Trump’s ‘Shock and Awe’ Campaign and the Early Resistance
Listening to liberal acquaintances and other liberal voices in the media during the newly minted presidency of Donald Trump, they seemed shaken and surprised that he was moving ahead forcefully with the terrible and vicious policies he said he would pursue. They found it hard to process that the Deplorable One was really and “already” taking executive action to:
● “Build the [southern U.S. border] wall” and even more absurdly “make Mexico pay for it.” ● Deport immigrants who have been ordered to leave the country. ● Cut federal funding to “sanctuary” cities, which don’t enforce federal immigration laws on undocumented immigrants. ● Construct detention facilities along the Mexican border. ● Dismantle the Affordable Care Act (threatening to destabilize insurance markets and eliminate health coverage for untold millions of Americans) on an urgent timetable. ● Roll back federal regulations on financial institutions and other businesses. ● Ban immigration for citizens of seven majority Muslim countries—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen—for 90 days. ● Fire an acting attorney general who refused to defend his constitutionally challenged travel ban. ● Prohibit federal taxpayer dollars from being used to fund nongovernmental organizations “providing counseling or referrals for abortion or advocating for access to abortion services in their country.” ● Implement a federal hiring freeze except for the military, directing the Office of Management and Budget to formulate a plan to “reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.” ● Advance-approve and clear roadblocks for the two bitterly fought and ecocidal oil projects: the Dakota Access Pipeline (meant to transport vast quantities of fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois) and the Keystone XL Pipeline (to move carbon-rich Canadian tar-sands oil down to the Gulf Coast). ● Elevate Steve Bannon, his cryptofascist top political adviser, to a full seat on the principals’ committee of the National Security Council, while downgrading the NSC roles of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence—a chilling move. ● Nominate a far-right Republican (Neil Gorsuch) to fill the Supreme Court seat that Republicans in Congress refused to let Barack Obama fill for the last year of his presidency. ● Appoint the leading Christian evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University (who said after the San Bernardino shootings of December 2015 that “if more people had conceal-carry [gun] permits, then we could end those Muslims”), to head a task force on reforming higher education. ● Order a drone attack and commando raid in Yemen that killed 30 people, including many women and children and Anwar al-Awlaki’s 8-year-old-daughter (who bled to death after being shot in the neck) in an operation planned and handed to Trump by the Obama administration.
Then there were the outrageous statements on and off Trump’s “big beautiful Twitter account” (Trump’s weird words), which remains creepily active in his presidency. The day after his inauguration, Trump went to the Central Intelligence Agency to childishly complain about the media’s supposed underestimation of the size of his inauguration crowd and to say that Islamic State arose because the U.S. failed to “keep the oil” when it invaded Iraq. “Maybe we’ll have another chance” to take Iraq’s oil, Trump added.
Both in not-so-presidential tweets and in a talk with congressional leaders, Trump repeated his false and debunked claim that 3 million to 5 million votes were cast illegally in the election, robbing him of a win in the popular vote. This bizarre charge is meant to amplify his anti-immigrant narrative and to justify future efforts to roll back nonwhites’ voting rights in the 2018 (midterm congressional) and 2020 (presidential year) elections.
Trump tweeted that he might “send in the Feds” to “fix Chicago”—that is, address the city’s high murder rate by imposing some version of martial law “stop and frisk” in the city’s black ghettos.
The president told ABC News he wants to build “safe zones” inside Syria to keep refugees from leaving that country—an incredibly provocative policy that would necessitate significant, direct U.S. military escalation in that country’s territory.
Trump preposterously tweeted that his extreme right, multimillionaire Supreme Court pick (Gorsuch) is “respected by all.”
And Trump said this about the cancellation of a previously planned meeting with the president of Mexico: “Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless.” Orwell would have been impressed. Mexico naturally refuses to bow to Trump’s unfair and disrespectful claim that they should pay the U.S.—an imperial state that stole Mexico’s land and has mercilessly exploited that country for more than a century—to build a wall to “protect” that rich and powerful nation from its poor and exploited southern neighbor.
Call it “Shock and Awe.” The Tyrant is only getting started.
‘We Just Had an Election’ or ‘You Had Your Input’
Oh, but didn’t the new president face epic and indeed historic mass demonstrations—including millions of Americans wearing pink “pussy hats”—across the nation? Doesn’t he know that he really lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots? Doesn’t he see that he’s coming into the presidency with the lowest approval rating in the history of modern polling?
Many liberals seem to think that these facts would humble Trump and the other sociopaths in his white nationalist and possibly fascist (more on that below) presidency, deterring them from moving ahead with their bold, far-right agenda.
But thin-skinned megalomaniacs and arch-authoritarian sociopaths don’t care about public opinion any more than they worry about the common good. They care about winning at all costs, by any means necessary.
