These past three weeks have been among the most terrifying and exhilarating of my life. I am not sure how I shall survive months, and then years, at this level of intensity and anxiety. Today, on a cold, quiet Paris Sunday, I should like to take a few moments to reflect on the situation that confronts us. I take little pleasure in this. I would far rather spend my golden years thinking about Kant, or Marx, or the inherently perspectival ideological structure of the social world. It is not for nothing that the ancient Chinese considered as a curse the imprecation “May you live in interesting times.”
Our attention, quite naturally, has been drawn to the bizarre, obscene, despicable man who now occupies the office of President of the United States, and a remarkable number of perceptive, coruscating analyses of his character and behavior have been written in recent days. It is now received wisdom, I think we can agree, that Trump’s compulsive lying is not merely a pathological trait. It is, instead, a technique of dominance and authoritarian assertion. By compelling his spokespersons to endorse publicly his blatant lies, he visibly exercises his dominance over them, forcing them to humiliate themselves as a way of binding them to him. Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway are now forever his bonded slaves, made unfit for any other employment by their subservience to his will.
We can also agree that because of his pathetic obsession with his public image, Trump is easy game for ridicule. Saturday Night Live is performing a function both essential and delightful by its portrayal of Trump and his jackals. We need to keep up visible opposition to him in ways that unsettle him.
It is becoming clear that Trump is, like all bullies, a coward. For me, the most significant event of the past week was his complete capitulation to the Chinese on the subject of the One China policy. I am sure you are all well aware of the history and significance of this capitulation. The Chinese now view Trump as a paper tiger, an empty suit, an incompetent negotiator who can be rolled, as they say. Several more such failures will cement public recognition of him as someone who not only did not write, but probably has not read, The Art of the Deal.
Equally compelling these past weeks has been the extraordinary, unprecedented upwelling of popular resistance to Trump and all things Republican. I do not know how long this can be sustained, but if some way can be found, as it were, to institutionalize it, this energy has the potential to transform the public landscape of America.
With regard to the popular movement now afoot, I wish to acknowledge that as a consequence of the thoughtful and intelligent comments posted here, I have reversed my judgment that we need look to Obama to draw people into the struggle. He remains a charismatic and effective public figure, and I welcome any contribution he chooses to make. But his time is past, as is that of the Clintons and the rest of the Democratic Party establishment. As was noted by one commentator [I have not gone back to check who it was], on Obama’s watch as the head of the Party, the Democrats suffered devastating losses at the State Legislature and Federal level, sinking to a minority status not seen in the past century. This despite winning the popular vote in six out of the last seven national elections.
All of which leads me to the conclusion that our primary focus must be on beginning the long march back to majority status, with the 2018 off-year elections the first battle. We need to throw our numbers and our support behind the fine young progressives rising to prominence on the left.
However, it would be a bad mistake, in my opinion, to withhold our support from middle of the road Democrats in contests where the only alternative is a right wing Republican. We need to take control of state legislatures so that we can reverse the appalling things being done at the state level. Then we can press for progressive legislation and gubernatorial action. Remember the wise advice given by Paul Newman to Robert Redford about the Big Con in The Sting. When it is all over, if we win, it won’t be everything we want, but it will be all we can get, so it will have to be enough.
The Struggle Continues.