This is an introduction to a series on contemporary youth resistance in the United States. The series will focus on youth actions, groups, theories, tactics, and figures, mostly in the Northeast region of the United States, engaged in the resistance and struggle for a more equal, open, and sustainable future, on specific social and political issues that have passed, are ongoing, upcoming, and usually all three.
Psychology of Destruction in the Political and Social Mind
The Republican and Democratic parties have recently struggled to relate to voters (and nonvoters), mostly through the mainstream narratives about and public relations tactics used in the election season. The two parties seem to have no plan to change course before or when the structures of consolidated power begin – more directly in more of our everyday lives – to sacrifice the population to sustain themselves for profit, with the potential to collapse civilization through endless war, economic uncertainty, environmental destruction, and the stripping of privacy and civil rights (See here, here, here and here, here, and here).
The Republican Party had nowhere interesting, creative, new, or imaginative to go before Trump exploded onto the scene. Now they have been compelled to ride the Trumpist wave, fated to crash down on all of us, most importantly our children. When that specific tide recedes, the Republican Party will likely be empty. It is the social, political, and parental duty of the population – most broadly any member of the 99 % of economic society – to rise up against the crash-down, colliding the immovable and unstoppable.
The Democratic Party has grown increasingly elitist and distanced from the meanings of the rhetoric it employs and the population it needs and that needs it. An interesting anecdote on this reality can be found in the exchange between Julian Assange and John Podesta on Twitter in October 16’, after Podesta’s emails were leaked by Wikileaks. Podesta’s response to the incident was to troll Assange on Twitter by comparing his own high culture living conditions and meals to those of Assange’s, who remains indefinitely detained in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The nomination of Hillary Clinton and the repeated betrayal of civil and environmental rights, as well as peace, also demonstrated the Democratic Party’s elite distance from the population. The Democratic Party has lost the ability to both self-reflect and imagine new political visions; it only knows how to be told where to go, usually only by the far right and center-right business community, only sometimes knows how to listen to anybody else and is almost always incapable of responding.
The Democratic Party’s irrevocable decline means that no major, moneyed, diverse, and powerful electoral organization exists across the country to represent the interests of the poor, progressives, people of all colors and religions, and the planet, in a consistently effective way. In short, we are sending our children into a massive political and electoral vacuum.
We live in a society of consumption through distance – from our food to our shopping, our communication and our wars, we increasingly do not touch the things we use, hear our conversations, live our experiences. The more rapidly inequality and technology accumulate, the more this distance will grow from our work, the entertainment we absorb, the politics to which we relate – the social, psychological, and political circumstances that determine our lives. This distance is essentially Marx’s idea of alienation on a mass, accelerated, modern scale. Everything we want and aspire to, we are raised to believe, is somewhere, someone, something else, something that we are not and do not have, someone else we must me be like, something we must buy, somewhere else we must go (usually an inaccessible place in a screen), something away from us and beyond our own insignificant, unspectacular, hustle and bustle lives. We are destined to sacrifice who we are for a larger, constant, thoughtless social order, distanced from everything, first and foremost from ourselves. The American population is more structurally divided and yet simultaneously comes together more necessarily, urgently, and spontaneously in moments of accumulated uncertainty and distress, as The Occupy Movement began to suggest – a movement in which approximately thirty five percent were not Democrats.
With voter turnout declining and the policies of both parties becoming increasingly detached and outdated – as, among millions of other anecdotes, the bromance between Clinton and Kissinger illustrated – Trump is a last cry from an economic, political, and social system ready to implode – ready for other possibilities as well, but we must acknowledge that it is ready to implode, that the accumulation and consolidation of the corporate community’s power over its own interests has long been on a dangerous collision course with the security and interests of the population and the planet.
Trump’s electoral explosion and sweep across the country was not a movement; there was no movement away from the corporate state, but a rapid absorption into it. Painting the government as corrupt in a narrative riddled with contradictions, Trump has been able to vaguely but constantly prop up the multinational corporate community as the great alternative to the corrupt government, most blatantly in his cabinet picks – an ingenious power-grabbing narrative, since the government and the American multinational corporate community are now effectively the same force, the primary reason the government is deeply corrupt in the first place. The Trumpist’s solution to every problem is more of the source of the problem. They make narrow outgrowths, distortions, mechanisms and symptoms of the establishment look like the counterculture to it and the solutions for change away from it. The Tea-Party Movement has the same weakness.
The Trumpist barrage is public relations dream-work for consolidated power: more war, more oil, less regulation and more speculation, wealth-flow upward, racist and sexist conflict, nuclear weapons, privatization, and “law and order” (structural and militarized racism) as a method of social control, all as fast as possible.
