I sent the post out to an email list back in December. It’s just as relevant now as it was then. The right-wing juggernaut continues to advance its agenda and simultaneously there is opposition. The big question remains whether the opposition will grow enough to stymie, or, in other words, whether democratic forces in society will be further diminished or enhanced.
As we near the end of 2017and the first year of Trump’s presidency, there is the oh-so dispiriting reality that we have a mentally imbalanced, authoritarian, torture-in-chief, prevaricating, shallow President beguiled by the power and celebrity of his office who denies the existence of climate change, who believes that nuclear weapons are just another weapon that should be used to defeat or destroy “enemies,” who favors threats and military power over diplomacy in international relations, who likes policies that will further enhance the power of the mega-corporations and the rich, who represents “the leader” for white supremacists and the alt-right, who consolidates his right-wing populist base with a ban on immigration, the unending promise to build a “wall,” forced deportations, racist-infused law enforcement policies, complete deregulation of gun laws, more restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, and draconian welfare reform. Moreover, as a further outrage, Trump lost the popular vote in the presidential election and, as we follow the evidence, needed the support of Russian interference in the election to win finally in the un-democratic, out-of-date electoral college. Of course, his election was also helped by Republican sponsored voter suppression and gerrymandering. The mis-steps of Hillary Clinton’s campaign hurt her campaign – and her Wall-Street connections, a platform that was viewed as not addressing the interests of workers, and a hawkish foreign policy record.
And, as if to kick dirt in our wounds, there is evidence that Trump and his family are, with a wink and a nod, financially benefiting from the prestige and power of his presidency. Jeet Heer summarizes some of this corrupt self-dealing – and how the Republican Congress unsurprisingly goes along with it.
“Trump’s transformation of the presidency into a kleptocracy has unfolded at a dizzying and dismaying pace(https://newrepublic.com/article/142389/donald-trumps-enduring-corruption-presidency).
“The Trump family and assorted cronies are using the highest office in the land to stuff their pockets,” Tim Egan wrote Friday in the Times. “The presidential sleaze involves everything from using public money to promote and enrich Trump properties to pay-to-play schemes that allow companies to buy influence at many levels.”
“There are near-daily examples of such corruption: the use of his private resort, Mar-a-Lago, both as a presidential social club and insecure diplomatic compound (one that was promoted on a State Department website, no less, and which doubled its membership fee after Trump became president); the refusal to keep a log of who is visiting Mar-a-Lago; the nepotistic hiring of son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump as White House employees; the hawking of Ivanka’s products by Trump aide Kellyanne Conway; the expansion of Trump’s brand (and Ivanka’s brand) into countries that he is also negotiating with; Kusher’s 400 million dollar partnership with the Anbang Insurance Group (described by Bloomberg as a firm whose “murky links to the Chinese power structure have raised national security concerns over its U.S. investments”); Trump’s failure to disentangle himself from his businesses, including the unannounced modification of the terms of Trump’s trust, allowing him to withdraw funds from his businesses without public disclosure; and the relentless financial secrecy, so that the public can’t even gauge conflicts of interest.
“Worst of all, Trump’s corruption of the presidency isn’t confined to just his actions, but envelopes the entire Republican Party. Trump has a powerful ally in the GOP Congress, which has thwarted challenges to Trump’s emerging kleptocracy—by, for instance, blocking efforts to make him disclose his finances and any potential conflicts of interest”
Trump is not alone, as noted. We are currently stuck with an ideologically right-wing administration whose top administrators are billionaires, generals, and neo-conservative ideologues, who pursue the goal of hollowing out executive-branch agencies that have anything to do with protecting the environment, workers, consumers, the elderly, and the poor. John Nichols provides a detailed profile of Trump’s cabinet and various key advisers in his book Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America.
Then, there is the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress, which owes its success in large part to the financial support of a predatory, self-serving corporate sector and rich donors. Among many book on the subject, law professor Richard L. Hasen’s account is illuminating on this subject, that is, his book Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections.
