From the November-December 2016 issue of News & Letters
by the National Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
Protests of thousands welled up in city after city in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory. High school students walked out of classes in several cities. Highways were blocked in Los Angeles and Iowa City, Miami and Atlanta. Denouncing racism, sexism and fascism, demonstrators—of all races, women and men, LGBTQ and straight, very many of them young—are clear about the significance of a Trump presidency.
TRUMP ELECTION OPENS DOORS OF HATE
At the same time, the naked reality of Trumpism—which captured the state while losing the popular vote—was revealed in a spate of physical attacks against people of color and calls for men to celebrate the election by sexually assaulting women. A group of students yelled “white power!” while walking in a Pennsylvania high school carrying Trump signs. White private school students on a New York City bus told Black students they should sit in the back. Blacks and Latinos have reported white men spitting at them and telling them to “go back to Africa” (or “where you came from”).
Graffiti saying “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes” appeared in Durham, N.C., and “Make America white again” in Wellsville, N.Y. Cars, houses and offices in Philadelphia were vandalized with swastikas, “Trump Rules” and racist and sexist slurs. Social media were filled with threats against minorities and women. The green light has been given to open racism, rape culture and hate crimes, including by the police.
Internationally, Trump’s victory strengthened forces of fascist reaction from France’s National Front to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and the latter’s clients such as the self-proclaimed “socialist republics” of eastern Ukraine and the genocidal Bashar al-Assad in Syria, who welcomed the president-elect as a “natural ally.”
Trump favors another reactionary active in Syria, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who suppresses all dissent within his own country. Where Trump has proposed reining in the press, Erdogan has destroyed any independent press in Turkey. He is hell bent on killing Kurds, especially Syrian Kurds, who in their fight for self-determination have been the most effective against ISIS and the butcher Assad.
At the same time Trump is opening the door to military confrontation with Iran, having threatened to scrap the 2015 international nuclear deal with that country. His National Security Adviser will be Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a feverish Islamophobic ideologue who pushes lies about Islam taking over the U.S. He has worked for Russian state-owned media/propaganda company RT and advocates acquiescing to Russia’s deliberate bombing of Syrian civilians and hospitals and its takeover of Ukrainian territory, in order to cooperate closely with Putin in the “world war” against “a component of Islam.”
UNDER THE WHIP OF COUNTER-REVOLUTION
This election deepened counter-revolution at home and globally. There can be no doubt that it is a very serious setback for all the oppressed and for all freedom movements. What Trump represents above all is counter-revolution, and, more specifically, fascism, which is the excrescence of capitalism under threat. His rise is the index of this system’s crisis and bankruptcy of thought, which the Left has hardly met with a truly revolutionary perspective.
Where 20 years ago “anti-globalization” was a cry of the Left, the KKK-endorsed billionaire Trump poses as the champion of middle-class and working-class whites against free trade, which he merges with scapegoating immigrants. He did not, of course, offer any real solutions to the effects of trade agreements and globalization on jobs and wages, nor did he address the other structural factors, including automation and capitalism’s crises connected to the fall in the rate of profit.
The U.S. economy is totally integrated in the world economy, which is in a crisis of stagnation. Any trade impediments such as Trump threatens could trigger a major economic downturn. There has been serious job loss but primarily due to automation. U.S. manufacturing output in dollars is near the all-time high it reached in 2007 on the eve of the recession. Seven million manufacturing jobs have been lost since manufacturing employment peaked in 1979, yet factory production has doubled. Though workers have been left behind, major disruptions due to trade have been concentrated in particular geographic areas and industries like textiles and auto.
Hillary Clinton adopted some of Bernie Sanders’s specific proposals but remained a neoliberal “New Democrat,” like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama before her. Her message that the economic crisis is past and things are getting better rang hollow for too many people, some of whom fell for Trump’s siren song on trade.
What neither Clinton, nor Trump, nor even the socialist Sanders acknowledged is that capitalism itself, by its very nature, is always decimating existing jobs, businesses, industries, and even regions. Boosters tout this as “creative destruction.” Today, parts of the middle class are falling into the working class, and previously better off workers are ending up in low-paid service jobs, the “gig economy,” or unemployment.
