Our answer to the miserable State of the Union

January 31, 2018

From his racist smears against immigrants to his celebration of the Republicans' giveaways to the rich, Donald Trump's first State of the Union address was full of red meat for his conservative base--and a calculated insult to the millions of people who oppose him and his agenda. After the speech, SocialistWorker.org editor Alan Maass gave the socialist response via Facebook Live, which we publish here, edited for publication.

IT'S ALWAYS a crapshoot what comes out of the mouth of Donald Trump--which I suppose is appropriate when you have a shithole for a president.

You never know when he's going to say something so bigoted and hateful that even Republican reactionaries have to distance themselves from him. But I guess to judge from the response of Republicans in the Capitol tonight, Trump was just bigoted and hateful enough that they could stand up and applaud and smile at everything he said.

At least to begin with, Trump was trying to project the image he had during the presidential campaign and at times during his presidency that he's a defender of ordinary people. But what he was really doing is what he does best, and what members of his class do best: take credit for things that other people do--things he barely understands, frankly.

And meanwhile, we're supposed to be grateful to him especially, and to all the Republicans, for policies that almost only ever help him and his fellow millionaires first.

But don't worry. As Trump told us, you can dream absolutely anything.

Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address
Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address

Dream anything. Unless you're one of the people they call DREAMers, and then you can just go back to a country that you never knew--because young immigrants, we learned tonight, are especially bent on committing murder and mayhem in the United States, so go back to a country you left as a child.

You can go back along with your parents, who can also dream absolutely anything--except they're not allowed to dream of a better life for themselves and their families, because they don't have the right passport that allows them to have those dreams.

The newly great America looks a little different for them.

ONE OF the traditions of these State of the Union speeches is that Republicans and Democrats try to send political messages through the guests that they invite to attend.

That got me to thinking about who we would invite to the socialist State of the Union. There's a New York City activist and advocate for immigrants named Jean Montrevil who we might invite.

Only we can't.

Earlier this month, Jean was arrested outside his home in Queens, thrown into detention, and, in a matter of days, deported to Haiti, a country he hasn't called home for more than 30 years.

Jean came to the U.S. with a green card and legal status in 1986. But ICE has the power to deport him now on the basis of a drug possession conviction decades ago when he was a juvenile.

And I find that basic hypocrisy especially hard to stomach tonight after watching Trump, who has committed actual crimes, far worse by any measure, throughout his life--and all the more heinous ones as president. But he gets to smear and slander decent human beings like Jean Montrevil.

Jean's story of being deported is so horrible, but it's also one that's becoming familiar to us now, one year into the Trump reign. The terror he feels--at being taken from his home, thrown behind bars, sent to a country where he could face violence and death--is a terror shared by literally millions of people in this newly greatened America.

Like the fathers in Highland Park, New Jersey, who are so dangerous apparently that ICE agents are lying in wait for them when they drop off their children at school or take them to the bus stop--to arrest them and start deportation proceedings.

Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, a pastor in Highland Park, talked about the night when 35 fathers were taken away by ICE from the same apartment complex--the night, he says, that "I had 60 kids become orphans or become fatherless."

There's something else about Jean Montrevil: He's an activist--a co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, which helps immigrants facing deportation by sending volunteers with them to ICE check-ins or making legal appeals. His former wife Janay Cauthen told our contributors at Socialist Worker who wrote an article with them: "Jean was targeted because he speaks out."

He shares that experience of being targeted for his political activism with the eight volunteers with No More Deaths, a coalition of activists in Arizona, who have been charged with federal crimes because of their efforts to save migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Those charges were announced a week after No More Deaths released a report documenting how Border Patrol agents sabotaged water containers and other supplies that the group leaves on the trails in the desert to help migrants survive the journey.

In a just society, those agents would be the ones detained--and put on trial. But like their superiors in the White House, their crimes--and that's what they are: crimes--are legal ones.

Another case in point: Throughout the year so far, the Trump administration has been committing the crime of holding 800,000 young immigrants hostage--every bit as much as if they held a gun to their heads.

The White House proposal for a "fair compromise" on immigration would extend the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to this group of immigrants--while sticking them in limbo for 12 years, as we heard tonight.

But only if Congress agrees to drastically restrict all legal immigration, and abolish the diversity visa program that gives a shot to people from the non-white, European countries that Trump universally refers to as "shitholes." And, oh yes, build a great wall.

The DREAMer Juan Escalante called this what it is: a "racist ransom note...[T]his administration is cynically using our lives and futures as leverage to get everything else it wants from Congress."

THOSE ARE A few recent entries on the Washington crime blotter. But one thing we should say here at the socialist State of the Union is that the list shouldn't stop with the White House and the Republican Party. The leaders of the Democratic Party ought to at least be charged as an accessory, after their capitulation to Trump's extortion this past month.

Ever since Trump announced that the DACA program would be eliminated by March, Democrats have been promising to fight for a "clean" vote on preserving DACA's protections for a minority of the undocumented.

Not a radical or demanding position at all. But when Senate Democrats had the chance to force a vote on DACA, they capitulated.

Three days into a federal shutdown, the Democrats caved and agreed to a bill to fund the government with no more than a vague promise that the Republicans might at some point take up immigration legislation. Even the New York Times, which is way more well-spoken than Socialist Worker, said that this was a sellout of the DREAMers.

This fiasco perfectly illustrates the dynamic that we've come to know from many years before Donald Trump got to Washington: The Democrats make all the concessions and compromises, and the Republicans and the right wing get away with murder.