In the meantime, Trump fills vacancies in the federal judiciary with appointees who have a right-wing bent who, facilitated by a “conservative” Supreme Court, will further curtail the reproductive rights of women, support government repression of dissent, sanctify discriminatory immigration bans, and do other harm to the citizen rights and protections. See, for example, the interview on Democracy Now with Zephyr Teachout, US constitutional and property law professor at Fordham University on How Trump’s Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch “sides with big business, big donors and big bosses https://www.democracynow.org/2017/03/20/zephyr_teachout_supreme_court_pick_neil).
And, not least of all, there are Fox News and Sean Hannity and Info Wars and Alex Jones, and a host of right-wing think tanks that indoctrinate and misinform his mass base with truly deceptive and false information. One good source on this topic is Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America, authored by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney.
We mustn’t forget the ground troops of the Trump ascendance to power. This story of the historical roots and broad reach of the alt-right, including the advancement of white supremacy, hyper-nationalism, a yearning for an ultimate “leader,” along with the desire to reverse the gains of African-American rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the embrace of armed militias, and more, is told in detail by David Neiwert in his new book Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump.
Among a wealth of documented evidence, Neiwert also identifies “nine ‘mobilizing passions’ that have fed the fires of
fascist movements wherever they have arisen,” and that appear to inspire major segments of the alt-right and many, not all, of Trump’s core supporters. These mobilizing passions include:
• “A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solution.”
• “The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it.”
• “The belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group’s enemies, both internal and external.”
• “Dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effect of individualist liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences.”
• “The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or be exclusionary violence if necessary.”
• “The need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s identity.”
• “The superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason.”
• “The beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success.”
• “The right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or devine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess in a Darwinian struggle” (p. 359).
The chances of upending this reactionary movement and government diminish, though are not eclipsed, as Trump and his allies and supporters implement their agenda and consolidate their control. At the same time, the growing resistance to Trump’s reactionary government will, no doubt, be unrelenting, spurred out of some combination of fear, hope, and a sense of justice and decency. And there is the undying anticipation that the right-wing policies of Trump and his allies will be so damaging to the basic economic interests of their core supporters that some of them will jump ship and either not vote or vote for democratic candidates. There is also the anticipation among opponents to Trump and the Republican Party that their policies on health care and taxes will encourage non-voters to join in the opposition as well.
The Compromised Democratic Party
A lot depends on whether the Democratic Party can offer an attractive and persuasive alternative. It’s not good news that the Bernie Sanders’ wing of the Party appears to be kept outside of the mainstream of the party. See Normal Solomon’s analysis on the divisions in the Democratic Party (http://therealnews.com/t2/component/content/article/185-more-blog-posts-from-norman-solomon/3411-battle-for-democratic-party).
At the same time, it’s heartening that there is a progressive wing of the Democratic party and a progressive movement among Democratic mayors and the Democrats in the House and Senate have held the line in their opposition to Trump’s health-care “reform” and tax proposals. Along with the Republicans in Congress, however, the dominant wing of the Democratic Party is not progressive on some important issues.
The mainstream national Democratic Party includes a majority who support large increases in military expenditures. Erik Sherman reports for Forbes that 89 percent of Senate Democrats helped pass the $696.5 billion defense bill in September. The House passed the bill in July, with 60 percent of Democrats supporting the legislation (https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2017/09/19/91-of-senate-democrats-help-pass-the-696-5b-defense-bill/#6668cc404802).
Democrats appear generally to have no difficulty in letting the Pentagon build and maintain a far-flung network of US military bases throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and have turned a blind eye toward the massive sale of US weapons abroad. The Democrats support the modernization of the US nuclear weapons arsenal. The party should be given credit for the Iran nuclear deal. Overall, though, it has relied on force in the Middle East, with heavy reliance on devastating air power and drones, with catastrophic consequences for civilians, the intensification of ethnic and religious division, and the massive destruction of economies and infrastructure.