Being in that situation can spur someone to look to the future, to a new human society beyond capitalism, or to the past. If the power of the idea of freedom is muted, and an emancipatory vision of the future is not being articulated and heard, then a void is opened for a con man like Donald Trump to fill with a fabricated mythic past.
RACIST, SEXIST VISION OF THE PAST FOR OUR FUTURE
Marketed at middle-class whites, especially men, that vision of the past includes putting the Others “in their place”—immigrants, African Americans, women, all of whom are scapegoated as responsible for white men losing ground. Too many were willing to overlook, or were positively attracted to, a vision of the past that rolls back all the gains made by people of color, women and workers in the last century and a half—as long as its stench was perfumed by Trump’s fake promises of prosperity, such as bringing back the jobs lost in the coal and steel regions of the “Rust Belt” and Appalachia.
Now he tilts toward dismantling not only Obamacare but Medicare, and undermining Social Security by privatizing it. His game plan is to distract from his fraudulent promises by eliminating labor, safety and environmental regulations, and by attacking scapegoats, in the first instance with more mass deportations and giving the police a free hand under the cry of “law and order.”
His supporters bought into the demagogue’s Big Lies and handed him a platform to inundate the country with racist, misogynist, authoritarian false consciousness and, when he feels the time is ripe, provocations to violence.
The media aided this ideological onslaught by constantly broadcasting Trump’s sound bites and treating even the most extreme statements as legitimate political discourse. This was especially easy for Fox News, which has been presenting far-right racism as mainstream for two decades. Facebook reinforced it with echo-chamber “targeting” of users with what they supposedly want.
The media’s description of Trump’s base as “working class” is distorted. They lump in the petty bourgeoisie—small business owners, managers and bureaucrats—with the working class, as long as they lack four-year college degrees. Some of his greatest supporters are those paid wages to suppress the working class—police, prison guards, border guards—but to count that as working-class support is abstract sociological empiricism.
In reality, Trump lost the vote among people with household income under $100,000. But fewer of them vote—and Republicans made voting more difficult for them, especially in Black and Latino areas. Trump lost in Nevada, where workers knew him concretely as the hotel employer who wouldn’t sign a contract with unionized employees so that he can continue to pay them $3 an hour less.
Trump did win the white vote, including a significant number of white workers who had voted for Obama. But it was not enough in the end to gain him a majority. Like George W. Bush in 2000, he lost the vote but will be anointed president due to the Electoral College (tilted by voter suppression), which was invented by the Founding Fathers to inhibit democracy and protect the institution of slavery.
LURCHING TOWARD CATASTROPHE
The Republicans will have single-party control of the federal government and of about half the states—partly due to gerrymandering, suppressing the votes of people of color and young people, and the racist denial of voting rights to millions of people convicted of felonies. Soon Trump will appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, and probably more, locking in a reactionary court for the foreseeable future. The Religious Right is celebrating their deal with the devil, having decided that destroying legal abortion and LGBTQ rights was an end that justified overlooking what they had previously claimed to be paramount, the candidate’s faith and character.
As Trump and Congress trample birth control, healthcare, the social safety net, labor unions and environmental regulation, and wipe out safeguards against surveillance, voter disenfranchisement, suppression of radical dissent and police violence, do not expect the Supreme Court to stand in their way. Quite the contrary: it may throw out some Constitutional rights now taken for granted.
Nor is the Court or Congress likely to fuss if Trump carries out his promise to bring back torture, or when his plans for deporting millions of people necessarily lead to an expansion of the already existing horrors of the immigrant detention centers. Kris Kobach, a white supremacist on Trump’s transition team, wants to reinstate a post-9/11 database of immigrants from certain countries that was stopped because it was useless and discriminated against Muslims. Trump campaigner Carl Higbie defended the initiative, citing the World War II Japanese internment camps as a “historical, factual precedent to do things that are not politically popular.”
Trump’s nominee for Attorney General is Jeff Sessions. Having prosecuted civil rights activists for registering Black people to vote, he would now be in a position to block enforcement of the parts of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court has not already erased. An anti-abortion fanatic, he can persecute women’s clinics while giving a pass to anti-abortion terrorism.
