The Mourning After: First Thoughts in Response to Our Crisis

Anti Trump Protest Boston Nov 9 2016
Anti Trump protest, Boston, Nov 9 2016. Boston Globe photo:

November 9, 2016

Several friends have asked for my thoughts about the meaning of the outcome of last night’s election. Following is what I’ve come up with after a very few hours of sleep.

It was a very hard night. We were more than aware of Hillary Clinton’s flaws:  being Wall Street’s and the Military-Industrial Complex’s candidate, the moral compromises she and Bill had made to become multi-millionaires, her lead role in shattering Libya and her support for all of those wars. As one commentator put it, Hillary lost on wars, trade (neo-liberalism, NAFTA & TPP,) and immigration. To that I’d add racism, and Christian and national chauvinism which run deep in much of the U.S. culture.

My dear Japanese friend, Hiroshi Taka of the Japan Council against A- & H- Bombs almost got it right when, just after Donald J. Trump claimed his election victory. Taka wrote that it was not so much a victory for Trump, but a massive loss for Hillary Clinton and the U.S. establishment.  I have no love for that establishment, but as the massive decline in stock market prices indicates, the country’s self-inflicted wound is structurally much deeper and likely deadly than 9-11.

An ignorant, lying, racist, narcissistic, misogynist, authoritarian, Christo-centric, demagogue is now our president.  Despite his massive rallies, in many ways, Trump has been a largely isolated figure.  His closest allies have been New Jersey’s thuggish governor Christi (best known for engineering massive traffic tie ups to punish a local mayor,) former New York City Mayor (Stop and Frisk, and I’ve got buddies in the FBI) Giuliani, Alabama’s racist and extreme militarist and right-wing Senator Sessions, as well as family members and a very few billionaires.

Trump’s victory was compounded by Republicans narrowly holding onto their majority in the Senate, and they easily held onto control of the House. There are certainly differences between Trump and many Congressional Republicans, but compromises will be made. Much terrible legislation will be passed. And the Supreme Court will be packed by hard right figures who will work to sabotage what was once called the American Dream for decades to come.

In one-way Trump’s victory was sudden, but the foundations were laid by Barry Goldwater’s “extremism in pursuit of virtue and bury the New Deal campaign in 1964, Nixon’s southern strategy, Reagan’s militarism and assaults the New Deal and Civil Rights movement victories, and the rise of the Tea Party. There are, of course, analogies to Germany in the 1930s, when the country’s financial and industrial elite supported the marginalized Nazis, only to become their minions.

We and the world are going to pay the price.  As Trump promised, he’s delivered the American Brexit, breaching the U.S. establishment’s equivalent of the Berlin Wall. This will accelerate the decline of the Empire, ramping up uncertainty across the country and internationally.

In fact, Hillary seems to have won the popular vote. But, with the states’ rights conservatism written into the U.S. constitution more than two centuries ago, it’s the electoral college that counts.

One way to look at the vote is that the Old Confederacy, the slave states of yore, and much of the central states breadbasket, where white supremacy and Christianity still reign, were always going to serve as Trump’s base.  The hollowing out of the 20th century industrial economy, compounded by NAFTA left much of the white working class in these rust belt states hopeless. Desperate for something new, many of these Reagan Democrats Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin voted their disgust with Hillary and the status quo.

What will it mean?

Trump’s economic and social policies will fail for most of his disenchanted working class supporters. We’re going to have to suffer for four years, but this will provide the openings for progressives, People of Color and the rising generation to reverse the Trump revolution come the 2018 Congressional and 2020 Presidential election.

In her book Men in Dark Times, Hannah Arendt wrote that in times like these, people of conscience and compassion must pull together more closely. This is a time to build communities of resistance. Eating, talking, singing and resisting together to build the power and consciousness needed to overcome.

Despite those “debates” and the hundreds of millions of dollars of advertisements (if not more), there was little real policy debate during the campaign. It seemed to focus on whose hands and tongue went where and those e-mails. Because Trump lied so consistently, contradicted himself from one day to the next, and because his advisors are so few and so inexperienced, it’s difficult to predict exactly what he’ll do as president.  It seems, for example, unlikely that he’ll fire all of the top generals, as he promised in one debate. He has 78 days to identify who will be in his cabinet, and hardly anyone knows who these people will be. It is reasonable to fear that more than a few will be yahoos to fulfill his campaign promises, while others will be appointed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. There is also the possibility that, having such a small base of experienced people to rely on, that he’s turn to the right wing pillars of the Deep State and the Establishment.

Here’s some of what we can expect – some of it quite ugly and dangerous:

  • More authoritarian government and society on the part of Trump, the police, Trump’s political allies, and too many white Americans.
  • Increased detentions and deportations of undocumented immigrants from Latin America and the Global South.
  • Violence and increased discrimination against Moslems, Latinos and other People of Color.
  • A massive assault on the environment.
  • Early moves to trash the Iran deal, which will only accelerate Iran’s rise as the Middle East’s second regional power (along with Israel.)
  • Escalation of U.S. militarism in the Middle East, beginning with Syria.
  • Massive increases in U.S. military spending, including following through on the commitment to spend $1 trillion for a new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.
  • Increased tensions with China (economic and military) – another losing strategy.
  • Increased pressure on U.S. allies to pay more for their militaries (with maybe more compromise on Trump’s part here than on other issues.)  One has to wonder if Trump’s election will accelerate the buildup of an independent European military alongside but independent of NATO, with Germany and France at its core, now that Britain is about to quite the European Union.
  • An effort to reach an accommodation with Putin, perhaps in the tradition of Duterte’s recent dealings with China. Certainly Trump’s approach to Russia may provide us with one useful opening, but the military, Congressional Republicans and the military-industrial complex will be major obstacles in this regard.
  • 20 million U.S. Americans losing their health insurance.
  • Massive tax cuts for the rich, reduced options for the middle class, and deeper emiseration for the poor.

A few other thoughts.

The country is more divided than ever. I find myself wondering if the current moment is more analogous to the 1930s, when U.S. racial apartheid prevailed and fascism was a powerful force, or the powerful divisions of the 1850s, in the years prior to the Civil War

Trump has no policy solutions for the plights of those who have been left behind by neo-liberalism and the technological revolutions.   Midst the resulting suffering and disillusionment, this will provide an opening for progressives in the future.

Scholars, religious leaders and others need to take leading roles in naming the moment, reaffirming democratic values, the imperative of the rule of law, and modeling actions of solidarity with those who are most vulnerable.

Isolation and silence are self-destructive. Community meeting, house parties, vigils… you name it… are essential to building solidarity and developing actions of resistance and transformation.

Had Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden been the Democratic candidate, there is a good chance that the Democrats could have held the Rust Belt states.

We’ll never know how great an effect FBI Director’s Comey’s intervention in the last week of the campaign, putting his fist on the electoral scales, had.  Similarly, if Russians were involved with the Wikileaks intervention.

Remarkably, Hillary didn’t win the women’s vote overwhelmingly, and Latinos (termed rapists and murderers by Trump) were not sufficiently infatuated with Hillary to turn out in the numbers she needed.

Dr. Joseph Gerson is Co-Convener of the international Peace & Planet network, Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau, and a member of the No to NATO/No to War Steering Committee. His books include Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World and The Sun Never Sets…Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases.