Photograph Source: Anthony Quintano – CC BY 2.0
In October of 2016, then United States president Barack Obama told Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine that the Hillary Clinton campaign had to “keep a fascist out of the White House.” The 44th President of the United States had an accurate understanding of Trump – a president in the making Obama had done much to create (please see the third chapter of my new book Hollow Resistance: Trump, Obama and the Politics of Appeasement) – as a malignant, arch-authoritarian, and far-right menace to the republic and the world.
Less than a month later, Obama said this to the American people after Trump defeated Mrs. Clinton:
“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country… we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens [that it] is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy…ultimately we’re all on the same team” (emphasis added).
And Obama said this to younger White House staffers and to The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick after Trump won: “this is not the apocalypse…I don’t believe in the apocalyptic – until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”
Are We There Yet?
Nearly four years later, we are entitled the newly minted Martha’s Vineyard oligarch a question: Hey, Obama, is it the fascist apocalypse yet? Where to begin? We have seen the purposefully sadistic child separations at the border; the immigrant concentration camps; Charlottesville; the insane partially and badly constructed border Wall; the pardoning of demented racist war criminals; the Trump-triggered El Paso slaughter; the Trump-triggered Tree of Life massacre; Trump’s insane murder of Iran’s top military commander; calls for “civil war” if Democrats try to remove him from office; repeated threats to annihilate North Korea and Iran with nuclear weapons; repeated call-outs to white supremacists and fascists; open embrace of political terrorism; bizarre claims that the Constitution “lets me do whatever I want;” “jokes” about being “president for life;” the Trump-approved Khashoggi vivisection; the insane arch-authoritarian Dershowitz defense; the ongoing far-right makeover of the federal courts; Lafayette Square; the absurd description of Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a “hate” slogan; the insane description of BLM protesters as “terrorists;” obsessive neo-McCarthyite fear mongering about “the radical Left;” constant absurd conflation of corporate centrist Democrats with “the radical Left;” the relentless purge of administration officials deemed disloyal; the absurd paranoid-style claim that Marxists and anarchists are “indoctrinating our children;” the preposterous depiction of center-right Joe Biden as “a Trojan Horse for socialism;” the savage shredding of environmental regulations; the tearing up of nuclear weapons agreements; the forced sterilizations of immigrant women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities; the savage racist indifference to the plight of Puerto Rico during and after Hurricane Maria; the reference to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries;” the open violation of international asylum law; nativist and racist assaults on progressive Congresswoman (including telling them to “go back to the crime-infested country you came from”); the sinister and telling combination of lawlessness with the rhetoric of “law and order;” the constant and relentless propaganda war on truth, facts, and science; the open adoption of fascist esthetic and symbols; the embrace of the Confederacy; the sickening attack on the teaching of the history of American slavery and genocide; the paramilitary deployments in Portland, Kenosha, and elsewhere; the “white power” tweet; the recurrent fascist-stye hate-rallies (suspended briefly only because the monster finally got bit in the lungs by his own pandemic); the defense of the teen-fascist and murderer Kyle Rittenhouse; the police state execution of Michael Reinoehl; the “Stand By” shout-out to the Proud Boys; the appointment of a Christian fascist cult member to the U.S. Supreme Court; the presidentially sparked (“Free Michigan!”) fascist plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan; the Mussolini-mimicking photo-op (minus a mask while infected by COVID-19) on the White House balcony; the murder of more than 212,000 Americans through the racist, partisan, and Social Darwinist fanning of the coronavirus across the land; the repeated refusal (recently reiterated by his Christian fascist Vice President) to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election; the pandemic super-spreader events held by Trump at the White House and around the country; the emergence of the White House as a coronavirus hot-spot; the ongoing rolling coup that Trump and his personal attorney general are executing against the 2020 election; and plenty more that renders transparently absurd the bitter old leftist fools I know who still insist even now on mocking the notion that Trump and Trumpism might have something to do with fascism.