But the most highly placed white supremacist misogynist of all, after Trump, is Stephen Bannon, whose appointment as “chief strategist” for the White House was praised by KKK and Nazi leaders. After Bannon took over Breitbart News, he turned it into what he described as “the platform for the alt-right,” meaning the internet-savvy contemporary sexist and white supremacist movement. His friend Andrew Breitbart lauded him as “the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement.”
After taking over the Republican Party and forcing its establishment to heel, Trump has turned its strategic direction over to the new version of the Nazis. In response, the Democrats meekly promised to work with him and enable a “smooth transition.”
AGAINST BANKRUPTCY OF THOUGHT
The opposite to this bankruptcy of thought can be seen in movements such as Black Lives Matter, which arise from lived experience, and are putting U.S. political democracy on trial. And at the moment that the media fixated on election politics, the largest national prison strike in U.S. history began in 24 states Sept. 9 to fight cruel conditions and slave labor. Prisoners even convinced guards at an Alabama prison to go on strike against the dangerous conditions that provoke violence.
Women’s struggles for new human relations pervaded the election season, in which misogyny was spewed not only at Hillary Clinton but at any woman who dared challenge the Republican nominee. A growing list of women testified about being assaulted by the macho fascist Trump, who was caught on tape bragging about how his celebrity status granted him the ability to sexually assault women with impunity. Millions of women shared their own stories of assault on the internet after blogger Kelly Oxford tweeted that when she was 12 an old man carried out the kind of sexual assault on her that Trump bragged about.
Indigenous resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (see editorial and articles) revealed the fault lines in society that the political system covers over. The vicious repression of nonviolent water protectors lay bare the savagery underlying the decaying system that vomits up a Trump to fend off its overthrow. At the same time, a jury acquitted the white right-wingers who had carried out an armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife National Refuge, threatened federal agents, and desecrated Native cultural artifacts. The contrast was unavoidable.
On climate change, Trump is committed to a course that would be catastrophic for the entire human race. Having called climate science a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, he aims to kill international agreements and all climate action at home. Under his policies, the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C would be out of reach. He promises to expand coal, oil and gas extraction and push through the Keystone XL pipeline. His personal investment in the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline makes his stance on that obvious.
The total separation of thought from reality that threatens the life-sustaining capacity of the planet is a way of thinking organic to the capitalist businessman. Clouding the judgment of many who looked past Trump’s endless stream of brash lies, racist slurs or outrageous sexist comments and behavior was his constant ranting against the political establishment in the name of being “for” the people.
This pure negativity, what Hegel called “a certainty of its own actuality and the non-actuality of the world,” has no regard for objective conditions, either of nature or the economy. The real crisis today, as in the 1930s Great Depression, is the growing displacement of workers, while only living labor, not robots, can create new value that makes accumulation possible. That is why the rate of capitalist accumulation has been collapsing globally.
When the low rate of accumulation leads to capitalists and capitalist nations fighting over pieces of the pie, tensions rise over trade and access to resources such as oil and water. Capitalist spirit devolves into the global emergence of a nationalist, racist, voluntarist—that is, fascist—subjectivity which portends shifting alliances and total war.
TIME TO FIGHT IN ACTIVITY AND THOUGHT
This must be stopped. To wait four years for another election would be to give up. That nothing short of revolution can suffice is clearer than ever, as unprecedented reaction is entrenching itself in all three branches of the government with a fascist at its head, doubling down on climate change denial and nuclear-armed militarism. Civilization’s survival is called into question unless this rotten political and economic system and its ideology are abolished.
We must fight this backward movement here and now and in doing so not disarm ourselves by failing to project the need for social transformation fundamental enough to pull out fascism’s roots in capitalism, which is intertwined with racism, sexism, heterosexism and imperialism. Let us not limit ourselves to being against this new form of fascism, or even against capitalism, but release the power of the freedom movements by aiding their unity with the philosophy of freedom for the reconstruction of society on totally new beginnings.
What Raya Dunayevskaya declared has never been more urgent: “The totality of the world crisis today, and the need for a total change, compels philosophy, a total outlook.” This is the missing link for projecting a truly revolutionary perspective.
Many in various movements are stating their resolve to keep fighting. Confidence in the power of the idea, which is at the same time confidence in the masses, is what will allow us not only to keep fighting, but to keep working at the needed rethinking, the unity of theory and practice, so that revolution can succeed and bring forth a new human society.