Fear trumps love

One sign, waved by someone some­how #Still­With­H­er, reads: “Not my pres­id­ent.” An­oth­er echoes the pop­u­lar chant: “We re­ject the pres­id­ent elect.” Fi­nally, and most ubi­quit­ously: “Love trumps hate.”

Such are the slo­gans seen and heard at anti-Trump ral­lies since elec­tion res­ults rolled in. Call­ing them ri­ots is push­ing it; these are pretty pro­sa­ic af­fairs. I usu­ally don’t put too much stock in the mot­toes and phrases mind­lessly re­peated at rituals of dis­sent, but here the last ex­ample men­tioned at the out­set in­struct­ive. Does love in­deed trump hate? Per­haps. Read­ers of Ma­chiavelli will re­call that there’s an­oth­er sen­ti­ment, however, more power­ful than love or hate: fear. More on this a bit later; for now, let’s ex­am­ine the forms of mo­bil­iz­a­tion that have cropped up in re­sponse to the pro­spect of a Trump pres­id­ency.

Hysterical liberalism and protest politics

Lib­er­als know that people are angry, so they’ve brought in their ap­poin­ted “com­mu­nity lead­ers,” preach­ers, and vari­ous oth­er “peace­keep­ers” to pre­vent these protests from be­ing any­thing oth­er than im­pot­ent cry-ins. M. Har­lan Hoke was for­tu­nate enough to at­tend a de­mon­stra­tion in Philly or­gan­ized by So­cial­ist Al­tern­at­ive, rather than by dis­gruntled Dems. He com­ments that SAlt at least man­aged to stay on point by fo­cus­ing on val­id eco­nom­ic griev­ances and the need for com­pre­hens­ive so­cial re­form, while also ac­know­ledging the con­cerns of groups frightened by Trump’s in­flam­mat­ory rhet­or­ic on im­mig­ra­tion, re­li­gious dis­crim­in­a­tion, and abor­tion.

Else­where, in the more “spon­tan­eous” marches — quickly com­mand­eered by pro­fes­sion­al act­iv­ists and NGO rep­res­ent­at­ives loy­al to the Demo­crat­ic Party — their pur­pose was much less clear. In a post on his new blog, Im­per­i­um ad In­fin­itum, Hoke ob­serves that “in oth­er cit­ies, the theme of the protests is ba­sic­ally angry ob­li­vi­ous Demo­crats. Their mes­sage is what? Vote Demo­crat in the 2018 and 2020 midterms? Just keep protest­ing Trump?” Protest polit­ics are fairly lim­ited to be­gin with, and I have my cri­ti­cisms even of pop­u­lar front co­ali­tions formed by parties and or­gan­iz­a­tions fur­ther to the left (I’ll get to this later). For now it’s enough to em­phas­ize that lib­er­al­ism is a total dead end.


Woke celebrit­ies like Lena Dun­ham, Beyoncé Knowles, and Aman­da Mar­cotte are also out in force, of course, ex­press­ing their sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous dis­may. Katy Perry is pro­claim­ing open re­volu­tion in widely-shared tweets. But these are un­likely to carry over in­to the real world. Pop sing­er and Ary­an god­dess Taylor Swift has re­mained con­spicu­ously si­lent throughout all of this. Then again, she’s un­wit­tingly be­come the darling Valkyrie of the al­tern­at­ive right, so maybe it’s in her best in­terest to hang back for a bit and see how things play out. Ri­ot grrrl pi­on­eers Le Tigre hope­fully re­gret that cringe-in­du­cing video en­dorse­ment of the would-be Ma­dame Pres­id­ent.

