by Richard Greeman
THE MASSIVE, SPONTANEOUS, popular resistance to Trump that poured into the streets in the giant post-Inauguration Women’s March had been welling up since election night. With Trump and his ruthless, racist, reactionary White House gang now in power, our diverse, multiform, self-organized resistance has its work cut out for it. The Trump gang means business, and it will be an epic struggle. No one can predict the outcome at this point, but we can at least attempt to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents in this historic match.
The early signs indicate that the upstart contestant — the self-organized American resistance movement — may grow up fast on the job. Nine days after the Inauguration protest, the spontaneous response of large numbers of ordinary Americans to Trump’s executive order detaining and deporting well-vetted, documented travelers from seven Moslem countries was immediate and militant. Within hours of the first detentions, small demonstrations sprang up at major airports and soon, thanks to social media, grew in size and militancy. Meanwhile, human rights organizations immediately attacked the Order in various courts, and judges began issuing temporary stays. The next day, mass demonstrations materialized in Washington and thirty-odd cities, encouraging public officials, including Republicans, to speak out against the ban.
Let us recall that the giant post-Inauguration Women’s March had succeeded in part by bringing together, in its ad-hoc leadership, a tentative coalition organizations and networks previously separated by the prevalence of identity politics. Thanks to the leadership of the women (our oppressed majority!), a fragile alliance is being forged among representatives of America’s oppressed national minorities, undocumented immigrants, oppressed sexual minorities, and the movements of exploited, insecure workers fighting for dignity and a $15 minimum wage — a category which includes many of the above.
During the Women’s March, we perceived this tentative coalition as the embryo of a possible common front, organized from below. The subsequent massive self-organized popular protests in defense of Moslem refugees seems to confirm the power of this unity. Of all oppressed groups, Muslims and refugees are the most vulnerable and unpopular. Long the stereotyped target of xenophobic fear campaigns, they are constantly defamed as fanatical Islamists and dangerous terrorists, and standing up for them implies a serious rethinking of one’s own prejudices, not to mention a certain risk — at the very moment that brave U.S. residents were standing up militantly for Moslem immigrants, home-grown terrorists were bombing Islamic Cultural Centers in Quebec and Texas.
The U.S. has been officially “at war with Islamic terrorism” for fifteen years, yet today tens of thousands of Americans have the guts to stand up for Islamic immigrants and refugees, surrounding airports and chanting, “Let them in!” Compare this courageous reaction to the stony silence during World War II when an antisemitic U.S. State Department closed America’s doors to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, and when the U.S. government rounded up innocent Japanese residents (including citizens) and confined them to desert concentration camps as suspected enemy agents.
Americans have come a long way since I was a lad. What a leap in popular consciousness! What a victory for planetary solidarity!
If this solidarity continues to grow and deepen, if the resistance community remains united, we can only imagine how the resistance will react when the Trump Administration attacks women’s right to abortion. Or how it will react when Hispanic refugees and asylum-seekers are being deported to countries in Latin American. Or when police murder more unarmed African Americans and go unpunished. Or when workers strike and organize against low-wage employers like Wal-Mart or Amazon. The White House has already somewhat backpedaled on Trump’s “Moslem ban” decrees, and such victories help build our movements’ confidence.
BEST OF ALL, this massive resistance, although based on existing social movements and organizations in various oppressed communities, is essentially self-organized — as Occupy Wall Street was, six years ago. Although the 2011 Occupy protests were largely symbolic, they famously succeeded in “changing the American political conversation” and awakening popular consciousness with its slogans, “We are the 99 percent” and “This is what America looks like.” This new consciousness has now been embraced by a mass movement.
The convenience of Internet and social media enables today’s movements and networks to communicate and organize locally and act nationally. Activists can now leap over the barriers of time, distance, and the high cost of printing and mailing, to come together tactically and confront the Establishment in real time. The Net circulates information rapidly, circumventing the commercial media, and allows every individual to speak for herself, assuring that a real discussion takes place. By removing vertical organizations’ advantage of holding a monopoly of information and internal communication, the Internet also leaps over the barrier of bureaucratic political parties acting from above to inhibit participatory democracy and manipulate and co-opt movements.
