The Trump “Resistance” Is Slipping Through Our Fingers

| Resist!

Above Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Social movements are notoriously finicky. They can peter out quickly or grow into a transformative force. Their longevity is questionable, but eventually the establishment re-establishes its power or the social movement rebalances the political equilibrium; or smashes it altogether.

Without optimal strategy movements tend to have short lives, and the pendulum swings in the other direction. The anti-Trump movement is in danger of a premature death as it faces two grave dangers:

1) Allowing Democratic Party affiliated groups to co-lead the movement, who want only electoral change while continuing many of Trump’s pro-establishment policies.

2) Demoralization due to lack of concrete victories that can stunt growth into the broader community.

These barriers are already beginning to suck energy from the movement at a time the far-right begins to grow legs. Our movement’s defeat will be the fascists growth spurt.

The anti-Trump movement isn’t really about Trump. He’s a figurehead representing a coalition of powerful interests. The Democrats want us to think that just Trump is the problem, and therefore they are the solution.

But many of Trump’s policies are extensions of Obama’s, the “deporter in chief” whose policies allowed Wall Street to capture 99% of new wealth creation. Trump’s billionaire Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, could have been chosen by a Democrat, as she shares Obama’s vision of privatizing public education.

Trump despises Black Lives but the movement emerged under Obama’s reign, and he did absolutely nothing in response. Desmond Tutu was correct when he said, “If you’re neutral in situations of injustice, you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Trump’s militarism is also a logical extension of Obama’s, who expanded global wars by destroying Libya and overseeing a proxy war in Syria. Obama left troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and drone bombers in the air over Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.

The Democrats’ cancerous role in the anti-Trump movement was exposed at a critical moment: in one week Trump bombed the Syrian government and dangerously threatened North Korea. In response, the anti-Trump “resistance” movement crumbled, as Democrats lined up to support Trump at his most dangerous moment. A perfect opportunity to jumpstart the anti-war movement was surrendered. The ‘resistance’ flinched, and now Trump is insisting on a new ‘surge’ in Afghanistan.

A different “fail” from the anti-Trump movement occurred when the House of Representatives voted to cut nearly $900 billion from Medicaid. The Democrat’s reaction was almost giddy, as they arrogantly pronounced their certain victory in the midterm elections. Their “resistance” is limited to electoral opportunism. This is a perfect moment for the anti-Trump movement to demand universal, single-payer healthcare, but it won’t be supported by the Democrats.

The Democrats are incapable of challenging Trump’s billionaire-filled cabinet because Democrats depend on the billionaire owners of the big banks, military-industrial complex and tech firms for support. Trump is a symptom of a larger problem co-created by the Democrats, where the ultra-rich exert a vice grip on politics. A militant mass movement can shatter the status quo, but not until the Democratic Party status quo is amputated from its ranks.

The 2nd Threat: demoralization due to lack of concrete victories and lack of movement expansion into the broader community.

There are millions of newly politicized people watching the movement from the sidelines, wondering if they should care or go about their business. They haven’t been to a protest because they’re not convinced the movement is fighting for them. Protesting injustice is fine but it doesn’t put food on the table. Maybe they see the movement as a fad destined to fade.

Many are likely wondering if the movement is serious about fighting for something, and winning, or if it’s going to devolve into a quagmire of brawling with police and fascists. If onlookers sense the movement is gaining power their interest will grow. A victory will gain their trust.

How deep are the movement’s roots? It’s hard to tell, though a recent article in the Washington Post had some interesting statistics about anti-Trump protesters who were surveyed: more than three quarters had a college education and 82 to 90% of people voted for Hillary Clinton.

Such statistics probably vary throughout the country, though the data likely points to a real trend where the tens of millions of people who didn’t vote and don’t have a college education are under-represented at the protests. If not reversed, this abstentionism will prove fatal.

One example of movement skepticism was recently voiced by Conor Friedersdorf, in his article ‘Why the Left Can’t Win’. He writes:

“But is the American left capable of political success right now? Its recent win-loss record is poor, whether one begins with the Seattle WTO protests, the anti-war marches of 2003, the push for immigration reform, Occupy Wall Street, or Black Lives Matter. And observing the left during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, I am beginning to despair that its pathologies are growing in strength at the very moment when the worst of the right is ascendant, too.”

This sentiment is likely worrying millions of people, who see hope in the anti-Trump movement but fear it’s disintegration. A lack of victories will inevitably demoralize those already involved. If people feel that the movement is an occasional march without any concrete goals/demands, then passivity is an inevitable outcome.

If the anti-Trump movement continues to follow the trajectory of Occupy —all march and no action — we might have already seen the high water mark.

Mass mobilizations carry with them implicit threats to the establishment, who interpret them to mean “a huge number of people are paying attention and reject our policies, and if further provoked may take more aggressive action.”