From the beginning of Trump’s campaign to the latest headline, the Trumpists have easily distorted and diverted the rebellion impulse into a hyper-drive expansion of every conflict striking at the heart of the American poor, the rights of citizens both at home and abroad, and the planet. The Trumpist malleability of language, clarity, spectacle and sensation redundantly replace fact, meaning, responsibility and consequences as tools of statecraft every day.
Trump, Clinton, and Sanders supporters alike, each in their own ways, were led by their values and beliefs in times of endless contradiction into a world in which their interests and needs are the least important objective, a world in which voters and audiences are either useful pawns to the power-structure or they are in its way. African Americans have endured that reality for decades in their treatment by elected officials and the businesses community as simultaneously useful voting constituents, an oppressed blank slate upon which to paint enormous and false communitarian promises, and a permanently oppressed, structurally and socially ostracized working, consuming, war-fighting, internally conflicted underclass. (The Democratic Party has been, in many ways, guiltier of that strategy of elite distance and racism than the Republicans in electoral processes).
Trump, his counterparts, and each of us live with a part that wants to take everything for ourselves and ruin everyone in the way. Money as a goal is endless. Money is an idea. There is always more money, and this becomes clearer the less of it there appears to be in material life. Once one is convinced that one constantly needs more of something that one can never have enough, or the most, or all of, one sacrifices one’s self, health, and relationships to the mad pursuit, creates serious risks to the environments, individuals, and social orders around them, and no longer behaves in a sane manner. It is addiction. It is pathology. Pathological consumption and possession become a constant neurotic task, solution, and illusion used to cover, repress, and abandon the meanings of the strange emptiness of living uncertainly but certainly unto death every day.
The less conscious we are of this death factor in our social and political imagination, the more vulnerable we are to it, subordinated to the compulsion, ready to use every resource available against every perceived threat to any narrowly defined and broadly applied value we hold. That is seemingly, so far, the only consistent mindset and tactic of the Trumpists. Pathological consumption is a state of being that preserves only itself, at the expense of anything else necessary. Everything in the future, if we speak in terms of climate change particularly, is poised to be sacrificed as quickly as possible under the Trumpists, to preserve this state of pathological consumption. This is a war against children.
Trump – as Wall Street was to the Occupy Movement – is not the problem to lash out against, but a perfect symbol, a perfect articulation, of the meaning of who and what we must mobilize for and with. He is the child of our enemy, and his character will always only be able to become its child. Trump stands naked in spaces where few American leaders have left the shadows in a long time, though they have always poked their heads out (See the preface to Mike Lofgren’s The Deep State, for more on that point). A clear demonstration of who not to become, what not to value – again, like Wall Street – Trump can help those who plan to resist form a coherent picture of who we might want to become, what we might value, as individuals and societies, and how we might want to engage in that conversation.
But the entire society is pathologically consumptive and increasingly distanced from itself, and must stay that way if the tradition – namely the corporate leviathan business tradition – will run smoothly. Trump is an example, a symptom, of a pathological society. He is, as Jon Stewart once said, “America’s id.” He is a perfect, way too on-the-nose mash-up representation of everything about the American character that takes, that is selfish, that is violent, that is both endlessly ignorant and endlessly ambitious, that at once sees the self as the most important value and priority and therefore closes off the kind of love and consciousness needed to have a self at all, the part of us that touts our greatest failures as our greatest successes, and sees a an historical, narcissistic, heroic, masturbatory business opportunity in the moment when history collapses on its children.
This mash-up quality of Trump is why his voice fits better in a Tweet or Youtube clip than a press conference, interview, or anything that can be controlled by anyone else. Every thought and solution he has is a spontaneous cultural combustion of chance, repetition, regression, and accumulation.
Trump’s ideology is, at its core, destructive, partly made clear by the fact that as an ideology it is completely incoherent, perpetually contradictory, openly so. The agenda of Trump and the Republican Party – in every one of the fast, monster executive orders and House proposals flying by – is to destroy things and hurt people; it is to openly, nakedly, and proudly induce mass, long term pain on millions of real people and call it mass greatness, implementing mechanisms of mass suffering that will outlive their own moments in history. This process, almost obviously by now, will snowball indefinitely. American society has been in decline, with almost half of the population living in or near poverty (see also here), perpetual war always on the horizon and around the ship, the end of regulation and the completion of privatization, and the most blatant imbecility and unpredictability ever to oversee the most dangerous weapons in human history in the United States. The Trumpists are speeding everything up.
