Setting out a left agenda in the Trump era

January 23, 2017

Danny Katch reports from Washington, D.C., on a left-wing panel discussion that collectively put forward an anti-inauguration address for the resistance ahead.

THE ENORMOUS anti-Trump protests on January 21 are a major opportunity to build a new political resistance. Yet the expanding but still small radical left in the U.S. also faces a major challenge in creating an alternative to the failed strategy of channeling all opposition through the dead end of the Democratic Party.

With the aim of strengthening this left, Jacobin magazine, Haymarket Books and Verso Books organized "The Anti-Inauguration"--a panel discussion of five prominent writers and activists in Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Theatre on the night Trump took office to talk about how to build an opposition to the threat he represents and the rotten status quo that got us into this mess. You can watch a video stream of the event at Facebook.

"Donald Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States," said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. "The shock and disbelief must now give way to defiance and organizing. Part of that pivot demands that we understand how we got here in the first place, but more importantly how we move forward."

Author and activist Naomi Klein speaks to a packed house at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington D.C.
Author and activist Naomi Klein speaks to a packed house at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington D.C.

War correspondent Anand Gopal, author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, ran through two decades of anti-Muslim measures enacted by Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama before concluding:

It's only because of all of those policies that came before, it's only because of the dog-whistle politics around the questions of Islam, it's only because of the institutionalizing of Islamophobia by three administrations that we could come to a point in 2016 where a man can stand for president and openly call for banning Muslims.

So we need to resist Trump, but we also need to resist a system that makes a Donald Trump possible. That means allying with everybody who's on our side, but maintaining independence from a liberal establishment that aided and abetted this calamity from the very beginning.

THEIR CRITICISMS of previous administrations didn't prevent the speakers from warning about the new dangers represented by Trump.

Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and The Shock Doctrine, described the incoming administration as a "corporate coup d'etat.

"Of course Trump won't sell his businesses," Klein said. "What is happening under our noses is not a transition. It is a takeover of the federal government, the ultimate privatization, neoliberalism's final frontier."

Jeremy Scahill, investigative reporter for The Intercept and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army stated: "Trump has a whole circle of generals who represent some of the most right-wing, hawkish, torture-loving people in the security apparatus."

But Klein and Scahill both were firm that the alternative to Trump doesn't lie in the Democratic Party, which Klein said "either needs to be decisively wrestled from pro-corporate neoliberals or it needs to be abandoned."

Taylor added: "Expecting the Democratic Party to fight for the democratic redistribution of wealth is like expecting to squeeze orange juice from an apple."

She went on to argue that the Obama administration's center-right policies helped set the stage for Trump, both by shifting mainstream politics to the right and by disarming liberal supporters from building opposition:

The lesser evil always paves the way for the greater evil. Where Obama used the machinery of deportations to banish 2.5 million people from the United States, it opened the way for Trump to do so in a more emboldened way. While the Obama administration embraced the rhetoric of choice and privatization in gutting public education, Trump will do so in an even more fantastical way that looks to finish the job of killing public education.

The political conservatism of Democrats contributes more generally to liberal paralysis when the right does the same thing, but on a much larger scale. We have to ask why it is that the largest action being planned this weekend is organized by women who didn't even call themselves activists or didn't want to call the march a protest--while some of the largest organizations in the country are still walking around shell-shocked and completely unprepared to challenge Trump.

AS JACOBIN magazine founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara said in his introductory remarks, "More than ever we need a movement with both vibrant politics and ideas" And it's clear that many people agree.

The 1,200-seat Lincoln Theatre was packed by a raucous crowd that started lining up outside the venue three hours before the event. As of this writing, the video of the event has over 120,000 views.

People are looking for answers about how to build effective resistance, and the overwhelming message of the night was that the key lies in solidarity. "The people we are up against are the same," said British author and activist Owen Jones. "Injustice doesn't not stop at the border, and neither should our struggles."

Or as Klein put it:

We need to have each other's backs. That means first and foremost dropping this nonsense of pitting class against so-called identity politics... We need to understand how all of our issues are interconnected and how our fates are intertwined.

Nothing has done more to liberate our elites to pursue their corporate dystopia than the systemic pitting of working-class whites against Blacks and immigrants, men against women. White supremacy and misogyny are, and always have been, our elites' most potent defenses against a genuine left populist agenda and meaningful democracy.

Gopal painted an inspiring picture of what solidarity in action could look like:

A single protest, as important as they are, has never changed anything. But the social movements of linked protests--that is the lifeblood of resistance. That is the only thing, ultimately, that's ever changed everything. And by that, I mean civil disobedience, boycotts, sit-ins, prison solidarity networks, abortion funds, sanctuary spaces, all of it.

Resistance isn't a moment. Resistance isn't a state of mind, but a tapestry which is collective and enduring. It's so enduring that the status quo cannot sleep at night.

More events like "The Anti-Inauguration" will be an important way for the left to build those vital connections.

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