January 31, 2017
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a dictator is “a ruler or governor whose word is law.” And whether it’s via Trump’s tweeted word, which triggers stocks to rise or drop across the planet, or via his signature on an executive order that just banned over 100 million people, including legal residents, from entering the U.S., Trump seems to be just that. Despite its lack of constitutionality, his word functions as the law. Although his Muslim ban (which discriminates against people based on national origin and religion, and is therefore a breach of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) was temporarily stayed by the courts, Trump released a statement shortly afterward announcing that it remains in complete effect. In this defiance of the law he seems to be following the example of Andrew Jackson. For let us recall that Jackson notoriously defied the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, which held that the Indian Removal Act was unconstitutional, and that the brutal removal of the Cherokee people via the infamous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma be stopped. Jackson (whose portrait was recently hung in Trump’s Oval Office) ignored the Court, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgia to continue.
While it isn’t clear whether Trump or the courts will prevail over the issue of the Muslim ban, it seems clear that the constitutional crisis posed by Trump’s presidency will only intensify (just as the economic crisis, and the ecological crisis, and the refugee crisis that stems from these, will only intensify). And though defensive protests against this burgeoning dictatorship are crucial, and the turnout in airports across the country on Saturday were key to blocking part of Trump’s ban (in law if not in fact), defensive protests alone are insufficient. Offensive actions must also be waged, or those who wish to stop Trump will always be a step behind a movement committed to rapidly gutting society, eliminating basic democratic norms, and instituting barbarism across a wide range of fronts. As when Hannibal marched his elephants and army over the Alps toward Rome, and Scipio defeated him by taking the offense, attacking Carthage and forcing Hannibal to retreat, the opposition to Trump must take the offense. The focus of the resistance ought to be the removal of Trump from power, as well as his accomplices, though this must not be the sole goal. The resistance must also not allow power to revert to those whose policies created the misery that gave rise to Trump in the first place.
As many have pointed out, Trump’s victory can be understood as stemming from a rejection of neoliberalism, particularly the neoliberalism of Clinton and Obama (a political-economic order characterized by permanent war, permanent unemployment, privatization, austerity, and free trade agreements that have hollowed out and impoverished much of the country). Deeply unpopular and mistrusted, most Trump supporters did not support him for positive reasons. One of the most unpopular people to ever run for president of the US, he was supported because he loudly and clearly rejected the miserable neoliberal status quo. It is crucial to point out, however, that Trump was not rejecting the status quo in favor of creating anything genuinely new. As his campaign slogan made patently clear, he was not rejecting the status quo in order to go beyond it. He was rejecting it in order to return, to regress, to a time before neoliberalism (and not just before neoliberalism but before environmental regulations, labor laws, occupational safety and health regulations, rights for women, rights for African-Americans, and other social advances introduced over the past century).
While Trump’s Secretary of State, who represents the interests of Exxon foremost, is overjoyed to roll back environmental laws that infringe upon corporate profits, Trump’s white nationalist (aka alt-right) supporters (who have an accomplice in the White House in the person of Steve Bannon), would like to regress even further back in time, to before modernity itself. Though it may be understated, we can characterize this tendency as reaction. And, because much of the reaction is animated by a rejection of neoliberalism, which it shares with the left, the left ought to make an effort to strengthen itself, and weaken Trump, by encouraging this anti-neoliberal faction of the Trump coalition (many of whom were Bernie Sanders supporters) to switch allegiances. To be sure, according to the legendary military strategist Sun Tzu, the supreme strategy of warfare, after attacking strategy itself, is attacking alliances.
While Trump’s, and many of his supporters’, rejection of neoliberalism (however reactionary) is clear, Trump’s opponents are split on the question. Hillary Clinton, for instance, embraces neoliberalism. Even if she had not campaigned on carrying out a third Obama term, declaring that “America is already great,” her record of support for military interventions, free trade agreements, NATO expansion, austerity, privatization and other pillars of neoliberal policy speaks for itself.
