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Wednesday, November 23, 2016


It was 27 degrees when I walked this morning, which does seem to concentrate the mind, so I spent some time during the walk trying to achieve perspective on what all of us have been dealing with these past two weeks.  First of all, let me say that I am enormously cheered by the level of activity, coast to coast, by men and women eager to join with others and to launch collective efforts to oppose what Trump will visit on this country.  We really are the majority, if we can get our act together, and there seems to be a widespread recognition of just how dangerous Trump is.

As I walked, I reflected that we face four distinct threats, the combatting of which will require rather different strategies and efforts.  Let me explain.

The first threat, on which a great deal of public attention is focused right now, is Trump’s determination to make the presidency a money machine for him and his family.  I have written about this here, and a reader just today sent me an email message calling my attention to a Washington Post story assembling the same sort of list of horribles.  This monetization of the presidency is cheap, ugly, corrupt, and embarrassing, but it is not really serious.  No doubt Trump will manage to make several billions off his term in office, and no doubt a decent Republican Party ought to impeach him for that, but irritating as all of this is, it does not pose a serious threat to us or the world.  The best you can say for Trump is that in the world he is now about to enter, he is a two-bit piker.  If he wants to know just how to go about monetizing the power of his office and the military and other resources it commands, let him spend an enlightening hour or two talking to Dick Cheney.

The second threat is that posed by the identity and character of the people he is choosing for his administration.  Even setting to one side Steve Bannon, the prospect of the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Sessions in positions of great power is really godawful.  This threat is precisely what one would expect from an in-coming Republican administration.  Contempt for the poor, hatred of those not White, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobic hatred for immigrants runs deep in this country and finds a welcome home in the Republican Party.  Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and the rest would bring in equally awful people had it been one of them elected rather than Trump.  This is a fight we have been having for decades, and we must continue it now. 

The third threat is the really awful legislation the Republicans will try to enact now that they have a Republican [nominally] in the White House.  We have a strong minority contingent in the Senate and a handful of Republicans with whom deals may be struck.  The House is worse, but Nancy Pelosi is vastly more skillful at holding her caucus together than is Paul Ryan, so perhaps we can minimize the damage they are hell-bent on bringing.  Here the most important task for us is to locate strong candidates for the 2018 mid-term elections and try to further reduce the Republican control of the House.  All of this is politics as usual.  We know how to do it.  We simply need to do it and not lapse back into unconcern as soon as the glitz of the presidential campaign is behind us.

The fourth threat is new, and truly ominous.  It is the danger that Trump will use the enormous power of the Presidency to complete the undermining of the press and will wield the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Treasury as weapons against all those whom he perceives as not sufficiently subservient to his will.  It is the danger that he will arouse the nascent fascist impulses alive in American society, turning the really rather robust system of law in America into mob violence and lynch law.  I am not joking about this.  I see it as a mortal threat to American democracy [and yes, I do believe that such a thing as American Democracy exists, albeit it deeply flawed, and that it is a vital defense of deviant opinion, which in this world means you and me.]

I am not sure how best to fight this threat.  The first step is to recognize it, say its name loudly and often, refuse all efforts to normalize it, minimize it, pooh pooh it, deny that anything fundamentally different is happening.  Then we shall have to see what combination of legal action, institutional resistance, and direct personal action is called for.

At about this time, I got home and began the lengthy process of removing the five or six layers of clothing that protect me when the temperature goes down to the twenties.  Sufficient unto the day …


s. wallerstein said...

I think that there will be a lot of pressure on Trump from elites, Wall St., the Pentagon, the CIA, the other Republicans, Silicon Valley, even foreign banks not to fuck up and that includes not turning the United States into an openly fascist society. Remember that Trump owes money to everyone and that the banks and Wall St. could make life very unpleasant for Donald if they want to.

A danger I see is that the United States, already incredibly divided into cultural terms between red states and blue states, ends up terminally divided in cultural terms. Those of us who grew up in the 50's recall a country where everyone watched the same stupid programs on TV, everyone listened to the same stupid music, everyone wore the same stupid styles and haircuts (everyone white of course) and everyone drove the same style of car. There was one culture, although it was a very boring and unimaginative one (I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, as Allan Ginsberg says).

No more and Trump will accentuate that division in a form that will pass the point of no return. I don't know what that will mean in the long term, but it doesn't seem pretty.

Anonymous said...

I only wish that the media focused on your points in reverse order and not on the 'eye candy' concepts. Great job at laying it all out on the table.

Ethan Prall said...

Professor Wolff, this is great. But I did want to note one thing that has the potential to make #1 much more sinister: what if there are terrorist attacks on Trump's real estate overseas? What if he takes an attack on his businesses as an attack on the country? Then his business dealings look remarkably more dangerous. If he were forced to erect a serious wall, that might mitigate the danger somewhat.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

You are quite correct. I confess that had not occurred to me. It is a genuinely chilling thought.

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