Last Wednesday I was rude with a good friend, someone whom I always knew was not a Clinton supporter, nor a Democrat and is a radical critic of our electoral process. But when we spoke on the phone, I just could not listen to her say that she was “glad Hillary didn’t win, not that she supported Trump, but…..” At that point, I couldn’t listen, I cut our conversation off.
Now I feel bad about being so rigid and disrespectful. Here I what I wrote to apologize.
“I AM deeply frightened by Trump, and fearful that so many people will ignore his racist, misogynist, xenophobic demagoguery. I grew up with people like him and still have almost panic reactions to his style and message. I couldn’t talk on Wednesday, but four days after the election, I now understand why you can say that you are glad Clinton didn’t win. While I can’t quite go there, I do find myself feeling relieved that I don’t have to seem to defend her kind of white neoliberal we-know-betterism any more.
I felt much better last Wednesday night after marching around with more than a thousand young, black, brown and angry people in downtown Boston chanting “He’s not MY President”. No one was calling FOR Hillary. Just for something better.
Now, as bad as Trump and the Republicans are, at least we can just organize against them–if they don’t arrest, silence or deport us first. We can now make clear demands and plans for more truly radical change that don’t have to be vetted by mainstream Democrats. We don’t have to seem to support the worst parts of Hillary, or even Obama, any more. That’s over”
Now, one week further on, I am now feeling both worse and better.
I feel worse because now that Trump is President-elect, the good citizenry is being admonished “not to judge him by what he said during the campaign, but to give him a chance.” Some are taking heart from his 90 minutes with Obama, or because he is talking about the parts of Obamacare he can live with. He said a few good words about Clinton, and taken the most anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant material off his website. Yet he has also appointed Steve Bannon of Breibart to be his Alt-Right Man in the White House. Others insist that his white working class supporters didn’t really agree with him, they just were in pain and trusted him as “a business man, who wouldn’t be trapped by all the political correctness.”
At best, Trump voters heard what he said, but think “he didn’t really mean it,” Pardon me, what part of voting FOR him to be President didn’t they hear? Maybe he will have to “face reality and realize he has to govern,” as one friend hopes.I try not to scream, “but Trump doesn’t want to govern, he wants to rule.” Unless checked, he will do all he can to derail hope for positive governing — for protecting, much less advancing social rights. When Trump says, “You know what I mean,” we do, and it’s not good.
I feel worse too because I can’t help but think about Hitler. About how he never won the popular vote. About how the German establishment thought they could control him, that he would have to come around. But he didn’t; he moved on and over them. He felt no obligations to respect traditional processes, except for the sake of temporary appearances. He gave permission to his followers to say and do whatever was disruptive, whatever was somehow justified as necessary, and never really condemned them until it served his political purposes. He moved on to build a “national community,” through his programs of “strength through joy.”
People who knew what was happening were afraid. Jews and non-Jewish socialists left if they could. Other non-Jews engaged in what they called “inner migration” trying to stay out of public life. It sort of worked for awhile, until in six years, it didn’t work at all.
I feel worse when I remember the brief hopes of post-Civil War Radical Reconstruction, hopes that so many black (and some white) people tried to realize until they were betrayed by growing Northern opposition and indifference in the face of murderous white violence. Finally their best efforts came to be scorned within most mainstream and popular history for almost a century. W.E.B.DuBois’ assessment forces itself back on us: “One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile…The unending tragedy of Reconstruction is the utter inability of the American mind to grasp its real significance, its national and world-wide implications”.
As I face the failure of Southern and other states even to adopt the simple Medicaid extension options offered by Obamacare, I must recall Dubois’ rueful observation that
‘The South, after the war, presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see…Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and Reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States. When white laborers were convinced that the degradation of Negro labor was more fundamental than the uplift of white labor, the end was in sight… Let that stand as Reconstruction’s epitaph.
Again, my Southern roots leave me looking at election-result maps and feeling again the ways that so many white people still don’t connect. The Confederacy has risen again, as my mother always believed it should.
