Greater Expectations: Anti-Trump Forces Should Aspire to Much More
In response to the collective feelings of dread at the dawn of Donald Trump’s presidency, a new and determined mass movement seems to have formed. The most tangible expression of that movement is the impending Women’s March on Washington, D.C., which is expected to draw more than 200,000 to the nation’s capital a day after Trump is sworn in. More than 600 “sister marches” have been planned in cities around the world. Broad coalitions are being built, and new activists are joining seasoned organizers on the front lines. But if this movement is focused simply on disgust over Trump, then it is as doomed as Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was.
The Clinton campaign’s singular message was that she offered the best alternative to Trump rather than that she embodied bold, progressive reforms. Even when she was expected to beat the least qualified major party presidential candidate in recent memory, she was favored only by slim margins. All it ultimately took was losses in just the right states by just the smallest amounts to tip the balance in Trump’s favor. If the mass movement against Trump emerges as a response to Trump alone, the goal will simply translate into the promotion of a Clintonesque Democrat to replace him in the next election. And that simply is not enough.
We know there is a deep danger of this happening because before the election upset there were no plans on a mass scale to demand broad economic and racial justice. Everyone assumed Clinton would win. While there were warnings from many progressives of the failings of Clintonism (in columns last July and September, I warned that Clinton would lose to Trump if she didn’t adopt bold, progressive policies), mainstream liberal Americans were, by and large, happy enough if the nation dodged a bullet symbolized by Trump. Even if many rank-and-file Democrats preferred the politics of Bernie Sanders, they were satisfied enough with Clinton to rally behind her rather than demand higher standards from her. And after her nomination there was good enough reason to rally behind Clinton given the danger that Trump posed. Still, the acceptance of neoliberal, pro-business policies under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and the tacit acceptance that Clinton would continue the same, set the ball rolling for the anger that has driven Trump’s ascension. The Guardian’s Gary Younge has a particularly eloquent explanation for why Obama paved the way for Trump.
Today, Trump’s misogynistic rhetoric seems to be the force driving so many Americans to march on Saturday. Most of my own circle of friends, including those who rarely discuss politics, are planning on demonstrating either in local marches or in D.C. Many are invoking the statements Trump made about women in 2005 that were captured on a hot microphone on the set of “Access Hollywood,” including his brag about grabbing women by their genitals. The Pussyhat Project has been spawned in direct response to those statements, with thousands of women knitting pink cat-eared hats for the participants in the Women’s March. But if our political organizing does not go beyond ridding the White House of Trump over his sexism, we are doomed to repeat the cycle of liberal Democrat followed by belligerent Republican, only to see our own collective suffering continue indefinitely.
The movement emerging postelection must set its sights far beyond Trump and his hideous behavior if it is to succeed. Clinton spoke in lukewarm terms about racial and gender justice, imagining that the decades-old lock the Democratic Party has on minority voters would sail her to victory. She failed. Trump focused on economic ills, alienated most nonwhites and significant numbers of white women, and is entering the White House as the most unpopular incoming president in modern U.S. history. Neither showed themselves to be leaders worthy of respect from all quarters of American society. What is needed now more than ever is a strong and unequivocal focus on economic and social justice. There cannot be one without the other. We cannot dismiss so-called “identity politics” in favor of class issues, or vice versa. The lives of too many inhabitants of this nation are at stake when racist or sexist policies like harsh immigration enforcement or abortion restrictions are in place. In that sense, those who are activated in the wake of Trump’s election are right to express broad solidarity and denounce his hateful rhetoric. But neither can we dismiss the ridiculous extent of income inequality, job insecurity, wage stagnation and the emergence of the gig economy—issues that deeply impact the majority of Americans. Indeed, mass public anger over the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction.
The unifying principles set forth by the very diverse and impressive women who are leading the Women’s March on Washington could be a good starting point for the post-election movement to rally around. But while the statement is strong on racial and gender justice, nowhere is there an unequivocal stand against neoliberal economic policies, save for a mention of the right of workers to “to organize and fight for a living minimum wage.” In fact, the statement sounds like a slightly more progressive subset of the 2016 Democratic Party platform. We are in the early days of the movement, and while the Women’s March cannot be expected to embody the best vision of the progressive future that we want, that vision needs to be articulated urgently.
Given the crisis of faith that capitalism faces, we Americans may be more open to the idea of socialism than before, although many tend to shy away from the label. But beyond fighting for a higher minimum wage and the right to a union, we have to set our sights on dismantling corporate power. We have to start discussing ideas like a maximum wage, a universal basic income and ending the flow of capital across borders while freeing the movement of migrants. The possibilities are endless. After all, with Trump in the White House there is little left to lose.
As hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions, of Americans march this Saturday, let us center our efforts on building a movement that is razor-sharp in its focus. Trump is our worst nightmare come true. But let us also admit that Clinton was not good enough for the White House either, and that our expectations of our government need to be raised far beyond what our elections have offered us for decades. The fault lines in our current political landscape are so numerous that it can feel overwhelming. But if we see them as opportunities to channel our rage constructively, there are plenty of places to start.