Hillary Clinton’s state department fostered a policy that created chaos in Libya and a “failed state” in which extreme Islamic groups have flourished. The Democrats have failed to find a way to ease tensions with Russia. Along with Republican, Democrats support policies that legitimate corrupt and un-democratic foreign regimes when they have resources that we want, with Saudi Arabia as one outrageous example. And, not the least of it, the Obama administration helped to destroy a democratically-elected government in Honduras. To be fair, give Obama high marks for opening diplomatic channels with Cuba, channels that are about to be closed by Trump.
Obama and the party have supported an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that includes the continuing dominance of fossil fuels, especially reflected in support for fracking and the opening of coastal regions to drilling. It has not been progressive on immigration policy, as reflected in Obama’s unprecedented number of deportations. The Party does not have a full-employment policy, rejects universal health care, as well as having given free-reign to big pharma and having failed to address well the long-existing deprivations of the poor, especially of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. It bailed out the big banks and watched them grow even bigger, even after the banks were shown to be the major cause of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. It has a record of supporting “free trade” policies that have undermined US sovereignty and workers’ rights. It does little to stem the offshoring of corporate profits to avoid taxes. And, in general, it offers no alternatives to our present mega-corporate dominated, growth-by-whatever-means, environmentally disrupting economy.
The challenges for the left and progressives
So, it’s not easy to avoid the conclusion that the deck is being increasingly stacked against the kind of progressive, transformative change that we need. Given the scope and magnitude of environmental crises, the insanely reckless nuclear-war rhetoric of Trump, other major threats emanating from or exacerbated by his administration and the Republican dominance of the US Congress, then combine all this with a divided and vision-challenged Democratic Party, we don’t have a lot of time to avoid a growing host of cataclysmic outcomes. As it stands now, the Trump White House is taking us toward colossal and unprecedented environmental devastation, undermining our already limited and tenuous democracy, and going about all this in a seemingly methodical way to fulfill a vision of domestic and international domination that benefits the mega-corporations and rich.
The best hope on the horizon – ideally not-too-far in the future – is that the myriad progressive movements in the US and abroad continue to grow, that they coalesce somehow domestically and internationally, that truly visionary political candidates and governments are elected, and that they have the have the supportive political conditions to foster peace, solidarity, justice and environmental rejuvenation. Naomi Klein documents some of these movements in her book No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. And Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams offer a comprehensive analysis of what an “ecological” society would look like and how to move toward realizing it in their book Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation.
In the meantime, let the new year bring you meaningful and energizing moments and achievements that sustain you in your endeavors and lives.
Just one final point. Chris Hedges writes that there are some on the left who take “resistance” to exploitative and tyrannical power to extraordinary and exemplary levels. Such resistors and fighters for progressive, sometimes revolutionary, change, follow often little-traveled and personally costly paths. But, Hedges argues, there are benefits in not submitting to such power and their examples serve often to enlighten and strengthen the resolve of others of us who have less clarity, courage, and commitment. I’ll close by quoting excerpts from Chris Hedges essay on “resistance”:
“Resistance entails suffering. It requires self-sacrifice. It accepts that we may be destroyed. It is not rational. It is not about the pursuit of happiness. It is about the pursuit of freedom. Resistance accepts that even if we fail, there is an inner freedom that comes with defiance, and perhaps this is the only freedom, and true happiness, we will ever know. To resist evil is the highest achievement of human life. It is the supreme act of love. It is to carry the cross, as the theologian James Cone reminds us, and to be acutely aware that what we are carrying is also what we will die upon.
Later in the essay:
“Resistance is not only about battling the forces of darkness. It is about becoming a whole and complete human being. It is about overcoming estrangement. It is about the capacity to love. It is about honoring the sacred. It is about dignity. It is about sacrifice. It is about courage. It is about being free. Resistance is the pinnacle of human existence.”