It is as bad as anyone imagined.
In the days after Trump’s shock win, the anxious and despairing comforted themselves with the hope that his vile far right rhetoric was just campaign trail bluster. Surely once in office, a more moderate Trump would emerge.
It was a fairy tale. Less than two weeks after the election, it is crystal clear that Trump intends to govern just as he campaigned.
First, he installed Steve Bannon, leader of the white nationalist “alt right” – an unambiguously fascist movement – as his chief policy adviser. There couldn’t be a clearer signal that Trump had no intention of distancing himself from the white supremacist fringe of US society that forms the core of his base. The KKK, along with Nazis on the discussion site Stormfront, welcomed Bannon’s appointment – rightly recognising that it put their vile and violent politics at the centre of the US political power structure.
Trump’s appointment of Alabama senator Jeff Sessions – an extreme anti-immigrant bigot and open racist – as attorney general was a further inflammatory gesture designed to demonstrate that his anti-immigrant campaign promises are now set to be enacted.
The announcement that Trump will soon embark on a “victory tour” of the states that gave him the presidency was further indication that he has no intention of demobilising or calming down his frothing-at-the-mouth supporters. It is clear Trump sees the far right white mob as having a crucial role to play in propping up his presidency and backing his reactionary agenda.
There was much speculation that Trump would combine throwing some bones to his base with a rapprochement with the political establishment – the so-called “Washington swamp” that he claimed he was coming to drain. It is true that Trump has made significant moves to secure the loyalty of key sections of US capitalism – but not in the way many predicted.
The expectation was that Trump would become “presidential”. This was understood to mean he would learn to play the game as dictated by the core institutions of the US state.
Instead, he has remained utterly contemptuous of those elements of the political and governmental elite who see themselves as, to use Marx’s expression, “the executive committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie”. He refuses to take briefings from the State Department or the Defense Department before meeting or speaking with foreign leaders. He continues to tweet about the sins of the New York Times. He flouts the norms governing the transition process, which he is running like an episode of the Apprentice.
This doesn’t mean he has done nothing to win over the powerful. But instead of trying to reconcile with the institutions that manage the strategic direction of US capitalism, Trump’s strategy is to tell all the lunatic sectional groupings of the ruling class that under his presidency they will be given everything they ever dreamed of.
So Wall Street, which campaigned for Clinton, is told that every regulation constraining it will be ripped to shreds. Seth Mnuchin, a long time Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund manager, was one of the early favourites for treasury secretary. Wall Street executives, who initially panicked at the prospect of a Trump victory, are now salivating at the prospect of a new era of frenzied moneymaking.
The most extreme sections of the neocon military establishment, which have been licking their wounds in the shadows since the Iraq disaster, are being promised massive increases in military spending and a new era of US power. John Bolton, one of the most hawkish Bush administration officials, who openly calls for “regime change” in Iran, is rumoured to be one of the main contenders for secretary of state. Trump has announced that Michael Flynn, a retired general who claims that Islamist militancy poses a “global existential threat” and recently tweeted “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”, will be his national security adviser. Another hard right legislator, Mike Pompeo, will be appointed director of the CIA.
The evangelical wing of the Republicans has been assured that Roe v. Wade, which legalised abortion, will be ripped up, and a slew of arch-conservatives will be appointed to the Supreme Court.
Corporate USA is promised massive tax cuts and a vicious new offensive against what remains of the union movement. A bonanza of new profit-making ventures for oil and energy corporations looms as the Trump team promises to rip up environmental protections and commitments to transition to renewables.
Trump believes – and not without reason – that he can ignore the norms of Washington politics so long as he buys off enough powerful interest groups with radical right wing policies. And he thinks the hypocrisy of a populist “anti-establishment” campaigner presiding over a moneymaking bonanza for the 1 percent won’t matter as long as he is giving his core supporters a steady diet of vicious attacks on Muslims, immigrants and Blacks.
Whether this strategy can work from the point of view of US capitalism is an open question. But what is plain as day is that the Trump agenda is a monumental threat to the lives of millions of people in the US and around the world.
The global ramifications of the Trump presidency are not just a product of the position of the US as the world’s most powerful state, capable of single-headedly plunging the world into war. The political shock waves of Trump’s win are having a global impact, giving a huge shot in the arm to fascists and far right political movements everywhere.
In Europe, Trump’s win was greeted by the far right in every country as a prelude to their own ascendancy. Here in Australia every fruit loop lunatic on the far right – from the fascist United Patriots Front, to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, to the brigade of despicable toads on the right of the Liberal and National parties – greeted Trump’s victory as evidence that their hideous views have popular support.
