Thursday, November 10, 2016

After the Trumphant: What Next?

Note: We are reprinting below a question we received from Thomas Cain to our post “Vote for Nobody”.

The comment is followed by a response from Frank Brenner.


This post expresses most of my own feelings on bourgeois elections in general, though I admit that I have never bothered to even register to vote. But despite your assertion that there will be a great opportunity for revolutionary socialism, I feel a sort of despair emanating from your piece, or maybe I'm only projecting. Trump's election, contrary to our expectations, raises questions that I can't find the answers to: Should we re-evaluate our assessment of events thus far? Should we have a discussion on Fromm and Reich (not that I'm an expert on either)? And most of all, what should we do now? I know that we're just individuals and that we can't wage the revolution or just wish a party into existence.

Thousands protest in front of Trump headquarters in New York


It's understandable to feel down at this moment. Only sectarian idiots have no doubts. But ask yourself this: would you be just as nonplussed if Clinton had won? And if not, why not? Is there not in this let-down feeling a little hankering for things to go back to being normal? It's a conservative feeling, and one that ought to be resisted. Reality has thrown up something radically new, we need a theory that can be as radical as reality.

Of course Freud and Reich are relevant, but not in a mechanical way. They can help elucidate the attraction of a figure like Trump, the charisma of the authoritarian leader. To liberals Trump seemed a buffoon, as did Hitler back in the day. But to fearful, angry middle class and working class people, he seemed very different, the man who would straighten out the mess in Washington and in the country. His role on reality TV created this image, and Fox News constantly pushed it. Trump's main mentor, besides his father, was Roy Cohn, who taught him the basics of a demagogue: Lie, lie, lie, deny, deny, deny. So Trump's political lineage is from Cohn to McCarthy and thence back to the fascism of the 1930s.

But the analogy to Hitler is a limited one: Trump is - or rather aspires to be - a Bonapartist. This is not yet fascism. The distinction is especially important now, to avoid confusion and even despair. All that's happened is an election. The country is split but the winners haven't been mobilized - yet - into a fascist force and the losers haven't been crushed. The worst thing about throwing up one's hands is that you become a party to your own victimization. Demagogues like Trump depend on that. Here we need to be guided by Marx and Trotsky as well as by Freud, and not allow ourselves to become overly impressed by power. Which isn't to deny there are big dangers in this situation, it's rather to insist that our enemies aren't omnipotent, though they would very much like us to believe they are.

The rise of Trump means the end of the old norms of bourgeois democracy. The 2000 election and the aftermath of 9/11 already foreshadowed this. Obama, as it turns out, was just a passing interlude. The fate of Obama's 'legacy' – which Trump and the Republicans are set to wipe out in their first months in office – is in striking contrast to Roosevelt's New Deal, which survived largely intact for half a century, until Reagan. Along with Clinton's defeat – despite her overwhelming support from the establishment – this shows that liberalism is at a complete impasse. The next time some 'pragmatic' political hack starts talking about 'electability' – who's going to believe her/him? From the standpoint of socialist politics, this is all to the good. And so, by the way, will be the repeal of Obamacare – a ridiculous patchwork made to order for private insurers and big pharma. Trump and his minions can't make the need for medical care go away: they will reap a whirlwind of anger that will stoke a movement for free Medicare for all.

There have already been demonstrations against Trump. This will only grow as he and the Republicans take over and start wreaking havoc. The big question is: who will dominate this movement? Will it be the Democrats, who will inevitably destroy it? Or the anarchists and identity politics crowd, who will inevitably disorient and fragment it? One thing is sure: left-wing voices will have a chance to be heard – assuming they have something relevant to say.

Frank Brenner

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