Right now I’m just hop­ing this isn’t just a re­peat of the anti-Bush move­ment ten years ago. Worst would be some sort of “anti-fas­cist” co­ali­tion led by groups like the ISO, RCP, and FRSO — or rather, their soft fronts work­ing in tan­dem with dis­af­fected, still-re­gistered Demo­crats — ana­log­ous to the “anti-im­per­i­al­ist” co­ali­tion led by the same that formed after the in­va­sion of Ir­aq. Massive marches and demos along pre­arranged routes do little if any­thing to stop war or halt de­port­a­tions; for most of the or­gan­iz­a­tions in­volved, they’re simply re­cruit­ing mech­an­isms in­ten­ded to swell their ranks.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Mean­while, polit­ic­al pun­dits have weighed in with their usu­al heavy-handed mor­al­ist­ic out­rage. Sarah Kendzi­or, for ex­ample, hy­per­bol­ic­ally de­clares the out­come of the pres­id­en­tial race to be a fas­cist’s vic­tory and a mor­al loss. Anna Khachiy­an acidly points out that “as a mor­al fraud (read: woke-tod­dler­ist, lib­er­al Mc­Ca­rythite, and gen­er­al shit­bitch), Kendzi­or is per­haps uniquely qual­i­fied among us to write about mat­ters of mor­al loss.” Com­ment­at­ors sound genu­inely up­set voters didn’t listen to the me­dia fact-check­ers, poll­sters, and policy wonks. A few al­most seem to be scold­ing people for not vot­ing the way they pre­dicted. It feels as if we’re be­ing brow­beaten by a bunch of civics nerds.

The most naus­eat­ing re­frain heard this en­tire post­mortem is Demo­crat­ic Party ap­par­at­chiks com­plain­ing about how they have to tell their lousy kids that a sex­ist bully is go­ing to be the next pres­id­ent. Like Helen Lovejoy cat­er­waul­ing: “Won’t some­body please think of the chil­dren?” I can maybe see where chil­dren of un­doc­u­men­ted im­mig­rants, whose par­ents might get de­por­ted, stand in need of some re­as­sur­ance. But this has noth­ing to do with set­ting a bad ex­ample, as Clin­ton’s cam­paign com­mer­cial “Role Mod­els” sug­ges­ted. Usu­ally self-right­eous fin­ger-wag­ging and mor­al op­pro­bri­um are the prop­er do­main of con­ser­vat­ives.

Kids are way weirder and more ni­hil­ist­ic than people give them cred­it, any­how. Gran­ted, my vis­ion of child­hood in its nat­ur­al state comes from Lord of the Flies. But the cruelty of small chil­dren can scarcely be ex­ag­ger­ated. Pat­ron­iz­ing people or ap­peal­ing to their de­cency is just as point­less as in­vok­ing the in­no­cence and naïveté of chil­dren. Dur­ing the Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies, you could hear Ly­in’ Ted plead­ing with Trump sup­port­ers along sim­il­ar lines, only in whole­some evan­gel­ic­al guise: “We’re bet­ter than this.” No we’re not. “Facts mat­ter.” They clearly don’t. “God bless you.” Rot in hell.

Ber­to­lt Brecht, class-con­scious poet of a by­gone age, knew bet­ter than this. He re­marked in 1937 that “to present Hitler as par­tic­u­larly in­com­pet­ent — as an ab­er­ra­tion, a per­ver­sion, hum­bug, a pe­cu­li­ar patho­lo­gic­al case — while set­ting up oth­er bour­geois politi­cians as mod­els — mod­els of something he has failed to at­tain — is no way to com­bat Hitler.” Al­though the crit­ic­al the­or­ist Theodor Ad­orno of­ten dis­agreed with Brecht, here the two were of one mind: “If an émigré doc­tor says: ‘For me, Ad­olf Hitler is a patho­lo­gic­al case,’ his pro­nounce­ment may be con­firmed by clin­ic­al find­ings, but its in­con­gru­ity with the ob­ject­ive calam­ity vis­ited on the world in the name of that para­noi­ac renders the dia­gnos­is ri­dicu­lous, mere pro­fes­sion­al preen­ing.”

Scaremongering and traumatization

More than any­thing else, fear is what drove the 2016 cam­paign. Both sides sought to use fear this last elect­or­al cycle to mo­bil­ize their base, by con­trast. Eight years ago it was “hope,” a neb­u­lous prom­ise of “change,” or else it was just empty af­firm­a­tion: “Yes we can!” Trump sub­lim­ated the eco­nom­ic anxi­et­ies of the masses, their per­en­ni­al fear of free­dom, in­to a fear of out­siders and oth­ers; Clin­ton offered noth­ing ex­cept fear of Trump.

