External Affairs

2017: A Year of Elite Amnesia and Mass Resistance in the US

2016 was a revolutionary year in American politics, and the political elite has been trying to wipe it from its own and popular memory.

Donald Trump. Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

Donald Trump. Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

As we bid farewell to 2017, The Wire looks back at some of the markers of disruption that affected different spheres, from politics and economics to technology and films.


2016 was a revolutionary watershed year in American politics – one that the political establishment would rather forget. But there is no going back, no easy road to ‘normalcy’. 2017 has, therefore, been a year of selective elite amnesia while the broad mass of Americans rediscover the politics of street protest and popular resistance to the onslaught of the most reactionary presidency in living memory – of the extreme right-wing Republican Donald Trump.

Recall this analysis from this time last year in The Wire – why 2016 was a great year in American politics:

“Wall Street lost the presidential election. Conservative ideology lost out to massive demands for bigger government for the people and heavier taxation of the corporate class and the very rich. The American establishment, it’s billionaire class, was, and is, on the ropes – its principal candidate, Hillary Clinton, was found guilty by the American electorate of standing for the status quo among other ‘crimes and misdemeanours’. A self-declared socialist won over 13 million votes in the primaries and is building a progressive campaign to change the US by inaugurating a new post-partisan politics.

Millions voted for candidates who demanded the US step back from its global policeman role and reduce its military footprint. Its post-1945 global military and other alliances were challenged and questioned and its Middle Eastern wars denounced, especially the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The US’s ineffectiveness and role in fighting the so-called ISIS was brought into public debate. The very grounds of the Pax Americana were interrogated for the first time by one of the main contenders for the presidency.

Protests over the election of Trump criss-crossed the nation and funds began flowing in their millions to campaigns against intolerance, hate crimes and xenophobia. The politics of progressivism has taken a huge leap forward. It looks like it’s going to continue to do so. At the local level, where ordinary Americans actually live, millions voted to raise the minimum wage in many states. US politics has been changed for the better in 2016….”

2016 dealt a severe blow to conventional politics and parties – the winning candidate, Trump, had to bend over backwards to present himself as the ‘man of the people’. That’s why the entire Republican establishment and its allies sought to undermine Trump’s rollercoaster campaign; and has spent all of 2017 trying to manage, contain and channel the Trump juggernaut, this blunt instrument, and has largely succeeded with tokenistic opposition from Trump himself – because in the end, it is only his methods that differ from right-wing Republicans, not his underlying principles or goals.

A government for the 1%

The radical Trump has turned out to be, in the main, a hard right-wing Republican after all, dispensing tax cuts to the richest 1%, massive corporate deregulation across the board, appointing billionaires to high office despite promises to ‘drain the swamp’ and being rewarded with sky-high market confidence from Dow Jones plutocrats, as well as the makers of the munitions of war enjoying a bonanza of arms sales to every unstable global region.

He has reversed himself at the behest of the so-called grown-ups in the White House – Generals Kelly, Mattis and McMaster – on NATO, South Korea, China and the Middle East. His ‘principled realism’ – the projection of power in international politics as the first priority of this regime – and America First-ism reveals only the opposite – the cynical rejection of principle and the adoption of elite interest as national interest, the interests of the 1% as those of 325 million Americans, most of whom see the present and future in the bleakest terms. I wonder if Trump or any of the political establishment polled those still suffering the devastations of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, not to mention storm Maria in Puerto Rico – to see if their interests count as national interests?

Meanwhile, the Democrats declare intellectual and political bankruptcy on a daily basis, echoing their intelligence community and corporate media allies. It’s Russia “that won it” for Trump, they proclaimed only a few hours after the November 2016 ‘shock’ defeat. So they launched probes galore in the optimistic hope of an impeachment of a pro-corporate Republican POTUS with GOP majorities in House and Senate, not to mention Trump’s overwhelmingly loyal support among GOP voters.

With around 300 million guns in private ownership in the US, many millions in hardcore Trumpista hands, any successful impeachment strategy could prove an exercise in utter folly, which is not to say that it won’t happen. The American elite has refused to cover itself in glory as its celebration of its own permanent greatness continues.

There is hardly any point in rehearsing the full panoply of Trump acts and laws. Only three major points need making here: first, that Trump is remaking the American state by privatising the White House into a family corporation and turning over governmental functions to corporate control; secondly, that the official opposition has failed miserably to oppose; worse, the Democrats have allowed themselves, as a devotees of the Church of Wall Street, to be pulled along by the Trump money machine.

And thirdly, and more importantly, that the American people are learning from bitter experience that their future is in their own hands. And they are moving largely to the Left. Look at the evidence – almost half of all millennials would rather they lived in a socialist or communist society and system of government, according to a recent YouGov poll.

Think about that – in a land where books entitled Why is there no socialism in the United States? were common.

The challenge of 2016

But 2016 changed all that – the Trump/Bernie Sanders challenges to elite/establishment power tapped into a deep-seated level of frustration, anger, hope and desire for change. Out with the old, they have nothing to give but war and austerity to the masses and vast profits to the rich.

The US is on the march – around one-third of registered Democrats have engaged in street politics in the past 12 months. Within a day of the killing by white supremacists of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville in August, over 600 solidarity marches and meetings were held across the US. Indivisible has hundreds of chapters across the country, a groundswell of anger against the hated Trump administration and against a Democratic party committed to nothing other than re-election, hijacking popular protest and harnessing it to its own political wagon.

Women marched in hundreds of thousands before the inauguration and plan to do so again to mark one year of Trump’s rule. Let him count the crowds in Washington, DC, they may be truly record-breaking.

People gather for the Women's March in Washington US, January 21, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

People gather for the Women’s March in Washington US, January 21, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

NFL players continue to protest police racism and brutality through their take a knee protest movement that’s inspired millions including in other sports and countries.

The Muslim travel ban, promulgated in the very first week of the Trump administration’s life, was unceremoniously rejected at airport after airport as spontaneous and organised protests and legal challenges prevailed.

The ‘autopsy’ of the Democratic party – which had sabotaged the Sanders campaign, as Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Donna Brazile revealed in her opportunistic memoir, drawing the ire of the party’s godfathers and consigning Brazile to the status of a Putin dupe – revealed a dead body lying in a morgue.

How to breathe life back into the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, of collective bargaining rights, of the Glass-Steagall and social security acts, the GI Bill? Move to the Left, they concluded, and harness mass anger and rebellion to the electoral machine.

The Sanders machine rolls on as it prepares for the November 2018 mid-term elections, mobilising candidates registered with both main parties to stand as independents to challenge the GOP-Democratic stranglehold on power and politics.

But the party of Barack Obama – a mere husk of the party he inherited after losing hundreds of seats at all levels of American politics, a party he ran principally for his own welfare – decided it’s first post-2016 defeat decision would be to re-open the coffers of the DNC to Wall Street donors.

2016 was a revolutionary year in American politics. That’s why the role of the political elite in 2017 has been to try to wipe out 2016 from its own and popular memory.

While the Dow Jones index of corporate greed breaks all records for the portfolios and powers of the rich, the miserable approval ratings of President Trump, the Republican and Democratic parties, of Congress and Senate, tell their own story.

The US’s plutocrats and their political allies may try to erase 2016, but the forces unleashed in 2016 have refused to go away. There is a civil war raging in the US, more or less peacefully for the time being.

2018 will be an even better year in American politics.

Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London, and a columnist for The Wire. His twitter handle is @USEmpire