving the interests of Neoliberalism; and (2) how to oppose Neoliberalism without serving the interests of the Neo-nationalists. Which is more or less a classic Zen koan designed to make one’s head explode.
Both the neoliberals and the neo-nationalists know this, and will be using it to pressure us into joining their camps. Until this insurrection is neutralized, and the Trumpians are either removed from office or tamed (which at this point seems rather unlikely), the Neoliberal Liberation Army will be barraging us on a daily basis with news of the imminent end of everything and histrionic entreaties to “resist.” Meanwhile, Bannon (who will continue to run things while Trump obsesses over the size of his whatever) will be relentlessly pushing his agenda forward. The scary thing is, he is obviously smart enough to know that his insurrection is doomed if the fight remains merely on the economic level (i.e, trade deals, bringing back jobs, et cetera). He understands the global economy, as do the rest of Trump’s Goldman Sachs team. Which means it probably won’t be all that long until the War on Islam gets officially launched, as there’s nothing like a war to unite a country … and manufacturing military ordnance at home won’t screw with the price of people’s smartphones.
Hopefully, by the time that war begins, The Withering Gaze and the Pussy Hat People (most of whom had zero qualms about Obama bombing seven Muslim countries to serve the interests of the neoliberal establishment that has been aggressively restructuring the Middle East since the end of the Cold War with total impunity) will have morphed into an actual revolutionary army, one that doesn’t get decommissioned whenever a Democrat moves into the White House, but I kind of have my doubts about that.