Hon­es­tly, though many de­mon­stra­tions these past few days have been little more than pub­lic tan­trums, the trauma we’ve wit­nessed on the part of some protest­ors “triggered” by Trump’s un­ex­pec­ted elec­tion is real. It’s dif­fi­cult for me to sym­path­ize with any­one feel­ing trau­mat­ized now who just last week was #Ready­ForHil­lary, but here again they are the vic­tim of the Demo­crats’ ir­re­spons­ible fear-mon­ger­ing. So here’s Hoke again:

A lot of the psy­cho­lo­gic­al trauma people are go­ing through doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily res­ult of the real­ity of Trump’s fas­cism, but Demo­crat­ic Party pro­pa­ganda of Trump’s fas­cism, so we have a lot of young people who are be­ing caused deep psy­cho­lo­gic­al suf­fer­ing right now over an in­tense fear of re­pres­sion which will last, like maybe one week of elec­tion day Trump vic­tory en­thu­si­asm, in­stead of four years, and hon­es­tly I hold the Clin­ton camp re­spons­ible for this ir­re­spons­ible per­cep­tion. It’s hor­rif­ic emo­tion­al ma­nip­u­la­tion in­to mak­ing people think things will be a lot worse than they ac­tu­ally will be for the sake of scar­ing people in­to vot­ing Clin­ton and the ef­fect is to take already vul­ner­able pop­u­la­tions and ter­ri­fy them more than they really need to be ter­ri­fied.

Is there some ob­ject­ive real­ity to people be­hav­ing in big­oted ways around a Trump vic­tory? Yeah, but let’s be real: in­creased white na­tion­al­ist and big­oted vi­ol­en­ce was already hap­pen­ing un­der Obama, be­fore Trump, as a res­ult of re­ces­sion­ary eco­nom­ic hard­ship. Let’s be clear about what this is. I’m really not okay with see­ing so many of my friends melt down and think their world is about to end be­cause they’re wo­men or gay or people of col­or just be­cause that’s what the Demo­crats told them. The Demo­crats had a ma­jor in­vest­ment in telling them that, to sell them and oth­er guilty lib­er­als on the sup­posed ne­ces­sity of elect­ing the biggest cor­por­ate, im­per­i­al­ist piece of shit the party ever nom­in­ated. Demo­crat­ic Party iden­tity polit­ics is thus re­spons­ible for trau­mat­iz­ing and sew­ing pan­ic among people it was sup­posed to rep­res­ent. We should in­stead be spread­ing real­ist­ic and meas­ured ex­pect­a­tions, back­ing each oth­er up with sol­id­ar­ity and con­fid­en­ce.

Cer­tainly, if someone is vis­ibly up­set, try to talk to them and see if there’s any­thing you can do. Most of the time, however, the people most threatened by the le­gis­la­tion prom­ised by Trump would rather you be will­ing to fight along­side them than apo­lo­gize or com­mis­er­ate. “Why do Amer­ic­ans think that polit­ics is about shar­ing emo­tions?” in­quired one for­eign com­rade. “Re­volu­tion is not about feels, but about piti­less de­struc­tion.” He mocked the no­tion by call­ing the Rhode Is­land wo­man hand­ing out free hugs as “a brave re­volu­tion­ary,” un­aware that polit­ic­al or­gan­izers in Port­land and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. ac­tu­ally staged mass “hug-ins.”

Even so-called “hard left” parties have suc­cumbed to this sac­char­ine sen­ti­ment­al­ity. One con­trib­ut­or to an art­icle on res­ist­ance in So­cial­ist Work­er in­dic­ates that “people are cry­ing at my wife’s job. There’s a guy on my corner of­fer­ing free hugs. Please, every­one be good to your­self: take a walk, take that free hug. Drink a lot of wa­ter. In these dis­cus­sions, it helps to re­mem­ber Howard Zinn, who said, ‘It mat­ters less who is sit­ting in the White House; it mat­ters who is sit­ting in’.” As if Trump and Trump­ism will ever be de­feated by sit-ins and protest polit­ics.

13 thoughts on “Fear trumps love

  1. So, let’s try some things. Block the arteries of the hyperobject. Occupy highways and ports. Give the hyperobject a heart attack. Capital is flow, block it.

    • Paul, get real, that would just be masochistic, it wouldn’t even be a civil war it would be a few tens of thousand, mostly black people, getting arrested and being ineligible to vote next time.
      What is needed more than ever in America and the world more generally is a Marxist political program taking the rational enlightenment to it’s logical and historical conclusions.
      Why do celebrities, idiots, psychopaths and sports stars have and earn so much money? It’s not right.
      One more push if you would be revolutionaries!