The more the Trumpists are challenged, the more drastically they will react. The more unstable, volatile, and uncertain American political and social life becomes, the more the Trumpists will hone their skills at blaming everyone but themselves – not as a method of growing their base but of increasing and solidifying the loyalty of the base they already have. It is an effort to create a core that will serve them with blind loyalty, and never ask any hard questions. Reince Priebus is a good example of this kind of figure. The Republican Party – which looked like it could not move any further to the right before Trump – enjoyed a tiny moment of having a backbone, standing up for the people, finally calling out one of their candidates for having gone too far, and then once Trump won they almost all jumped in line to become his bitch.
There will be others, however, mostly outside of the establishment, who will oppose the Trumpists and everything they try to do. Once the lies become an unreliable tool for maintaining loyalty to the mission of possessing, consuming, and destroying anything and everything, the more the Trumpists and much of the establishment beneath it may see violence and force as their only available tool and language. When lies no longer maintain an uncertain order in a democracy, authority and force bring crushing certainty; bad lies always cover worse truths. As tools of order-making on the part of consolidated power, lies are a gateway drug to violence in times of instability, history has elaborated.
The Victims of this War – Just the Beginning
I work at a youth center in my community. On Trump’s inauguration day, I was at work. There were common threads among the kids about their feelings toward Trump. Many of my co-workers, many kids, and probably many parents, were distraught over their historical experience on that day. Some moments, the kids wanted to talk about it. They range from ages six to nineteen, and I was curious about what they think.
Asked how they felt about the election, almost all of them said, “scared,” or “afraid.” Asked why they felt afraid, most of them said something like, “everything,” and asked what they felt they could do about it, most said, “nothing.” One, an older kid, said we could only deal with the repercussions of Trump locally. One girl said that if she had the chance to kill him, she would, and walked away quickly, and one young boy said, to the last question, “I don’t really know yet.”
Trump’s rise exposes us to war against the future – war on the environment, on the Muslim, Arab, African, African American, Mexican, Chinese, Native American, LGBTQ, Jewish, female, disabled, and poor white communities. It is a war on education. It is war on suspected criminals without trial, both through civilian executions on American soil by police and the drone and targeted assassination campaign abroad. It is a war on our banking infrastructure, economic equality, and internet freedom as, for example, Net Neutrality is on its death bed. It is an abandonment of any control over the corporations that are hollowing out the country, trashing the planet, manipulating the consumer and political public mind in the process, like AT&T,EXXON, Goldman Sachs, The Energy Transfer Partners, and more. Trump has Tweeted to increase the number of weapons in the nuclear arsenal and been elusive about his military strategy with Russia, and antagonistic toward China, North Korea, Iran and many, many, many others.
Everything that can be done through the figure of Trump to wage an all-out war on the future seemed to have begun in his first moments and weeks in office. Any war, as Howard Zinn said, “is a war on civilians.” A war on the whole future of the possibility of decent life for civilians is a war against children on a massive scale.
As the Standing Rock Tribe, the feminist and LGBTQ community, Black Lives Matter, education activists – including teachers across the country – thePoor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, the independent media, anti-war activists like Veterans for Peace, Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions against Israel, Code Pink, along with unorganized resisters and many others, have confronted the agenda of the deep machine breaking through the surface to the public under Trump. The so-called “deep state” is no longer that deep. Whether Trump stays or goes, the forces that had to be kept “deep” for the state to sustain the interests and security of consolidated power before Trump will have been glorified and normalized through a new language and spectacle of American values of strength, peace through destruction, and the containment and control of history, progress, and critical thinking for a large enough core of the population to pose a threat to the future of the whole world. Some of our formerly darkest secrets will become hyper-masculine points of public pride in more contexts.
This openly – or barely veiled – pivot in the order-making debate toward freedom, security, and comfort à la domination and destruction was clear before Trump won, particularly with the heavily militarized attitude of the Democratic National Convention in the run-up to the election and the rest of Hillary Clinton’s warmongering.
Trump has issued executive order after executive order. Protest after protest, along with dialectical challenges, have ensued. Neither Trump nor the general population seem willing to budge. The only ones willing to budge at this particular moment, including individuals in government, national security, or business, seem to be budging away from him. The 99 % must seize this moment as an historical opportunity to use Trump to politicize, symbolize, articulate, and indeed ourselves spectacularize the resistance, force a radical dialogue and mass movement on just what it is about this cultural symbol that we object to and why. How does Trump help us find ourselves as repulsive, monstrous, and enemy soldiers toward our own defenseless children, and how can we come to know better and change the part of our political imagination that he consumes? The constant vileness of Trump and everything that brought us to him is a constant responsibility to self-reflect, interact, make meaning of and take action for the historical and political survival and strengths of our educations, our communities, our lives, and our planet.
