by Mark Lewis Taylor *
(first published at CounterPunch)
If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism – so be it. Mumia Abu-Jamal
With these words the revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal offers a bold challenge to those who circulate the fear of a Donald Trump presidency to drum up a mandate for voting for Clinton.
Mumia’s words were shared with me just a month ago in a prison visit with him. On the eve of Trump’s show at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Mumia’s words are a timely challenge to Bernie Sanders’ endorsement this week of Hillary Clinton’s drive for the presidency. Sanders’ mantra is anchored in the fear of Trump: “I will do everything possible to help defeat Trump.”
But it is not just a Trump presidency that needs defeating. It is just as important to defeat the very “Clintonian neoliberalism” whose party Sanders now joins.
The Sanders campaign was important. This is not so much because of Sanders, but because he rode the power of wider and deeper movements of peoples’ alienation which, in the end, he could not accommodate. Predictably, Sanders has now abandoned those movements’ basic requirements for a “political revolution.” Still, we can credit the Sanders campaign for exposing the Democratic Party’s deep allegiance to U.S. corporatist and imperial agendas.
Amid our current political crisis of a rising political right and a consolidating corporatist state (what I discuss here as “Clintonian neoliberalism”), we need those movements now more than ever. As Abu-Jamal told Chris Hedges in another prison visit, “This is our hour of protest. We have to physically resist. We will reclaim our power when we say no, when we refuse to cooperate. We must, in everything we do, defy the architects of imperialism, neoliberalism and mass incarceration.”
I am inspired and applaud especially Cornel West for taking his fight for Sanders into the inner committees of the Democratic Party to show how limited it is in its ultimate refusal of health care for all, its staunch defense of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and U.S. war-making agendas abroad. It also still sides with corporate powers that want to keep their “free trade” agreements, like the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). West at this writing has declared Hillary Clinton a “disaster” and opts now to support the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.
Trumpian authoritarianism and Clintonian neoliberalism are actually co-partners in a joint system of rule. Trump’s authoritarianism is often a hidden bitter fruit of Clintonian neoliberalism. Social movements for democracy must fight them both together.
I will explain. Consider first, though, that Trump may be a “price we have to pay.”
TRUMP AS PRICE TO PAY
The talk of needing to stop Trump is a legitimate fear. But the talk is spun in ways designed to provoke a stampede toward the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. In this way, the fear is often left unexamined and unchallenged.
I don’t know how Abu-Jamal would develop further his own claim that I have placed atop this essay. Note though that it features no naïve bravado that overlooks how menacing a Trump demagogue in the White House could be. He surely knows how vulnerable would be the front-line targeted groups of U.S. history under a Trump presidency. I am thinking primarily of black and brown peoples, Muslims, Mexicans and other immigrants that Trump’s rhetoric has already vilified.
I would add that we should recall that this Trump of 2016 is the same public figure who in 1989 used his wealth to take out a full page ad in the New York Daily News and other media venues, calling for the execution of the black youths falsely charged with raping and killing “the Central Park jogger” under the banner “Bring Back the Death Penalty/Bring Back the Police.” Those youth have since been exonerated for being outrageously and unjustly convicted and imprisoned.
I also recognize a challenging point made by Linda Sarsour of the organization MPower Change. Sarsour is a Brooklyn born, Palestinian American activist. She was a speaker at a June 2016 event called “The People’s Summit” in Chicago’s McCormick Place. She is also a Sanders delegate who will presumably also throw in behind Hillary Clinton. (Maybe she’ll change and help lead a walkout from the DNC convention?) When interviewed by CNN at the June summit, she said this:
Being a Muslim in America, I don’t have the luxury of saying, “Let’s see what happens when Trump gets in the White House,” . . . If you’re not going to vote for Hillary, you better be ready to defend my people when we’re about to go into the camps . . ..
