The people versus the president

The opening days of Trump’s presidency have shown that he is ready to drive through his vile agenda – but also that he’ll have a fight on his hands whichever way he turns, write the editors of US publication SocialistWorker.org.

In the first days of the Donald Trump presidency – and no, we don’t know when we’ll be able to write those three words without shuddering – two things have become clear.

Number one: Trump is going to be as horrible as anyone could have feared.

And number two: he’s also going to be as widely resisted as anybody could have hoped – even if that means ordinary people have to drag their “representatives” into the fight.

After Trump shocked the world by winning the presidency and exposing the establishments of both the Republican and Democratic parties as paper tigers, he figured he could bully the country into meekly accepting his right wing “America First” agenda.

During the months after the election, it looked like he might get away with it. Republicans who loathe Trump’s populist rhetoric got in line behind his calls to stop trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Democrats – even the most progressive of them, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – pledged to find areas of common ground to work with the new nightmare of a president.

But all that started to change the moment that Trump assumed office, when the crowd of supporters attending his inauguration ceremony were absolutely dwarfed the next day by what is being called the largest single day of protest in US history.

Three to four million people – or about one in every 100 people in the entire country – took part in the Women’s Marches in Washington, DC, and cities across the US and around the world to express their anger at Trump’s gross treatment of women and a range of other issues.

The ludicrous claims of Trump and his spokespeople that his inauguration was actually larger than the protests confirmed that the new president is actually a tantrum-inclined toddler in adult form. But it also reflected their real concern about having Trump’s aura of invincibility punctured.

As became apparent in the following days, Trump and his team planned to use the president’s first days to shock-and-awe the country into silence with a string of executive orders attacking the rights of immigrants and Muslims, among others while his cabinet of billionaires could quietly assemble their plans to destroy social programs and further enrich the 1 percent.

The administration would dismiss the ensuing outrage as “fake news” coming from a media that failed to predict Trump’s election and therefore can’t be trusted to report anything accurately.

But it’s very hard to claim that protests people can see with their own eyes are just media manipulation – as Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer found out the hard way. The reality is that the White House blitzkrieg strategy is facing serious opposition in the streets, starting with the Women’s Marches and continuing the following weekend with the remarkable uprising at the airports against Trump’s executive orders.

These protests have reversed the dynamic of November and December, when the Democrats’ meek acquiescence to Trump seemed to paralyse many liberals – and certainly unions and mainstream organisations – preventing them from building on the spontaneous marches that took place in the immediate aftermath of the election.

That started to change in January as the growing numbers signing up for the Women’s Marches pushed some unions and liberal groups into devoting resources to build the demonstration, if still behind the scenes.

The historic turnout on Inauguration Weekend and the subsequent protests against Trump’s executive orders in turn emboldened liberal organisations like New York’s Working Families Party and unions like SEIU to then build protests at airports and elsewhere when Trump announced his horrific ban on refugees, travellers and permanent US residents from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

If the Women’s March showed the potential for mass opposition, the airport uprisings advanced that potential into a direct confrontation more quickly than anyone could have imagined. And when a federal court issued a stay on the ban on travel to the US, it marked the first victory – if a partial and temporary one – for the anti-Trump resistance.

The Muslim ban – and that is certainly what it is, despite Trump’s denials – has set in motion an escalating conflict in which the stakes have been raised for both sides.

The new administration, not wanting to lose its first high-profile battle and puncture Trump’s tough-guy image, has hinted that it might not follow any court orders that limit or overturn the executive orders.

This is an authoritarian threat not only to Muslims, but to basic democratic rights and norms. It will, of course, reinforce the conviction of many millions of people who already want to show their opposition to Trump that we have no choice but to fight.

But Trump’s all-out assault could lead to greater opposition from the hitherto meek leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties – in part because Trump is racing full steam ahead with a program that doesn’t have the support of the majority of the capitalist class, but more importantly, because the wave of popular discontent is pressuring them to act.

Whatever the outcome of this particular conflict, it won’t be the last outrage committed by the Trump regime, and it won’t be the last show of bitter anger in the streets.

Looking to the long and intense struggles ahead, there are a few other lessons we should draw that will be crucial in moving forward.

The first is that Trump’s “election” – he, of course, won while losing the popular vote – didn’t reveal a right wing country, as some in the media claimed, but a bitterly polarised one.

There is a right wing emboldened by Trump’s hard-line nationalism, with an openly racist component that needs to be directly challenged whenever it shows itself. But we know from the massive Women’s Marches and other protests of the past 10 days that there is an emerging left itching to fight both against Trump’s attacks and for its own agenda of economic, racial and gender justice.

This left has grown out of a radicalisation that emerged many times over the years since the 2007-08 economic crisis – from the wide support for protest movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, to the 13 million people who voted for a self-described socialist in the Democrats presidential primaries just last year.

The second lesson is that we now know that even with Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, it’s possible to resist their agenda and win some of the battles.

We will lose a number of them, too, and these will be bitter blows. But the massive Women’s Marches and the airport protests were the reason that the Trump administration suffered setbacks during the opening days when it expected to have its way on everything.

Based on these lessons, we have two tasks in the coming weeks and months.

The first is to build a lasting infrastructure for this resistance that can, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor says in an interview featured in the February print edition of Socialist Worker, connect “individual and local struggles together in such a way as to create coherency across the country and across local movements – so that people are able to learn and generalise from different groups’ experiences”.

We should argue for these developing new networks and organisations to build on a foundation of political independence. Because while the right wing is well organised and led by Republicans in government, our side has been consistently demobilised and disoriented by the illusion that we share the values and goals of a Democratic Party that is completely loyal to the status quo agenda of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the Pentagon.

Our second task, as Todd Chretien wrote for SW several weeks ago, is to arm a new generation of activists with the politics and knowledge of history that they can use to create a long term alternative to both Trump’s toxic nationalism and the miserable status quo that gave him an opportunity to sneak into power.

Even as we’re protesting as maybe we never have before, we have to organise meetings and study groups to develop a socialist left that can offer a different solution to a society where most people have never recovered from the Great Recession, where temporary pipeline construction jobs are pitted against preventing disastrous climate change, and refugees are seen as enemies instead of our sisters and brothers.

The Trump administration may have gotten itself into a bigger fight that it intended in its opening days, but it’s also confident that it will defeat us because we have no alternative.

It may take us months and years, but we need to prove them wrong.

First published at www.SocialistWorker.org.