The election of Donald Trump was the single widest wakeup call in a year in which various political events across the world seemed to reverse decades of progress. The truth is, of course, that there wasn’t such a thing as progress during most of the last 8 years. What we called progress was a veneer meant to justify multiple injustices perpetuated across the world. As communities across the world found themselves under siege, we justified it because the president was a cool black man who danced and eloquently spoke to the harsh realities of American history while implementing policies that continued the expansion and prevalence of the American Empire (truly, the only bipartisan cause) and austerity measures meant to assuage the GOP as they gained power and mounted a craven assault on the institutions that supposedly were there to protect people and democracy.
Pointing this out, that Obama’s speeches and communications stood in stark contrast with the material consequences of his policies, has become more imperative for the American left than ever. For liberals, however, it is more important to simply oppose Trump. The problem is that just opposing the president is not good on its own. We have learned from various struggles against authoritarians across the last few years, whether they’re named Berlusconi or Uribe or Abe, that simply defining your rhetoric against the sitting ruler (rather than providing a counter program to their authoritarism that charts the path to a better life) is bound to fail. Berlusconi came back into power. Uribe is now in the senate, marshaling a right wing movement that threatens to truly endanger any possibility of a Colombian left to survive the longest armed conflict in human history. Abe is on the way to undo Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, effectively bringing back the Imperial Army.
History teaches us that focusing on social forces rather than the individual players that ride or embody them is how you engineer sociopolitical change. Standing behind Obama for the last 8 years, as his policies and power withered away from the big promise of his election to an austere empire that rained hellfire on the middle east and expanded the biggest surveillance apparatus in this history of mankind, proved to be an unproductive effort and a reminder that the Democratic party is not the source of American progress. Under Obama, unions in Michigan were weakened and the costs of living slowly raised as the job security and economic stability of the working class was eroded in the name of expanding the trade of cheap consumer goods for jobs inland that could be performed on the cheap by workers abroad under extremely unsafe labor conditions.
Instead, the Democratic Party is, at best, a tool for progressives to enshrine into law the principles and beliefs of a better society. I don’t have a lot of faith in the idea that such an approach will succeed. But the only true means of liberation for the American working class (namely, revolution) are harder to conceive in the current state of American civilization. But maybe, just maybe, a cultural/democratic undermining of Trump is possible. It is clear that Trump and Ryan, the heads of their respective government branches, do not have the political capital to spend on their agenda and they must find ways of building consensus among their allies on how to proceed. Ryancare was dead on arrival because Trump is clearly not the powerful deal broker he cast himself as.
For the Democratic Party’s establishment, these are times of weakness. Keep your head down and maybe build coalitions that will show up to the voting booth in two years. But the doomsday clock is looming all over this. The Earth itself won’t be able to take postponements and kicking the can of impending desolation down the street. What the Democratic Party should be doing is following Bernie Sanders’ lead: propose a counter agenda. Where they intend to overtax the poor to build an upward stream of wealth, the Democratic party must advocate not for the Republican Party to follow the rules of governing but provide a counter agenda that represents and addresses the needs of the people that Trump is aiming at. If the agenda is unsuccessful, that doesn’t matter. But a capitalist agenda will never defeat capitalism. And the truth is that as long as both parties remain capitalistic in nature, the Republicans will win because they hold the offices and they can perpetuate themselves in power through anti-democratic measures for they do not hold any fealty to anything other than power and capital.
More than anything, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the Democratic Party’s approach to political theory. The answers the party has provided to the questions of their constituents (The poor, the immigrants, the refugees, African-Americans and many others whose needs have been unaddressed by the government) have been consistently weak. The Party of Obama is a party whose fundamental theory on immigration is that “Felons and not families” should be deported. Nevermind that by the end of his presidency, Obama deported 5 million immigrants or that Hillary Clinton advocated for the deportations of Honduran children escaping away from a coup that was engineered by the State Department during her tenure.
