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The Problem’s Not Trump, It’s Us

Photo by Jörn Schubert | CC BY 2.0

There is a standard narrative about the history of the past 70 years that goes something like this: World War Two showed the world the monstrosities that humanity is capable of. After defeating Hitler the allies set to put together a global international framework based on the rule of law, true democracy and human rights for all. In keeping with those principles, the Western world magnanimously abandoned the countries they had colonized and helped a new generation of leaders establish democracy and free markets.

Unfortunately this project was opposed in the initial stages by the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, but eventually they realized that their project was untenable and even Russia embraced free markets. Until the Trump administration, the USA has been the keeper of this global order, acting through institutions it helped establish and usually controls including the United Nations, NATO, and the International Monetary Fund to set the rules and punish those who would go against the rules.

These past few weeks, as we’ve watched various establishment figures react to the incompetence and petty maliciousness of the Trump administration, it’s become clear that there’s a problem. The establishment actually believes their own hype.

The above story shouldn’t even pass a laugh test. Every line of it (except the one about the evils of WW2) is demonstrably and obviously false. While it is true that the US, notably former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, backed an international system based on rule of law and human rights, the US acted almost immediately to undermine that system. In 1946, the US turned against the anti-fascist groups that had fought the Nazis in order to re-establish the Greek monarchy resulting in a bloody civil war that also marked the first hot war of what would later be called the Cold War. The pattern of supporting friendly dictators over “less reliable” democrats is a pattern in US foreign policy from Guatemala to Vietnam to Nicaragua to Brazil to Rhodesia. Looking at the record, it is difficult to conclude anything other than that the US has been a major perpetuator of war crimes since the second world war.

What about the rhetoric about free markets? By this point, even the most thickheaded of Ayn Randers must understand that free markets are a flimsy excuse to transfer risk to the masses and profit to the richest 0.1%. The latest and most damning evidence comes in the form of the massive bailouts that followed the financial crash of 2007-2008. Conservative estimates put these at about $17 trillion USD (more than the value of every financial transaction in the USA for 2008). More realistic estimates put the figure closer to $30 trillion. That’s about half of global GDP for that year. And that’s not counting the bailouts and other stimulus measures that were taken by countries in Europe, China and countries other than the USA, where deregulation and a quasi-religious faith in free markets precipitated the global crisis.

What does all this have to do with Trumpism? For me it’s not so much Trump as about what resistance to Trump should look like. When we talk about not “normalizing” Trump or we refer to the prestige the US has lost in the world we are presuming that the situation prior to November 2016 is worth restoring. That’s a huge misreading of the current moment.

Those who self-identify as “The Resistance” must understand one thing: Trump is no accident of history, no aberration. He is the logical outcome of the system that preceded him. If you would fight against him, you must fight against that system. The centrist, technocratic wing of the Democratic party and the slightly-less-evil wing of the Republican party are complicit. They have dodged accountability for their crimes and pursued policies that hurt poor working class women and men. Left to their own devices they will bring us another Trump, or worse, someone who makes Trump look like a Barbie doll. Their smug hypocrisy and willingness to justify the misery caused by their failures is largely to blame for the big “Fuck You” that is a vote for Trump.

So what would genuine resistance look like? It would use every scandal to push for systemic change. It would use the huge opportunity given by the disaster that is Trump-care not to rescue Obamacare (which itself was based on Republican ideas) but to push for Medicare for All. It would use the Republican demand for tax breaks for the rich to point out that the top 0.1% has been ripping off the public and to demand a Green New Deal or some other investment plan to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure and help repair the damage we’ve done to our own ecosystem. It would use the opportunity presented by Trump’s cozying up to dictators and occupiers to demand some kind of accountability for US governments who support human rights abusers. It would use Trump’s blatant sexism as a way to push legislation that would do something about the fact that women are still the object of violence at home and in public, that women still do a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work and that they get paid roughly 80% of what men do. It would use Trump’s xenophobia to call for a human rights based approach to immigration, which would start by ending foreign policies that increase migration and include some form of amnesty for migrants who we deem economically useful but whose immigration status is unclear. It would use Trump’s pulling out of the Paris Agreement as an opportunity to bring some of the more radical (and necessary) policy options to the fore, including a complete phase out of fossil fuels by 2030 and a decentralized approach to electricity through smart grids and small scale generation.

These are all policies that would demand systemic change that has given us Trump. And to their credit, one wing of the Resisters – the wing that supported Bernie Sanders in the Presidential election – has pushed some of them. But what appears to be the mainstream of the resistance movement appears less interested in systemic reform than in just getting rid of the clown in the White House and (bafflingly) bringing attention back to the Centrist candidate who ran such a spectacularly poor campaign that she lost to the least popular President in history.

I’m sympathetic to the impeachment angle. If Trump has broken laws he should be held accountable and it does seem likely to me that he will resign or be impeached before his term is up. But that would only be a good thing if The Resistance – including some kind of a revitalized Democratic Party – were willing to admit that what came before Trump was deeply problematic and that they must push policies that support the poor and marginalized at home and abroad. What is Trumpism if not taking the doctrine of American exceptionalism – the infantile doctrine that the US need not play by the global rule book, a policy accepted by nearly all mainstream politicians Hillary Clinton among them – to its logical extreme? What is Trumpism if not a logical extension of the idea that what’s good for Wall Street is good for the country, again a doctrine endorsed by politicians across the political spectrum?

Trumpism is not the enemy, or at least it is not the only enemy. The enemy is a system that claims to be democratic when it spends more money locking up its citizens than feeding them, when it gives the world more death and violence than schools and hospitals, when it fears democracy and freedom and props up those leaders most hostile to the aspirations of their own people. The fact that an ugly system now has an ugly caricature as its official spokesperson is a wakeup call to do something about the system, not just change its face.

Sameer Dossani is the Global Advocacy Coordinator of ActionAid International and former Executive Director of 50 Years Is Enough: US Campaign for Global Economic Justice. Views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ActionAid International.

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