The panicked reactions to Trump’s installation in the White House show just how out-of-touch, uninformed and ignorant most people are in what passes for the “left” in US politics. Thanks, Corporate Media and Facebook! Unfortunately, each day that their narrow outlook guides them is another day when they will not be contributing to the real work that needs to happen. At best, they are useless but at worst they are standing in the way of the radical change that is essential in the world today.
I want to say: It’s not the end of the world, folks. And despite what the scientists at the Doomsday Clock claim, in setting the time 30 seconds closer to midnight after Trump’s inauguration, I don’t think we’re any nearer than we would’ve been if Hillary had set up shop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue instead. In fact, given her proven bellicosity and his relative stand-offishness (at least in word on the campaign trail), one could argue that we’re farther away.
Not that I’m saying we’re safe. Certainly not. The current trajectory of human events threatens all life on the planet, by way of nuclear disaster or climate catastrophe. It is plausibly claimed (by Guy McPherson, for example) that it’s already too late, and that the human race will be extinct in less than a decade. Regardless, the identity of the resident of the White House is small potatoes in this big picture, and always has been.
The system that the US Government firmly upholds, from one administration to the next, is much more of an issue. We used to call it, “the Establishment,” and that’s not a bad term. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the three evils of society: Racism, Militarism and Capitalism, and that sums it up pretty well [text of speech / video]. Dig deeper and you’ll find agrarian Patriarchy at the root of all three. Look around and you can’t help but notice that Ecocide is the inevitable result. It is not the president’s job to turn any of this back. Quite the contrary.
Let’s look at recent history. What did the precious Obama do to address Dr. King’s three evils? Not a whole helluva lot. Let’s take a look at them one by one, plus Ecocide. (Other writers have penned entire essays and even books on these subjects, so please consider these only the most summary of summaries.)
Racism: It’s not for nothing that Black Lives Matter formed during his administration. It is obscene that so basic a fact—that the lives of Black people matter as much as anyone else’s—needs to be stated at all. Seriously, what the f@#*? Yet this is our reality. Obama not only shied away from the issues raised by BLM, but on one occasion even did “a very good standup impression of a racist white man,” to quote the Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford. So yeah, maybe Archie Bunker is in the White House, but he’s following a man on whose watch the Voting Rights Act was gutted but who offered no remedy, despite holding a degree in Constitutional law. And this is only scratching the surface.
Militarism: Obama did not end a single one of the wars he inherited from Bush, and started new ones, including Syria and Libya. In reference to his drone attacks, he said he was “really good at killing people.” What an entirely despicable thing to say. Yet there was no uproar about it at the time, which is even more despicable. On the home front, Obama oversaw a tremendous transfer of war-waging equipment from the Pentagon to local governments, further militarizing the police and increasing the level of domestic repression. The Surveillance State also mushroomed under his guiding hand, with a final push to expand in his final days in office. He prosecuted more whistle-blowers than any president in history.
Capitalism: Three words sum up this one: Wall Street Bail-outs. Instead of offering relief to ordinary Americans who were losing their homes and sliding into poverty, Obama took the side of the big banks, telling them that “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” This was at the beginning of his first term, when he had a clear mandate and his party controlled Congress, yet he chose to do the wrong thing. The Occupy movement was one reaction, which Obama squashed.
Ecocide: Under Obama, fossil fuel production rose to historic highs. The consuming of it will lead to carbon emissions, but they aren’t considered to count against the US ledger because some else will be doing the burning. That’s some BS accounting, though. The Pentagon is the biggest institutional polluter in the world, but their contributions are also not counted against the US because of a Bush-era exception that Obama refused to roll back. The Paris climate agreements are toothless primarily because of US obstructionism. His support of “renewable” energy amounted to corporate welfare to energy giants that tore up the environment for giant solar and wind projects, with not a word about conservation nor a cent for community efforts. (I had hoped that climate-denier Trump would roll back Obama’s renewable energy subsidies and give the desert some relief from further development but he retained them because he saw, rightly, that the beneficiaries of the program are corporations not the environment.) Honestly speaking, Obama was overseeing an onslaught toward climate catastrophe, and nearly no one was calling him on it. It’s been a lonely eight years for people who care about the environment.
Will Trump be worse on all of these issues than Obama? We shall see. It will be a challenge for him to deport more immigrants than Obama did, seeing as how Obama set a record of over 2 1/2 million people ejected, more than any other president ever. Trump is seeking to increase military spending by $54 billion but Obama put in place a $1 trillion program to “modernize” the nuclear arsenal. On the environment, Trump is indeed pledging to be as destructive as possible, but Obama’s legacy has given him a headstart. We’ve got a fight ahead of us, for sure.
When it comes to personal approach, there’s a big difference. Trumps’s crass has replaced Obama’s class, it’s true. But is that more dangerous? Perhaps not. For putting a civilized face on racism, militarism and capitalism for eight years, these problems simply worsened under cover. And much worse they all are.
What of the people who have been emboldened by Trump’s rise to openly act out their xenophobia, racism, transphobia, etc.? Well, they were always there and—not to offer consolation because I am not—now they can be directly addressed. The enemy in the open is more vulnerable than the one in a hidey-hole. To consider it in different terms, some festering ugliness has been revealed and perhaps it can be cured this time rather than just covered up.
We are in no danger of “setting the clock back fifty years” as some have shrilly insisted. Case in point: during the post-election protests, high school students walked out of their classes in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. A rainbow flag was on display, which really impressed me. Such open support for LGBTQ rights would never ever ever ever ever have happened when I was in high school there in the 80’s, at an all boys’ institution where it seemed like the most frequently used word was “faggot.” And this contemporary acceptance, which continues to grow among the younger people, is not going to go away just because one close-minded jerk won a national election.
In fact, to make that claim—that so many causes of social justice will be automatically set back fifty years “because Trump”—is insulting to everyone who has worked hard over that time on any of these causes. I’ll go ahead and take this one personally, in fact. When I was in college, in the late 80’s, at a small private Lutheran school in Minnesota, some friends and I got together and started a gay/lesbian advocacy group on campus. There hadn’t been one there since the early 1970’s. In its second year, when I was a senior and took charge of it in partnership with a lesbian friend, it became the second largest student group on campus. We had discovered an untapped demand, obviously.
At a “college of the Church” where so many students were on the family track, I felt that it was imperative to educate the homophobia out of them since some of them would inevitably have non-straight kids and I wanted those kids to have an easier time growing up than my generation had. Did we make a difference? I have no doubt at all that we did, and this was under the presidency of George H.W. Bush, and prior to the reactionary “Defense of Marriage” administration of Bill Clinton. Though it has changed names since, the organization is still there today, nearly thirty years later.
As it turns out, we were part of a national trend toward acceptance and away from prejudice and discrimination which had its own energy and momentum as a social movement regardless of who was president. This was bottom-up grassroots activism, not top-down legislation and that’s always been where the real advancement comes from. In later years, I experienced such waves of change in forest defense, media activism, and organic agriculture.
So if you’re claiming that the work my friends and I and our predecessors did over the last fifty years was so shallow that it will be undone by this one blowhard, then I’ve got two words for you: Fuck you.
You can care about partisan politics or you can care about the world but you can’t care about both. Partisan politics is blinding, fear-based and divisive. The guy on your team is always the good guy, even when he’s bad, and in the US, under its racist, militarist, capitalist, ecocidal system, s/he’s always bad. S/he can’t be anything else. The dishonesty of living this way muddies a person’s perception, degrades their ability to think, and makes them an obedient cog in the machine of racism, militarism, capitalism and ecocide. It’s very ugly and it makes me very sad.
So count me out of the obsessive anti-Trump trend. Sure, he’s nasty. But everyone in that system is. Obama was a war-mongering Uncle Tom and Hillary would have been worse. But count me in on the ongoing resistance against Patriarchy, a cause that’s been vital for millennia and isn’t about to quit now.
As a post script, here’s an “on the bright side” story:
I have a good friend in Portland who is active with the local chapter of a nationally-based Climate Change organization. Since election day, the rate at which people are volunteering is “ten to fifteen times” greater than it was. The organizational challenge has been how to deal with the sudden influx of so many people, but my friend says he’s been enjoying that. He also said that the quality of the volunteers is higher; previously, when people came around, they often gave the impression of being one foot in, one foot out. Now, he said, they are rarin’ to go from the outset.
My friend’s team within the organization only had two members before the election. Now there are sixty people wanting to be involved. “This wouldn’t have happened if Hillary had won,” he said. And if Hillary had won, the need would not have been less, he stressed. “So for now,” he declared, “I am happy that Trump won.”