On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence

Photograph Source: Mike Maguire – CC BY 2.0

No political “Left” can or should exist that:

+ cannot or will not walk and chew gum at the same time.

+ fails to forthrightly and unambiguously oppose the United States’ current fascist, racist, eco-cidal, and sexist presidency and its noxious white Amerikaner base.

+ reflexively and constantly responds to every liberal and Left criticism of Trump by saying “but/what about Hillary” (and/or “but/what about Obama,” “but/what about Pelosi,” and “but/what about Schiff,” etc.

+ constantly lectures fellow and actual leftists about something we already know very well: the dismal, dollar-drenched, neoliberal-imperialist corporate Democrats are a deeply ruling class and imperialist party.

+ automatically assumes that to oppose Trump is to support the Democrats and the corporate-imperial “deep state.”

+ cannot or will not distinguish solidaristic working-class anti-racism/anti-Nativism/anti-sexism from bourgeois identity politics.

+ cannot or will not process sociopolitical data demonstrating that Trump’s base is linked by a combination of white racism and authoritarian values, not working-class economic grievance.

+ falls for the moronic mainstream narrative that Trump is an electoral product of the “white working-class.”

+ thinks that someone could simultaneously be on the Left and support Donald Trump

+ fails to adequately distinguish between Trump and previous Republican presidents.

Factions are warring within the American ruling class. So-called deep state agents (that is, ruling class/power elite players both within and beneath the parliamentary and electoral surface of U.S. politics and policy) have been opposing Trump for reasons that reflect elite interests (corporate globalization, investment stability/predictability, imperial and national credibility and branding among other things) that (as Trump’s “left” defenders rightly point out) have nothing to do with principled, democratic, and popular opposition.

Think of understanding this as a form of basic left mental walking. Does this elementary mental stroll mean that one cannot at the same time chew gum by opposing the Trumpenstein and working for its fastest possible demise based on one’s understanding that the current White House is neo-fascistic, racist, ecocidal, and sexist and headed by a malignantly narcissistic and epically corrupt maniac who takes pleasure in terrorizing immigrant children and flouting civilized norms and the rule of law – and who, by the way, is doing everything he can to accelerate the process of turning the entire planet in a Greenhouse Gas Chamber? Of course not.

The first 300 times I heard “but Hillary” and “but Obama” automatically thrown up as responses to left criticisms of Trump, I shrugged and went along. One can cite dozens if not hundreds of my own publications and talks on how awful the Inauthentic Opposition party, the Democrats is, with special attention to Obama and the Clintons and the role they and their neoliberal party have played in birthing the fascistic Trumpenstein presidency.

The second 300 times I heard “what about Hillary,” “what about Obama,” and “what about the Democrats” in response to principled left criticisms of the Trump presidency, I said “okay, fine, but perhaps you have observed by now that the president’s name is Donald Trump, not Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton and the white-nationalist GOP now has all three branches of government [though the Democrats got half of Congress in January of 2019] Please consider that the current titular chief of the American Empire is always Public Enemy #1 and that Trump is particularly noxious in ways that numerous serious thinkers reasonably identify as fascistic. You are sounding like a badly broken record. Your what-aboutism is starting to sound like inverted lesser-evilism.”

After the third 300 times I heard the reflexive what-aboutist response to Trump on “the left,” I started removing people from my in-box and drone-bombing them out of my “social media” lists. Actual leftists don’t need perpetual harangues on the awfulness of the Democrats. We’ve understood the other capitalist-imperialist party’s dismal dreadfulness since and before Upton Sinclair called the Democrats and Republicans “two wings of the same bird of prey” (in 1904). Failing to grasp that one can oppose both Donito Assolini and the corporate-Wall-Street CIA Democrats at one and the same time is a form of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s not very bright.

Principled and actual leftists ideally want the Trump-Pence regime overthrown through a mass popular rebellion that confronts not just Trump and Trumpism but the whole damn capitalist, imperialist, racist, sexist, and ecocidal system, Democrats included, that gave rise to Trump. Radical/actual leftists (myself included) have been advocating for that since the day Trump graduated from the Electoral College.

