Thursday, 12 July 2018

Donald Trump Protests: What's the Point?

Is there a point? Among those for whom Donald Trump is a pretty repulsive figure, then the answer is obvious. Simultaneously for the minority who don't think antagonising Trump, a man with a notoriously fragile ego along with a dainty set of hands, is a good idea then no, there shouldn't be any protesting. If you don't respect the man then at least respect the office, so goes the argument. And then there are the somewheres-in-the-middle who greet his "working" visit to the UK with indifference, or can't see any point in taking to the streets. Well, the protesters are right and the naysayers, whether they instinctively recoil from extra-parliamentary politics or go by the world-weary cynicism of the sofa, are wrong.

Protesting against Donald Trump sends a message. One of the predicted consequences of Trump's presidency is the attempt to normalise the abnormal. All capitalist societies (and all class societies, for that matter) are based on conflict. This means at any one time, tensions are in friction, classes and fractions of classes face off, and pathologies of violence, physical and symbolic, tear at, rip up, rework, and reweave the social fabric. Trump's presidency is an attractor and condenser of backward and declining forces who were/are attracted to him because he offers a simple analysis that makes sense of their own predicament, and whose political obscenities mark him out as someone and something different to what went before. If he refuses to abide by the etiquette of polite liberal society, if that makes him an outcast and a renegade then perhaps he will follow through with all the other outrageous, anti-globalist, anti-immigrant postures he's taken up.

A cynical strategy for Trump and those who hitched a ride on his bandwagon, but the consequences have been appalling. Every single racist arsehole in the US has been empowered by the example set by the bigot-in-chief. Racist attacks are up. Racist police violence continues virtually unchecked, despite the hard, necessary work done by Black Lives Matter. We've had children separated from their parents at the border and thrown into cages. Misogyny festers, making celebrities out of non-entities like Jordan Peterson, and spawning truly pathetic movements of entitled and embittered masculinity, like the incels, and worryingly giving fascism a leg-up. Protesting against Trump in the UK says to those back home that none of this is normal and should not be accepted. It shows people who are really in the thick of it, be it organising against the cops Trump champions, fighting the sexual violence Trump treats as a joke, and working to build unions in the firms Trump and his billionaire cronies own that they're not alone, that along with the comrades they have there that large masses of people overseas agree with them, refuse to accept the normalisation of racism and misogyny, and will take to the streets to make their opposition heard. They don't call them demonstrations for nothing.

Second, marches can be fun, but people as a rule don't go on them because they're a good larf. They attend to demonstrate their strength of feeling about an issue, but they also have an extremely important secondary effect: they help pull a movement together. Thousands of people are due to take to the streets and, in the shadow of the Trump balloon sailing above, make new connections, come into contact with new ideas, deepen their political understanding of the world and forge new friendships, while feeling a sense of solidarity with like-minded others. For not a few who get involved and for whom this is their first demonstration, it can be a life-changing experience. The march may only wind from A to B and hear the same roster of speakers who normally adorn leftwing demos in London (assuming the Met unban the mobile stage), but all this does not do justice to what cannot be seen: the spadework of movement building.

But why protest against Trump when worse people, like Erdogan, sundry Saudi princes, and Xi Jinping tend not to be greeted in the same way? So ask the self-appointed protest police, like Piers Morgan, whenever a leftist demonstration is organised. Let me put the case to them as patronisingly as possible. You see, when you have a movement and a politics that is somewhat marginalised in society in terms of numbers, media coverage, and general awareness of what it stands for, it has to use what meagre resources it has to make as big a splash as possible. That way it can win over new people and push the political envelope more towards the left. Trump, for example, is almost universally known in the UK as the American president. How many people have heard of Erdogan or Xi by way of comparison? Just because all the stops aren't pulled out for them and others does not mean the left are okay with them. Let's just repeat that, it does not mean the left is okay with them. It's only by building movements off the opportunities afforded us can we ensure that people worse than Trump can get a testy reception in the future, hopefully to the point where turnouts are so large they are deterred from visiting again. There endeth the lesson.

Why protest against Donald Trump? There's every bloody point.


Boffy said...

Its impossible to distinguish the office from the occupant of it. But, even if it were I don't respect the office either, or those who voted the current occupant into it.

I have no desire to be a "friend" of the US "nation" whatever that might mean, or the President, whoever that may be, as its representative, any more than I want to be a "friend" of any other nation or its representative, because the concept "nation" is an artificial construction that disguises the fact that any "nation" is not a homogeneous entity, but is composed of millions of individuals, and several classes and strata, all with conflicting interests.

As a socialist, I have no interest in being a friend of the US nation, only with US workers who are themselves oppressed by Trump, only with those other elements of society also suffering under Trump's regime, and at the hands of those who support him and his bigotry, and anti-working class activities.

Against Trump with the US working-class.

nicko said...

I'm going to an anti-Trump demo this afternoon. But I don't exactly know what I'll be protesting against. He's an elected head of state, so has every reason and right to visit other countries and talk with their leaders. I don't like him or his politics, but I can't seriously claim that he shouldn't be let into the UK, as some anti-Trumpers are arguing.