Sarsour reminds us that the U.S. is a place of genocide. North America is what scholar of indigenous peoples Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz analyzes as a “crime scene” in her recent Indigenous People’s History of the U.S. (228). This crime scene enabled the institution of slavery, a veritable “whipping machine” (Baptist, 141-142) that carved capitalist power from the flesh of African slave bodies to drive a cotton trade that generated U.S. financial capital of the nineteenth century.
This violence is a “founding” violence for the U.S. state. As such, it remains deep and pervasive through the everyday living and structures of our current day. The founding violence of the U.S. state has been confirmed time and again for a U.S. readership that cares to know. U.S. history has included repression against organized labor, such as Appalachian miners and Black longshoreman in Philadelphia. It also has driven out and lynched Chinese Americans, and interned Japanese Americans. It rounded up Muslims after 9/11 and hate crimes against them regularly recur. Islam has been constructed as enemy to “Christian America” since North America’s colonial period. U.S. security forces detain and deport Mexicans (also historically sufferers of lynching along with blacks, the Chinese and others in the U.S.) as well as Southeast Asian and African immigrant peoples (Tram Nguyen).
It is precisely this history that a Trump regime could catalyze in new forms. He does it with his modern-day forms of nationalism, white racism, and his near automatic defense of the police establishment. After the killing of police in Dallas, Trump requested an opportunity to address the New York Police force, though he was turned down by the NYPD chief. In light of this it would not be surprising if we saw the state giving even more leeway than it does today, to the white militias and agents of white violence. We should not be surprised if the police, and prison guards too, will all feel their trigger fingers and batons freed up to do even dirtier work by day and by night than they already do.
The front-line targeted communities are right to fear some sort of return of the “the camps” and “the lynching tree” under a Trump regime. This past violence was not the result of rogue individual leaders, as Trump is sometimes seen to be. In fact, U.S. state officials and structures accommodated the likes of Trump, made them possible and unleashed them. Trump could indeed be poised to mobilize an even more blatant form of such state repression – at least one more visible – than the neoliberal state regularly facilitates.
So I do not deny this fear of Trump. But I offer four rejoinders to those driven to Clinton by this fear.
As a first rejoinder, I emphasize that we are already paying an enormous price under the system we have, and Clintonian neoliberalism has built that system stronger in the present day. That system was erected as much by Democrats as Republicans to serve the interest of the corporatist state that makes fodder of the poor. This is the context for the police murders of black, brown and often even white poor too. Our warehousing of human bodies (over 2 million in cages, over 7 million under some kind of correctional control – we call it, “mass incarceration”) is blight upon our nation, sheer torture and trauma for families of the sufferers. It is especially “a social catastrophe” for the black community,” as the National Criminal Justice Commission (99) called it as early as 1996. The black community through the mortgage housing fraud crisis of 2006-2008 has suffered the largest setback in racial wealth equality in a quarter of a century. There are in the U.S. over 100 million in poverty, extreme poverty or “near poverty.”
Most of us in the so-called 99% are already paying the price of economic stress in severe doses. This has for decades already been the case. Since the 1980s the U.S. has foregrounded the smallest and fastest shrinking middle class among developed nations, while its military and corporate elites grow fat by promoting wars that wreck the matrix of life for ever large swaths of the world’s poor, leaving them in war’s chaos.
So I ask: is there not already a political regime to be feared? Indeed yes. And Trump will be another regime to fight as well as to fear.
A second rejoinder I offer to those who fear mainly, and often only, Trump. I am reminded that we rarely act toward virtue – in political or personal life – when we act out of fear, even when there are real things to be feared. Princeton religion Professor Ed Glaude registered the point poignantly as he wrote about his problem with voting for Clinton. He admitted his own fear of Trump, but recalls this from his experience in African American communities of the South: “My daddy, a gruff man who has lived all of his life on the coast of Mississippi, taught me that fear should never be the primary motivation of my actions. It clouds your thinking, and all too often sends you running to either safe ground when something more daring is required, or smack into the danger itself.”
