“Total Domination”: Popular Rebellion in the Shadow of Trumpism-Fascism

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

We’re going to clamp down very, very strong. The word is dominate

– Donald Trump, speaking to US governors, June 1, 2020

Danger, danger, there’s a fascist in the White House, it’s up to us to drive him out

Refuse Fascism slogan, 2017-2020

Radical Potential

I joined a decent-sized civil and human rights march in Iowa City two nights ago. It started with mostly young and white people milling around, quietly chalking and talking at City Hall. When the numbers got big enough and two young Black sparkplug activists showed up, we took to (and took over) the downtown streets and had a rally at the Old Capital building on the University of Iowa’s scenic, tree-filled Pentacrest. Then we headed over to the Johnson County Jail, the headquarters of racist mass incarceration in Johnson County (which is named after a former U.S. Vice President reputed to have killed the great Native American rebel Tecumseh). We got a bunch of scared-looking sheriff’s deputies to take a knee for George Floyd.

There were shouts, honks, and fists of approval from cars, apartment dwellers overhead, and pedestrians, some of whom joined in. It was nice to see.

One of the loudest and favorite chants: “Fuck Donald Trump.”

Written in chalk in front of the Iowa City’s city hall and police department yesterday morning: “Disarm, Defund, and Dismantle the Police State.”

The crowd was mostly white (it’s Iowa, so no surprise there), but the match leaders were properly young and Black and there were plenty of nonwhite participants. (People of all colors nicely but insistently told a young white narcissist who tried to market his yoga website to step down and “pass the mike” back to the Black activist at Old Capitol. If you are going to grab the loudspeaker at a Black Lives Matter while white, you better say something short and meaningful for the cause).

If the march had a problem, it was that it ran too strong with chants were more about policemen than about the racist and fascist police state. “All Cops Are Bastards” becomes an awkward slogan when the big blue meanies agree to take a knee, leading many in the crowd to break into applause. “Boo cops, no, Yay cops!” is a little embarrassing.

The problem is that the cops can take a knee but we still have a racist-fascist militarized police state along with (more on this below) a racist-fascist regime in the White House (and in much of federal and state government beneath and beyond the Trump administration).

The radical potential of the night’s events was defused somewhat by the cops agreeing to kneel and by a group of people who started chanting “VOTE, VOTE, VOTE.” As we should know by now, American major party electoral politics is a populace-marginalizing cargo cult and a recurrent, biennial/quadrennial exercise in magical thinking and false savior hope. (Can anyone say “hopey-changey Obama”?) To quote radical activists I know in Chicago, “voting will not fix this mess; revolution, nothing less.”

Beyond the Psychological Wage of Racism

I am less bothered than some commenters (including a few Black bourgeois thinkers featured on the right-wing “P”BS “NewsHour” two nights ago) by the technical whiteness of many kids (and older folks) in the streets in the name of George Floyd and BLM. This is for four reasons.

First, I have been talking to young white Say His Name protestors and can reliably report that they are sincerely and morally opposed to racism and the racist police state. What is wrong with that?

Second, young white anti-racists are in the streets not only out of “bleeding heart” concern for darker-skinned others. They are also coming out of self-interest: they get it that this nation is being run (into the ground) for and by a predominantly white ruling class that controls the population in various ways including racial and ethnic divide-and-conquer.

They sense also that interracial solidarity is in their own interests. They are rejecting the “psychological wage of racism” (what the left historian David Roediger has called “the wages of whiteness”) that the American capitalist possessing classes have long used to keep working-class white folks down, along with everyone else.

Good for them.

Third, they are looking in horror at their own dire prospects under Covidian and ecocidal capitalism. They understand like never before that they and their loved ones are disposable in the calculations of the Lords of Capital and the owners’ bought-and-paid-for elected officials.

“Total Domination”: The Demented Fascist Oligarch Threatens Martial Law

Fourth, many of them get it now like never before that Trump’s racism is part of a many-sided neofascism that needs to be fought in the streets and not only or mainly in the ballot box.

They are correct in their understanding of Trump and Trumpism. The malignant white-nationalist-in-chief is leaving little doubt as to what is at stake in the United States the summer of 2020. His response to the nation-wide anti-racist “Say His Name” rebellion has been profoundly fascistic.

“Rather than focus on protesters’ grievances — such as systemic racism and police brutality – Trump,” NBC News reports. “has increasingly turned his focus to squelching the civil unrest that has accompanied the national demonstrations and has taken a hardline stance to restoring order.”

That is an accurate-enough summation, but it is remarkably credulous and understated. Why on Earth would someone like Trump, a cold-blooded “law and order” racist who has long been telling cops to “take the gloves off” to harshly punish people of color, listen with empathy to protesters’ cries against structural racism and police violence? Expecting anything remotely like that would be on par with expecting Grizzly Bears not to refrain from defecating in the forest.