In 2016, the new social consciousness spawned in 2011 expressed itself in support for Sanders’ grassroots “political revolution”— enthusiastically backed by millions, especially among the young, who have no investment in the capitalist status quo and few prospects under it. Frustrated in its attempt to seek reform within the rigged political system, faced with the openly counter-revolutionary Trump administration, this new movement has now moved on to open resistance to a power it considers illegitimate both morally and electorally. We have thus entered what the Italian Marxist Gramsci would have called a “crisis of hegemony.” This means a challenge to unquestioning popular acceptance of the existing class rule as normal, natural, socially inevitable, a disruption of the culturally and politically manipulated “consent of the governed.”
Consider that 43 percent of eligible voters abstained, given the miserable choice, and at least 3 percent voted for the Greens and Libertarians. Even so Clinton, the unpopular, shopworn, elitist candidate, won the popular count by around three million votes. To this majority add another three million anti-Trump votes that were not cast or not counted thanks to various forms of racist voter suppression. All such disenfranchised folks feel indignant at being cheated and lied to, and their anger has been building since the disgraceful 2016 election campaign.
[Let us note that under the Obama administration, little was done to protect minority voters’ rights, and the neo-liberal Democrats, dependent on Wall Street, made no major efforts to register such voters, which normally would have assured the election of a Democrat. By failing to register Democrats, by sabotaging the Sanders campaign, and by refusing to campaign in the swing states, the DNC dismantled its essentially anti-capitalist political base so as to remain cozy with Wall Street and the reigning duopoly. Indeed, the over-confident Democratic elites as much as threw the election.]
HERE’S ANOTHER PLUS for the resistance: For once the New York Times and other mainstream media are actually covering our public protests rather than ignoring or denigrating them, as they did with Sanders’ presidential campaign. Even as recently as the January 21st Women’s March, only Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now was actually on the scene with reporters, cameras and mikes talking to people and broadcasting the speeches and music. The major television networks failed to broadcast interviews with participants. Instead, they put on the usual talking-head experts and politicians to comment on the March.
So thank you, President Trump, for declaring war on these commercial-hungry buzzards whose greed for ratings catapulted you into the presidency. Maybe now they’ll start barking like watchdogs rather than snuggling up to the powerful like lapdogs hungry for access and sensational sound bites. Maybe if we keep feeding them good material they’ll actually start listening to what we’re all saying.
Our resistance will need all the advantages and allies we can get. Trump means business, and the people around him are mean, unscrupulous and determined. The list of appointments Trump made to run our government from the height of his Tower on Fifth Avenue is mind-boggling. Indeed, millions of Americans, who maybe didn’t take the star of The Apprentice too seriously, have now awakened to the danger of the cast of characters hired by the CEO of the virtual-reality show, “America First.” They are a gang of rightwing extremists, all millionaires and billionaires, including four Goldman Sachs partners, four uniformed generals, and Trump’s business cronies and relatives still active in family businesses (whose wealth and international scope Trump still refuses to disclose).
This cabinet is the wealthiest in American history. All white. Few women. Few with experience in government. Let’s start with Trump’s closest political advisor, Steven Bannon, formerly of Goldman-Sachs, and the white-nationalist millionaire editor of the Alt-right Breitbart News website. Bannon was Trump’s 2016 chief campaign strategist, and is believed to be the main author of the executive order banning Moslems, which was hastily drafted and instantly enforced in order to build Trump’s image as a “man of action” who takes his campaign promises seriously. Trump simultaneously appointed Bannon as his ideological mouthpiece to the National Security Council’s principals committee, where he can ride herd on the generals and the heads of the security agencies. Presumably Bannon, whose catch-phrase is “blow it up,” will participate in any decision to wage nuclear war.
As for his cabinet secretaries, several of them are avowed enemies of the official missions of their departments. Their real mission is to dismantle them. Trumpism’s ideology-driven goal is to eliminate the beneficial social functions of “government” (a pejorative word in Republican-speak) in order to retain only the core state (repressive apparatus, police, army, courts).
Betsy De Vos, nominated to the post of Secretary of Education, is exemplary: She merely wants to dismantle our public schools and replace them with for-profit, non-union charter schools. A rightwing Christian fundamentalist, De Vos has long been dedicated to privatizing public schools, and has big investments in a chain of for-profit schools.
Scott Pruit of Oklahoma, an oil state, will head the Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma attorney general and champion of the petroleum industry, Pruit has sued the EPA more than fifty times to prevent enforcement of environmental protections. He denies the human role in global warming.
Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for Energy Secretary, outbids even Pruit on climate-change denial: the scientists’ consensus, he says, “is a bunch of lies and manipulations.” As governor of Texas, Perry requested the abolition of the Energy Department he will now head.
At the head of the Treasury, Trump has nominated billionaire Steve Mnuchin, a crooked banker from Goldman Sachs who apparently “forgot” to declare millions of dollars of profits to the Senate committee as well as his role as the manager of an investment fund based in a tax haven. As of now his nomination is on hold.
To head the Commerce Department, Trump picked Wilbur Ross, a billionaire vulture-speculator known as the “king of bankruptcies,” who specializes in mass repossession of homes of small owners ruined by the 2008 subprime crisis.
The secretary of state will be Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company. This petroleum king has no governmental experience, but has personally managed ExxonMobil’s commercial deals with Russia for many years, and he is known to be close to Putin. These deals include a U.S./Russian consortium to exploit all of the Arctic’s oil deposits, a joint business which continued to operate after Russia invaded Ukraine and in spite of U.S. economic sanctions. Under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil continued to sponsor propaganda debunking climate science, even though, in the 1970s, ExxonMobil specialists were among the first to demonstrate the link between the burning of carbon and the threat of catastrophic climate change. Management buried their reports and began to sponsor the bogus science of the deniers.
Finally, Alabama’s Senator Jeff Sessions , long known for his reactionary racism, is to be attorney general. Unlike some of Trump’s other cabinet appointees, Sessions has the experience to run the Justice Department — but not the sense of justice. Throughout his years in the Senate, Sessions has unfailingly voted against all the laws proposed to protect the civil rights of blacks, immigrants, women and sexual minorities.
Racial injustice being the essential flaw in American civilization, the Senate hearing on the Sessions’ nomination stirred up the hornets nest. In an unprecedented move, two African-American members of the House of Representatives came to testify against him, including the legendary civil rights veteran John Lewis, badly injured by Alabama police during the famous 1965 Selma March and subsequently elected to the House fourteen times as a Georgia representative. The Republican-majority Senate Judiciary Committee made the 80-year-old Lewis wait for hours until the end of the lengthy hearing, and he ended up testifying before a near-empty room:
Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’ call for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up. Back then ‘the rule of law’ was used to violate the human and civil rights for the poor, the dispossessed, people of color…. We need someone as attorney general who’s going to look out for all of us, and not just for some of us.
In a TV interview, Lewis dared to call Trump’s presidency “illegitimate.” So Trump, predictably, spat back with denigrating, personally insulting (“all talk and no action”) and blatantly untrue tweets.
The attorney general’s office is key to the political struggle. Justice is supposed to serve as the guardian of our civil rights and political freedoms. But Justice is also the department that represses, arrests, sues, imprisons. In the manufactured post-WWI Red Scare of 1919, it was Harding’s Attorney General Palmer who deported foreign-born radicals like Emma Goldman and led the infamous “Palmer Raids” that purged the U.S. socialist, anarchist and labor movements, arrested their leaders, physically destroyed their headquarters, and set up J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. During the Cold War anti-Communist Witch Hunts, it was Attorney General Brownell, allied with J. Edger Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy, who purged “un-Americans,” “subversives” and radicals from U.S. labor unions, media, schools, colleges, and the entertainment industry.
For now, protesters still command the freedom of the streets, and even the commercial media are experimenting with telling the truth. We can only close our ranks and be prepared for a long struggle.
THE POLITICAL COMPLEXION of Trump’s crony-capitalist cabinet differs significantly from the globalized neo-liberal status quo of the Clinton-Bush-Obama-European-Union era. The U.S. has moved rapidly in this election from an international “Washington Consensus” of neo-liberal globalizers to a nationalistic, authoritarian, crony capitalism stance. So long traditional U.S. allies! As opposed to “democratic” capitalism, which is based on an alliance of parliamentary governments and consensus, crony capitalism describes a me-first authoritarian power wielded by an autocratic nationalistic chief surrounded by his “cronies” — favorites and clients with whom the boss has financial ties and whose private interests override those of the nation at large.
