Now What?

6 months ago Matthew Taylor 0

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Donald J Trump will be the next president of the United States of America. For anyone who cares even remotely about civil liberties, climate change, social programs, and a whole host of other issues championed by the Left, this is undeniably a disaster.

It is difficult to write cogently about this right now. We are in the midst of something that is frankly terrifying and whose causes and effects will be discussed for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond…critical distance is currently impossible. Furthermore, no one is sure what exactly will happen during a Trump presidency. Much of what we say right now will be clearly wrong when we look at it retrospectively. But many others have shared their words, and I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to write and speak in this moment.

Yes, it can help us cobble together some semblance of a foundation for navigating the times ahead. But just as importantly, writing now creates a record of the devastation, disgust, and fear in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election. There is always the risk that, if he is not constantly doing overtly and shockingly horrible things, the fact of President Trump will get normalized in the future. By inscribing our words now, we have a constant reminder that this was not ever okay to begin with…we are resisting normalization.

There are those purportedly on the Left who argued and continue to argue that Trump is no worse than Hillary Clinton. They are wrong, and I unequivocally reject their notion. At its best, the Left’s central concern should be the collective interests of real, living people. And now Latinos, Muslims, women, immigrants, the poor, and other already vulnerable populations have cause to be fearful for their future in this country. With Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” through increased police force and the likelihood of Rudy Giuliani being appointed as Attorney General, the possibility of even harsher state-sanctioned violence against public dissent and critical movements such as Black Lives Matter seems quite plausible. Unquestionably, the already insufficient progress that the federal government has made to address police violence will be obliterated.

The world itself will suffer as well. U.S. funding for the United Nations’ initiative to combat catastrophic climate change will be cut immediately. And although Trump has portrayed himself as noninterventionist in contrast to Hillary Clinton, his temperament and likely ties with Russia suggest that our global relations—which of course have wide-ranging impacts—will be anything but smooth.

A president is both a symbol and a leader whose decisions have very real impacts on human lives. With his rhetoric and his agenda (his plans for his first hundred days in office are nauseating),  Trump is catastrophic as both symbol and leader.

I also reject the notion that Trump’s presidency is preferable to a Clinton victory on the grounds that it might galvanize progressives to unify and fight for radical change in a way they may not have in the face of something less dire and patently evil. History shows us otherwise. Social progress does not happen when brutally oppressive forces are in power.

Unfortunately, we will now be fighting not for change, but instead to avoid losing too much of the terrain we’ve already established. Of course I hope that this does bring people together to resist and collectively fight to maintain the results of past victories. But the change we want will not happen with President Trump. Social progress will, tragically, have to wait until the future. And it will be hampered for a long time yet by Trump’s appointment of Supreme Court Justices and the high probability that much of his agenda will pass with little opposition through a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

So the people should absolutely continue to organize and demonstrate. We must show in no uncertain terms that we will combat and resist the extreme Right agenda of a president who did not even win the popular vote. Our dissent should be loud and disruptive.

The Liberal Failure

But as we begin to imagine and construct a future, we must remember that business-as-usual liberalism lost, and it lost quite badly. We’ve heard all kinds of pundits insulated in liberal bubbles insisting over these past months that the Republican Party was beyond repair and had been left behind by America, that their heyday was over. Clearly that couldn’t be further from the truth. In a powerful Slate piece titled “The Democratic Party Establishment Is Finished,” Jim Newell observes that “Democrats will now control next to nothing above the municipal level.”

It does us no good to keep simplifying as we have been. It’s easy to construct a narrative where the only people responsible for this were the ones who actually voted for Trump. But that’s not the entire story, and it doesn’t serve any progressive movement to pretend otherwise. If there is to be a viable future for social progress, we need to look at where liberals went wrong as well.

Without America’s vile, persistent racism and sexism, Trump would never have been a viable candidate to begin with. But that’s not where this ends. Because at some point, Democrats stopped prioritizing working class interests. And that’s another element of the conditions that facilitated Trump’s victory, especially among white, largely rural working class voters.  I’m not making a radical claim here…the New York Times, a mouthpiece for mainstream liberalism if ever there was one, says the same thing.

Trump had plenty of overtly racist people on his side…but some of his voters brushed aside the racism that made them slightly uncomfortable (knowing it would never actually affect them) and voted for him because they believed he was the candidate that would help with their middle class economic interests. Or they didn’t even vote at all, seeing no candidate that represented their interests. A stronger and more credible commitment to the middle and working class from Democrats could have inspired them to do so.

This doesn’t justify or excuse anyone’s vote for Trump. Nobody who voted for him should have a clean conscience, and I think that the future will sadly validate that claim. But it does emphasize what the Democratic Party needs to focus on in its much-needed reforms—not only for the sake of winning elections, but also because they are supposed to be the party of the working class, not just of liberal urban elites.