“Taken a hardline stance to restoring order”? That is putting it mildly. On Monday, Orange King Covid berated the nation’s governors in a conference call, calling them “weak” in the face of the rebellion. “If you don’t dominate [the protests],” Trump said, “you’re wasting your time”:

“Washington, they had large groups, very large groups. … But we’re going to have it under much more control. We’re pouring in — we’re going to pull in thousands of people…We’re going to clamp down very, very strong. The word is dominate. If you don’t dominate your city and your state, they’re gonna walk away with you. And we’re doing it in Washington, in DC, we’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before. … we’re going to have total domination.”

“Total domination”: spoken like the dictator Trump has always dreamed of being.

Trump told the governors that “you have to use the military” and “we have a wonderful military.” He described the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement a “disgrace” that was rightly ended by governors and mayors being “tough.” He ever told the governors that protesters should serve 10-year prison sentences.

“The Right Normal”

Trump’s top military police state henchman now calls the U.S. “homeland” a “battlespace.” With approval from the terrible tangerine-tinted Twitter-tantruming tyrant himself, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this to a new domestic riot-control “central command center” headed Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, Esper and Attorney General William Barr (along with key state and local officials): “The sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace the sooner this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal.”

Interesting phrase, “the right normal.” That’s where everyone stays home and lets the ruling class ru[i]n the nation and the world while white cops, prison guards and border patrol agents murder people of color with impunity.

“Nice and Safe” for the Holy Bible

Trump ordered up 250 combat-ready military personnel from Ft. Bragg in North Carolina to Washington D.C. After police cleared LaFayette Square to let President Bone Spur come out of a protective bunker in which Secret Service had placed him, Trump gave a nod to the many Christian Fascists in his base. The Orange Chicken Hawk and aides walked across Pennsylvania Avenue to pose before cameras at historic St. John’s Parish. There the deadly clown Trump awkwardly held up a Holy Bible over his right shoulder. “We have the greatest country in the world, we’re going to keep it nice and safe,” Trump proclaimed.

Threatening a Domestic War Crime in the Name of God

In a chilling speech two days ago, Trump said that the American fascist police state must “dominate the streets” with “an overwhelming law enforcement presence.” If a city or state doesn’t crack down with an iron fist, Trump said, “I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

The demented fascist oligarch went on to falsely accuse protesters of “the spilling of innocent blood” — how Orwellian was that? — and called their actions “crime[s] against God.”

The malignant fascist could not say one word about the police murder of George Floyd, viewed by millions of American and world citizens on camera – the event that sparked the national protest wave. Smearing the entire movement as the handiwork of “professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, ANTIFA and others,” Trump threatened to commit a war crime by turning the US military on and against the public’s rights of free speech and assembly.

“Who’s Going to Stop Him”?

Doubling down on his effort to use the righteous, multi-racial people’s “Say His Name!” rebellion as a Reichstag Fire moment, Trump, Matthew Rotshchild notes, “threatens to usurp the role of governors and to send heavily armed U.S. troops to the states, raises the real specter of martial law in the United States.” As Rothschild chillingly reflected on “social media”:

“Some pundits and legal experts assure us that it probably still can’t happen here, but who’s going to stop him? Not the Attorney General of the United States. Not the Secretary of the Defense. Not the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All three stood right behind him after he had troops violently disrupt a peaceful protest across the street from the White House…I suspect there have been plans on the drawing boards of the Pentagon for imposing martial law that were worked up after 9/11.General Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq in 2003, said that if we’re ever attacked again by terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, we might have to suspend the Constitution. Condoleezza Rice’s deputy at the National Security Council, General Wayne Downing, said essentially the same thing: If attacked again with chemical or biological weapons, ‘The United States may have to declare martial law.’ So when the generals talked in public about martial law, you can bet that their subordinates drew up plans for it. That’s how the military works…Since Trump is calling Antifa a terrorist group, he could seize on this interpretation and claim he is ‘deterring terrorism.’”

It could get worse. As Rothschild elaborated, Trump could well invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, crafted with Black slave revolts in mind:

“Trump could also invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, as legal experts have also speculated about. Even Preet Bharara, who was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York under President Obama, told CNN on Monday night that Trump has a legal leg to stand on with the Insurrection Act…Whatever legal fig leaf Trump might use, he also is commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world.
I’m reminded of Stalin’s response to Churchill, who asked him to consider the views of the Pope. Stalin sneered: ‘How many divisions does the Pope have?’…Our democracy is hanging by a thinner thread than ever right now… If Trump declared martial law tomorrow afternoon, you can bet your last dollar that tomorrow night Sean Hannity would be praising him for doing so on Fox News.

Is the martial law threat just Trump hot air? Maybe. Even if it is, the simple fact that Dear Leader Donald has explicitly threatened to pre-empt governors and ram martial law down the American people’s throats is a cold fascistic departure.

Who’s going to stop him? We the People are. It’s up to us to drive him out.

“A Fulcrum Moment for this Nation”

Truthout’s William Rivers-Pitt puts it very well:

‘This is a fulcrum moment for the nation, one that could tilt either way. Either we secure a measure of justice through sustained effort, or the authoritarian pushback that has already begun will hurl us down into a darkness as yet un-comprehended should we weaken or stagger. We must not. ‘Someday’ is now. We can only write a better future if we are true to each other, to ourselves, and to the legion of victims who cry for justice from beyond this vale of fathomless sorrow.’

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