One year after Trump’s stunning electoral victory, the left remains paralyzed in a state of shock.
By Adam Marletta
One year after Donald Trump’s astonishing election as president, the left remains in a state of shock. And that shock has given way to a widespread sense of cynicism and despair. Bring up politics in public and you are bound to be greeted with lamentations of “Oh God, I can’t even think about it!” and other expressions of weary hopelessness.
“I recommend you stop watching the news,” the perennially malcontented Morrissey sings on the oddly EDM flavored track. “Because the news contrives to frighten you/To make you feel small and alone.”
(Moz then launches into an anti-capitalist chorus in which he fantasizes about a day with “No bus/No boss/No train/No rain.”)
Trump’s election has emboldened far right white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Islamophobes and other scum of the earth. Incidents of hate crimes against Muslims, immigrants, and people of color have risen precipitously since 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Much of this spike in violence occurred in the ten days following Trump’s election.
Perhaps the sole saving grace of this nightmare presidency is Trump’s sheer incompetence.
With his first year nearly over, Trump has precious little to show for it. He has not passed a single piece of congressional legislation — despite the fact that his own party controls both houses of Congress. The Republicans’ years long promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare went up in flames, largely due to the sustained protests of disabled activists like ADAPT.
And Trump’s habit of going off the rails in unscripted, extemporaneous press conferences — like the one following the far right’s hate carnival in Charlottesville this summer, which resulted in the death of 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer — has only further isolated him from his party, and members of his own staff.
That said none of the Republican elites are abandoning Trump entirely, any time soon. And, despite his pathetic incompetence, Trump has secured a series of victories with his Muslim ban, abandoning the Paris climate change treaty, and his appointment of far-right conservative, Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — a nomination the GOP stole, in broad daylight, from Barack Obama.
Yet for a brief moment it seemed as if revolution — or at the very least, Trump’s immediate defenestration from office — was imminent.
It seems like years ago now, but Trump’s initial shock victory last November was immediately met with mass protests throughout the country. Much of the outrage was not, as many Trump supporters characterized it at the time, merely “whining” and “sour grapes” on the part of Hillary Clinton’s supporters.
Rather, they were driven by both disgust at the very prospect of an ignorant, sexual predator like Trump assuming the highest office in the nation, as well as a recognition among Americans that we do not really live in an actual democracy. For the second time in the last sixteen years, the candidate who won the popular vote still lost the presidency. And this is to say nothing of the hundreds of Americans (mostly African Americans, prisoners, and felons) are legally barred from voting, entirely. Some democracy.
Then there was Trump’s first official day as president — which coincided with the single largest day of protest in U.S. history, the “Women’s March on Washington.” This mass gathering was followed by the airport protests which temporarily blocked Trump’s travel ban; demonstrations supporting immigrants and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
The refusal of black NFL players to stand during the national anthem, the anti-racist protesters who scared the alt-right away in cities like Boston, Berkley, California, Portland, Oregon, and even here in Augusta, and the #MeToo campaign have also been significant milestone events in recent months.
All of these protests have been inspiring, invigorating, and important in their own right. Most of them were assembled on social media, with little advance notice, yet still drew massive crowds. And they, at least for the time, raised the confidence and organizational capacity of the left to fight not only Trump, but also for a better, more just world.
“If we can fight Trump at every turn,” members of the working class thought, “what else can we do…?”
Yet, for all of their strengths, these movements have ultimately proved too short-lived, too limited in scope, and too susceptible to being co-opted by local Democratic politicians (*cough!* Ethan Strimling! *cough!*), who would inevitably swoop in — after all the heavy organizational lifting had been done — make a few obligatory remarks to the crowd about being part of something called “The Resistance,” and then be spirited away by their handlers and security entourage.
As such, one year later the left finds itself, as Socialist Worker’s Danny Katch writes, “in the same place we were a year ago — still in shock that this moral monstrosity occupies the world’s most powerful office.”
The left now finds itself pinning its hopes on the dubious — and completely unsubstantiated — claims of “Russigate” undermining Trump’s presidency. Others are hoping Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will lead to impeachment hearings or Trump’s removal via the 25th Amendment, which would find him mentally unfit to carry out the duties of the presidency.
But even if the Democrats and a majority of Republicans were to initiate impeachment hearings against Trump — and that scenario alone is a pretty big “if” — it would result in … President Mike Pence — whose noxious brand of Christian evangelical homophobia and white nationalism is no doubt the “more effective evil” compared to Trump’s unhinged ineptitude. Not exactly an improvement if you ask me.
While I would like nothing more than to see the Cheetos-skinned tweeter-in-chief fired, to use his favorite phrase, Trump, loathsome as he is, is not really the problem. Trump is merely a symptom of the overall cancer — the cancer of capitalism. Trading one capitalist president for another amounts to little more than a cosmetic reform. The entire system needs to be impeached.
In other words, it is not enough for those of us on the left to merely be anti-Trump (though, we undoubtedly should be that, too). We also need to offer a socialist alternative for organizing society — one rooted in social and economic justice. Our goal, in the words of Karl Marx, should be nothing less than the “self-emancipation of the working class.”
I believe such a world is possible. But it will not come about by voting for Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections, and Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren in 2020. Indeed, our goal cannot be to merely return to the more professional status quo of Obama. Working-class voters need their own political party — one that is truly independent of the two Wall Street/Pentagon parties, and that actually stands up for working-class interests.
As Naomi Klein writes in her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, achieving such a world will require a return to the left’s tradition of “dream[ing] big, out loud, in public — explosions of utopian imagination.”
With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say, “no more.” Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along … It has to be somewhere we have never been before.