It has famously been noted that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. For US President Donald Trump, however, extolling the virtues of ‘America firstism,’ it is extreme right-wing nationalism and war that comes before everything else. His administration is now leaking support like a sieve from growing sections of the Senate and Congressional Republicans. The Grand Old Party (GOP) is yet to repudiate their leader, however, as he retains strong support from the aptly named base while the latter reviles them. It is when the GOP believes that Trump is no longer going to win them their seats that they will ‘realise’ their leader’s faults and cast him out of their ranks, as if he has nothing to do with them and they bear no responsibility for making Trump possible. Trump knows not only his political base but also the creatures of the Congressional swamp who think, like him, largely of themselves and the elite politics of Washington, DC.
But it is the politics of mass resistance that is increasingly shaping the narrative; the politics of the street, the college campus, the slavery-era statue, of emboldened opposition to neo-Nazi white supremacists and the attacks on environmental regulation. Amidst the doom and gloom of Trumpism, Americans are discovering the politics of mass mobilisation to wage the battles thrust upon this generation – the fight for democracy, economic rights, civil rights, women’s rights, against racism, fascism and war.
Charlottesville epitomises the new environment – of how anti-fascist protesters educated a nation in what white supremacy really means. The environment where heavily armed men are attacking ordinary people in a college town pretending it’s all about the freedom of speech and assembly. They identified a liberal college town and were chased out by the people who fought courageously for democracy and against racial bigotry and all the xenophobia, violence and hate released and encouraged by the Trump phenomenon. Trump was forced by the sheer pressure of the people – who were horrified by the racist violence by the supporters of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-Nazis, including the killing of Heather Heyer – to finally disavow racism and fascism. But Trump’s performance was likened to a hostage forced to make a statement with which he obviously disagrees.
The events at Charlottesville and their political fallout forced Trump to repudiate neo-Nazis and the KKK, but he will do nothing to enforce it: Will he sack the white supremacist-linked axis of Steve Bannon-Sebastian Gorka- Stephen Miller? Tamp down the racist rhetoric? Stop the Immigration Customs Enforcement raids and massive deportation levels? Stop urging police brutality on suspects? Classify white supremacist organisations as terror groups?
The answer may lie in Trump’s announcement the same day as he was forced to disavow the KKK et al. He said he is “seriously considering” pardoning Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, found guilty of racially profiling Latinos and defying a court order to desist. Trump called him a great patriot while the court declared his actions racist.
Polls show that political anger is mounting to high levels and most Americans now believe that political violence will increase. Street-level political violence is likely to rise too as real politics based on everyday rights takes over from elite court politics financed by special interests and corporate lobbyists. In the end, that street politics is what will make the difference – bring the American political elite to its senses by threatening it with the power of the people released from the shackles of their own political lethargy, the result of elite management of the last really significant crisis of the elite authority in the 1960s and 1970s. People are waking up from the cult of debt-fuelled consumerism which side-tracked mass politics. In the end, politics is everything.
There is an almighty struggle brewing over what the US is and stands for at home, in regard to its own people, and what it wants to be in the world. The Trump administration has forced those questions onto the political and ideological agenda – that is likely to be his principal (serendipitous) political achievement worthy of the name. The struggle is taking place on the streets of the US, shaking it to its core but the political establishment has hardly recognised what dangers lie ahead.
It will be on the streets that Trumpism will face its reckoning: its campaign-style governance ‘strategy’ is looking to reorder American society back to a mythical golden age. Americans are deciding if that’s the kind of society they want in the 21st century.
The Trump administration – if the chaos and incoherence can be called an administration – is a series of layers. Its core is the ‘great leader’ himself and his tiny coterie of trusted family members, mafia-style consiglieres, sitting atop the pinnacle of patrimonial power. This group is only partly interested in government – in order to use it to carry out parts of an agenda largely backed by Goldman Sachs and the GOP: de-regulation of big corporations in the energy sector, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and finance. This is free market oriented economic liberalism.
Some of it falls under the banner of ‘deconstructing the administrative state’ – killing health and safety and worker protection laws, resuming granting federal contracts to violators of labour laws. Much of this agenda is the relaxation or abolition of the government by the executive fiat. It’s the opposite of governing.
Another layer of this administration consists of the special assistants in the White House who are linked to the extreme right, white supremacists or neo-Nazi groups – Bannon, Miller and Gorka. They are considered in this rarefied world to be leading intellectuals; they have ideas, plans, even a controversial PhD. Their motivation is to support Trump but not slavishly worship him; they see him, as Bannon once said of Trump, as a “blunt instrument”.
Among their ilk, but considered a radical conservative opponent of the GOP establishment, is Michael Anton, a National Security Council staffer appointed by Michael Flynn, probably in the cross-hairs of another layer; the actual establishment of the country personified in three US Generals – H.R. McMaster, James Mattis and now John F. Kelly. Anton apparently is the leading intellectual of a group of radical conservatives who actually believe in America First, breaking the international system, protectionism and nationalistic-racialised populism, including anti-semitism. They even have a website called Great Again. They see Trump as an “empty vessel”; Trump is dispensable, the movement is not.
Blunt instrument or empty vessel he may be, but no one can manage him or bend him to their will. His agenda is whatever he says it is while he’s speaking. But one thing he never forgets, his ‘base’ instincts: play the race card, beat the war drums – the barbarians are at the gates, the enemy must be defeated. It’s time someone stood up for this country against enemies foreign and domestic.
Mattis et al are considered ‘grown ups’ who have decided among themselves that one of them will always remain in the White House when the others are abroad. They try to manage the unmanageable – an administration that has no interest in governing beyond two areas, deregulation and dealing with the demographic time-bomb that drives them, to enable a return to a golden age when white, heterosexual men ruled the roost and all those minorities like Barack Obama, women like Hillary Clinton and transgendered nobodies were kept in their place.
But unlike the US’s CEOs, ordinary white Americans enjoy only a psychological benefit from Trump’s racialised rhetoric – the wages of whiteness. We should not under-estimate the power of psychological wages.
And that’s where the mass of ordinary Americans enter the scene: they don’t want a return to the 1950s – racial segregation and massive routine violence, women’s oppression, McCarthyite lying and hysteria, the xenophobia and skull-duggery of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. They don’t want what the intellectual of the fascist movement, Richard Spencer, calls ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing’ – a reversal of the racial numbers in the US to stop it moving to a majority-minority nation.
Marches and protests, pickets and blockades, vigils and prayers, counter-marches – these have spiralled over the past several months right across the US. The events at Charlottesville, for example, inspired over 680 solidarity demonstrations across the US on the very following day.
Surveys show over 30% of Democrats have marched in protest at either local, state or national events and rallies, including the the women’s march at Trump’s inauguration, protests at airports over the Muslim travel ban, the Bodega protests, Day Without Immigrants, Resist Trump Tuesdays, Not My Presidents Day, Tax March, March for Science, Paris Climate Accord March, and marches against cuts to Medicare and healthcare coverage. Those are just the most well-known marches; there are thousands of protests involving millions of people, most led by women, that go unnoticed by a mainstream corporate media obsessed with elite politics and political public relations machines.
The Guardian reported that women predominate in “the thousands of small, local groups that have sprung up all around the US, including more than 5,800 groups aligned with Indivisible, the grassroots project launched by two former Congressional staffers shortly after the November election.”
Mass protest and marches are remaking American politics and creating the political conditions for a radical change. They are changing minds, the evidence for which is growing stronger by the day; minds in Washington, DC, swampland as well as in the American heartlands.
But Trump will not go down without a fight.