By CounterPunch, January 31, 2017 -
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a dictator is “a ruler or governor whose word is law.” And whether it’s via Trump’s tweeted word, which triggers stocks to rise or drop across the planet, or via his signature on an executive order that just banned over 100 million people, including legal residents, from entering the U.S., Trump seems to be just that. Despite its lack of constitutionality, his word functions as the law. Although his Muslim ban (which discriminates against people based on national origin and religion, and is therefore a breach of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) was temporarily stayed by the courts, Trump released a statement shortly afterward announcing that it remains in complete effect. In this defiance of the law he seems to be following the example of Andrew Jackson. For let us recall that Jackson notoriously defied the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, which held that the Indian Removal Act was unconstitutional, and that the brutal removal of the Cherokee people via the infamous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma be stopped. Jackson (whose portrait was recently hung in Trump’s Oval Office) ignored the Court, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgia to continue.
While it isn’t clear whether Trump or the courts will prevail over the issue of the Muslim ban, it seems clear that the constitutional crisis posed by Trump’s presidency will only intensify (just as the economic crisis, and the ecological crisis, and the refugee crisis that stems from these, will only intensify). And though defensive protests against this burgeoning dictatorship are crucial, and the turnout in airports across the country on Saturday were key to blocking part of Trump’s ban (in law if not in fact), defensive protests alone are insufficient. Offensive actions must also be waged, or those who wish to stop Trump will always be a step behind a movement committed to rapidly gutting society, eliminating basic democratic norms, and instituting barbarism across a wide range of fronts. As when Hannibal marched his elephants and army over the Alps toward Rome, and Scipio defeated him by taking the offense, attacking Carthage and forcing Hannibal to retreat, the opposition to Trump must take the offense. The focus of the resistance ought to be the removal of Trump from power, as well as his accomplices, though this must not be the sole goal. The resistance must also not allow power to revert to those whose policies created the misery that gave rise to Trump in the first place.
As many have pointed out, Trump’s victory can be understood as stemming from a rejection of neoliberalism, particularly the neoliberalism of Clinton and Obama (a political-economic order characterized by permanent war, permanent unemployment, privatization, austerity, and free trade agreements that have hollowed out and impoverished much of the country). Deeply unpopular and mistrusted, most Trump supporters did not support him for positive reasons. One of the most unpopular people to ever run for president of the US, he was supported because he loudly and clearly rejected the miserable neoliberal status quo. It is crucial to point out, however, that Trump was not rejecting the status quo in favor of creating anything genuinely new. As his campaign slogan made patently clear, he was not rejecting the status quo in order to go beyond it. He was rejecting it in order to return, to regress, to a time before neoliberalism (and not just before neoliberalism but before environmental regulations, labor laws, occupational safety and health regulations, rights for women, rights for African-Americans, and other social advances introduced over the past century).
While Trump’s Secretary of State, who represents the interests of Exxon foremost, is overjoyed to roll back environmental laws that infringe upon corporate profits, Trump’s white nationalist (aka alt-right) supporters (who have an accomplice in the White House in the person of Steve Bannon), would like to regress even further back in time, to before modernity itself. Though it may be understated, we can characterize this tendency as reaction. And, because much of the reaction is animated by a rejection of neoliberalism, which it shares with the left, the left ought to make an effort to strengthen itself, and weaken Trump, by encouraging this anti-neoliberal faction of the Trump coalition (many of whom were Bernie Sanders supporters) to switch allegiances. To be sure, according to the legendary military strategist Sun Tzu, the supreme strategy of warfare, after attacking strategy itself, is attacking alliances.