Marches do matter, but without a demand attached to them the energy dissipates. The intrinsic power must be funneled into more explicit demands that allow people to zero-in on an issue and clamp down on it. A specific issue allows focus and gives the movement something concrete to bite into, with a pit bull-like grip until the demand is won. This is the secret power of the $15 Now movement and the winning campaigns for rent control in California, and the victories by Portland Tenants United: they picked a demand that resonates and didn’t let go.

Frederick Douglas was correct when he said “power concedes nothing without a demand.” Without tangible demands the movement veers from one issue to another, never fully committing and allowing the establishment to think that the movement will eventually surrender.

Crucial to winning militant demands is a broad-based coalition that represents those affected by the issues being fought for. A united coalition representing millions of members — and organizing to attract tens of million more — is a critical ingredient to a powerful national movement.

The above-mentioned Atlantic article quotes Freddie Deboer, who said:

“Political progress is always and only about pulling the edge cases into a particular orbit and hoping that in time they will come to circle closer and closer to your goals.”

Our enemies know this to be true as well. Notorious FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was a professional movement destroyer, and fanatically sought to isolate growing movements to prevent the broader population from joining.

In his excellent biography of the Black Panther Party, Joshua Bloom explores the different ways that Hoover’s FBI sought to isolate the black liberation movement.

Bloom quotes Hoover giving specific direction to his FBI agents to prevent African American organizations from forming coalition: “in unity there is strength; a truism that is no less valid for its triteness.”

Hoover was especially interested in preventing African American organizations from gaining a foothold in the broader community, he directed his FBI agents to prevent black groups from “gaining respectability, by discrediting them.”

Most revealingly was Hoover’s directions to undermine the Black Panther Party’s successful, broad-based community organizing:

“…one of our primary aims in counterintelligence as it concerns the [Black Panther Party] is to keep this group isolated from the moderate black and white community which may support it. This is most emphatically pointed out in their Breakfast for Children Program, where they are actively soliciting and receiving support from uninformed whites and moderate blacks.”

Trump will wait out the protest storm if he believes that each protest issue is compartmentalized, divided against each other and not expanding to the broader working class.

Another barrier to growing the movement is the newly trendy “black bloc” politics, whose strategy is limited to small numbers fighting police and fascists in the streets. The black bloc isn’t even a group, but an assortment of individuals whose only internal agreements are fashion and hatred of police.

This lack of ‘strategy’ ultimately shrinks roots into the community instead of growing them. The police and establishment love street violence, because it gives them a perfect pretext to unleash violence that, in turn, de-legitimizes protest and keeps onlookers firmly rooted to their couch.

Nazis love street violence too, because it’s the only political venue where they can compete on a level playing field. Their numbers are too small — for now — to organize on a larger scale, and they use the occasional street fight victory to remain cohesive and recruit new members. Ultimately a fascist movement can only be extinguished by mass, collective action.

How much time does the movement have before the energy wanes, and the moment is lost? It depends on how well organizers adapt. There will be ongoing opportunities as protests continue in reaction to Trump’s policies, while the upcoming Pride march in June is certain to be the largest Pride mobilization ever; and the most political.

The anti-Trump movement will have more longevity than Occupy, but its life can be tragically shortened if some of the above mistakes are not corrected. The enormous revolutionary energy that exists must be funneled into something concrete, lest it be frittered away.

The most revolutionary thing the anti-Trump protester can do is not punch a fascist but help mobilize the broader population into a political fight. Local coalitions should copy the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which successfully fought for rent control and recently won two more seats in the city council while remaining politically independent.

Similar “Resistance” coalitions can be organized quickly by reaching out to labor and community groups, asking them to plan joint actions or mobilize collectively in support of common demands made against city or state government.

Millions of people are looking for the hope that a strong political movement provides, but the window is shrinking.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Fortunately, Shamus, you are as ‘dead wrong’ as Emperor Trump is now an absolute — “dead man walking”. Put a fork in him, this idiot put his foot in his mouth and shot himself in the head.

    Here is my own ealier (9AM pre-inverview) ‘Open Letter’ to the New York Times’ Open Letter regarding the Comey incident — and more broadly the Trump Imperium:

    “The classic warning phrase ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ is being replaced by the
    equally dangerous reality-show phrase ‘The Election of Emperor Trump’
    (perhaps the exact moment being ‘Firing of Comey’).

    Of course few Americans have any understanding of Roman history, let alone
    American history, but our founders at the time of the American
    “Revolution Against Empire” (not to plug Justin du Rivage’s forthcoming book) were highly aware of both Roman history, the danger of any ‘Crossing the
    Rubicon’ action by an Imperial President, and the ‘disease of Republics’
    being Empire.

