Donald Trump’s regime is rapidly reconfiguring the United States into an authoritarian state. All forms of dissent will soon be criminalized. Civil liberties will no longer exist. Corporate exploitation, through the abolition of regulations and laws, will be unimpeded. Global warming will accelerate. A repugnant nationalism, amplified by government propaganda, will promote bigotry and racism. Hate crimes will explode. New wars will be launched or expanded.
And, as this happens, those Americans who remain passive will be complicit.
“We don’t have much time,” Kali Akuno, the co-director of Cooperation Jackson and an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, told me when I reached him by phone in Jackson, Miss. “We are talking two to three months before this whole [reactionary] initiative is firmly consolidated. And that’s with massive resistance.”
Flurries of executive orders and memorandums are being issued to demolish the anemic remnants of our bankrupt democracy. Those being placed in power—such as Betsy DeVos, who if confirmed as secretary of education will defund our system of public education and expand schools run by the Christian right, and Scott Pruitt, who if confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency will dismantle it—are agents of destruction. In the eyes of the Christian fascists, generals, billionaires and conspiracy theorists around Trump, the laws, the courts and legislative bodies exist only to silence opponents and swell corporate profits. It is impossible to know how long this transformation will take—it may be longer than the two or three months Akuno fears—but unless we mobilize quickly to stop the Trump regime the end result is certain.
“The forces around Trump have a plan to roll this [attack on democracy] out,” said Akuno, who was the coordinator of special projects and external funding for the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson. “They have a strategy. They have a timeline. They know whom they need to divide and whom they need to recruit. They are consolidating their base. Those who try and chalk this up to Trump’s pathology miss the intentionality, the strategic aims and the objectives. We will do ourselves a great disservice if we underestimate this regime and where it is going.”
Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief counselor, was behind the ban on Muslims entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries—a ban you can expect to see extended if the Trump administration is successful in removing a stay issued by a district court. He was behind the order to the Department of Homeland Security to draw up lists of Muslim organizations and individuals in the United States that, in the language of the executive action, have been “radicalized” and have “provided material support to terrorism-related organizations in countries that pose a threat to the United States.” Such lists will be used to criminalize Muslim leaders and the institutions and organizations they built. Then, once the Muslims are dealt with domestically, there will be new Homeland Security lists that will allow the government to target the press, activists, labor leaders, dissident intellectuals and the left. It is the beginning of a fascist version of Leon Trotsky’s “permanent revolution.”
“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too,” Bannon told writer Ronald Radosh in 2013. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
The Trump regime’s demented project of social engineering, which will come wrapped in a Christianized fascism, can be implemented only if it quickly seizes control of the bureaucratic mechanisms, an action that Max Weber pointed out is the prerequisite for exercising power in industrial and technocratic societies. Once what the historian Guglielmo Ferrero calls the “silken threads” of habit, tradition and legality are gone, the “iron chains” of dictatorship will impose social cohesion.
“This problem is not going to be solved in the 2018 elections,” warned Akuno, the author of the organizing handbook “Let Your Motto Be Resistance” and the former executive director of the New Orleans-based People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. “That hope is an illusion. The democratic apparatus will be completely gutted by then. We have to look beyond Trump. We have to look at the consolidation on the state level of these reactionary forces. They are near the threshold of being able to call for a constitutional convention because of the number of governorships and state legislatures where they hold both chambers. They can totally reorder the Constitution, if they even continue to abide by it, which they may not. We are facing a serious crisis. I don’t think people grasp the depth of this because they are focused on the president and not the broader strategy of these reactionary forces.”
“We have to encourage a broad noncompliance strategy of ungovernablity,” Akuno said. “Not complying. Not consenting. We have to struggle on every front. We have to expect that the courts will not protect us. We are going to get less and less protection from the police. The slightest act of civil disobedience will mean jail. We have to mentally prepare for that. We have to build serious organizations, drawing upon the examples of forces that fought authoritarian regimes in Latin America and Europe. Either we submit to not having any protection as workers, women, queers, blacks, Latinos or indigenous or we fight back. These forces [arrayed against us] are not willing to compromise. I hope it does not come to violence, but we know the proclivities of the society and the forces that run it.”
If nonviolent protest is met with violence, we must never respond with violence. The use of violence, including property destruction, and taunting the police are gifts to the security and surveillance state. It allows the state to demonize and isolate a mass movement. It drives away the bulk of the population. Violence against the state is used by the authorities to justify greater forms of control and repression. The corporate state understands and welcomes the language of force. This is a game the government will always win and we will always lose. If we are perceived as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob that embraces violence, we will be easily crushed.
We can succeed only if we win the hearts and minds of the wider public and ultimately many of those within the structures of power, including the police. When violence is used against nonviolent protesters demanding basic forms of justice it exposes the weakness of the state. It delegitimizes those in power. It prompts a passive population to respond with active support for the protesters. It creates internal divisions within the structures of power that, as I witnessed during the revolutions in Eastern Europe, paralyze and defeat those in authority. Martin Luther King Jr. held marches in Birmingham, Ala., rather than Albany, Ga., because he knew Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor would overreact and discredit the city’s racist structures.