The justification for this has been Obama’s central theory of politics: There’s no red Americans or blue American. There’s only Americans. In practice, the way this played out was constant concessions to reactionaries who always resented him for being the first black president, a physical reminder of America’s exploitation of black people and the progress they have made. Austerity measures, increased deportations, the implementation of compromised and tainted laws like Obamacare that, while written in good faith, consistently failed those whom it was supposed to benefit.
There’s a certain subsection of liberals who wholeheartedly believe in a just world where people of all kinds have access to healthcare, housing and education. Their problem with the people who aggressively pursue these agendas is simply that we have no faith in the process of American government. Liberals essentially believed, during the Obama years, that one day, they would wake up and socialism would have been implemented. A new, glorious society that managed to fit that square peg on that round circle. The sad reality we find ourselves in shows us that we need to reconsider this. I’m addressing the sort of liberal who craves political change. The sort of liberal who looks at things like Black Lives Matter or Fight For 15 and understands these are people struggling rightfully for what they deserve:
Any opposition to The Party of Trump has to begin from the premise that they’re capitalism and imperialism with the mask off. His government is not unprecedented; it is just unseemly. His beliefs and his policies are the direct result of the last 16 years. Bush’s war on terror and Obama’s surveillance state are both precedents that led to Trump’s authoritarian threat to engulf the world in rivers of capital and blood.
The powers that have been given to Trump should not exist in the first place. No one should be able to invade so thoroughly the privacies of people, to the point that their very tastes, opinions and beliefs are commodified and exchanged against their will at exorbitant prices. No one should be able to look at a community from the eye of a killing machine and rain hell upon them. No person is judicious enough to be able to use these powers for good. No person will ever be able to confront this political apparatus from within to be able to enforce these powers in an ethical fashion (and I can’t even imagine what that would look like)
There’s a reason why people like Thiel and Mattis, who have floated around the margins of the American political establishment, with their central theses of war with America’s white whales and the creation of a panopticon, are now at the center of Trump’s inner circle. Beyond men like Bannon or Kushner, political neophytes whose ideology is pure, unhinged and incoherent reaction to the victories earned by the working class, these are the true threats and they’re the direct representation of the problem. The problem is not who is in charge. It’s important to remember that when the Democratic Party was in charge, JSOC still operated at full power in the Middle East, participating in a conflict that will probably incinerate and maim the Muslim world for as long as we all live.
Rather, the problem is systematic and functional. The very functions that men like Mattis and McCrystal have been summoned to fulfill are inherently undemocratic. Their powers, beyond the scope that any country should have in the world. American hegemony must be undermined from within. American liberals like yourself hate when you’re confronted with the utter evil that the American government has exported. You believe You are powerless to confront it. Your cynical compatriots think it’s pointless. The American war machine will go on endlessly regardless of what you do. Maybe so. But isn’t it worth it to try?
You often concede sympathy to idealists on the left and those who want things like single payer healthcare or government subsidized education, claiming that you want those things but that under American capitalism (even if you don’t name it), they will never happen. But again, if these things hold any meaning to you, isn’t it worth it to push as hard as you can for them?
Ignore the party’s leaders, the Cory Bookers and Kamala Khans who are preparing a Presidential run so they avoid these thorny ideas in fear of losing potential donors. You have no responsibility to the Democratic Party or their agenda. And if your vote matters to them (which it does) then you hold the power to redirect their agenda. It’s not just about calling your rep, however. It’s also about raising hell at their doorstep and pressuring them on every level to vote according to a progressive agenda. Voters and not donors should control the future of the Democratic Party if it intends to be a party of workers and not a party of benevolent capital.
Because capital will never be benevolent. It can look the part and its advocates and prophets will often exhort its virtues. But by its very nature, capital will only look out for those who possess it and are willing to exploit to obtain it. If you don’t believe me, look at everything that has happened in the last 8 years. Whenever social change happened, it was not capital and it was not elite individuals showing up that made it happen. When BLM and Fight For 15 won their rightful victories, these were victories of the people, for the people, by the people. Capital won’t save you or bring about the world you supposedly want. Joining the people who are clamoring for more at the gates of the Capital elite is the only fighting chance you’ve got.