    • True enough. Then watch out for the next incarnation of a Weather Underground when the actions of the frustrated middle-class anarcho/nihilists (Black Bloc et. al) will provide the excuses and cover for the crushing of the broader movement. It is so easy for the armed wings of the state apparatus to infiltrate such groups and use false flag events to enable such repression – see Toronto G20 experience for a classic example of this.

      On a side note, Canada’s Supreme Court refused to block two class action lawsuits as requested by the Toronto police. One is brought to wonder how the Trump nominated 9th SCOTUS member might rule on such a matter; or any other illegal and/or unconstitutional activity which might be undertaken under the aegis of the likes of Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie. I agree with Ross’s critique of liberal hand-wringing and self-flagellation, but it is this prospect which should provoke some concern, if not fear, within all of us.


  2. Long-time lurker, first-time (I think?) commentator. I have to admit I’m baffled this is your take on the anti-Trump protests. You’re conflating mealymouthed liberals with people actually out on the streets, whom the establishment has mostly been interested in condemning so far. Why would you join their chorus? And you really think all these people are somehow part of an orchestrated top-down conspiracy? That sounds like a Breitbart meme. I don’t see this as a continuation of the Hillary campaign. I see it as a refutation of her holier-than-thou approach to political discourse, and a welcome one. No, it’s not going to miraculously prevent his inauguration (I don’t think anyone is claiming it is, aside from the few foolishly circulating that “write your electors!” talking point). But it’s a start.

      • What a glib non sequitur of a response. I’m glad there’s a rising left right now – including a lot of people I thought you were allied with, based on some of your past writing – who are energizing and encouraging a whole generation to believe that change is possible but not to trust the system to do it for them. You can distinguish yourself from liberals all you like, but all I see is a parallel quasi-nihilism. They’re over there gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands, dismissing resistance and practical paths to power advocated by leftists in favor of a diffuse “national conversation about race/gender/etc” that they know will never happen, especially under these conditions. And you’re over here smugly smirking, shrugging off emotional responses, dismissing resistance and practical paths to power advocated by leftists in favor of some theoretical academic Marxist praxis occurring entirely outside existing structured of power, that you know will never happen, especially under these conditions. Talk is cheap. Looks like I’m gonna have to go back to just enjoying this blog for the aesthetics and leave the political insight for others. Your version of the left is suffocating and static.

      • Gotta agree with Joel on this one. First, “I’m with her” liberals do *not* often take to the streets and I can’t imagine where you ever got that impression. I know of many people, including my 70 year old mother, for whom this was their first protest. Unto itself that may not amount to much, but it gives the lie to your comment. Second, in a crowd of a few thousand in Western Massachusetts, I didn’t see a single reference to HRC, her campaign, or any standard DNC tropes. Mostly I saw explicit appeals toward coalition building and concrete organizing: couplings of sex & gender & race & economic justice & anti-imperialism & immigrant rights, etc. Moreover, the mood was marked by a celebratory defiance, not fear and not traumatized disbelief. This is consistent with what I’ve heard from DC. Third, whatever reservations and criticisms one might articulate and however legitimate they may be, doesn’t it behoove communists to locate the utopian kernels put in play by such situations and to help articulate them in ways that make co-option by liberals increasingly difficult? Surely sneering from the sidelines amounts to total abdication.

        Like Joel, I think there is an opportunity here as many liberals and “non-political” types are only now just beginning to draw the conclusion that relying on the DNC—and government in general—has proven to be a disaster and that alternative forms of organization are long overdue. I don’t hear people rallying behind Democrats so much as rallying together to create some as of yet undetermined collectivity. If we don’t feel some obligation to involve ourselves in this process I can’t imagine what we think we are doing.

        Finally, if you had children you would realize that their cruelty is very different than the cruelty of adults, that it is not the negation of their innocence but rather a reflection of it.

      • Ah—just realized the dates on this. My points stand, but obviously there’s a bit of disconnect given that we are addressing different events some 2+ months apart.

  3. Have enjoyed this site for a while now, feel like this article sums up how I feel about the recent past in US politics. Also reminds me of Adolph Reed’s description of identity politics as neoliberal.

    And that last paragraph…damn

  4. Pingback: Self-loathing on the campaign trail, 2016 | The Charnel-House

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