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.