There are those ready to dismiss any of us who refuse to be stampeded to Hillary Clinton as mere “privileged” voices, those who utter our criticisms from within “safer” spaces, where we will not be the front-line targets of a right wing Trump presidency. As a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, I and other professors with some proximity to white wealth may often not simply be among “the 99%,” but more tellingly often in the upper 7-10 percent. This is significantly below the 1% or even smaller fraction with greatest economic power, and the “professoriate” is generally a different class from that of corporate CEOs. Still, I acknowledge that those of us in university systems today – within what many call the “academic industrial complex,” the “neoliberal universities,” or “the imperial university” – are not as distant from the exploitative corporate classes as we often like to think. Moreover, as a white scholar and activist I operate with the protections of white entitlement. This is not a mea culpa. It is simply a sober political acknowledgement.
I counter, nevertheless, by asking: if we are somehow privileged by class position or racial and other entitlements, do we then just shut our mouths and retreat to Clinton because of the specter of a Trump regime?
No; so here follows my third rejoinder. On the contrary, we need to renew our commitments to the political movements on the ground and at work in contesting both the right and the “lesser evil” of today’s corporate and imperial state. As one part of these movements, we need those in the centers of entitlement to come out against Clintonian neoliberalism. “The camps” under Trump about which Sarsour warns us have already long been built. They are the U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers of our era. Bill Clinton’s unprecedentedly large build up of law enforcement and prisons, with his 1994 crime bill, provided the material and ideological conditions for later round ups and confinement of Muslims and Arabs. We should not cower behind our fear, least of all should we spread counsel to our students and the wider public that the “lesser evil” Hillary Clinton is the best this nation can do. Again, I consider Cornel West exemplary in his living a radical political critique in public while teaching at the Harvards, Yales and Princetons, and at Union Theological Seminary of New York.
The white organizers in Philadelphia who blocked downtown traffic and protested at police headquarters also have shown the way, acting and not retreating into a white political enclave. They march into the streets with their placards to proclaim: “You don’t have to be black to be outraged.”
All differently privileged citizens and residents need to bare their rage at the structures of abuse. Privileged professors need to stand with their students against those who are recalcitrant and hardened, those who reside on corporate-based university boards. Businesses and their executives need to stand against making profit from U.S. wars. They also need to deny themselves the profits that come – today in a near avalanche – from the privatization of public prisons and from building private prisons and detention centers. They (and we) will not do this out of their own good will. It will be the pressure of social movements that must deprive such profiteers from their often intentional promotion of unchecked prison-building for personal gain.
I hasten to add, though, that as the privileged dare to step forward in this way, they should not reckon themselves to be leaders in the fight to defeat Clinton and her establishment. We must know that any creative coalition, any fresh vanguard for revolutionary change, must come from the most vulnerable themselves, from the communities long targeted by racist and misogynous power in the history of U.S. capitalism’s structural violence. It is these communities’ movements that put material pressure on the more privileged and protected to resist the corporate state.
And precisely this third rejoinder brings me to a last one. Again, it is offered to those who think risking Trump is too high a price to pay.
This fourth rejoinder reminds that those most vulnerable to a Trump regime are not powerless. They are not primarily – surely not only – victims. They are also resisters with powers for throwing off oppression, building movements for justice and to redress wrongs and imagine new political life. All the while they can also extend at times astonishing acts of love and human dignity.
Today’s fears of Trump and all the warnings come from a white elite or a black elite, or from any others who have some proximity to white wealth and power. But proclaiming a fear of Trump and running to Hillary Clinton is, at best a gross underestimation of the organizing power of the poor, at worst a paternalist and maternalist condescension toward the resistant creativity of the vulnerable.
Black Lives Matter, the Black Youth Project 100, Dream Defenders, our reinvigorated labor movements, Socialist Alternative Party, Workers World, Democracy Rising, the movements for Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners, the MOVE Organization and more – all of these are organizations by some of our most vulnerable and repressed peoples who have combined with some from elite sectors to fight repression. Their fight will continue.