In this case, a huge majority of people in the U.S. supports keeping the DACA program alive. But rather than mobilize that sentiment in the form of protests or political action, the Democrats accept the racist ransom note. And they pay up--by accepting even more extremist measures from the anti-immigrant fringe, while hoping for some watered-down version of DACA in return.

This isn't just a problem of lousy tactics or lack of will. In reality, the Democrats are more than just accessories to these Republican crimes. They're the liberal wing of a two-party system, and as a result, they're responsible as perpetrators--with a different strategy and a better-sounding alibi maybe, but perpetrators all the same.

That explains a grim reality that many people might not believe when they hear it, but it's true: The U.S. government deported more people during the last full year of Barack Obama's presidency than the following year that began Donald Trump's.

This is the truth: Obama signed the executive order establishing the DACA program that currently protects 800,000 immigrants. But during his eight years in office, his administration carried out the deportation of three times that many people, more than any other president in history.

That's a crime, too, and one that shouldn't go unpunished.

IMMIGRATION MAY be the issue that most dominated the first year of the Trump presidency. But it's only one part of a reactionary agenda that the administration is pressing on all fronts.

Trump boasted tonight about a law that the Republicans passed, which he says is going to put a lot more money in your bank account. But what it really does is make looting legal--only it's not called looting.

If victims of a natural disaster--or a not-so-natural disaster once climate change is taken into account--take necessities from a locked-up store, they can be arrested for it. But if political leaders plunder the federal budget of tax revenues, give away the loot to corporations and the rich, while social programs that the rest of us depend on are starved, that's just good business.

It's not like any of this popular. Over three-quarters of people say they want DACA to continue. Less than one-third of people wanted the Republican tax cut law to pass. When the Republicans were trying to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, less than a quarter of people said they were in favor of Trumpcare.

At the level of public opinion, the opposition to Trump on these issues and in general is historic. No president at this point in his term has sunk to the 32 percent job approval rating that Trump has right now.

This sentiment goes beyond opinion polls. People want to do something to oppose Trump and the Republicans.

That was the spirit of the Women's Marches earlier in the month. Unexpectedly, there was a huge turnout on the anniversary of last year's demonstrations, which were the largest single day of protest in U.S. history.

The marches proved that the opposition to Trump and his regime hasn't gone away. It hasn't been cowed into submission. But the question is what to do about it. How do we stop them? How do we win?

THAT WAS actually the subject line of an e-mail I got recently from Bernie Sanders and his Our Revolution project.

To his credit, Sanders voted against capitulating to the racist ransom note. He's always been one of the loudest voices in Washington exposing the kind of lies that Trump told tonight about how his policies are going to help you.

But as for how we win, Sanders' message comes down to one thing: Get ready for the elections that will take place in 10 months' time next November. That's when we can elect "progressive Democrats who are going to vigorously stand up against Republicans and fight for our values."

Now, speaking for Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Organization, we think the Democrats have given you a lot of reason to doubt that they'll fight against the Republicans and for the values you actually hold.

But even setting that aside, there's a more immediate problem: We can't wait until November.

The fathers and mothers in Highland Park, New Jersey, can't afford to wait until next year this time for a Democratic Congress. Just like the No More Deaths activists in Arizona can't afford to limit themselves to supporting progressive candidates. Any more than the women standing up against sexual assault under the #MeToo slogan can, or activists fighting to make Black Lives Matter, or the labor activists whose unions the Republicans want to strangle.

We can't wait 10 more months. We have to do something now.

No one should downplay the damage that Trump has done while in office. But at the same time, no one should forget what we've seen in the past year in the moments when people stood up and said no to that agenda--and made a difference.

And not just the millions of people who took to the streets in January, this year and last year, to call out Trump and shine a spotlight on what needs to change in this society.

There's the uprising of the airports when Trump tried to impose his Muslim travel ban, and people went out to show their solidarity and put pressure on the courts to stop the ban. Or the mobilizations to confront Republican members of Congress and stop the Trumpcare assault.

There are the numerous local demonstrations that stood up for immigrants targeted by ICE--which won an important victory yesterday, when a federal judge ordered Jean Montrevil's fellow activist in New York City, Ravi Ragbir, released from detention and likely deportation.

That's not the only victory we need to win, and we've suffered many defeats, too. But it's an important one, which we should celebrate and which tells us there's something more we can do.

There's more to say about struggles like that, but I also want to point out that there's more to the resistance we need right now than protests and pickets.

Socialist and radical organizations have grown through this year of Trump, and the audience of people looking to a left-wing alternative shows no sign of running out. What those people do between demonstrations and movements matters, too.

We're in a house full of socialists here in Chicago, and there are many more of us, some listening tonight, and most not. But it's important what those individuals do--not only to organize the protests and political opposition to what we're against, but to publicize and popularize what we're for. That matters. That's another part of our answer to how we win.

BACK WHEN the Republicans were getting away with their tax-cut heist in broad daylight, Seth Moulton, a Democratic member of Congress from Massachusetts, told a town hall meeting: "I don't think I'm going to be able to stop this tax bill as a Democrat in the House right now. But I do think we can come up with a much better tax bill if we get more Democrats elected in 2018."

If you think about it, what the Democrats are saying is that they need you on Election Day--and only Election Day, in 10 months' time.

But one day isn't enough. What we do to build a resistance and an alternative to the status quo--in our workplaces, on our campuses, in our communities--we need to be doing every day of the year.

So that's the socialist answer to the miserable State of the Union--to organize against Trump's crimes and for a better world.

No one thinks that's not a big task and a long one that's ahead of us. But we hope that you'll join with us in the ISO, with publications like Socialist Worker, with publishers like Haymarket Books, and all the other individuals and organizations that exist in this country. We need to start taking those first steps now.

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