The actual Left at its best has always understood that it must oppose racism, Nativism, ethno-centrism, and sexism in the process of building popular and working-class solidarity in the struggles for reform and revolution. Yes, elite Democrats criticize Trump and the Republicans from a “progressive-neoliberal,” bourgeois-identitarian standpoint. We know that. But that standpoint has nothing to do with actual and principled Left politics and it is offensive to merge such politics with the neoliberal identity politics of the corporate Democrats and media. Calling Trump out as a racist and a sexist as one part of a movement for working-class revolution is not the same as former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice calling Trump a racist and sexist as part of her advocacy for a more robust U.S. imperialism. Anti-racism/-sexism/-nativism/-homophobia/-nationalism/-chauvinism is part and parcel of the struggle of the working and lower class many against the obscenely wealthy and disastrously powerful Few.

Trump and his base are fundamentally and quintessentially racist. This is obviously the case both anecdotally and statistically. Almost as moronic as the Trumpenleft notion of Trump as a “peace president” (tell it to the people of Yemen, the soon-to-be-assaulted Syrian Kurds, the Palestinians, and the thousands of people who have lost relatives and friends to Trump’s stealthily record-setting drone war campaign) is the claim that he was voted into office by the (white) working-class due to his economic-populist rhetoric. Trump’s voting base was disproportionately affluent and congealed primarily not around “populist” economic grievance against neoliberalism but rather around a neo-fascistic conjuncture of political authoritarianism and white racial/racist identity[1]. The number of white working-class voters who shifted from voting for Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 – a key part of the silly Trumpenproletarian narrative – is “much less than one half of one percent of Americans, at most,” according to the statistically astute left political scientist Anthony DiMaggio, whose forthcoming book Rebellion in America: Citizen Uprisings, the News Media, and the Politics of Plutocracy (Routledge, 2020) demolishes the ridiculous Trumpenproletarian (“Trump’s white working-class base”) narrative. DiMaggio reports that “voters in areas harmed by manufacturing loss were more likely to choose Hillary Clinton than Trump.” The “real story of 2016,” DiMaggio recently wrote me, was the neoliberal “Democrats’ demobilization of working-class voters, not Trumps cultivation of them.”

“The real working-class revolt against neoliberalism in 2016 and 2020.” DiMaggio ads, “went/goes through the Sanders campaign, which itself draws on left movements, including Occupy, Madison, and Fight for 15. ‘Researchers’ claiming that Trump was voted in by the working-class laughably conflate Trump and Sanders by claiming that both are meaningful manifestations of working-class revolt against plutocracy.” The claim is absurd: “Sanders,” DiMaggio notes, “opposes plutocracy. Trump is the most extreme embodiment of it in modern U.S. history.”

Speaking of absurdity, the notion of an “other left…that supports Trump” is a self-cancelling and Orwellian farce. A “left” that backs a creeping fascist, racist, sexist, white-nationalist, climate change-denier like Trump is not a “left” remotely worthy of the label. Two plus two equals four. It does not equal nine.

Trump is not just another vile Republican president. Apart from Gerald Ford and with the possible exception of the horrid George H.W. “What We Say Goes” Bush, it is true, each Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower has gotten progressively more reactionary, racist, nationalist, evangelically backed, and fascistic. Still, quantity changed to quality with the orange monstrosity. Fascism-dismissing left intellectuals living in bougie enclaves on the East or West coast should come out to the flyover zones and see what’s afoot in the nation’s absurdly over-represented “flyover zones.” They should also attend a Trump rally. Trump has broken the mold, leaping into full-on herrenvolkish white nationalism. He has taken palingenetic nationalism, openly virulent racism, nativism, sexism, the war on truth, and ecocidalism to lethal new levels along with a brazen authoritarianism that openly merges the imperial U.S. presidency with personal corruption, the encouragement and cultivation of right-wing political violence, and the brazen abrogation of bourgeois law. Trump is the first U.S. president in modern history who can reasonably be expected not to honor the results of an election that does not go his way. (Just how much of the neo-fascistic, arch-authoritarian Trump difference is about ideological commitment and how much of it is about venal and malignant narcissism-gangsterism is an open question but there should be no doubt that Trump45 represents a historical departure with strong fascistic leanings.)

The Trumpified GOP base is not just the same old nasty Republican electorate. Much of this distinctly non-proletarian cohort has passed proto-fascistic tipping points.

“Leftists” who cannot forthrightly and unambiguously oppose the racist-sexist white nationalist pig Donald Trump and his vicious backers should simply retire their self-identification as, well, leftists. Trumpenleftism is a terminally oxymoronic condition of Orwellian self-cancellation. Its strange proponents should resist its allure or prepare to enter the Red-Brown Hall of Shame along with such epic historical buffoons as the “third period” German Communist Party leadership (“After Hitler, Us”) of the early 1930s.