I wager that the fight of these new growing movements will be greater than the bluster, despair and demagoguery of a Trump regime – even with his henchman at the ready. We can face them down. The repressed can return. They can rise up against the order represented not just by the Republicans but also by President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, two faces of Clintonian neoliberalism.
Now, though, we need greater clarity about this phrase, “Clintonian neoliberalism.”
The U.S. “Left” often invokes the notion of “neoliberalism.” It is right to do so, but I think our political movements need to give it more clarity. Movements across Latin America have long taught this “neoliberalismo” in their communities, even using animation and graphic art to clarify what neoliberalism is.
“Neoliberalism,” what many U.S. Americans often call “the free market” or “globalization” is the newest form (that’s the “neo-“ part) of political and economic rule privileging elites of Europe and the U.S. over the global order and their own poor and middle classes. Reached for comment, Dr. Johanna Fernández a historian of twentieth century U.S. history and African American history (Baruch College CUNY) stresses that neoliberalism “emerged in a new historical context, following the defeat of U.S. empire in Vietnam, anti-colonization wars in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the freedom movements in the US. In response, the world’s rulers launched an offensive to re-establish their power.” She continued, “Their strategy was driven by austerity measures that eviscerated social safety nets and wages the world over, the expansion of institutions of social control, and the US reliance on authoritarian governments, hired guns, and U.S. covert operation to open-up new markets to capitalism.”
Don’t be fooled by the “liberal” or “liberalism” terms. They cover a brutal political economy with a shiny gloss of references to “progress” or “democracy.”
Neoliberalism is a system of domination so deeply entrenched, so brutal at times – both in the U.S. and abroad – that its maintenance requires enforcement by the U.S. military’s multiple major global command centers (Johnson, 121-122), orchestrating covert wars by Special Operations and enlistment of paramilitaries, as well as by direct military interventions (drones, bombing missions, sometimes troop deployments). Inside the U.S. neoliberal economics finds it necessary to build an expanding mass incarceration system and give wide discretion to police violence for controlling black, brown and poor life deemed “unruly.”
Especially organizers from communities of the poor, whether from radical black, Chicano and Latinx, American Indian, Puerto Rican, Asian and other radical groups, often become special targets of the state. Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, whose cases for innocence are extremely strong, are just two of the many U.S. political prisoners produced by decades of repression by both Republican and Democrat regimes.
What I have been terming “Clintonian neoliberalism” is this political system as reinforced over the last twenty-five to thirty years, mainly from the period of Bill Clinton’s first presidency. He built upon and made stronger the conservative law- and-order agenda and “war on drugs” policies of Ronald Reagan so well traced in Michelle Alexander’s popular book, The New Jim Crow. As told by sociologist Loïc Wacquant in his book Punishing the Poor, Bill Clinton also more than accommodated Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s destruction of social services under a “Contract with America” agenda that insisted that the poor “shoulder more personal responsibility.”
What the poor got from Clinton’s and the Republicans” 1996 “Welfare reform act” was more dispossession. “Poor children suffering from disabilities . . . were excluded from welfare roles;” some “315,000 of them would lose all benefits in the six years following the passage of the law” (Wacquant, 91). The poor received also from Bill Clinton a crime bill in 1994, The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It was more onerous than what the Republicans alone could have devised. President Barack Obama has done little or nothing to soften the harsh impact of the Clintonian neoliberalism that allied Democrats and Republicans in draconian policies that bonded this harsh criminal justice regime to an imperial war-making agenda. Obama has out-done George W. Bush in drone warfare and the proliferating of war abroad. He also has expanded and strengthened the U.S. surveillance state (Greenwald, 50). Bill Clinton, with Hillary Clinton’s at least occasional support, touted corporate America’s trail-blazing trade pact NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico), though she herself would take different and often contradictory positions later on the NAFTA agreement. NAFTA has been disastrous in invigorating drug cartel trading and violence in Mexico and in the U.S. (Mercille, 1642, and Paley) NAFTA has also been detrimental to the well being of labor in both countries.