    Entering the effective capital city, whether; Rome 49 BC, Berlin 1933, or
    Washington 2017 astride open or disguised military power has always
    ‘ended badly’ —- which is why the insistence on checks and balances of
    power, rather than ‘imperium’, was so strongly entrenched in the
    founders’ Constitution.

    Similarly, Hannah Arendt’s dismissed warning to her own German people is worth serious consideration by ‘we the American people’: “Empire abroad
    entails tyranny at home”.

    As Thomas Paine might well have painfully corrected Patrick Henry, “Give me Liberty (from EMPIRE) or Give me Death”

    #ResistandProtest sign, “Impeach Emperor Trump”, but non-violently return him to his own private branded Trump Empire.”

    Shamus, beyond what I wrote above to the Times early this morning, Trump’s interview with with NBC’s Lester Holt, wherein Trump said he had dinner with Comey and asked him three (3) times if he was a subject of FBI investigation — was the self-inflicted gun shot that will INEXORABLY cause his impeachment. (Period, Full Stop, GONE)!

    This is an issue beyond debate.

    Here’s how I think the shit is going to hit the Emperor’s Fan — when he goes down yelling:

    The only subject of interest to me now is whether Trump will go down to Impeachment quietly or whether he will reprise the role of Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessep in “A Few Good Men” —- and provide an insane blow-up of Trump shouting, “Yes, I ordered the Code Red, God damn it”. “You can’t handle the truth”. “You want me on the wall (in the White House). … You need me on the Wall guarding against these damn terrorists. You sleep under the blanket of protection I provide and then complain how I provide it!” “You lilly livered Americans — I’m the effin President and ruler of this damn country and I can do anything I want as Commander in Chief of your shitty little lives. “I’m the great Emperor of this whole effing world —- and you’re all nothing but little shits”

  • mwildfire

    A few points. One, cooptation by the Democrats is absolutely a problem but the victories “the anti-Trump movement” has won, and there are a few, came because his policies were voted down, by Democrats. Or challenged by judges. Two, the Black Bloc isn’t going away. There are always people eager to prove their manhood, especially young males, who haven’t thought things through, and this group is sufficiently useful to the establishment that they will supply any gaps in the ranks with their own undercover officers.
    Finally, concrete demands make sense in specific contexts but I see here an assumption that we need victories through politics, through either putting better people in office or getting those already there to vote our way. A system in which office is won through spending more money than your opponent, and in which voters decide on the basis of campaign ads crafted by experts and now pitched individually, is one in which special interests get their way virtually 100% of the time. It’s virtually impossible in such a system to get people into office who will represent the public interest, and almost as difficult to get those currently seated to vote our way, when winning the next election depends upon selling us out. This is the brontosaurus in the living room no one talks about…instead they pretend that if we just try harder we can somehow win a game that’s heavily rigged against us.
    So what’s the alternative? Some means of finding unity so that everyone puts their shoulders against the same wheel long enough to force it into motion–to win specific victories–and then moves on to another wheel. A demand for universal health care is one possibility and I think the odds would actually be better if there were no compromise–it should be explicitly stated that the intention is to exclude the insurance industry and to greatly reduce the exorbitant profits of drug companies. Members of Congress should be forced to state that they choose these companies over their constituents. But of course, the corporate media collusion is a barrier to getting the message out–which is why the net neutrality battle is so critical. They own the “mainstream” media but they need to block the alternatives as more and more people get at least some of their information from smaller online sites. So maybe that battle has to come first…but Pai can just do it by decree, right? He doesn’t need a Congressional vote, which we could publicize to the heavens, make it very toxic.

  • Tribalscribal

    Conor Friedersdorf needs to rethink his win/loss column. With exception of immigration reform all the campaigns he perceives as losses actually had profound effects on the populace and have burrowed deep in our society. Before WTO and the Battle of Seattle few people gave much thought to corporate hegemony. Before Occupy Wall Street issues of institutional economic inequity were seldom if ever on the nation’s front pages. Before Black Lives Matter institutional and overt racism and police violence were sidelined. Those three events/campaigns are still with us, still reverberating.

  • DHFabian

    Protest is good and necessary, and has the potential of launching a movement that results in real change. One can learn from looking back to the movements of the 1930s or 1960s (for example), studying both their successes and their failures. But there is no movement, no measure of unity, even in the face of a common threat (Trump/fascism). Years of work went into splitting apart (especially) those who aren’t on the right wing, pitting us against each other by class and race. We’re stuck with the consequences. When you’ve alienated an entire portion of the population, and then call on them to stand up on your behalf — even in the face of a common enemy — it probably isn’t going to happen. What’s missing today is any sense of “the common good.”

  • DHFabian

    I’m not young, and I don’t recall when corporate hegemony wasn’t a significant concern. The discussions we have today concerning corporate dominance are the same as the discussions people were having decades ago. For example, look into Eisenhower’s famous 1961 speech regarding the military-industrial complex. These concerns remained strong throughout the 20th Century.

