Donald J. Trump’s inaugural speech on Friday proclaimed himself as the sole representative of the authentic American “people”– which is why he was so enraged by the comparison of the size of his inauguration crowd with that of Obama’s, and by the mass demonstrations against his presidency on Saturday. When he asserts “America first,” he reserves for himself the right to decide who to include in the category of “American,” and that definitely is not anyone who is brown or black or Muslim.
He commenced his presidency with a flurry of executive orders aimed at reversing Obama’s policies which, while meaningless without Congressional funding, have the effect of giving direction to the federal bureaucracy. The appearance of speed at getting things done is a two-edged sword: while enthusing his base, he is also provoking mass opposition to the attempt to unravel the social contract that has been constructed over the last 50 years, and evolved from the foundational idea of the United States: E pluribus unum—out of many, one.
Trump’s order to “build the wall” along the Mexican border, along with new anti-immigrant measures, signifies to his white nationalist supporters that he will restore and restructure the racial hierarchy with Muslims at the bottom and Latinos just above them; it’s understood that African Americans and Jews will soon be joining them. Trump’s rhetoric about Mexico paying the billions of dollars it will take to construct the wall is so obviously phony that, as Josh Marshall points out, his intention is really to create the appearance of dominance and humiliation at Mexico’s expense. “After all the promises about his strongman power, … [he] now is sticking taxpayers with the cost of his nonsensical promises about how we’re just ‘fronting’ the money. He got owned. He lied. And now he’s resorting to the same ‘oh you’ll get paid later’ flimflam he’s used to rip off countless investors over the years.”
The swift rollout of these orders has sparked defiance at state and local level: the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, called Trump’s executive order to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities (where local law enforcement and city agencies generally refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities) a “destructive and unAmerican threat” and “a direct attack on Boston’s people.” “I will use all of my power within lawful means to protect all Boston residents — even if that means using City Hall itself as a last resort,” he said. “If people want to live here, they’ll live here. They can use my office. They can use any office in this building.” He was joined in his rebellion by Bill DeBlasio of New York, and the mayors of Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle.
In New York, the city of immigrants, thousands of protesters streamed into Washington Square Park on Wednesday evening for an emergency rally after leaked documents showed Trump is preparing to sign an executive order blocking visas from being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Gothamist reported: “Throughout the course of the night, elected officials, faith leaders, organizers, and activists called for solidarity with immigrants and Muslims, and spoke about the importance of maintaining New York’s status as a sanctuary city. … Fear of Trump’s agenda – and recognition of the need for multi-ethnic solidarity in fighting that agenda – seemed to be a driving force in bringing out those who’d previously shunned political protests. Meret Openheim and Susan E. Meret, longtime members of the LGBT synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, said that while they’d not previously considered themselves political, Trump’s victory had left them with little choice but to join the protest movement. … ‘We have a country that is [over] 200 years old, and it could be gone in an instant if we don’t stand up for it,’ added Openheim. ‘I think that’s politicized a lot of us’.”
The spontaneous upsurge of opposition to Trump’s presidency on Saturday reached small towns that Clinton lost badly, like Wichita, Kansas, reported the Washington Post. Sizable crowds gathered “in red states and small towns across the country — in villages on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, in conservative pockets across the heartland, in rural towns in states like Virginia, and down throughout the South. In Anchorage, thousands of protesters gathered despite an unforgiving snowstorm and 10-degree temperatures, holding signs with slogans such as ‘My body. My rights. My choice.’ Farther north, in Fairbanks, thousands were undeterred by the extreme temperature, which approached minus-20 degrees. At the same time, thousands marched outside the Idaho Statehouse in Boise as snow fell over them. Even in rural Onley, Va., dozens of men and women gathered along a highway in solidarity with the larger Women’s March on Washington.”
Paul Mason writes in The Guardian: “The DC hotel I stayed in turned, on the eve of the Women’s March, into an organising base for 200 low-paid cleaners and care workers. Spanish, Filipino and Caribbean-English words began to drown out the chatter of journalists and politicos. …Winnie Wong, a key figure in organising the march told me: ‘The beauty of the Women’s March as a fledgling movement, which is now both decentralised and already global in scale, is that it will be very hard for any one institution to co-opt the messaging’.” He commented: “It is not only by obliterating truth that the authoritarian beguiles the masses, but by constant recourse to drama: the midnight speech, the military parade, the unexpected deal, the overnight invasion or the extrajudicial killing of an enemy. But the Women’s March showed us the gestural power of mass action.”
Saturday’s marches were powerful in their diversity, as an unprecedented and preemptive show of force against Trump. They also presented a moral challenge to Democratic legislators to fight tooth and nail to block Trump’s policies; but as Robert Reich points out, “Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve—like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all.”
This is an unprecedented moment in American history, and the average person is conscious of Trump’s attack on the founding idea of the country. The left needs to join with and learn from this spontaneous outburst of resistance. It faces a challenge to develop political concepts that will enable it to orient itself and facilitate pluralist alliances in a common struggle to defeat Trump’s neofascist onslaught.