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Anti-Trump: Two Movements, Many Tendencies


Anti Trump activism is huge and growing. But it is not remotely monolithic, nor should it be, given the state of the country.

There is, first, the mainstream liberal opposition. It is so large, and has so many resources, and is (quite unusually) so angry and at times even militant, that it will likely for some time largely dominate the anti Trump scene.

This liberal opposition is not thinking about, nor has it ever thought about, winning a new society. It has always been about mitigating the worst ills of current society by changes undertaken within current societal logic. What is now unusual is that this opposition is so worried not just about Democrats not having the White House, or about themselves being somewhat vulnerable, but literally about the country imploding and diverse constituencies suffering, that much of its opposition will appear radical, and may even at times become radical. And that unusual possibility is why the liberal part of anti Trump activism has two aspects.

First, there is the mainstream of the democratic party and of society, including a growing number of elected officials, small and large business people, and prominent professionals, and all those relating to that leadership. Second, there is what we might call the social democratic part of the liberal opposition to Trump, which is mostly but not exclusively identified with Sanders and Warren.

So, liberal anti Trumpians are either mainly self interested and concerned about elite needs or are social democratic and sincerely concerned about non elites as well.

Beyond the two parts of liberal opposition, we have the second, significantly smaller radical opposition to Trump. What this lacks in size and especially resources it makes up in understanding, commitment, and militance. Radical opposition to Trump wants to eliminate the worst ills and even all ills of this society. It rejects society’s current logic and seeks a new society, but it says nearly nothing about what wanting a new society entails. Radical anti Trumpism embodies many tendencies.

Radical anti-Trumpism’s first tendency broadly rejects liberal anti Trumpism as having no purpose other than maintaining the system we live under. This tendency takes no pleasure in powerful liberal contributions to arousing anti Trump activism. The second tendency says stopping the fascistic Trump train needs support from every imaginable direction. Rather than dissing and shunning liberals who oppose Trump, this tendency respectfully tries to influence their involvement toward greater and broader commitment.

A second pair of contending radical tendencies starts with one that favors immigrant activism, feminist activism, anti racist activism, judicial activism, science activism, climate activism, gun activism, and anti war activism, each doing their own thing. This tendency doesn’t so much celebrate each focus pursuing its own agenda unto itself as it takes for granted that each focus will do just that and supports each following its own path due to its own predilections and experiences. The contending tendency, currently much smaller, urges meshing all focuses instead of putting one above the rest or putting each alongside the rest. It wants to put each activist focus in a mindset to fully support the rest. It says that those with predilections and experiences emphasizing any particular focus should lead in formulating demands and designing activist plans for that focus, but also that all radical anti-Trumpians should overtly support and be supported by all others, creating a movement of movements or a bloc of entwined focuses.

A third pair of contending radical tendencies disputes tactics. One says anti-Trump opposition needs to be non violent in fact and in appearance to avoid fighting Trump as he prefers. It seeks to avoid giving Trump ways to escalate violence and dismiss the left as criminally berserk. It favors militant civil disobedience but rejects actions that are or can even be portrayed as violent on grounds that they will repel support and empower forces of repression. The contending tendency says Trump will only succumb to force and that the only way to withstand Trumpian repression is to prepare to combat it. It argues that civil disobedience is excellent in many instances but that the cutting edge of activism has to express full outrage and reveal a willingness to overtly attack power.

Finally, a fourth pair of contending tendencies differs on how to relate to Trump’s supporters. One says such folks are lost to reason and mired in racist, sexist, hatred. We can’t talk to them. We can only shame them and hope a few see the light. The other says with the exception of those in neofascist organizations or rich Trumpians, Trump’s supporters are typically as angry at current society as radicals. These are tens of millions of people who radical anti Trumpians must respectfully and successfully address not to only defeat Trump and prevent future Trumps, but also to go beyond liberalism into a movement for a new society.

So, radical anti-Trumpians either dismiss liberals or welcome and try to organize them; either advocate parallel single issue organizing or favor each focus supporting all focuses with each focus led by those most involved in that focus; either reject violence or urge that we must utilize it; and either reach out uncompromisingly but respectfully to non neo-fascist Trump supporters or dismiss all Trump supporters as misogynistic, racist, little Trumps.

The opposition, in short, requires a big map. We have two main liberal anti Trump tendencies and numerous radical Anti Trump tendencies that combine together in all sorts of patterns. My own place on this map is as a radical anti-Trumpian who welcomes liberal opposition and favors organizing them, who respects diverse focuses of attention but favors each overtly and aggressively supporting the rest including via overarching organizational connection, who favors multiple tactics that can involve all kinds of levels of commitment including mass militant civil disobedience but not overt violence, and who sees 60 million Trump voters and recognizes that writing them off as unreachable is both arrogant and classist and utterly suicidal to truly radical agendas – we must instead reach them.

But in this essay I am not arguing the relative virtues of contending preferences. Rather, my point is, I hope, far less contentious.

The diverse tendencies noted, and no doubt others that someone else might add to the list, are fodder for potential failure or are fuel for potential success. If we allow these differences to embattle us with each other, we will lose. If we find ways to navigate toward solidarity and mutual aid among the contending perspectives, where we all see each inclination as a kind of experimental aspect of the whole and where we all agree that we are testing each aspect but not imposing any, and that we will take the evidence of our efforts and weigh it for what does and what doesn’t effectively oppose Trump and for what does or doesn’t move toward more positive aims, always talking across our lines of difference, assessing our experiences and what works and what doesn’t, never disdainful, we will grow and win.

1 comment

  1. gary olson February 16, 2017 2:48 pm 

    Mike,
    This is an ambitious agenda but the situation requires nothing lesss

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