If Hillary Clinton still shows herself negligent to embrace the Palestinian cause, to fight corporations to save the planet from environmental catastrophe, or to roll-back the trade agreements like the TPP that disadvantage labor at home and abroad – well, this is Hillary Clinton today, still representing Clintonian-neoliberalism and its class wars against working peoples and the poor.
The position I am staking out here is not just political advocacy. It is that, but also it is based on substantive analyses that have confirmed the moral and political bankruptcy of the neoliberal project that defines our present economic and political system.
Consider just the economic scholarship. The policies of “liberals” and “neoliberals” to build and reinforce a global order that accumulates by dispossessing the poor of the earth is clearly established by studies like those of economist William Tabb and even by a former World Bank executive Joseph Stiglitz. The global devastation parallels and often drives the impoverization of the U.S. poor, as established by over one-hundred scholars from nearly every background in the U.S who contributed to the 2015 Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States. When our U.S. elites lay waste to Baghdad and Central America, they also drive urban North Philly and rural America into poverty and repression. The process often works in reverse too, as James Baldwin (86) reminded when recalling the “grisly pattern,” as he called it: “what America is doing within her borders, she is doing around the world.”
Consider the documentation of neoliberalism’s dependence upon degrading prisons and harsh policing. Especially under Bill Clinton’s regime and his accommodation with Republicans’ law-and-order penchant, his neoliberalism became a more than just a crime policy. It became a form of governance. It became rule by mass incarceration and detention. This record is clearly established by such thinkers as legal scholar Michelle Alexander, social thinker Naomi Murakawa, and literary historian Dennis Childs. On the brutal social consequences of the politics of incarceration, see again Waquant’s study of neoliberalism as a mode of rule that creates social insecurity and punishes the poor.
Or consider neoliberalism’s penchant for war and empire-building. One can hardly do better than consult the work of one of the U.S. military’s own participants and scholars, Chalmers Johnson, in his book Sorrows of Empire. Or for a shorter read, see Tarik Ali’s “Short-Course History of U.S. Imperialism” (Ali, 255-89).
The key dynamic at work throughout this Clintonian neoliberalism is its smooth talk of cultural progress and democracy while sustaining political and economic projects that deepen the plight of the poor at home and abroad, leaving the poor subjugated to neoliberalism’s authoritarianism: mass incarceration, police violence, repression of dissent, its terrors of war and empire building, to the trauma of today’s refugees.
Trump’s appearance now on the U.S. mainland is an example of what Aimé Césaire termed the “terrific boomerang” of powerful nations’ own long practice of authoritarianism. It now blows back into the U.S as historian Chalmers Johnson put it in an earlier book, as winds from the storms of U.S. repression abroad. This authoritarianism at home is what Césaire wrote about in his Discourse on Colonialism (36): “ . . .one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific boomerang effect: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers around the racks invent, refine, discuss.” We have already been awakened to this across the presidential regimes of George W. Bush and Barack Obama and long before, seeing the militarized police now on U.S. city streets that long have been operative in Latin America, South Africa, and in Palestine.
The violent shooting of U.S. police by former U.S. military personnel (the Dallas shooter a former Marine with time spent in Iraq, and the Baton Rouge shooter a member of the U.S. Army Reserve) are all too perfect examples of Césaire’s “boomerang effect.” In electoral politics Trump’s protofascism is a more intense boomerang effect, a specter at home of a structural violence the U.S. has long waged abroad.
This “terrific boomerang” is not so much the outcome of some divine or metaphysical payback (“what goes around comes around”). For Césaire, the society that allows their corporate and military elite to brutalize others in its name also dehumanizes itself. Césaire wrote of this boomeranging violence as the result of colonizers’ habits of brutality. The habits once thought to be limited abroad, or confined to the nation’s past history erupt ever anew with special force from within the colonizer’s own present-day society. He writes, “the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal” (Discourse, 41).