So what's the focus of the protest, then? Is it that Trump's not a nice guy? He's said crass and objectionable things and has indulged in dogwhistle politics. But then he's hardly exceptional or even extreme in this regard. Pretty much all of the Tory leadership and any other centre-right or right-wing political figure you could name has blown the dogwhistle in similar fashion.

There's much indignant talk about Trump's misogyny and racism. His 'pussy' remarks were unpleasant but is that what we're protesting - some dickhead private comment made over a decade ago? Are we protesting the fact that a President of the United States can have unpleasant thoughts? His travel ban is condemned as 'racist'. It's certainly discriminatory, but it discriminates on the basis of nationality (including Venezuela and North Korea) not 'race' or religion. Of course it plays to the xenophobia and Islamophobia of Trump's 'base', but in terms of policy it's a direct extension of the immigration restrictions enacted by both Bush and Obama as part of the Homeland Security agenda.

In foreign policy, Trump has been far more restrained than his recent predecessors in terms of inflicting death and destruction on poor, non-white people in foreign parts. He's scaled back Obama's assassination-by-drone policy and cooled the Cold War with Russia. He's certainly caused far less death and destruction than Obama and Hillary Clinton did in their war in Libya and their proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Interestingly, though, the only times Trump has enjoyed bipartisan support (including from UK liberals such as the Atlanticists at the Guardian) is when he's killed a bunch of foreigners in Syria with his airstrikes on alleged chemical weapons facilities. His illegal-immigrant detention and deportation policies are brutal but the machinery he's using was built by Obama (the 'deporter-in-chief') and comparable with UK practices at places like Yarl's Wood.

The most vicious and destructive thing Trump has done so far - his $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich and the corporations, to be paid for by slashing public services and welfare support for the most needy - isn't on the radar at these protests, perhaps because it can't be simplistically denounced as racist or misogynistic or homophobic. But I think that's why I'll be protesting. I don't care what Trump's personal feelings or attitudes about race, gender or sexuality are. I don't care that he's a crass buffoon whose personal manner besmirches the high office of president. In fact, this very manner strips the veneer of 'civilisation' from that office and reveals the American empire for what it is - a brutal machine for exercising economic and military dominance whose benefits accrue to the rich and powerful. A bit of me suspects that's what's behind so much of the liberal handwringing about Trump - horror at his willingness to expose the crude mechanisms of power that underpin myths of American self-righteousness, democracy and 'freedom'.

I don't think the anti-Trump protests are part of a broader political movement or a sign of such a movement's emergence or formation. Like the anti-Brexit march a few weeks ago, they seem to me to be a sign of inchoate liberal horror at aspects of right-wing populism and an opportunity for some standard moral denunciation of those we don't like politically as racists or bigots or homophobes or misogynists. But I'm gonna go anyway, partly to ask other participants why they're there, and partly to figure out why I am!

Robert said...

Apparently Trump has said Boris would make a great Prime Minister. Trump and Boris. Can you imagine a bigger pair of wankers?

LordSin said...

Nicko, you took the words right out of my mouth.

"Like the anti-Brexit march a few weeks ago, they seem to me to be a sign of inchoate liberal horror at aspects of right-wing populism and an opportunity for some standard moral denunciation of those we don't like politically as racists or bigots or homophobes or misogynists."

A round of applause for that line.

To all left-wingers: stop with the identity politics. Accept that not everyone thinks the same way on social issues and that doing so doesn't make them bad people. Bill Clinton had it right: "it's the economy, stupid". Equal rights issues are for people with no other problems in their lives. Focus on developing policies that give everybody a good, secure job, a decent house, quality education and social mobility first. Only then will people who are tempted to vote for Trump/UKIP/AfD etc. start listening. There's a reason these protests only attract the middle-classes - poor people have more immediate problems to deal with.

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

Nico;- the Atlanticists are liberals?

Dialectian1 said...

Why protest against Trump? The liberal (middle class) are aghast at Trump for exposing the brutal machine behind the USA's facade as being the 'land of the free'. The hand-wringing focus on Trump's oafish manner and his perceived attacks on certain 'identities' is blurring the our analysis. Drone bomber Obama was as much of a war wonger as Blair/Bush but was feted on his visit to the UK and able to wonder around unmolested. It's worth revisiting Steve Bannon's interview on Newsnight a month or so ago (15mins in).

To paraphrase: "You know what, indentity politics is a loser. And while you continue to focus on that and we focus on jobs, we're always going to win."

George Carty said...

Trump and his acolytes have conned American blue-collar whites into thinking that their employment prospects were destroyed primarily by foreigners (through both immigration and offshoring), when the real culprit (overwhelmingly) was technological change.

Not just the rise of automation and robotics in manufacturing, but also the rise in steel recycling (which killed most steel jobs, as electric arc furnaces used for recycling steel are much less labour-intensive than blast furnaces for creating steel from scratch) and of fracking (as gas has increasingly replaced coal – helped no doubt also by the way in which the gas industry now projects a false green fa├žade by hiding behind renewably energy).