If Our Protests Against Donald Trump Aren’t Strategic, They Will Fail

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Above Photo:  ‘Questioning the legitimacy of those in power is central because it can lead people to question the nature of power itself.’ Photograph: Kevin Hagen/EPA

Taking to the streets, blocking traffic or marching on Washington will not be enough. What we must do is unite single-issue protests under a broader banner

The US is now more politically divided than at anytime since the civil war. And yet, as of next month, America will be much like a one-party state. With a new US supreme court justice, the party will effectively control all three branches of government. Say goodbye to the famous checks and balances of the US political system. Now the balance, and those checks, will have to come from the streets.

The American political system is broken. Trump lost the popular vote by close to 3m ballots. Yet he has shown a readiness to bully political dissenters, and an inability or unwillingness to disentangle his personal financial interests from the business of running the country.

He has nominated Wall Street tycoons, generals and political extremists to top positions. True, his nominees may get tough questioning, even from some Republicans. But make no mistake: personal flamboyance aside, the Trump agenda is essentially the Republican agenda.

Trump will enter office as perhaps the most unpopular newly elected president in history. And yet the famous institutions established by the US constitution, meant to prevent the usurpation of power by any one individual or faction, no long appear up to the task. That civic responsibility – of organizing to prevent tyranny – must now fall to everyday Americans. But that social movement will need to have a strategic vision, one that connects with the justifiable anger that drove many voters to Trump.

Such powerful social movements are not unprecedented in US history: the organized resistance to British colonial rule; the underground railroad and the abolition movement; the strikes and labor organizing of the 1930s spurring the New Deal; the civil rights movement and the various movements it inspired. Our country, and our world, would look entirely different today without the hard work and struggle of these activists, organizers and resisters.

Yet any protest movement against the extremes of the Trump administration must be strategic and not merely reactive. That means that the tactics must align with the movement’s strategic vision. Simply taking to the streets, blocking traffic or marching on Washington will not be enough. Nor will it suffice to simply revive the Clinton coalition.

The bigotry, sexism and racism of Trump and the extremists he has dredged up must be stopped at all costs. But a successful movement must drive a sharp wedge between Trump and many of the disaffected Americans he drew to his campaign. Single-issue protests must be tied to broader concerns, or they will succumb to Trump’s uncanny ability to divide and conquer.

The soft underbelly of the emerging Trump government is the outrageous claim that he and his fellow billionaire appointees have the interests of America’s working class at heart. The campaign of Bernie Sanders demonstrated the potential for a politics that, while celebrating diversity, calls for a solidarity of the many against the powerful few who continue to benefit from capitalism run amok. And under Trump run amok it certainly will. While Sanders did not “win” in the formal political sense, he inspired millions, including many young people who have historically been the foot soldiers of social movements.

Social movements don’t need a majority to be effective. Research shows that governments around the world have been shaken to their foundations, and often toppled, when a mere 3.5% of their populations are organized in opposition. This is because any government, no matter how much it controls the formal levers of power, must also in the end retain legitimacy.

Questioning the legitimacy of those in power is central because it can lead people to question the nature of power itself: does it lie with the formal power-holders, or with the people themselves? Ultimately, whether a major corporation or a global superpower, any hierarchical organization – much like a human pyramid – relies entirely on the many at the bottom to carry out the orders of those on top.

A couple of recent examples, while seemingly small in themselves, point to the potential for a broader movement of social power. The Fight for 15 campaign has been enormously successful in fighting for a livable minimum wage. And now that Trump has nominated a fast-food mogul for his labor secretary, such campaigns can shine a spotlight on the hypocrisy of the president-elect’s promise to provide “good jobs” for Americans.

The decision to halt the Dakota Access pipeline was a huge victory for Native Americans and environmentalists. But a decisive factor in the Department of Army’s decision might have been the thousands of veterans who mobilized to block the pipeline. If an anti-Trump movement could draw in veterans, police officers, rank-and-file union members, in whatever number, it could prove unstoppable.

Such a movement also needs a strategic vision, with a message of solidarity and tactics to match. It has been done before. The future of our country, and indeed our planet, is at stake. We must do it again.

  • Southern

    Brilliant article, bookmarked !!!

  • occupyRUScom

    i[WE] MUST 1st [Give] TRUMP a CHANCE (at least the 1st 180 Days)!!!!!

    Remember: There [Might Really Be] a ‘SANiTY’ to [Trumps] iNSANiTY!
    -
    [OUR] Goal during TRUMPs Tenure is to Cut the Head-Off of the [Evil] “ANTi NEW DEAL’ [CitiGroup+] CLiNTONS and OBAMA+ regime.

    Remember: It was/is da [Teflon] ‘CLINTON’S who Told F.D.R.s {Glass; Steagall+} and the NEW DEal’RS; “F-YU’ to New York’s Greatest Governor/ and 3rd Term President..!
    -
    thank g_d (if Any) For the Magnificent 290 (Electorals) for ‘TAKiNG IT BACK!”
    Remember: TRUMP hath [Zero] NO-BLOOD on Hands; let alone Conscious!