Trump, jacked up on steroids prescribed to treat symptoms of the deadly virus that he has spread across the nation, is calling for his personal attorney general to arrest Obama and Joe Biden. He has called the Democrats’ centrist vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris a “monster,” a “man woman,” and a “communist.” This comes in the middle of an ongoing White House, Justice Department, and Republican coup against any kind of normal bourgeois-constitutional election.
So, hey, Obama, with 212,000-plus dead from the Trump Virus, with the COVID-45 death count heading to half a million by next January, with tens of millions without jobs or health care, with a second stimulus still blocked by the right-wing Senate and president, with a far right Handmaid jurist about to round out a 6-3 hard right Supreme Court, with mass evictions on the horizon, with no new financial supports coming for people out of work, with even lame-ass corporate Obamacare on the chopping block, and with a rolling coup being waged by the Trump administration on the nation’s highly flawed “electoral democracy”….is it the fascist apocalypse yet? And hey, Obama, isn’t it a bit late to “believe in the apocalyptic” only when “the apocalypse” comes? Wouldn’t we try to make efforts to avert the apocalypse before it arrives?
The Infantilizing Electoralism of the Hollow Resistance
Like his brief promise to block any new stimulus measures until after the election, Trump’s openly abusive “debate” performance two weeks ago was richly consistent with the notion that he is not actually trying to win the election – at least not in a “normal” way. The Trump and Republican plan is clearly to cripple and steal the contest with “legal” voter suppression, extra-legal voter intimidation (armed “poll watchers”), the de-legitimization of the mass mail-in ballots required by the Trump pandemic, the deployment an army of (anti-) election lawyers, an epidemic of court challenges, the possible refusal to recognize popularly elected Electoral College slates in battleground states, the suppression of protests (replete with the threats of “Sedition” charges and martial law) and – icing on the coup cake – the rapid installation of women’s slavery advocate Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court. Trump and his constitutional Darth Vader William Barr are counting on a 6-3 hard right court to certify their Grand Theft Election scheme.
Can they pull it off? Not if millions of Americans mobilize and protest before, during, and after the election. Will people do that? The Democratic Party is dedicated to few things more religiously than to keeping people off the streets. It clings to doctrinal faith in the belief that the only politics that matters is people individually ballot-marking the names of dollar-drenched candidates selected in advance for them by the nation’s ruling class once every two or four years. That, we are told, is when we get real democratic input. It’s an abject lie contradicted by an ocean of empirical research showing that the nation’s unelected dictatorship of concentrated wealth gets most of what it wants from government over and against technically irrelevant majority progressive public opinion (7 in 10 Americans currently want Single Payer national health insurance) regardless of which of the two major state-capitalist parties holds the most power in government.
This infantilizing electoralism has no greater high priest than Obama, who absurdly tells people that “the best way to protest is to vote” (Urbana, Illinois, September 2018) and that “voting is the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy” (Obama’s funeral oration for John Lewis this summer). He couldn’t praise the remarkable George Floyd rebellion without getting in his claim that voting is the real way to change things and taking another one of his longstanding shots at the supposedly excessively radical 1960s.
Obama is full of shit on this (as on so much else). As the late and great radical American historian Howard Zinn explained in an April 2008 Progressive essay titled “Election Madness,” penned as Obamania spread across America:
“The election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple-choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students…Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”
The right to vote itself has been won only by mass protest and struggle – and then badly diluted and controlled by elites.
Indivisible and MoveOn Exist to Keep People Off the Streets
Perhaps the current unprecedented quadrennial election cycle could challenge the false dichotomy of protesting vs. voting. Barring a total Biden sweep in both the popular vote and the absurdly anti-democratic Electoral College, it seems likely that a massive and consistent popular presence in the streets (and elsewhere) will be required to have a decent and “fair” vote, insofar as such a thing is even possible under the highly flawed, reactionary, and money-soaked U.S. party and elections system. Most of the likely election scenarios gamed out by the bipartisan Transition Integrity Project lead to a constitutional crisis driven by the Trump-Pence-Barr-Miller administration’s refusal to accept defeat.
