So who else is mad as hell about the symbolic transfer of power between rival factions of the bourgeoisie? Remember all the demonstrations that spontaneously broke out eight years ago, when Barack Obama was first inaugurated? And then the acute sense of outrage we sustained throughout his two terms in office, holding regular protests as the government he oversaw deported a record number of undocumented immigrants?
None of that ever happened. In fact, the first issue of International Socialist Review released during Obama’s presidency featured one of his 2008 campaign slogans: “Yes we can!” Despite the fact his foreign policy platform was virtually identical to that of his predecessor (save some stuff about shifting focus away from the Middle East, toward East Asia), and although domestically he merely followed through on Bush’s bailout of the banks, most self-described Marxists sat back and cheered to themselves as Obama was sworn in. The lead editorial announced that
the election of Barack Hussein Obama as forty-fourth president of the United States is a watershed event. In a country where Africans were brought in chains, were slaves until 1865, where legal (or de facto) segregation was the rule, and where the majority of African Americans were not given the right to vote until 1965, Obama’s election is historic… Engagement is the order of the day.
By contrast, this same publication frowns upon any sort of engagement with the incoming Trump administration. “Resistance” is the order of the day: “Let the resistance begin. The churning fear and revulsion swirling inside us as we watch Donald J. Trump take the oath to become the 45th president of the United States will be at least somewhat balanced by the satisfaction of watching inspiring and unprecedented levels of protest rising up to greet an incoming president…” Conjuring up the ghost of fascism, anyone who entertains the idea of engaging with the new president is branded a collaborator.
What’s so different, though? You’d think that a Marxoid sect that traces its lineage to Lenin would remember his famous paraphrase of The Civil War in France (1871) in State and Revolution (1917): “Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly when, in analyzing the experience of the [Paris] Commune, he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament!” Obviously it would be folly to argue that both major American parties are identical. Yet neither represents the interests of the working class, so why engage with either?
Yasmin Nair put it bluntly in a piece weighing the pros and cons of staging demonstrations against Trump: “Everything you’re marching to prevent, dear marchers, has already come to pass.” The anti-Trump spectacle is a crucial part of the Trump spectacle. But as I’ll probably join in, if only to try and push participants beyond the limited frame of protest politics. In other words, I’ll probably just yell scary shit about the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Having attended one of the protests today, I’m worried they’re gonna be really lame. For the last few days, all the leftists on my feed have been saying: “Come inauguration day, shit is gonna go down for real.” Nothing I’ve seen on any of the livestreams has come even close to that, though, though some anarchists in Washington, DC torched a limo and smashed a few windows. To be sure, I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to lift some shit they want if they can get away with it. But I don’t see what’s so special about today. Just don’t take a bunch of selfies as you do it.
It’s just all so anticlimactic. Except for the inauguration itself, which with 3 Doors Down has already created an impressive end-times feel. But the protests are likely going to feature mindless chants like “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” and stupid banners that say “When they go low, we go high.” When people go home they’ll all pat themselves on the back for “letting their voices be heard” or whatnot, smugly demonstrating to everyone how right they’ve been this whole time (what the alt-right has accurately dubbed “virtue-signaling”). Maybe the International Socialist Organization will sell some papers.
The women’s march on Washington tomorrow is being billed by its leading organizers as explicitly not an anti-Trump march, which leads some to wonder about the event’s timing. Nevertheless, hearing them talk about the need to create “safe spaces” — where they can stage “courageous conversations about race and privilege” — I can’t help but feel like the left is once again rudderless and adrift, as it was during the Bush years. Revolutionaries should not be seeking sanctuary or asylum, somewhere they can feel safe; they should be seeking to make reactionaries feel unsafe. Give them nowhere to hide.