Although Cory Booker, Hillary Clinton and other neoliberal Democrats may have co-opted the term “progressive,” they should not be mistaken for leftists (since the type of progress they advocate amounts to little more than “progress” for the rich, and for the advancement of imperialism). If they want the progressive label, however, leftists would do well to let them keep it, along with the superstitious optimism, derived from religious faith, that the ideology of progress implies. For rather than starry-eyed optimists, we should be clear-eyed pessimists – rejecting the spurious idea that society is naturally, automatically progressing or evolving toward a more egalitarian society. Rather than something that unthinkingly evolves, a just society must be built.
As illustrated by Clinton, Booker, Obama, and other Democrats’ efforts to privatize schools, health care, and the planet in general (in order to own it, and extract rents from their tenants), the “progressive” of today is not interested in building a just society. Wanting to unseat Trump only to restore neoliberalism to its unchallenged perch, as opposed to Trump’s reactionary politics this centrist form of reaction can be understood as Restoration.
In contrast to the Restorationists, who would restore a reviled neoliberalism, and in contrast to the Reaction of Trump and his supporters (who reject neoliberalism, along with so much else), the New Deal politics of Bernie Sanders must be scrutinized, too. Although Sanders is a vocal critic of Trump and the excesses of capitalism, and calls himself a socialist, and described his presidential campaign earlier this year as revolutionary, his politics are not exactly forward-looking. Rather, in appealing to the restoration of a New Deal style welfare state, he invokes an anachronism. In addition to the fact that the welfare state sprung from, and was supported by, a world that no longer exists, that world was inseparable from racism, sexism, segregation, and an imperialism that’s reflected in many of Sanders’ foreign policy positions.
Although Sanders deserves credit for raising his voice against oppression, and could be instrumental in developing a coalition to remove Trump, because his backward-looking, quasi-socialism is neither international, nor supranational, it is ill-equipped to confront today’s global crises, and it is not genuinely revolutionary. Instead of restoring an anachronistic economic model, the current crises challenge us to articulate a new global political-economy, an actually revolutionary break from our ecocidal order that is neither based on the exploitation of people and planet, nor on national borders.
Rather than continuing to privatize the planet, transforming the mountains, minerals, and forests of the world into so many disposable, toxic commodities, and deforming social relations into commercial relations, a revolutionary political-economy would expand the public realm. As opposed to regulating society according to the principle of profit and exchange (which creates scarcity and poverty via practices such as the destruction of food, carried out in order to stabilize prices and maintain profits), economic production should be regulated according to its use-value. Following the maxim “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” food and other necessities should be decommodified (via the nationalization, or better yet the internationalization of the resources needed to generate them) and produced in order to feed people, not to generate profit.
Beyond a scarcity-based commodity economy that creates poverty and terrorism as predictably as it pollutes and poisons the environment, in order to find our way out of the fog of class war we must aim toward a new social arrangement, beyond class; one that doesn’t maintain ecocidal industries merely to provide people with jobs (that supply people with money that’s just as soon given away to the rich) but one whose pursuit of egalitarianism eliminates poverty as well as the need for many jobs. All of these things are possible, if we can just get beyond the logic of exchange, and cultivate a society of radical, global neighborhoods. That is, if we revolutionize the way we think. But revolutionizing the way we think is insufficient, especially when confronting Trump.
In addition to learning the lessons of the revolutions of 1776 and 1789 (among which are that rather than being achieved via capitalism, liberty and justice have been historically achieved in spite of capitalistic social relations), we must learn the lessons of 1917 (that liberty and justice are not attainable via a one-party state, a state-capitalist system, or the nation-state at all). Indeed, insofar as the nation-state is a machine designed according to the needs of a commodity economy, the nation-state must be abandoned as well, in favor of a social arrangement beyond the exploitative and ecocidal dictates of the market and the nation-state. By focusing our indignation at Trump into an offensive international general strike and boycott, and an occupy-style encirclement of Wall Street, the White House, Capitol Hill, and other nerve centers, we can not only defeat Trump, and other authoritarian demagogues and governments throughout the world, we can move beyond capitalism and the state, toward a radically egalitarian, actually democratic society that eliminates not just poverty, but the concentrations of wealth and power that allow the barbarism of the present to capture and wield political power in the first place.