And so the dictatorial demagogues have reigned abroad for the USA with citizen compliance. These include strongmen like Manuel Noriega (in Panama), the Somozas (Nicaragua), the Duvaliers (Haiti), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), others like the Shah of Iran, or today’s ruling elite in Saudi Arabia. These regimes’ strongmen have all been allies of the U.S. corporate state. So too are the U.S. police and prison administrators and guards all deployed for the “strongman” role that leaves so many unsafe. As Dr. Chris Hinson argues in a fine study of today’s form of the police crisis: “Police, not black citizens, have been safest under President Obama’s tenure.”
On the eve of the Republican convention, it is under Obama’s neoliberal governance and ethos that an outrageous petition has this week been sent to the White House calling on it to list the “Black Lives Matter (BLM)” movement as a “terrorist organization.” Obama in the past has spoken approvingly and urged “understanding” of BLM concerns. So far though – and this petition issue is still developing – there has been from Obama’s administration no firm repudiation of so onerous a right-wing assault upon free speech and upon a people’s nonviolent movement that represents the best of the U.S. civil rights and liberation movements. Further, this is a dangerous assault on the kinds of political movements we need to build against neoliberalism, whether defended by Democrats or Republicans. The tragedy here, is that Barak Obama, the first Black president, has strategically deployed the values and language of the civil rights movement in his speeches throughout his presidency, but has refrained from upholding them concretely in ways that matter politically. That is classic “neoliberalism” at work.
Clinton herself also has been an orchestrator of brutal ruling regimes abroad. As U.S. Secretary of State under Obama, Clinton was instrumental in legitimizing the 2009 military coup that overthrew democratically elected Manuel Zelaya of Honduras. She has admitted to her role in her book, Hard Choices, though the story of her work in Honduras was largely edited out for the book’s second 2016 edition. What she helped legitimize for the Obama presidential regime was a military coup of repression in Honduras that has unleashed a tornado of violence there and in Central America today. That violence is now forcing countless new numbers of people into a trans-Mexican migration toward the U.S. The Trump-like roguery she legitimized was of course dressed up in the nice cultural language at which neoliberals are so adept. But historian Dana Frank summarizes the ugly truth, as quoted in an essay by Vijay Prashad, “The U.S. bears direct responsibility for the terrifying crisis in Honduras today, in which [President] Juan Orlando Hernandez’s U.S.-supported dictatorship runs roughshod over the rule of law, robs the public coffers blind, and allows security forces and death squads to kill human rights defenders and social justice activists with near-complete impunity.”
Hillary Clinton’s own record shows that Clintonian neoliberalism is partnered often with demagogic authoritarianism and the championing of military and police forces.
So how might we defeat it, and begin doing so now?
DEFEATING CLINTONIAN NEOLIBERALISM
Defeating Clintonian Neoliberalism is a real possibility. This is because the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party in different ways, is in a weakened state. The two party system is now very vulnerable even as the U.S. populace is vulnerable to these two very destructive parties and their nominees. Trump, the Republican nominee has had to weather the desertion of a number of Republican elites, especially from the security establishment who have hustled over to Clinton. This is because Trump sheds the aura of sophistication and high-minded democracy speech that corporate elites traditionally prefer. These Republican corporate elites have also been made nervous by Trump’s at least rhetorical critique of the trade pacts (NAFTA, the TPP) a critique that resonates with many among the white working poor who also then often hearken to Trump’s white racist and nationalist rhetoric.
The Democratic Party, with Hillary Clinton at its head, is also weak. At this writing she is one of the least popular of Democratic nominees in its history. Democrats themselves are reportedly “freaked out” by how poorly she polls against Donald Trump, sometimes a bit ahead of him, sometimes even with him, sometimes behind. If there ever was a time for populist political movements to “make their move” on the two party system, now should be the time. Hillary Clinton also goes into the Democratic National Convention with her own political platform attacked by contentious Sanders’ delegates on its platform committee. She faces a second-place finisher, Bernie Sanders, who in spite of his endorsement of Clinton is known to have chalked up 1,900 delegates who will remind the public of Clinton’s weakness in her primary campaign. They will remind viewers of the existing social movement(s) that supported Sanders, even though Sanders now seems to have set them aside.
