A Left Unity comment piece on the early days of Trump’s presidency
There’s a storm coming
Donald Trump’s first ten days in office have brought a blitzkrieg of reactionary measures, from banning Muslims from seven states from the US, to ordering the start of his bizarre wall with Mexico, ordering a botched military raid in Yemen in which women and children were killed, re-authorising the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines and preparing to trash US environmental regulations, starting to dismantle the affordable health act and attacking women’s reproductive rights in the US and abroad– just some of measures that go with appointing a scary ultra-right wing cabinet team.
But it’s not just in the US that extreme right wing or fascist reaction is on the march. From the Philippines to Brazil there’s a right wing upsurge, which takes the form of UKIP and Tory Brexiteers in Britain, Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, Geert Wilders Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the Alternative for Germany, Golden Dawn in Greece and a swathe of right wing movements in Eastern Europe.
The world faces the biggest resurgence of racist, nationalist and xenophobic reaction since the end of World War 2.
A massive fightback has already begun. Millions of women and their supporters marched in the US and round the world on 21 January. Tens of thousands have protested against the racist immigration bans. Many thousands have already taken to the streets in Britain and elsewhere in support.
We are seeing the birth of a new mass movement which has the potential to deal harsh blows to the racists and far right.
How they built support: reactionary alliances
Most of this ‘new’ right has been around for years and their movements were founded by a ragbag of fascists, xenophobes and white supremacists who’ve languished on the marginal right of politics, either outside the mainstream parties or on the far right fringe. But now they have seized their opportunity caused by mass disillusion with mainstream politics – the neoliberal centre right and centre left. The politics of privatisation and the market, and the dominance of the bankers, has brought disaster for millions.
The financial crash of 2007-8 devastated the savings and jobs of millions. Caused by the busting of the bankers’ financial bubble, ordinary people were told the pay the prices, while bankers wallowed in the flood of ‘quantitative easing’ cash lavished on them by right wing governments.
For the Black populations in the United States, for the people of Greece and Cyprus, for pensioners, for disabled people and others dependent on benefits, the unemployed and low paid, for single parents and also for many millions of young people, this has been a nightmare.
People in deindustrialised areas like the American ‘rust belt’, devastated by globalisation and declining industries, the sight of the bankers and the wealthy wallowing in wealth and privilege, have become incensed by their social exclusion and prey to the propaganda of the far right.
Far right parties and personalities have put together alliances of their traditional middle class supporters, together with new working class supporters in these deprived areas. We see it in the former coal and steel towns in the United States, in parts of South Wales, the Potteries and South Yorkshire in Britain. These are areas that voted Leave in the European referendum and where Ukip gets high votes.
This is what enabled Trump to be elected (albeit with a minority vote), for Brexit to win in Britain and for the Front National’s Marine le Pen to be riding high in the opinion polls. But of course the crisis has also spurred support for the parties and movements of left, like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Left Bloc in Portugal.
This ‘polarisation’ between left and right unfortunately for the moment is going more heavily to the right. Backed by important sections of the press and broadcasting media the right wing has used anti-immigrant racism to gain support, as well as a demagogic anti-elite, anti-establishment rhetoric and a pretence to be standing up for ordinary people against big business – as if the billionaire Trump and the multi-millionaire Nigel Farage are in the least bit concerned with the fate of ordinary working class people.
What they want: dangerous times
The politics of Donald Trump and his team are a toxic brew of anti-immigrant racism, xenophobic nationalism, militarism, white supremacism, climate change denial, misogyny and anti-democratic, anti-welfare demagogy. These politics announce that they want to eliminate the social gains won by workers, women, Black people and LBGT over decades:
Racism: the situation for immigrant and ethnic minorities in the United States is now extremely serious. The contested travel ban on travellers from seven mainly Muslim countries has ratcheted up Islamophobic racism. Just like Britain after Brexit there has been a huge spike in racist attacks.
Over one million ‘illegal’ immigrants were deported under Obama, Trump wants to deport another three million. Racism and hostility towards Mexican immigrants will intensify. At the same time every racist, trigger-happy police department will feel itself empowered to deal harshly with black people and political protests.
Nationalist Economics and nationalist Militarism: Trump has proclaimed a new era of economic nationalism, which will involve protectionist defence of US industries. This will be fiercely resisted by capitalist champions of free trade and globalisation – like the Apple, Google and facebook who have taken legal action against the travel ban (because it hurts their business mind you, not out of any humanitarian concern). We cannot tell how far protectionism will go. But we know for certain that political and military nationalism will be massively boosted.
One of Trump’s key promises was a major boost on military spending, on top of the already crazy 6-7 billion dollars already spent on the military. It is highly unlikely that Trump will spend this fortune on military hardware and use none of it. Incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the US ought to deny China access to its bases in the Spratley Islands and senior counsel Steve Bannon says war with China is likely within a decade. Already Iran is the subject of new threats and Trump has ordered US forces into action in Yemen. There is a serious danger of new and devastating wars, led by a man who proclaims his belief in the use of torture and tactical nuclear weapons.