Will Democrats be willing to call masses into the streets, rejecting the pathetic path of surrender taken by the Gore-Lieberman Democrats in 2000-2001? Perhaps, but the signs are not good. There is a coalition of Democratic Party-affiliated fake-progressive Astroturf groups forming under the banner of “resistance” (they love that word but have little idea what it really means) “if Trump tries to steal the election.” But these kinds of groups, led by deeply conservative and professional class organizations like Indivisible and MoveOn, are all about legalistic and electoralist Inauthentic Opposition. They wouldn’t know how to organize an anti-fascist movement if their lives depended on it (which could be the case). At most, the usual Dem Astroturf suspects will hold a few tightly controlled corporate-Democratic rallies while relying on MSDNC-CNN talking heads and a “no drama Obama”-style legal strategy that would culminate in a Supreme Court decision granting the Covid-spewing maniac Trump a tragic second term. Keeping people off the streets, channeling Americans them into individualistic voting, and propagating faith in tepid professional class anti- “activists” and their corporate backers is the core of such organizations’ institutional mission. Depending on authoritarian outfits like Indivisible and MoveOn to “save democracy” (or what’s left of it) is like depending on Joe Biden to provide offensive line pass protection against the fearsome Chicago Bears defensive lineman Kahlil Mack.
“I Voted” Doesn’t Just Cut It — This Time Especially
Ordinary Americans determined to rid this nation and world of Trumpism-fascism would do better to organize on their own and with genuinely grassroots anti-racist/anti-sexist/anti-ecocidal/anti-fascist organizations like Refuse Fascism.
Three obstacles must be overcome for this mobilization to occur. First, Americans must break once for all from the Obamanistic “election madness” – from the infantilizing notion that “voting is the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy.” This idea is toxically false under any regime and it is especially untrue under the corporate-captive American party and elections system, long one of the least “representative” in the so-called democratic world. It is particularly inadequate in the middle of a brazen, remarkably unhidden assault on electoral democracy, such as it is (or was). “I voted” is simply not a sufficient answer to the question “what are you doing to eliminate the horrific Trump regime?”
Let the Joe Time Roll?
Second, Americans must resist the sense I am picking up on key “liberal” media outlets that’s it’s pretty much all over and that “Trump is toast” in the wake of his horrible “debate” performance and his Covid drama. “Just look at the polls, it’s over.” So Let the Good Times Roll with Sleepy Joe:
If the illusion is real
Let them give you a ride
If they got thunder appeal
Let them be on your side
Let them leave you up in the air
Let them brush your rock and roll hair
Let the good times roll
Why don’ ya let the good times roll?
Let the (good times roll)
Let the…Joe Time Roll.
Liberal, please. Step away from the electoralist Five Thirty-Eight polling data bong! Hillary Clinton had a comparable if not larger polling lead at this time four years ago. And she wasn’t going up against an incumbent neofascistic regime whose party had a death grip on the Justice Department, U.S. Senate, the federal bench (including the high court), and the state legislatures in numerous key battleground state. Adding to the Halloween madness, the pandemic that President Pennywise unleashed is now part of his (anti-)electoral strategy, being used both to discourage voting and as a means of challenging the count.
Believe the Autocrat
Third, people really, really need to drop their partially understandable self-protective layer of disbelief about the rolling attempted coup that is underway. I have actually heard this from liberals in recent weeks: “That couldn’t happen here. They wouldn’t do that.” WTF! Seriously? After everything we have seen under Trump – please re-read the fourth paragraph of this essay – and after all the clear signals Trump has sent, what could possibly be hard to believe about the Trump-Barr-GOP plot to pilfer the 2020 election?
The demented, literally diseased wannabe dictator Donald Trump has referred to his election as the moment “when I took over the country.” He meant/means it. When an authoritarian says he’s not going to commit to leaving office just because he loses an election, believe him. As the Russian dissident and American-based Russian expatriate Masha Gessen told us from the start regarding Trump, in a brilliant essay titled “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”:
“Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.”