But there are a great many millions of people – almost definitely a majority in so-called “deep state” politics – who will never ask Trump any questions he wouldn’t want to answer and will do everything he says. Since he has already swept a wave of sensation and emotion through society that will sustain, and perhaps increase, the attention he has received thus far, his loyal core does not have to be large, so long as it exists in some constant form. If and when Trump goes down, he will not go down quietly, will not go down alone, and the process of replacing him will, more than likely, have no certain revisionary, let alone revolutionary, implications for the future. Resistance must be constant, permanent. It must become as constant as the destruction it opposes, and it must be creative every day, passed down from generation to generation so that children are valued and empowered as they are threatened and rendered disposable.
Small communities could begin to sustain themselves and reach out to each other through the kinds of values, powers and policies of the organizations noted above – environmental, economic rights, education, journalistic, civil rights and anti-war based. Without these concerns and groups as the constant backbone to the critical discourse and active resistance to Trump and the machine of which he is currently the charger, we deprive and threaten our children, sacrifice and subordinate ourselves to the most destructive, misguided, largest powers in human history. We become workers in the engine room, throwing coal into the fire on the train that propels us toward the greatest cliff of our collective imaginations and histories.
Communitarian politics must act as an umbrella and political sanctuary for civilians, organizers, activists, journalists, theorists, and children to resist the pipelines in their backyards, pollution in their waters, killing in their name, deprivation of their rights and resources, and for the creativity of their own new, independent rights and resources in education, food, sustainability, identity politics and broader areas of non-cooperative national resistance. Communities and community projects must become safety nets of democratic institutions – models and mirrors to each other – upon which we may build a sustainable resistance based on the interests and security of the population and its children over the interests and security of corporate-state power, consolidated power and Thanatos, trollian politics.
We cannot live in a safety net, however, and such transformations are only the beginning of a mass action-based campaign for resistance, solidarity, and sustainability. Grassroots protests, campaigns, and other tactics in creating educational movements for civil rights, environmental issues, against big business and government corruption, for the implementation of grassroots democratic forums and institutions, for news outlets, sustainable living projects, along with anti-war activities, have always formed the army that fights the wars to save the future in American history, and have never been more needed and more capable in 21st Century America than they are right now.
As laws all over the country clamp down on protest and dissent, as fact-based reporting is demonized, we must be ready to become nonviolent criminals, ready to understand that the laws by which we may govern ourselves and our world in the fight for a more hopeful, comfortable, democratic place to live for everyone are often not the same laws that corporate-state consolidated power has in place for us. Our greatest freedoms and our greatest crimes may become more and more similar. Fighting for what we believe and who we believe in, disrupting injustice with solidarity, destruction with peace and creativity, noise and surveillance with privacy and expression, structural manipulation with critical education and reflection: this is the criminal life we must live.
When we have privilege, the suffering of others should be an emergency. I do not deserve my privilege, just as others do not deserve their suffering, and the only usefulness or meaning to society of the former is as a resource to the latter. Privilege that only perpetuates its own ends inherently undermines the social and economic freedoms and possibilities of the oppressed and, eventually, everyone. Self-perpetuating privilege is either cruel, ignorant, or slavish in a sort of inverted way – usually all three – and creates or understands no ability or knowledge beyond the narrow, though long, range of its own character depleting narcissism.
Resisting for the Rest of History
It feels important to end this introduction by noting that much of the conversation about the “anti-Trump” resistance, with many strong arguments, has included these two features: 1) it is now likely that Trump will be impeached and 2) that the resistance will go down with him – that those engaged in the resistance will interpret the impeachment of Trump as a victory and stop fighting. This second possibility would be interpreted as a victory for the so-called “deep state.” The first claim is much harder to refute than the second, and I don’t find it relevant to try.
But the resistance will not die with Trump, no matter when or how he is gone.
Just as the Trumpists have spawned a radical – though ideologically and often actively incoherent – core, and the symbol of Trump has brought the agenda of war against the future, so too has this curious moment created a core of conscious, constant, versatile resistance. If Trump does not go down quietly, nor will the resistance. Along with other economic, foreign policy, civil rights, and environmental threats looming, the events of contemporary American political theater are rattling and have rattled entire generations of people finding, in their integrating lives, that they must make a choice – that their place and meaning in the world has been, suddenly for many, socialized, politicized, and made creative. Divisive, dislocating historical moments can force points of political and social contact and, therefore, change, if capitalized upon with the right resources and the right timing by horizontal, growing, creative, sustainable resistance groups and individuals.