Postscript: Against False Equivalency

Serious portsiders must not fall for false equivalencies regarding the problem of how to respond to “deep state” actions. The neofascistic brute Trump is now facing a political crisis including likely impeachment and possibly even removal because top CIA operatives and other “national security” elites caught Trump flouting long-established presidential norms by using the imperial policy leverage of his office to extort help from a foreign country in his re-election effort. That offense falls short of many offenses in what progressives know to be a long list of Trump administration crimes and abuses. The list includes: acceleration of Ecocide; criminal construction of concentration camps on the border; violation of international amnesty rights; violation of the Constitution on domestic emolumentsviolation of the Constitution on foreign emolumentsincitement of violenceinterference with voting rights;  discrimination based on religionillegal warillegal threat of nuclear warabuse of presidential pardon powerobstruction of justice; politicizing of prosecutions;  failure to reasonably prepare for and respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Mariaseparating children and infants from families; tax fraud and public misrepresentation; assaulting freedom of the press;  supporting a coup in Venezuelaunconstitutional declaration of emergencyinstructing Border Patrol to violate the lawrefusal to comply with subpoenasDeclaration of Emergency without basis to violate the will of Congress; illegal proliferation of nuclear technology; illegal removal of U.S. from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Seen against this vast record of transgression, Ukraine Gate seems like a comparatively minor misdeed and a rather intra-elite matter. Still, no self-respecting leftist would call or lead a demonstration defending the Trump presidency against the “deep state’s” effort to remove it just over UkraineGate and obstruction of justice. That is not our fight against the “deep state.” Imagine a different scenario, however: the “deep state” going after a social democratic or liberal president (say, a President Bernie Sanders or a President Liz Warren) – or for that matter a revolutionary Left president (I can dream) – for trying to implement a great social-democratic program like universal Single Payer health insurance and/or an existentially necessary Green Jobs and climate justice program. In this scenario, it would be the duty of any self-respecting Left to hold mass protests on behalf of the president’s actions. So, no, being “okay” with (or at least not resisting) the power elite’s removal of Trump over something like UkraineGate (which does in fact involve a brazen abuse of power by the Malignant Freak in the White House) does NOT mean (as numerous Trumpenlefties have tried to tell me online) that one would also be “okay” with the power elite’s removal of a liberal or left president for trying to do something decent and progressive. The former does not put us in the streets. The latter does.


1) For the real story and data on Trump’s base, see Konstatin Kilibard and Daria Roithmayr, “The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt: Donald Trump Didn’t Flip Working-Class White Voters. Hillary Clinton Lost Them,” Slate, December 1, 2016; Kim Moody, “Who Put Trump in the White House?” Jacobin, January 11, 2017; Anthony DiMaggio, “Election Con 2016: New Evidence Demolishes the Myth of Trump’s ‘Blue-Collar’ Populism,’ Counterpunch, June 16, 2017; Eric Draitser, “Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics,” Counterpunch, March 24, 2017; David Norman Smith and Eric Hanley, “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?” Critical Sociology, February 9, 2018, In the most sophisticated and statistically astute analysis of the 2016 Trump electorate produced so far, Smith and Hanley found the white Trump base was differentiated from white non-Trump voters not by class or other “demographic” factors (including income, age, gender and the alleged class identifier of education) but by eight key attitudes and values: identification as “conservative”; support for “domineering leaders”; Christian fundamentalism; prejudice against immigrants; prejudice against blacks; prejudice against Muslims; prejudice against women, and a sense of pessimism about the economy. Strong Trump supporters scored particularly high on support for domineering leaders, fundamentalism, opposition to immigrants and economic pessimism. They were particularly prone to support authoritarian leaders who promised to respond punitively to minorities perceived as “line-cutters”—“undeserving” others who were allegedly getting ahead of traditional white Americans in the procurement of jobs and government benefits—and to the supposed liberal “rotten apples” who were purportedly allowing these “line-cutters” to advance ahead of traditional white American males. Support for politically authoritarian leaders and a sense of intolerance regarding racial, ethnic and gender differences are two sides of the same Trumpian coin. The basic desire animating Trump’s base was “the defiant wish for a domineering and impolitic leader” linked to “the wish for a reversal of what his base perceives as an inverted moral and racial order.”


Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).