  • occupyRUScom

    ‘Useful Idyt’s Are; a Dime a Dozen. Nothn ‘Brilliant’ Here! Just “WAIT”!

  • DHFabian

    “Single-issue protests must be tied to broader concerns, or they will succumb to Trump’s uncanny ability to divide and conquer.” Agree. Lessons learned from the 1960s, 1930s, and 1910s. The problem is that 20+ years of work went into deeply spitting us apart by class, race and ideology.

    Be aware of a particular perception out here: We watch now as the rich do to the middle class what the middle class already did to the poor. The ongoing class war — the war on the poor — has taken a very heavy toll, splitting apart families, essentially throwing a segment of the population into the dumpster. The implicit message of liberals has been that our corporate state is now so successful that everyone is able to work, and there are jobs for all, therefore no need for poverty relief. They are wrong. The perception is that now that the middle class is going down, they welcome everyone to Stand
    in Solidarity — to protect the advantages of the middle class. It’s just too late.

  • DHFabian

    Trump is not the opposite of Clinton. Clinton/Trump have strikingly similar ideologies. It was liberals who0 embraced the neoliberal agenda since the 1990s, maintaining a boisterous pep rally for the middle class.

    The masses today reject the FDR agenda (the policies and programs) that actually did take the country to its height of wealth and productivity, from FDR to Reagan — far from perfect, but much better. What came to be called AFDC was first included in FDR’s Social Security Act, later separated to focus on the specific needs of young families in poverty. The Clinton Democrats got rid of that, and took the first steps to similarly “reform” Social Security (targeting the disabled). The Great Society was built directly on the New Deal. Democrats killed off the Great Society and began “reforming” the New Deal.

    The Clinton wing in Congress kicked off 2015 with voting to virtually end food stamps to the elderly poor and the disabled — cut from $115 per month, down to $10. The liberal response?

  • DHFabian

    What point(s) are you referring to? It would be to our (ordinary people) own advantage to start openly discussing those areas where we disagree, to see where we can find consensus.

  • Too late, they are all failures as of Nov. 8th.

  • Clash_1

    When the credibility of the institutions that supposedly govern was lost, it will become as apparent as it has at this time that no men in or with power can be trusted. It is not “strong men” or “great men” that produce good governance but the institutions that hold them in check, when the institutions failed the Republic failed and now all those who believed that choosing the worst of to evils was beyond their sensibility’s will now see the the results of that decision. And no you have no right at all to ask for anyone to give Trump any chance at all, disruption, dissent and obstruction are words we must use and and then act on them.

  • jemcgloin

    It is true that no one knows what Trump will do. Trump contradicts himself daily. Unfortunately that means he is a liar. He also abuses the English language so that words lose their definitions. This makes the law almost meaningless.
    We cannot wait 180 days while Trump loots the National Wealth, or more likely provides cover for Ryan and McConnell to loot it.
    [By the way, your keyboard seems to be broken.]

  • jemcgloin

    Yes. It is time for the left to forgive each other for our different strategies and tactics, and to come together to resist the coming storm of thievery and state violence.

  • chetdude

    Did your working class father whip you with his belt? Why do you persist in that silly, untrue meme of yours???

    “the rich do to the middle class what the middle class already did to the poor”

    What’s the deep seated psychological cause of your amazing inability to see that the mythical “Middle Class” has NEVER been in charge of political and economic life in USAmerica. It’s the RICH, the Owner Class who have ALWAYS ruled the coop and use their fear-soaked (“middle class”) employees to oppress all others…

    And it’s CAPITALISM, the major tool of that Owner Class at present that needs the poor to keep the working classes in line, underpaid and overworked!

    Read the article again — think about it — then lead, follow or get out of the way!

  • chetdude

    Amazing gibberish…

    But you’ve got one thing right, Drumpf is NOT Conscious…

  • jemcgloin

    They did fool the white middle class into thinking that they had something in common with the rich because of the color of their skin, and that they should blame the poor for their problems, and that looting other countries to keep their own living standards up was a good idea.
    They were fooled on all of those counts.
    Trump would rather have dinner with Obama or Kanye than with some middle class shmo any day of the week.The rich only care about money and power.
    The idea that the poor people stole all the money is just so mathematically ridiculous its amazing that people fall for it. Obviously the people that have all the money are the ones that stole it.
    And once you make it alright to loot other countries (or to use the police to abuse non-white neighborhoods here, like Ferguson) then it makes it alright to loot the US, (and poor white neighborhoods like in the Appalachians).
    Stupid middle class white people sowed the seeds of their own destruction by thinking that greed was going to move them up. it backfired, just as it was designed to do.

  • jemcgloin

    Don’t you discuss where you agree to find consensus?

  • chetdude

    True, and all of that was created and stirred up by the point 1 of 1% in order to divide and conquer – NOT the mythical “Middle Class” that DH constantly blames…

  • jemcgloin

    Con men prey on the greedy because the greedy will do anything for money. So the billionaires convinced many in the middle class that greed is good.