Bannon, who is “positioning himself not just as a Svengali but as the de facto president” (in the words of The New York Times’ editors on Tuesday), does not sweat mass protests by “privileged liberals.” He relishes “the left’s” agitation and looks forward to using it to rally Trump’s white-nationalist “heartland” base against the “bicoastal liberal elite.”
Trump’s response to the mass demonstrations was to complain that the media was overselling them and deliberately downplaying the size of his inauguration rally.
He also tweeted this: “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?”
It was a revolting comment on at least three levels. The first nauseating thing is that he has no basis for suggesting that the marchers didn’t vote. The preponderant majority of them certainly did.
The second stupid thing is that Trump failed to see the difference between two very different kind of politics: voting in strictly time-staggered, narrow-spectrum, major-party, candidate-centered electoral carnivals and taking to the streets around key social and policy issues between, beneath and beyond those quadrennial electoral extravaganzas.
The third and perhaps most disgusting thing is the assumption that a president atop a purported democracy is beyond accountability to the public once he’s won the only real gauge of popular sentiment that matters: an indirect election through Electoral College decision once every four years. As George W. Bush’s White House spokesperson Dana Perino explained when asked if the citizenry should have “input” on U.S. foreign policy in March 2008: “You had your input. The American people have input every four years, and that’s the way our system is set up.”
So what if the popular majority doesn’t actually elect the U.S. president in accord with elementary democratic principle of “one person, one vote” under “our system,” set up by wealthy merchants and slave owners for whom popular sovereignty was the ultimate nightmare? After Obama won his second term in 2012, Trump denounced the Electoral College as an undemocratic atrocity. As its beneficiary in 2016, however, his opinion of the system switched on a doublespeak dime and his previous opinion went down Orwell’s memory hole. Straight Out of Goebbels
And besides, Trump insists, and most of his base seems to agree, he didn’t actually lose the popular vote. Trump’s fraud charge, recited again and again, is straight out of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Third Reich propaganda minister.” Repeat a lie a thousand times,” Goebbels said, “and it becomes the truth.” Goebbels used that principle to run his horrific campaign against Europe’s Jews.
It’s the same idea with Trump’s preposterous claims that the U.S. is being ravaged by wild hordes of illegal-alien criminals or that climate change is not indisputably the result of human activity. Recite the myth again and again—like the insane right-wing claim that Hillary Clinton and Obama were radical leftists—and it becomes a material force in history. That’s what happened with the Bush administration’s ridiculous allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was linked to al-Qaida and 9/11 and was stockpiled with weapons of mass destruction—gigantic deceptions that were disseminated with no small help from the mass media, including no less of a “liberal” outpost than The New York Times.
The Not-So-Super Power of Huge Marches
Speaking of Bush, the invasion of Iraq, mass demonstrations and The New York Times, we recall that newspaper’s description of the giant U.S. and global demonstrations that occurred against Dubya’s forthcoming arch-criminal invasion of Iraq. “The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge anti-war demonstrations around the world this weekend,” the Times wrote in a mid-February 2003 headline story, were “reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” The article was subtitled “A New Power in the Streets.”
Did Bush, Dick Cheney (Dubya’s “de facto president”) and the rest of the neoconservative cabal that made U.S. foreign policy in Bush Junior’s presidency care about the other “superpower in the streets” in March of 2003? They did not. The “Shock and Awe” bombing show exploded in Baghdad even as millions protested the criminal assault in U.S. streets and around the world.
France’s then-president Jacques Chirac was “stupefied” when Dubya gave him the following reason for the invasion: “This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.” (I don’t mean to suggest that Iraq was invaded primarily to fulfill Bush’s demented evangelical understanding of Scripture. Dubya was a man out of his depth, manipulated by neoconservative petro-imperialists hoping to buy another half century of unchallengeable U.S. global hegemony by securing imperial control of Iraq’s vast petroleum reserves—and then marching on to grab Iran’s.)
If It Walks Like a Duck
Trump is not driven by evangelical (or any other kind of) Christianity. But where is he coming from with this incredible, white-nationalist policy blitzkrieg in his first two weeks? In some educated parts of the U.S. left, it is fashionable to smirk at the notion that Trump is a fascist or any other kind of ideologue. He’s just, the line goes, a really rich, incredibly selfish and wealth-, celebrity- and attention-worshipping narcissist—an amoral man-child who says and does whatever he can to grab and hold wealth and power.
It’s hard to know what really goes on in the mind of a sociopath like The Donald, but there are reasons to suspect something darker. His first wife reported that Trump kept a collection of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside—a possibly relevant fact. His top political adviser and newly minted NSC boss Bannon is a cryptofascist at best, and a real one at worst. And if Trump walks and quacks like a fascist duck, it may not really matter how conscious he is of how his authoritarian, corporatist, militarist, imperial, sexist, racist, nativist, hyper-masculinist and white-nationalist Venn diagram overlaps with fascist ideology and style past and present. As the left journalist David Talbot notes in his recent collection of interviews with Chris Hedges, “the beast with orange hair … tapped into the long-simmering rage and resentment of these working families and underclass. And along with the electrifying leader, came all the other hallmarks of classic fascism—the over-heated rhetoric, the scapegoating of minorities, the thuggish violence.”