Some things I’ve learned from working with lots of children at once: most often, they don’t like to be told that they shouldn’t be doing what they are doing or saying what they are saying. They want creative control over each moment of their lives and value nothing more than their freedoms. They act spontaneously. They care for one another and, usually, the emotional unpredictability and spontaneity of the child leads him or her to acts of creative contact and small gestures of justice rather than sustained divisiveness or blind destruction. When the kids feel like they are creating something together – be it a joke, conversation, basketball game, or meal – they see the other in themselves, even – perhaps especially – when they take risks, fail, or both. When this state of being and interaction is disrupted, controlled, or derailed, by anyone or anything, they rebel. Often they are right to. Many of them are in the building because they need a place to go, because their lives have been deprived, conflicted, and hurt, made less free, and they often do not expect much from the world but put themselves forward into it with their voices and their growing selves, regardless.
I somewhat sentimentally feel there are too many children, too conscientious, sensitive, self-aware, creative, too determined to live and live freely for me to believe they will generally be active or complicit in their own manipulation and demise. Those of them who resist may lose, suffering historical defeat, but even if they do, enough of them will resist for long enough to save human history from disappearing totally into absurdity. Otherwise the whole course of history will seem to have been wholly contained and controlled by absurdity all along.
Conflict and resistance burst and subside to varying degrees in history, for varying lengths, with varying amounts and forms of global recognition and social and political outcomes. The rise of the Trumpists and the Trump moment looks and feels more like a symbolic beginning than a symbolic end – even if it turns out to be the beginning of the material end.
It has always been true, again to varying degrees, that our lives and world will not be the same tomorrow. At times, Trump makes our recognition of ourselves and our neighbors in the constant process of that change clear. Much of the resistance that has arisen against the Trumpists, such as the groups I mentioned above and their global sympathizers, has, depending on one’s definition of success, organized around an agenda based on social emergencies in public and private life, and defined many aspects of the upcoming generations by the actions, ideas, and values of such opposition, education, advocacy, and dissent.
The space carved out for the population to find ways to resist and others with whom to resist, using their democratic energy and power to creatively disrupt the structures of oppression that dispose of their lives and reduce their meaning, is seemingly too large to ignore and too small to shrink. The United States is currently in a sort of stagnant waiting period politically, in which a barrage of executive orders and imbecilic episodes are pouring out of Washington every day, and the effects of this strange, disorderly order-making process on the country and the world become more traceable every moment, as the population awaits – and much of it tries to prevent – an enormous dislocating event such as environmental, national security, or economic collapse, or a combination of the three, inevitable threats due to the forces of the acceleration of consolidated corporate power. 9/11, the Iraq War, Hurricane Catrina, the 2008 financial meltdown, the rise of Trump, and, most importantly, mass acts of resistance like the anti-Iraq War protests, Occupy Wall Street, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, the rise of Black Lives Matter and others, should be seen as a small-scale prelude of what the 21stCentury, and perhaps the rest of human history, will look like.
To assume that the resistance will go away assumes too large a degree of choice in the act of resistance. Populations resist in reaction to real, important, symbolic, and often times emergency-level issues that threaten them in the crossovers of their political, social, and private lives. Even some activists who take part in extensive organizing have been guilty of the attitude of assuming too large a degree of choice on the part of those who resist. There is never a strategically disruptive political opportunity without urgent private and social needs. This places at least some more power with the population in moments of clear oppression and resistance, and I tend to place my faith in the kids, in the future, in the communitarian politics of direct need, care, creativity, and opposition, if and when I place my faith in the future of the world.
There are, as far as I know, no moments in American history in which the struggle of and for the oppressed came to an end. There are moments when conflicts, issues, and groups subside, conversations and struggles quiet down, and commentators take their turns deeming the results of such moments “successes” or “failures” within the historical processes, but then they are resurfaced, recreated, re-remembered, and reimagined within new historical moments and tactics.
Such moments of struggle may end only with human society itself – hopefully I don’t find out – but I think I know that such struggles endure with many different degrees of strength, and are seemingly never completely disconnected from each other in time, relationships, and vision. This does not seem to be the ending or subsiding of a moment, but the beginning. We must position the resistance quickly and strategically to grow with our children. We must understand that the lives of children are more important than our lives.