The so-called mainstream politicians were little better. Malcolm Turnbull raced to embrace his inner Trump, praising to high heaven the sexual predator and darling of the KKK who now runs the “free world”. Bill Shorten distanced himself somewhat from Trump, but reaffirmed Labor support for the US alliance and then proceeded to launch a campaign ostensibly about 457 visas that was in fact a transparent dog whistle to anti-immigrant sentiment.
It is obvious that the Trump presidency is going to transform politics. The question is, what will the response be? We already know what the liberal and conservative opponents of Trump will do. We’ve seen it. Those on the right – US Republicans or Australian so-called liberals like Turnbull – will move to embrace Trumpism and try to humanise it. Those on the centre left will accommodate – distancing themselves from Trump’s excesses while insisting to the rest of us that there is nothing fundamentally wrong, and the worst thing anyone could do is mount a serious fight back.
If this is all that happens, the next four years – or eight – will be an unmitigated disaster for humanity.
What is desperately needed now is full scale resistance – uncompromising and relentless. In the US this means total rejection of the Trump presidency. It means protest at every opportunity and on every level. Last week, while Obama and Clinton were trying to assure the world that it was business as usual and that all US citizens were in the final analysis “on the same team”, thousands of high school students were walking out of class across the country and taking over the streets. In major cities many more protested for days after the election result came through. The chant of “Not my president!” rang out from coast to coast.
These protests were only a first step, and only a tiny fraction of what is necessary and possible in the coming years. But they sent a clear signal that the monstrosity of the Trump presidency will not be meekly accepted, but resisted.
A new left
For many years, the left has been lectured to by the establishment centre, who believe that the fact they have prostrated themselves so completely before the status quo gives them particular insight into how to change it. Today, all their clever formulas, which never amounted to anything but advice on how best to run from a fight, lie in ruins.
Moderation, working within the system, lesser evilism, boxing clever – these are the mantras and strategic orientations that have gotten the left and the labour movement into the disastrous situation we are in today. They are the strategies that gave us president Trump.
Fighting Trump means building a new left in the US that bases itself on opposition not just to the far right, but to the politics of the old establishment that gave his movement the oxygen it needed to flourish. Such a new movement is entirely possible – the campaign of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries proved there is an audience of millions for a politics that opposes the ruling elite while also standing in solidarity with immigrants, Muslims and others targeted by the faux radicalism of right wing populists like Trump.
But this is not just a question for the US. In Australia – and across the Western world – Trumpism is coming, if it is not already here. We need a new left that doesn’t just fight off the far right, but provides an alternative to the status quo that increasing numbers of people now rightly hold in contempt.
There are a number of points fundamental to building such a movement. First, it has to be based on relentless resistance to the right – rejecting all attempts to normalise or downplay the reactionary nature of Trump and his supporters. Second, it must champion the interests of the vast majority against the political and economic elite who rule our society today. Third, it needs to be based on an unapologetic and full-throated solidarity with the victims of racist and anti-immigrant propaganda. Fourth, a new radical movement needs an ideological framework that provides an alternative world view to those provided by the far right and the political mainstream.
This last point is the hardest to implement, but also may be the most important. To understand it requires a brief account of how we got to where we are.
Trump is a product of two things. First, the crisis in Western capitalism, which is a crisis of existence for millions of working class and middle class people in the US and Europe, whose lives have been shattered by the financial and economic crisis of 2008 and the subsequent fallout. This crisis has destroyed the credibility of mainstream political parties, which were already battered by the previous two decades of economic “reforms” that did nothing but transfer masses of wealth from workers and the middle class to a tiny minority at the top.
The second factor in understanding Trump is the decline of the left. When “economic rationalism” came on the scene in the 1980s, it decimated a Stalinist left and a broader left milieu (including the left of the social democratic parties) that were already in severe decline. The collapse of the USSR sealed the deal.
A great deal of what disappeared with the collapse of the Stalinist left deserved to go. What didn’t deserve to die was the idea that there was a rationally based alternative to the insanity of the capitalist system. But die it did. And it was in the reservoir of despair created by that collapse and by the fact that Western capitalism could not deliver on its promises of peace and prosperity, that Trumpism was bred and raised.
So fighting Trump and Trumpism is not just a matter of building resistance on the streets – although that is crucial. It is also necessary to build a new radical left movement that can provide a political alternative not just to Trump, but to the mainstream politicians whose policies laid the basis for Trump’s rise, and whose solutions today consist only of appeals for people to respect a status quo to which they know they owe no loyalty.