Resistance: Beyond Anti-Trumpism
So how do you fight American fascism? Like many on the “hard left,” I’ve been worried that the mass marches against Tyrant Trump’s inauguration might end up like the ones that preceded Dubya’s re-crucifixion of Mesopotamia—a big, momentary blast of liberal fury largely devoid of longer-term political and organizational movement power beneath and beyond the quadrennial electoral extravaganzas that are sold to us as “politics,” the only politics that matters. I’ve feared they would remain captive to the all-too-pervasive definition of meaningful citizen participation as marking a major party-dominated ballot once every four years and then going home to let other and much richer people run the world into the ground. I’ve also fretted that they’ve been overly driven by the fact that the new president, atop what Mike Lofgren called the “visible state”—itself a cloak for the underlying, unelected, and interrelated “Deep State” dictatorships of money, class and empire—is, like Dubya, a nasty, white, Republican Bush and not a more outwardly smart and (neo) “liberal” Democrat like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.
Progressives must not let Trump become a great red cape in the hands of the ruling-class matadors. We charge, screaming “Down with Trump” while the owners plunge their weapons into our passing hides. We must learn to head for the masters who hold the swords and spears behind the cloak. Those masters are the same, whichever major party and personalities hold power in Washington. Resist Trump/Bannon we must, but we cannot afford obsession with Trump.
With the impressive mass protests that have occurred in U.S. airports (and not just the major ones) in response to Trump’s Muslim travel ban, there are reasons to think that the anti-Trump/Trumpism resistance might have strong legs beyond the election cycle. The president can count on more mass opposition to the many provocative policies he has yet to unveil. Wait until the openly ecocidal, climate change-denying Trump administration (which installed the CEO of the leading greenhouse gas crime syndicate, ExxonMobil, as secretary of state) takes on Standing Rock, the great Native American-led vanguard of the desperate popular struggle to protect prospects for a decent human future by keeping fossil fuels in the ground. That could prove to be an epic confrontation.
Serious progressives must work to make all this anti-Trumpism about much more than just doing the neoliberal Deep State’s work by getting Trump and other Republicans out and some new combination of more palatable Democrats and Republicans in elective power. As the resistance gathers and expands, we must strive not merely to defeat one terrible Trump policy after another or to oust the big Republican meanies. Upton Sinclair got it right in the original socialist newspaper version of “The Jungle”: The Democrats and the Republicans are “two wings of the same bird of prey.” They are not identical, and there are more than just tiny differences between them, but they both function in their own ways and through both conflict and collaboration with each other for the same reigning wealth and power structures of class, race, money and empire. It’s the dismal, dollar-drenched and neoliberal nothingness of the Democrats (rightly described by the late political scientist Sheldon Wolin as the nation’s “inauthentic opposition” party) that sets the ever more right-wing and wildly unpopular Republican Party up for victory again and again.
The movement we need has to be about something much bigger and different than merely elevating the political power of corporate- and empire-captive Blue America (home to the multicultural airport protests) over corporate- and empire-captive Red (“heartland”) America. We must be careful not to feed the hateful ruling-class game of racial, ethnic, regional, gender, partisan and territorial divide-and-rule, which pits the more white, rural, evangelical Christian and Republican “flyover zones” of “the heartland” against the more urban, multicultural, “educated,” bicoastal and Democratic zones (where the big planes land and take off) while Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the military-industrial complex, the military and police state and other parts of the permanent government bureaucracy concentrate wealth and power ever further upward.
We should struggle more ambitiously to bring down the whole structure of ruling-class governance and “marionette theater” electoral and parliamentary politics that has brought us to the present dystopian moment. The revolution we must demand cannot be just a “kinder and gentler,” more outwardly but superficially democratic and constitutional version of the same system that created Trump. We need to build organizations and develop movement cultures and political strategies fitted for a long-term popular struggle to restructure politics and policy in accord with the principle of popular sovereignty—the ultimate nightmare of those who have stood atop the American system from the War of Independence through the current new Gilded Age.
A now savagely unequal (the top 0.1 percent in the U.S. is worth as much as the bottom 90 percent), openly plutocratic and arch-imperial American system that delivers the fake-democratic choice between “lying neoliberal warmonger[s]” like the Clintons and Obama on one hand and deplorable white nationalists and militarists like Trump and Bush Junior on the other is long overdue for something bigger than just another deceptive “change” election or even an impeachment. It is ripe for revolution.
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