Both parties and many voters are reportedly “unhappy with their nominees.” This then is a moment of vulnerability for both parties; a moment of possible change not just of personalities in power, but in the deep bedrock of political power structures in the U.S.
In this political moment, I would expect three phases of a popular movement to emerge for defeating Clintonian neoliberalism. Given history’s potential to surprise we must be ready for the unpredictable. The three phases I sketch below all overlap, and they feature dynamics that will run concurrently at many points. Still, there is a logic of progression that leads me to order them as I do below.
A first phase of protest, interruption and cries for justice and for a new order has already begun. Under the pressure of continuing dramatic evidence of racialized police violence – especially around the murders by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castille in Minneapolis, Minnesota – many cities across the country feature protests. These are not simply against the police but more importantly are crafted by various groups in Black Lives Matter movements (as in Chicago recently) as a comprehensive resistance to leaders and political structures that seem toothless in the face of a full-tilt breakdown of trust between communities of color and the police. These protests show every sign of rolling on toward the Republican and Democratic National Convention sites in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Because Trumpian authoritarianism and Clintonian neoliberalism are features of one coordinating and always interlacing mode of rule, both convention centers should become sites of creative mass mobilization and protest. Our movements need to build a sense of the people’s rejection of both candidates, of both standing parties and of most of the electoral processes as we know them today.
This phase of protest is no mere romance of “storming the barricades.” Maybe there will be such actions. Just as importantly, though, we will need to occupy with protest the ordinary spaces of our lives. We will be called to speak and take stands in our workplaces, in our homes and families, in our mosques, synagogues and churches – in the everyday sites we move in. As Michelle Alexander intoned in a moving recent essay, “something more is demanded of us now.”
I’m thinking of this “something more” not only as one who wants to be on the streets with our creative social movements, but also as a teacher who heads back into the classroom in the Fall. How will I break from “business as usual?” How will I throw open the doors to this new moment, to the forces of a changing political terrain that demands our protest, a creative refusal that defeats both Trump and Clintonian neoliberalism?
A second phase of organizing people’s assemblies will thus be crucial to creative moves through protests. These assemblies need to begin at least by the time of the DNC in Philadelphia. My dream, in fact – dare I propose it (someone surely already has) – is that the rage and dissatisfaction of those alienated by the repressive politics of both parties will walk out of the Democratic convention in the Comcast/Wells Fargo coliseum – and during prime-time TV coverage.
Sanders’ delegates and others disenchanted with Clinton should be invited out to meet the people in the streets and parks around the DNC arena. This means, I think, that we should be working now to find venue for mass assembly in Philadelphia – maybe with our own arena or coliseum, with our own independent media (fusing Democracy Now! Black Agenda Report, RT News, teleSUR, maybe even MoveOn to deploy its “Video lab” not just against Trump but against Clinton too). All these would challenge the mainstream media to cover another story, another party, this new assemblage: the people making a new political way.
To be sure these peoples’ assemblies should lift up local communities’ needs – from Philadelphia to Dallas, to Minneapolis, to Kansas City, Atlanta, Oakland and Baton Rouge. Nevertheless, in so doing, these assemblies need to be lifting up national visions for a new national order, alternative modes of forming national governance. The time is to dream and act big. The challenge is to assemble, and to steal the big political show. Take it away from the Trumps and Clintons, away from the RNC and the DNC.
A third phase will be that of building an alternative party from these assemblies. It must grow organically out of the previous two phases. Whether this is a full-formed party like a new “social democratic” party called for by Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, I do not know. Perhaps we need to think beyond the party form all together, at least as established in U.S. and European political histories.
