As the US presidential election gets nearer, the media remains obsessed with Donald Trump. Not because he says anything of importance, but because of the sensationalist aspect of his demagogy and the encouragement of violence by his supporters. These media filters obscure the fact that his support comes only from a small minority of the overall electorate.
The publicity given to the mogul’s statements, however, has created a pushback against his campaign, motivating younger activists to protest his appearances together with people previously not involved in politics who have become disgusted with Trump’s attacks on immigrants and minorities. As Washington Post opinion writer Eugene Robinson commented: “These protests are important because they show that Americans will not take Trump’s outrageous nonsense lying down. The hapless Republican Party may prove powerless to keep him from seizing the nomination, but GOP primary voters are a small and unrepresentative minority — older, whiter and apparently much angrier than the nation as a whole. … Protests show the growing strength of popular opposition to Trump.”
This weekend, thousands protested at Trump Towers in New York City and demonstrators closed roads leading to a Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Student Sierra K. Thomas, who drove three hours to protest an earlier rally in North Carolina, told the Washington Post: “I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t just sit and watch someone who is trying to be our president incite violence. I could not let the progress people have made in learning to love and accept one another go to waste. … If Trump makes it to the Oval Office, I’m afraid of what will happen to this nation. I want to be a teacher after I graduate; what kinds of lessons would children learn from a president who says it’s okay to kill the families of alleged terrorists and to ban people from the country because of their religion?”
Trump’s overarching victories in the primaries reflect the seething dissatisfaction of the Republican base with the party leadership, which it sees as having reneged on its pledges of bringing down Obama and having acquiesced in the eroding of white privilege. But Trump’s rhetoric is totally in line with that of the Republican establishment: even his outrageous “birther” campaign which sought to deny Obama legitimacy through a veiled racist narrative about his birth certificate, simply extended the Republican strategy of denying legitimacy to any Democratic president as part of their efforts to downsize the federal government.
In the Super Tuesday primaries last week Hillary Clinton undoubtedly benefited from portraying herself as the candidate best placed to prevent Trump achieving the presidency. However, this does not necessarily mean support for the establishment; a better indication of the real mood in the country is the political success of racial justice groups in contesting the primaries of prosecutors who failed to conduct timely prosecutions of police who killed unarmed young black men.
Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez in Chicago was challenged after video footage was released that showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 13 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Alvarez fought for a year to prevent the release of the dashcam recording to the public. According to In These Times writer Flint Taylor: “Until charging Van Dyke with murder, she had a disgraceful record of almost never prosecuting Chicago police officers for on-duty violence or perjury. … She has also consistently shown contempt for African-American victims of police torture and wrongful convictions. … After a video was released in December of 2015 showing a police officer shoot another fleeing African-American man, Ronald Johnson, in the back, Alvarez refused to charge the officer and, in a 30 minute presentation, attempted to explain away the shooting. And more than two months after Chicago police officers shot an unarmed, mentally ill 19-year-old African-American honors student, Quintonio LeGrier, and a 55-year-old female bystander, Bettie Jones, who opened the door for the police, Alvarez has yet to bring charges.”
In Ohio, the Guardian reported, “prosecuting attorney Timothy McGinty was unseated by Michael O’Malley, a former deputy county prosecutor. McGinty last year led a contentious and drawn-out grand jury inquiry into the fatal police shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park in November 2014. In December last year, McGinty announced that no charges would be brought against Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot Tamir within seconds of arriving at the scene in response to a 911 call. Tamir’s family and protesters expressed disgust over the handling of the case by McGinty, who confirmed in December that he had personally recommended to the grand jurors that they not prosecute the officers involved.”
Much of the organizing to unseat Alvarez was led by groups of young African-American activists, such as Black Youth Project 100, Assata’s Daughters and We Charge Genocide. In These Times notes: “These groups and many of their members had previously helped achieve major victories for racial justice in Chicago, including the passage of a bill providing reparations for victims of police torture and, most recently, the planned construction of a Level I trauma center on the city’s south side Hyde Park neighborhood to provide emergency care for victims of gunshot wounds and other life-threatening conditions. Both of those victories were the result of multi-year campaigns and required dogged determination.”
These dogged campaigners and the protesters at Trump’s rallies are linked by the increased sense of enfranchisement among oppressed communities. Bernie Sanders, despite his low polling among older African Americans, is closer to the protesters than Hillary Clinton, who along with Obama condemned both sides for violence at Trump’s rallies. Sanders was the only candidate to confront Trump’s attacks on immigrants directly. In Arizona on Super Tuesday, he gave a speech ignored by Fox News and CNN who preferred to wait for Trump to say something. Sanders said: “We’re a democracy. People have different points of view. But what is not acceptable, no matter what your point of view is, is to throw racist attacks against Mexicans. The reason that Donald Trump will never be elected president is the American people will not accept insults to Mexicans, Muslims or women. … What Trump is about and other demagogues have always been about is scapegoating minorities, turning one group against another group. But we are too smart to fall for that.”
Sanders’ campaign has meant that Clinton has had, at least rhetorically, to condemn factory closures and Wall Street financiers. The New Republic commented: “Trump’s likely nomination gives Sanders a strong incentive to continue in the race—not only to pull Clinton to the left on economic issues, but to argue that her pursuit of well-to-do Republicans is a mistake. This strategy would essentially cede the white working class to Trump, which is risky not only in immediate electoral terms but fraught with danger for the country.”
Even if Clinton wins the Democratic party nomination, Sanders has brought together a diverse and younger group of supporters who are likely to continue campaigning up to and after the election. This is a contrast to the Democratic establishment which has a horror of such unmanageable movements. Despite the media blackout on his campaign, Sanders has inspired a millennial generation with a message that rejects the inevitability of accepting neoliberal limits on the role of government and social programs.