Trashing the environment: Scott Pruitt, attorney general for Oklahoma and a climate change sceptic has been chosen to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency, which signals Trump’s decision to dump environmental protection standards, renew the coal industry, boost work on the Dakota Access and Keystone oil pipelines and probably try to disrupt international moves to halt the climate crisis, first by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Attacking Women and Health Care: Trump plans to remove funding from Planned Parenthood clinics and programmes, in a move which will directly hot at women’s health. Planned Parenthood receives funding through Medicaid to help 2.5 million women each year. Withdrawing funding, together with states further restricting abortion, will means more illegal abortions and more sexually transmitted diseases.
Although they don’t know what will replace it, Trump’s team are determined to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which although far from perfect has given tens of millions access to health care for the first time.
Trashing democracy, crushing dissent: Everywhere that the hard right comes into power – look at Turkey – they try to sanitise or intimidate the media and crush dissenters with repressive laws. Already some journalists could face up to 10 years in jail for merely reporting the Washington disturbances on Inauguration Day. This follows the attempts to prosecute Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! For her coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict. Trump slams the press – the ‘biggest liars on the planet’ – while proposing ‘alt facts’ (aka lies) to justify his positions.
While falsely claiming there was electoral fraud against him, Trump’s team aim to fix future elections by repressing voting rights by a series of measures that impact on the voter registration of poor and Black people. Measures include withdrawing voting rights of people with convictions, telling police and supporters to ‘watch certain areas’ – ie intimidate Black people trying to vote, withdrawing automatic registration of people with driving licenses (which has brought in millions of new voters), and cutting back early and Sunday voting and postal voting.
They want civil war
Steve Bannon, Trump’s senior counsellor, has talked in the past about wanting a ‘civil war’. This of course is not – for the moment – a literal threat, although Dan Adamini, a Michigan Republican party official said that a “Kent State” solution should be applied to left-wing protesters – that is, shooting them dead, as the Ohio National Guard did at Kent State University in 1970.
What Bannon means is that he wants to upturn the liberal democratic capitalist state and replace it with a new authoritarian capitalist state. Many in the political ‘centre’ – like the US Democrats and right-wing Labour MPs – are hopelessly complacent about this danger. Politicians they thought were marginal and unimportant have already taken power.
The battle over Trumpism, the battle against the extreme right in Europe, will go right across society; the epoch of depoliticisation is coming to an end. But progressive forces must be wary of dangerous pitfalls in the coming battle:
Beware the shock doctrine
The opposition grows reactionary politician reach for the shock doctrine, events – usually military conflicts – around which they can beat the patriotic drum. Trumpism means a permanent drift towards war and the movement against it needs to build mass anti-war option.
Beware right wingers who say protest doesn’t change anything
Middle of the road politicians and right wingers of all sorts will tell you that protest doesn’t work and that millions on the January 21 women’s marches were an irrelevancy. They say that because they’re scared of mass protest and afraid a mass movement will escape their control. History shows mass protest does work, and is one of the main engines of political and social change.
Beware of those who dump on movements of the oppressed
A well-worn tactic of the right and centre is to demonise and ridicule movements of the oppressed. Katie Hopkins in the Daily Mail criticises the women’s marches by saying “biology is not a political position” and by claiming the speeches at the Washington women’s demonstration were “confused”. In the US right wingers like Rush Limbaugh say that Black Lives Matter is ‘inherently racist’ and ‘sowing racial discord’ – blaming the oppressed for the sins of the oppressor.
Beware those who say it’s a matter of “populism versus liberalism”
The scope of the opposition to Trump in the US and the extreme right in Europe is so wide that economic and social ‘liberals’ seek to dominate the fight against ‘populism’. People like the US Democrats, Tony Blair and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the ‘centrist’ candidate in the French election Emmanuel Macron, all claim that the alternative to the hard right and fascism is social and economic liberalism – in other words social liberalism topped off with economic neoliberalism. These are the very politics which have so worsened poverty, inequality and despair that the extreme right has been given their chance. On the contrary we need a new anti-nationalist, multiculturalist, feminist and anti-capitalist politics that can put paid to fascism and the hard right, and put paid to the causes of fascism and the hard right.
Even if the far right movements are not full-fledged fascism yet, the trend of direction is clear. Fascism can be erected on the bonfire of democratic and human rights, if the anti-Trump, anti-Brexit and anti-racist movements are defeated.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Saturday 12th May
National TUC demo
A New Deal for Working People
London. Assemble 11am. Full details here
Saturday 16 June, 11.00 -18.00
Left Unity 2018 National Conference
Left Unity’s annual national conference.
Sunday 19 August, 14.00-15.00
Peterloo Massacre 2018 Commemorative Rally & Picnic
In Manchester, hosted by Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils. More info on Facebook
Sign up to the Left Unity email newsletter.
Get the latest Left Unity resources.