Bill and Hillary Clinton

Friday, November 11, 2016:

Well, day two of the new era, and there’s no real point in trying to shoehorn a set of disparate thoughts into a simple take. Last night anti-Trump rallies covenened in a dozen or more cities round the country, organised principally by Socialist Alternative (not affiliated with our own dear SAlt, I believe), many of them drawing thousands of people. The placard slogan — “Fuck Trump” — caused CNN live coverage no end of trouble, as the march was moving too fast to keep the thing pixelated. They also had a problem, political, with the “not my president” slogan being chanted. The media is currently having an orgy of “let’s unite the country” sentiment, to which the US is particularly prone; the idea that politics involves accepting the result, and going on opposing the policies root and branch, doesn’t get much play here. It’s a feature of the curiously hybrid nature of the presidency, an office devised after five years of the US being a loose coalition of states (1783-88) had failed. The religious republic effectively created an elected King, with a whiff of the Deity about him. In 1788 all the God-King-President could do was send a company of musketeers to harass Canada; now, using the same rules, he can drop a bomb that kills ten million people, all without the approval of Congress.

For that and other reasons, one of the first reactions to Trump has been one of paralysing fear, and then a resistance to it, as manifested in the marches. Today, a different tone has taken over. With Donald and Melania meeting Barack and Michelle at the White House, and his mild victory speech, people are starting to ask whether the election pose was something of an act, and Trump will now modulate to a more statesmanlike role. The fear, some are saying, is simply a mirror of the illusory fear that many on the right felt at the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. One needs a dose of “who, whom” here. Barack Obama said he would introduce a public health system, withdraw from Iraq, and negotiate a deal with Iran. Donald Trump has said he will round up and deport 12 million “illegal” aliens, ban Muslims from entering the US, remove the Obamacare that millions of the chronically ill now rely on, and will encourage Saudi Arabia and Japan to acquire their own nuclear weapons. Even if you take the last bit as bluster, the things Trump can and has said he will do will involve thousands of 5am raids on houses, people being hauled out of loves they have lived for years, splitting apart of families, death from lack of health care, and the like. There is no reason to believe he won’t do these things to some degree. Purposive fear is a completely rational response.

[Trump: it wasn’t the economy, stupid — it was racism]

So too is resistance. It was great to see the rallies, even if a lot of the people vox-popped were arguing the wrong line — that Trump was an illegitimate president, not simply one they would resist. Fox Noise and others made great fun of the protests and tied them to various flyers going round colleges, advising upset students where to seek counselling, hugs, etc. But it sounded like the rightariat were a little taken aback at the suddenness and size of the rallies. They had perhaps expected the same muted reaction as occurred in 2000, when the right demonstrated, and the Democrats stood down their own protesters (“we’re not going to have a street fight for the presidency,” Warren
Christopher drawled).

Resistance has also come in the form of a petition to reform the electoral college system, which has once again delivered the presidency to the candidate with the lesser national vote, as it did in 2000, and 1876. Good move, wrong time. The whole system needs an overhauling, and a campaign for a series of constitutional amendments
which would prevent states from gerrymandering districts and suppressing votes. But it’s a massive job, and the Republicans couldn’t give a damn about what the rules are, or how rickety the system is. The Democrats, who have more to lose from the split system, appear willing to take their chances.

But that split result has created another new development, with the announcement of a California secession movement, backed by various Silicon Valley types. The move is a mirror of the vague noises Texas made when Obama was elected in 2008 — the idea that the US was so culturally divided that states should be able to withdraw at will. The Texas claim, aired by Rick Perry, was a tacit argument that progressives had now indefinite achieved hegemony in Washington. Such days …

Legal secession is not an option in the US constitution (it is in Australia, Tasmania please note), but that doesn’t mean the movement won’t have a political effect, especially if the techies pump some money into it. The question of states’ rights is much on people’s minds now, as the Republicans claim all three branches of government. Indeed, some are starting to wonder if it was such a great idea for Obama to push executive privilege to the limit, after the 2012 re-election, and find creative ways to make political change through executive orders. The argument for it was: the Republicans do it anyway, even if the Democrats observed boundaries. Virtue earns nothing. The Republicans talk about veneration of the constitution, but they’re quite happy to wreck the joint when in power.

Nevertheless it leaves the Democrats with little ground from which to argue against the full exercise of executive power. Their dire situation is a measure of how greatly they’ve ignored the state level of politics, and how dire that has been for them. Given the vast cultural divide in the US, some are wondering if a “new federalism” is what is needed on the left — commitment to a more limited federal government, and the capture and maintenance of left-leaning states, an acknowledgement that the country simply cannot be made over entire in a progressive form. That soul-searching is part of the coming fight, whereby the Democratic party tears itself apart over this disastrous loss.

It’s going to be a full card, 10-bout, 150 rounds slugfest. The party centre is now vulnerable, having put up such a nothing campaign, blindsided Bernie Sanders, and then demanded obeisance to a “Cult of Hillary” strategy. With everything gone, there’s nothing to lose, for the left, in focusing all their energies on remaking the party, and letting Trump do what he wants for a while, in the hope that he’ll deliver chaos and disappointment. But before the left/progressives have a fight with the centre, they have to have a fight within the left, about how politics is constructed.

[Rundle responds to Keane: no, it is the stupid economy]

The simple fact is that if the loss to Trump is constructed as one due to racism and misogyny, and the race/gender dominance in “diversity politics” acceded to, then nothing resembling a mainstream left capable of winning a majority can be constructed. It will simply be a party of the professional-progressive classes, blind to class difference, and insistent that the poor and excluded make their own lives a secondary priority to the political imperatives dictated by professionals-progressives. That’s a great recipe for a permanent 30% party. There’s going to have to be a great deal of political bloodletting to sort that out.

Bring it on, say I. In the US, the Trump victory is the event that makes it impossible not to have a deep think about such politics, if you’re someone who genuinely believes that progressive politics is about improving the lives of the most oppressed and excluded, and not merely advancing professional-progressive class values. The rather desperate attempts to deny the class crossover in the Trump vote, and its roots in economic interest, to damn rust belt Trump voters as racists and misogynists, is a measure of how fast the old worker-progressive alliance is coming apart — and how much some people want it to. It is the beginning of a process by which progressives make their accommodation with centre-right liberals, and damn their former alliance partners as rednecks one and all. That way political
disaster lies, but many progressives are so intoxicated by notions of moral imperative, that they would happily go down that rainbow-painted path.

Won’t happen overnight, may need another loss — in 2018 Democrats may lose another five Senate seats, perhaps more — but this battle has to occur. By the end of it, the parties may be entirely recomposed, into a right-economic-nationalist party, and  progressivist-social market outfit. Ironically, the two groups who would have no major party would be free marketeers, and the socialist left — who have defined the “left” and “right” poles of a politics for a century. Left Trumpism, anyone? You first.

Bring on the noise. Bring on the fear…

Peter Fray

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