Progressives must try to maximize the liberatory potential of a growing discontent.
Published in the May 2017 issue of the New Internationalist.
It’s as bad we thought it would be. Probably worse.
Donald Trump assumed office as President of the United States just a few short months ago, and yet the time has stretched endlessly, with each day bringing a new proposal from the White House to inflict suffering on the majority.
For those throughout the world, much is at stake in these proposals. Trump has vowed to wall off America from immigrants. He has put ardent Islamophobes in control of the U.S. military and its vast global network of bases. And anyone who has observed the combination of ignorance, petty grievance, and recklessness that defines the president’s personality can hardly sit at ease with Trump’s now-expansive war-making powers. In January, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its symbolic “Doomsday Clock” thirty seconds closer to midnight, the nearest to armageddon the timepiece has been set since 1953, when the hydrogen bomb had just been tested.
Then there’s the fact that, with an ExxonMobil executive now officially running U.S. foreign policy, the prospects of avoiding an uncomfortably warm future grow daily less promising.
Within the United States, countless citizens will be harmed sooner rather than later. Despite stoking nationalistic pride, Trump’s policies promise to despoil the land, making our water dirtier and our air more polluted. Republicans are now busy gutting workplace protections and dismantling services for the elderly. (They are completely eliminating, for instance, federal funding for Meals on Wheels—a popular program that brings food to seniors and the disabled.) Moreover, conservatives came dangerously close to stripping 24 million people of healthcare coverage.
In short, they are making lives worse, at home and abroad.
The question is whether the injuries they inflict will prompt people to rebel.
Some have started already. In January, the weekend after Trump’s inauguration, at least 3.3 million people across the country rallied in support of the Women’s March on Washington. This represented the largest single-day of demonstration in U.S. history. (International protesters in more than 200 cities internationally—from Auckland to Amsterdam to Nairobi to Bogotá—also joined in.)
A group called Indivisible, formed by progressive staffers who worked on Capitol Hill during the Tea Party’s rise and saw how right-wingers were able to shift Washington politics, has distributed a strategy guide for how progressives can mount the same type of resistance to rabid Republicans. Their instruction manual has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times, and some 5,380 local chapters have formed to devote themselves to hounding their elected representatives.
Finally, since Trump’s election, membership in the Democratic Socialists of America has tripled. Its ranks, although still modest, are now filled with young people seeking to carry forward the insurgent energy of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and to act on widespread sentiment among their generation that neoliberal capitalism is neither the only nor the most desirable option for America’s future.
These are just a few examples among many. And Trump’s destructive policies may go far in further bolstering all these efforts. Conventional wisdom holds that the Republicans’ actions are potentially suicidal—particularly when they enter realms such as social security and healthcare. After all, attempting to strip voters of entitlements upon which they rely is an invitation to speedy disaffection.
But it is not enough for people merely to feel disillusioned with the Trump administration. Passive disenchantment must be organized into active resistance. We must boost the backlash.
Perhaps most importantly, dismay at current elites must be put in the service of a better order—one that is egalitarian and internationalist, inclusive and genuinely democratic.
It would be foolish to assume that the pain inflicted by the Trump administration will by itself create the rebellion we need. Yet it would be equally irresponsible for us not to try to maximize the liberatory potential of a growing discontent.
Photo credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen / Wikimedia Commons.