The People Need to Enter the Stage of History: Getting Beyond 45 Means Going Beyond 44
What’s not to believe about Trump’s authoritarian assault on the electoral process? Hello? Can he and his evil monkeys pull it off? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not about the crystal ball. It’s about taking action to refuse a fascist America. This much can be said: if we don’t transcend the fake resistance notion that “the best way to protest is to vote” (Obama)… if we don’t demonstrate our willingness to force the Trump regime – itself largely created by the Weimar Democrat Obama (see the third chapter of Hollow Resistance, titled “Barack von Obombdenburg”) – then yes, Trump might well be able to steal a second term (how about a third?).
I won’t pretend to know where we are headed right now. I’ve never found near-term history less predictable. We are in a very fluid and strange conjuncture in American history with a lot of different factors in play. This is a quadrennial electoral extravaganza and freak show like no other in the nation’s record: an absolute maniac literally on steroids and struck by his own pandemic is scheming with his malevolent minions and party to purloin the contest over the opposition of a pulverized populace. He and his sick (both literally and figuratively) team have no small number of constitutional and extra-constitutional levers to pull.
There was no “vibrant and functioning democracy” (Obama’s words after Trump won in 2016) in the United States for Trump to steal in the first place, which is part of why he got in power. For all I know Trump is about to have the mother of all steroid crashes and Covid relapses and the evangelical apocalypse fan Pence will soon picking out portraits for the Oval Office.
This much can be said with full confidence: part of the chaos is that We the People have yet to enter the historical process as any kind of organized, united, and revolutionary force. Until we do it is just going to be more chaos unto death, more rapid than we may have imagined. Beneath and beyond the horrors of the eco-pandemo-fascist Trump and his co-dependent Weimar enablers in the Democratic Party of Fake Resistance, the whole damn capitalist/imperialist system is driving humanity over the environmental cliff (remember that little problem?). Ridding ourselves of the Trump atrocity is essential but it is only the beginning of the struggle we need to fight.
+1. Don’t take it from a supposedly “paranoid Marxist conspiracy theorist” (an oxymoron) like me: listen to longtime Trump insiders who know him very well. Whence Trump’s special love for despots and dictators of various ideological stripes around the world? “The president,” one top national security aide told the senior Trump administration official Anonymous, “sees in these guys what he wishes he had: total power, no term limits, enforced popularity, and the ability to silence critics for good.”
“If he loses the election in 2020,” Trump’s longtime personal fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen warned Congress last year, “there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” Cohen probably knows and understands Trump better than anyone else. Look at this passage from Cohen’s recent book Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to the President of the United States – an account of Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian power in Russia:
“Trump held up a newspaper article about Gazprom, the giant Russian oil company. The photograph accompanying the story showed twenty-five trucks loaded with oil leaving a Gazprom facility. Twenty of the trucks were heading in one direction, while five were heading the opposite way.”
“‘Those five trucks are for Putin,’ Trump said, with absolute certainty. ‘Putin isn’t president of Russia. He’s the ruler. He’s the dictator. The tsar. He can do whatever he wants. He’s going to be the leader for the duration of his life.’”
“Trump didn’t say that disapprovingly, or with any emotion other than admiration bordering on awe. His impulses weren’t democratic, in any sense of the word. Trump loved Putin because the Russian had the balls to take over an entire nation and run it like it was his personal company – like the Trump Organization, in fact. In Russia, no one questioned or doubted Putin. Just as no one called out Trump on the 26th floor of Trump Tower. Putin’s ability to bring the press to heel, the media’s throat under his jackboot, was also an attraction to Trump, not a bad thing. The same was true for the banks and Russia’s industrial complex; an entire society and civilization bent to the will of a single man was how Trump viewed the ideal historical form of government – with him as the man in charge, of course. Locking up your political enemies, criminalizing dissent, terrifying or bankrupting the free press through libel lawsuits – [this was] Trump’s all-encompassing vision….” (Disloyal, pp. 245-46, emphasis added).