I feel worse when my longtime co-author and forever brave comrade, Diane Dujon, cries on the phone because we have “gone back to the Fifties,” (as I note sadly “and it is the 1850’s).” She moans that she just “doesn’t know what to do.” And neither, really, do I.
It hurts when a Muslim friend reports from Pakistan:
“I checked with some of my Muslim friends in the US, they are terrified. Those with young kids are wondering how they can gather up the courage to send their children to school this morning. I haven’t spoken to my sister yet, haven’t had the heart to. She is a speech therapist in the Detroit school system and has been told by children as young as 5 that they think she is going to kill them because she wears a head scarf.”
As I watch Democracy Now and hear about all the incidences of abuse and attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and children, I wonder how to join with some kind of US Muslim protection efforts that I don’t even know how to find. I suggest to friend that we create “Women’s Watch Society” to oversee “every step he takes, every move he makes”. But it is not enough.
I do keep trying to feel better, because Donald Trump did not win the national popular vote. Most voters did not vote for him. Clinton won, in spite of herself. But she lost in our inadequate civic construct of an “electoral college,” mainly because of herself.
Now few seem to want to look backward, but rather to look forward. It’s too tiring, too much a return to acrimony. Only those who truly wanted Hillary herself seem to find comfort in looking back: What could have been done to tip enough votes back into a win? A bigger turnout? Fewer third party votes? Even more support from black and Latino people? These interesting questions seem strangely irrelevant already.
Looking forward to a Trump administration is hard, even for those who actually supported him and for Republicans who find themselves now accepting him. What does anybody on his side want that doesn’t ideologically contradict somebody else with an equally important claim on his Presidency? Most anything he proposes will actually take more public spending — more government. In the past war justified this. Maybe he will try it, but probably not right away.
I don’t really see The Donald immediately whipping up major domestic pogroms or an actual violent crusade against presumed “radical Islamic terrorists.” And I doubt that Trumpists can even cost out, much less enact, the whole set of reactionary changes to which they have already committed themselves.
It is up to leftist/progressives forces to try to deconstruct the weaknesses of Trump/Republican plans, and to keep exposing all his Alt-Right appointments. We must be prepared, whatever that means, to fight them back, specific issue by specific issue.
I hope the Trumpists fail and look as dangerous as they are. But I fear that, rather, the Big Lie will grow, and keep actual Trump supporters and wanna-be winners from noticing how much more is being robbed from all of us his phony “successful” businessman’s scam proceeds. I know that the white people (and they are almost all white, whether they deny that that matters or not) who voted for him, will pay dearly too. It is sad, but I cannot feel empathy. They know what they voted for, no pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes.
Is it possible for things to be better for progressives? Can or should a multi-hued coalition of folks refuse to shore up a bankrupt Democratic Party, but instead seek to build a massive majority movement? Maybe.
It is good that lots of folks are talking this way. It’s up to those of us who knew what was wrong with Hillary, and with mainstream neoliberal politics, to articulate something different. We certainly failed by letting Hillary try have “her turn” this year. Maybe we can still create a genuinely radical movement, if we don’t get stuck on who the next President will be — and white people move out of the limelight.
Veterans of ’60’s/’70’s and even ’80’s activism should now try “not to speak until spoken to” by the new base of a healthy movement. Those who will be most hurt by a triumphant Trump agenda must lead; white people should be there, we just must learn to follow with integrity.
I do believe that others will decide to ask us about what our experiences might mean for today. Good white activists whose time has come and is now passing, will be asked for our reactions, and maybe our advice, and surely for our support. We do have helpful things to say about what won’t work. But, even for this, we have to wait for the right time.
This is all ok with me. Since I hear few ideas that sound fresh or convincing from last century’s cohort, it does not seem too hard. Let’s let others ask us to react to their ideas and plans, and then give our response with respect and honor.
How about it?
ANN Withorn, radicalreentry.com