The Eastern European variety of crony capitalism, dominated by “oligarchs,” is a degenerate post-1989 form of Stalinist bureaucratic state-capitalism, and it has taken over in almost all of the former Soviet camp: Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia. In Western Europe, nationalist rightwing xenophobic parties are on the rise and poised to take power in Austria, Holland, and France. For all their differences, these parties and regimes see themselves as members of the same species. They flock together like the proverbial “birds of a feather,” and are overjoyed at Trump’s victory, which strengthens them and signals a mighty global shift away from democracy and human rights. People are already speculating about a new “axis of evil” formed around the triumvirate of Putin, Trump, and Le Pen. Triumvirs, however, tend to fight among themselves.
Today Trump remains unpopular, and his regime is facing a crisis of legitimacy. His lies and bizarre behavior alienate even Republicans who share his goals. His administration lacks the political credibility and cultural hegemony to maintain control of the mainstream media and reduce the population to passivity. If militant, popular resistance continues to rise, his authoritarian regime’s only alternative will be repression: banning protests, arresting leaders, ordering police attacks on demonstrators.
Crony capitalism, although often dictatorial, is not yet fascism. It is, of course, nationalistic, authoritarian, racist, misogynist, fundamentalist, and warlike, and it might easily degenerate into fascism — for example in the case of a crisis triggered by its leader. But we are not there yet, and the goal of our united resistance is to block the road to fascism and nip it in the bud before it overwhelms us through the usual violent blitzkrieg tactics. Fascism’s rise depends on organized, aggressive movements allied with elements of the official police, capable of intimidating opponents and social movements in the streets. Mussolini had his Red Shirts, Hitler his Brown-shirted Storm troopers. Trump — although he is worshipped by the members of the KKK, white nationalist militias, right-wing racist cops, and domestic terrorists who bomb abortion clinics, mosques, synagogues and black churches — is so far only a virtual-reality one-man show. That could change, however, and he is Commander in Chief of America’s military might.
In any case, government repression is a double-edge sword. The beating of nonviolent student demonstrators against segregation led to the civil rights revolution. In 1968, the repression of student demonstrators in Paris provoked a nationwide general strike and forced an authoritarian president, the legendary General de Gaulle, to momentarily flee the country and beg protection from the Army. In 1970, after Nixon bombed Cambodia, unarmed student protesters were massacred by National Guardsmen at Kent State and Jackson State, provoking a nationwide student strike and helping to pave the way to Nixon’s resignation. Sympathy for and solidarity with popular movements struggling for a just cause are powerful social forces, as we have seen over the past couple of weeks.
Aware of this, repressive governments often employ agents-provocateurs to provoke violence, discredit the protests, and justify subsequent police violence designed to drive them off the streets. This tactic was observed in France last spring, during the nationwide wave of strikes, blockades and demonstrations against new, restrictive anti-labor laws. Videos were broadcast showing long-haired young cops, and hoodlums recruited by the cops, wearing black ski-masks as they filtered through police lines, then picking fights with the demonstrators and smashing the windows of banks before suddenly disappearing (back through the police lines). Some protesters and a handful of cops got hurt in the melee, and overnight the main topic on the networks was no longer workers’ rights but respect for the police. Security at demonstrations became more and more restrictive, and the atmosphere became more and more unpleasant. Ultimately the movement dwindled out.
To be sure, it was not only police provocateurs that were out to smash windows and trash stores, and that’s the point of the story. With 20 percent youth unemployment, French youth have plenty to be angry about. Who dares blame them? But from a strategic point of view, all the trashers might just as well have been paid by the cops. Our strength is in our numbers. As Michael Moore put it: “The good news is that we outnumber them.” But violent individual macho tactics divide us, invite repression and make joining the demonstration uncomfortable for women, little kids, old folks and the handicapped. Such tactics are counter-productive if not counter-revolutionary. Remember that today’s movement was launched by a coalition of American women revolted by Trump’s bullying machismo. This resistance is and must remain feminist, massive, creative, open to all, forceful and militant, yet peaceful.
As Gandhi put it: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Richard Greeman is a veteran socialist scholar and activist, best known for his translations and studies of Victor Serge (1890-1947), the Franco-Russian writer and revolutionary. Greeman divides his time between New York and Montpellier, France.