The Trump regime is populated with blind fanatics. They believe in one truth, which is whatever they proclaim at the moment (any such declaration may contradict what they said a few hours before). They are possessed with one idea—conflict. They venerate a demented hypermasculinity that includes a sacralization of violence, misogyny, a disdain for empathy, and the self-appointed right to engage in bouts of frenzied rage. These characteristics, they believe, are a sign of masculinity. The highest aesthetic is militarism, violence and war. Without conflict, without enemies real or imagined, their ideological structures and racism collapse into a heap of contradictions and absurdities. They will attempt to thwart nonviolent, nationwide resistance with force. And they will attempt to stoke counterviolence, including through the use of agents provocateurs, as a response. If we speak back to them in the language of violence, we will fail. We will be transformed into the monsters we seek to defeat.
Bannon and his followers on the “alt-right,” self-declared intellectuals, ferret out facts and formulas that buttress their peculiar worldview and discard truths that contradict their messianic delusions. They mouth a few clichés and quote a few philosophers to justify bigotry, chauvinism and governmental repression. It is propaganda masquerading as ideology. These pseudo-intellectuals are singularly incurious. They are linguistically, culturally and historically illiterate about the Muslim world, and about most other foreign cultures, yet blithely write off one-fifth of the world’s population—Muslims—as irredeemable.
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The inability of white supremacists like Trump and Bannon to recognize the humanity of others springs from their spiritual impoverishment. They mistake bigotry for honesty and ignorance for innocence. They cannot separate fantasy from reality. Such people are, as author James Baldwin said, “moral monsters.”
Evil, for them, is embodied in the dehumanized other. Once the human personification of evil is eradicated, evil itself is supposed to disappear. Except, of course, that as soon as one group of human beings is annihilated, another human embodiment of evil rises to take its place. The Nazis began with Jews. Our fanatics are beginning with Muslims. History has shown where they will go from here.
“The nationalist is by definition an ignoramus,” the Yugoslav writer Danilo Kis said. “Nationalism is the line of least resistance, the easy way. The nationalist is untroubled, he knows or thinks he knows what his values are, his, that’s to say national, that’s to say the values of the nation he belongs to, ethical and political; he is not interested in others, they are no concern of his, hell—it’s other people (other nations, another tribe). They don’t even need investigating. The nationalist sees other people in his own images—as nationalists.”
Like all utopian dreamers they believe their authoritarianism is being implemented for our benefit. They are like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who oversaw the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake and who argued that eradicating heretics does them a favor because it saves them from their own damnation. It is impossible to have a rational dialogue with people who view reality through the binary lens of black and white—us and them. They do not recognize the right of dissent. Dissent is at best obstruction and probably treason. Fanatics, in power, always become inquisitors.
The acts of resistance—including the massive street protests the day after the inauguration and later the demonstrations that grew out of the ban on Muslims, the Department of Energy’s refusal to give the Trump administration a list of employees that worked on climate change, acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ refusal to enforce the travel ban and hundreds of State Department staff members’ signing of a memo opposing the immigration restrictions—terrify those around Trump. These reactionaries do not trust the old elites and their bureaucrats and courtiers, including the press, which Bannon has called “the opposition party.”
Akuno, who supports the appeal for nationwide general strikes, cautioned that such a call might be premature “because unions don’t know if a general strike is called how many members would comply, given how many voted for Trump.” He also noted that because the Trump regime is carrying out assaults on so many fronts, resistance will tax the resources of the left.
“This shotgun assault effectively divides the left,” he said. “Do I defend Chicago if, as Trump says, he puts tanks in the streets or do I go to Standing Rock if I am black? These are the kinds of choices we will be forced to make.”
“We are going to have to bring this society to a standstill,” he said. “We are going to have to disrupt the flow of commerce. We are going to have to disrupt the nodal points of distribution. We will not only have to figure out how to get on the highways, but disrupt Amazon.com and UPS. We have to get workers there, even though they are not unionized, to see these acts as in their long-term interests. And we have to build strong, fortified bases locally and link them together.”
Trump loyalists are counting on enough support from the police, the military, private contractors and the organs of internal security such as Homeland Security and the FBI, along with newly empowered white vigilante groups, to physically crush those who defy them. They will attempt to use fear and even terror to paralyze the population into acquiescence.
“It is not accidental that the Trump regime immediately went after the water protectors at Standing Rock,” Akuno said. “Standing Rock forced the wider society to look at itself, its history and its origins. It raised serious questions. Do we want human civilization to survive? Are we willing to destroy ourselves for short-term profit? Standing Rock exposed the U.S. colonial project and challenged capitalist logic. It showed us that we have to make a choice between oil and water. It asked us which will take priority for human beings.”
We have the power to make the country ungovernable. But we do not have much time. The regime will make it harder and harder to organize, get into the streets and carry out the nationwide strikes, including within the federal bureaucracy. Resistance alone, however, is not enough. It must be accompanied by an alternative vision of a socialist and anti-capitalist society. It must reject the Democratic Party’s attempt to ride anti-Trump sentiment back into power. The enemy is, in the end, not Trump or Bannon, but the corporate state. If we do not dismantle corporate power we will never stop fascism’s seduction of the white working class and unemployed.
“The evil which you fear becomes a certainty by what you do,” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in his play “Egmont.”
Now is the time not to cooperate. Now is the time to shut down the systems of power. Now is the time to resist. It is our last chance. The fanatics are moving with lightning speed. So should we.