    Occupy was a failure in one respect that we avoid discussing. Before we even had time to catch our breath, it was successfully redefined (by Dem pols, liberal media) as a middle class movement. The rest of us — the poor, and those who get why it matters — finally walked away.

  • DHFabian

    What has been AWOL from the liberal discussion/media is any concept of “the common good.” The “revolution” gets carefully marketed to a select target audience as if it were a consumer product.

    One needs to look back to understand what happened with the Democrats. Since at least FDR, Democrats had represented the “masses” — poor and middle class, for the common good. The 1980s brought the “Reagan Democrats.” They moved further to the right to merge with the Clinton wing in the 1990s. The Clinton wing brought the war on the poor to fruition, splitting the Dem voting base wide apart, and the past eight years confirmed that this split is permanent.

    Specifically on universal health care (by any other name) as a potentially unifying issue: What would be the logic of providing anything more than emergency room services to the poor, just to dump them back on the streets, denied adequate food and shelter? The overall life expectancy of the US poor has already fallen below that of every developed nation.

  • DHFabian

    Interesting, but realistically speaking, I think it’s more likely that Trump will be reelected (based on US voting habits). He has an entire crew of highly-trained people to keep him from crossing a career-fatal line.
    If worse comes to worse, a national catastrophe tends to eliminate dissent.

    What matters the most to people, at the proverbial end of the day, is whether they have the means to keep their families together, housed and fed. Survival. Democrats threw the poor off the cliff 20-some years ago, and the past eight years confirmed that this is permanent. This is the issue that has split the proverbial masses wide apart. Want a revolution? Who would fight whom, and for what? Regardless, America’s crisis is rooted in the fast that there is no legitimate opposition party to keep the Republicans from going to the fascist extreme.

  • Tribalscribal

    Nah! That’s not how we view it on Occupy the Airwaves but hey, it’s all perception anyway.

  • AlanMacDonald

    DHF, the dual Vichy parties are of no use or value to the people. The “Political Revolution against EMPIRE” has already started, and when we hit even less than 1% of population (or likely even sooner) the Revolution will explode, because all we have to do is ‘expose’ the Empire — which Emperor Trump is certainly accelerating, thank God.

    Best to you and yours, Alan

  • mwildfire

    So the unifying issue should be universal healthcare and universal housing and food, and of course there’s no point in providing all that if the environment is in decline so we also need a massive energy and economic transition, and I hope you’ll agree that we want to fight for all races so we need prison and legal reform–so the unifying issue we should get everyone to fight together for is–all of them?

  • DHFabian

    Outstanding article. Democrats are probably over for the foreseeable future. They split apart their own voting base in the 1990s, middle class vs. poor, and the past eight years confirmed that this split is permanent. With the current administration, it would be easy for me to forget that there are any Democrats in Congress if I didn’t still get fund-raising emails from emails from them.

    What happened to the “masses?” It’s not just that people are overwhelmed by the range of crises facing us, but that so many years of work went into deeply dividing those who aren’t on the right wing, pitting us against each other by class, race, and ideology. Liberals see a low wage problem, but disregard our poverty crisis. They Stand with Labor, and have utterly turned their backs on all those who were effectively pushed out of the job market. While the overall life expectancy of the US poor has fallen below that of every developed nation, our more fortunate apparently think that the worst off anyone can be is a minimum wage worker. In addition to this, racial tensions have deepened.

    It all comes back to, “If we had a revolution, who would fight whom, and for what?”

  • DHFabian

    That’s the missing piece. When was the last time you heard liberals call for restoring basic aid to our very poor? Dems in Congress kicked off 2015 alone with voting to virtually end food stamps to the elderly poor and the disabled (cut from $115 per month, down to $10). Health care? Lack of adequate food and shelter take a very heavy toll on human health. In fact, since the 1990s, the overall life expectancy of the US poor has fallen below that of every developed nation.

  • Steve1027

    I agree, it was pretty disheartening. No mention of the Days Without Immigrants (the SPONTANEOUS one in February and on May Day). Consciousness building is massively important.

  • mwildfire

    You are really monomaniacal on this, DH. The missing piece is aid to the very poor–if it weren’t for that huge omission, the Democrats’ agenda would be fine. Really? When was the last time they opposed the constant wars? Or the spying on all of us? Or reining in Wall Street? They do acknowledge environmental crises, including climate change, but none of them proposes action commensurate with the scale and urgency of the crises. Palestinians are just as utterly abandoned. That they, and liberals, and the press, have utterly abandoned the poor I can’t deny. Quite true. But this is hardly the only “missing piece,” and what I was proposing is that a coalition pick ONE battle at a time to unite behind, so as to get sufficient numbers to win–and then move on to the next.