The moral compass of this new instrument of power should take in the needs of all, especially the 99 percent. But the needle of our compass should continually point to the structural violence against the most vulnerable, those whom Cornel West has called “the unloved people” (West, The Radical King, 4) – those whom we followers of Jesus often call “the least of these”, i.e. the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, those without homes and usually as a result of institutionalized class repression, white racism and hetero-patriarchy.
In short, this new instrument of people’s power should focus on building an alternative party among those groups and movements built from and for the “least of these” – especially for the black, brown and poor who have suffered and led resistance among all the peoples. This instrument of power must hold accountable and strike fear into the heart of Clintonian neoliberalism and the hearts of the Trumpian authoritarianism that is both companion and foil for Clintonian neoliberalism.
The new instrument of people’s power might take over an existing party already on the electoral ballot and re-center it in a broader matrix of peoples’ movements today. The Green Party, for just one example, featuring now the candidacy of Jill Stein, might be embraced but supplemented by added candidates, coming say, from Socialist Alternative (perhaps Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant) or from movements that once supported Sanders (again, Cornel West has already left the Sanders supporters to join Stein of the Green Party).
The Green party has often not been ineffective in reaching out to radical grassroots movements. It has had trouble breaking from appearance as primarily about a “green” combat against environmental threats as they impact largely white communities. But even leading thinker of environmental movements today, Naomi Klein, calls for a full-tilt challenge to the U.S. corporate state, to its roots in European colonialism and to its white racist assumptions and structures (Klein, 72-3 and 314-15). Perhaps the Green Party can find its place – it needs to – within black radical movements and organizations, along with radicals from all the communities of color in the U.S. – Latinx, Arab and Asian American and more – and become part of a new fusion politics for subjugated peoples. Cornel West and YahNe Ndgo are set to address the Green Party convention in Houston this August. It is important to support this formation at present, and I do. But let us work for a thorough going political expansion of the Green Party, even while respecting its past contributions.
It may be premature, though, to settle deeply into only one party right now. If we endorse one or more now, we should also be ready to move and expand to other sites for achieving a politically emancipatory governance. As my colleague and former professor at Temple University Dr. Anthony Monteiro now wisely reminds us, it is time to listen to the people and to the movements, allowing them to unfold in their insurgency, perhaps producing a period of ungovernability. But I would add quickly that it is never too soon to start gathering, to plan, maybe to form alternative parties and institutions.
In the meantime, though, Trump’s demagoguery may indeed become a regime to repress our political struggle for this new day. But recall, Trumpian authoritarianism is closely intertwined with neoliberalism. If we are really effective in taking down Clinton and her neoliberalism we will also be taking down Trump’s authoritarianism. To repeat, Trump for all is talk is a neoliberal product. Bailed out of bankruptcies in classic neoliberal corporate style and relying on corporate moves typical of U.S. national elites to get him through his “hard times” – in all these ways Trump is himself one of Clintonian neoliberalism’s own offspring.
Are there risks in running hard against both Trump and Clinton? Are there things to be feared? Might Trump have his day – be a “price we have to pay?” Indeed yes perhaps. But, in Mumia’s words again, “So be it.” We’ll be on the way to defeating Clintonian neoliberalism which is the best way to take down any present or future Trump.
* Mark Lewis Taylor is Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, but expresses these political perspectives out of his distinctive research and activist commitments. Special thanks to colleagues who gave me feedback on this essay, especially to the numerous insightful conversations I have had with sociologist Dr. Anthony Monteiro formerly of Temple University and ongoing community educator and activist with the Black Radical Organizing Collective in Philadelphia who also commented on this writing. Special thanks also to Dr. Johanna Fernández, historian at Baruch College (CUNY) for some key edits and critical commentary that have improved this article. None of these are responsible for any missteps or limitations of my writing here. Both are colleagues in the struggle of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Campaign to Bring Mumia home and to fight for other U.S. political prisoners, too. Responses to this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond to them as I can within the changing circumstances of the current political moment.