As I wrote in a piece on the eve of Election Day, one of Trump’s oddest yet most effective strategies was co-opting much of the language of the Left as it applies to working class interests. Of course, he then completely distorted it to fit his nationalistic, xenophobic agenda. But this election season was characterized largely by a distrust of corporate money in politics and establishment interests over those of the people. And Trump capitalized on those concerns. The national discourse was ripe for a principled leftist critique of the corrupt political system, a critique that could and should have centralized issues of race and women’s rights.

Instead, the candidate who railed against bad trade deals and the desperation of the working class and establishment politicians corrupted by corporate money was…the far-right, racist, misogynist, sexual assaulting, xenophobic nationalist? What the hell? That is absurd. It should never have happened this way.

And of course he isn’t actually going to help the working class. But he deployed the right rhetoric at the right time. And meanwhile the party that is ostensibly for the workers was self-assured that people wouldn’t notice how they had really become a party of the managerial class.

As Michael McCarthy writes in response to the election’s outcome, the Democrats’ lip service to change for workers was woefully insufficient: “It is not enough to say you believe in and support diversity — we need an active and robust training and jobs program that makes economic security a reality for both workers of color and white workers who are suffering. It’s not enough to say you support women’s abortion rights — we need a minimum wage that gives poor and working-class women an actual ability to choose whether or not to exercise their rights.”

On Wednesday evening, Verso Books held an excellent flash panel on Trump’s America and Anti-Fascist Organizing in Brooklyn, New York. I watched the livestream. Many of the panelists observed that Democrats had made many promises to workers that had not been fulfilled, and that the party had focused instead on liberalism for a certain elite that is far removed from the reality of most Americans. The middle class, especially in rural America, still feels by and large unstable and scared and barely able to make ends meet.

Yet meanwhile established Democrats have been chummy with Wall Street and especially with Silicon Valley, where collective interests are great as long as you don’t have to commit any money or resources toward them. Silicon Valley is an urban haven of the managerial class that working Americans are increasingly distrustful toward, since they rightly perceive that they don’t have to play by the same rules.

As Bhaskar Sunkara—panelist and founding editor of Jacobin—observed, Silicon Valley consists largely of a leisure class of people who will speak out in favor of gender neutral bathrooms but will also go to great lengths to avoid paying the taxes that might help establish shelters for homeless trans youth. And that same principle applies on a far broader scale…lip service has been accepted in lieu of concrete, material contributions to society.

Corporations like Apple blatantly refuse to pay corporate taxes, taxes that would improve infrastructure and public services in places like the Rust Belt, where disillusioned struggling workers believed it was in their best personal interest to vote for Trump. Apple, of course, is among the corporations that are famously friendly with Democrats. So while working class middle America isn’t so concerned with trans youth (to go back to Sunkara’s example) they are rightfully furious at a party that is cozy with corporations that don’t pay their fair share. Especially when that is the very same party that is supposed to prioritize working class interests.

Established, prominent Democrats have not sufficiently addressed the obscene wealth of the top one percent, corporate tax evasion, and the continued precarity of the middle class. And they have been out of touch with a country that was outraged about these issues. And after Bernie Sanders, the criticism of these problems—unfathomably—came mostly from Trump.

Again, Trump isn’t actually going to help the working class. But either he won their votes or the Democrats didn’t inspire them enough to vote at all, and that’s what matters right now. This isn’t the entire story, but for people who didn’t vote for Trump, I think it is absolutely the least comfortable element to confront. And so we must.

What To Build

As we figure out how to endure the Trump presidency and stand in solidarity with our most vulnerable populations, we must also begin imagining and constructing a new future for the Left, and we must begin doing so immediately. And that’s the reason for this criticism, which otherwise wouldn’t serve to accomplish much at a time of such profound grief and fear.

We can and should fight white America’s overwhelming indifference to and outright dismissiveness of its own racism. And we must resist misogyny, especially with the words and actions and plans of the President and Vice President who will soon be in the White House and their ardent supporters, both from the alt-right and traditional conservative ranks. But we cannot then ignore the Left’s foundation as it is rooted in working class interests.

The Western world is having a populist resurgence, and so far it has tended terrifyingly to the right, with Brexit and Trump being two prominent examples. Many of the fears and grievances are legitimate, but there is a vacuum where there ought to be a unified Left offering viable solutions, and the extreme Right is taking its place. That is an unforgivable failure.

During the Verso panel, Sunkara talked about the need to create a coalition of Leftist interests. I believe it is critical that we begin organizing and working toward intersectional and cohesive coalitions that are anti-racist, anti-sexist, and that address the urgent collective needs of the entire American working class. That is how we can survive the bleak years immediately before us, and it is how we can eventually rebuild and work toward change when their catastrophes are behind us.

We are a new blog intelligently reporting and analyzing current events through a leftist lens. We are trying to combat the digital media trends of clickbait and fake, misleading “news” with no substance. If you want to see more journalism like this, please like us on Facebook.