Nearly all the discussion of Donald Trump since his election has centered on some variation of a claim of abnormality; that of his personage, his campaign and now his presidency. This approach lets the country off the hook and suggests that up until now things were more or less on the right track, especially after eight years of Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton would have been no victory and Trump is no aberration.
Trump is a logical extension of how politics are played out within the United States, though his views may not be as coherent as the predecessors’ on whose groundwork of slave trading, warmongering and white supremacy he now has come to stand. He isn’t even the first re-imaged pop cultural icon turned president; Busta Rymes calling him “Agent Orange” still comes after Ronald Reagan was dubbed “Bonzo’s substantial” by Gil Scott Heron.
No, Trump, far from some right-wing radical political detour, is the product of a largely routine and neoliberal/colonial political order and the response we need to develop is no different now than it was before he was imposed upon us.
Trump is like any product and comes as a culmination of a process deployed by a state looking to expose enemies while creating confusion, desperation and fear. Any tendency toward defining Trump as different or uncharacteristic of U.S. politics is a mistake. He remains a product of this country’s power structure — unchanged and sometimes characterized as the “Deep State” (intelligence agencies, military, corporate economic power, and the two-party system). They may not all like him, but he is theirs nonetheless.
Trump won the Presidency by steamrolling through the Republican party’s primary with help from the Democratic party that orchestrated the theft of its own primary to guarantee Hillary Clinton as their nominee, which they hoped would lead to a easy victory in November. Supporting the ascendance of Trump’s candidacy as a “Pied Piper” or straw opponent backfired, however. Further, it was a liberal and very mainstream society that had already made Trump a household name. Even a quick Wikipedia refresher reminds of just how much time we’ve spent being inundated with Trump by a media ecology that has long loved and provided him with mentions, references and appearances, assuring that he became a kind of ever-present and yet easily dismissed entity. Even before “The Apprentice,” Trump has had a sustained media presence. From comics, television and film references over the years to over 50 separate hip-hop mentions, Trump has been imposed on us to a point where as the famous German philosopher, sociologist, and composer Theodor Adorno stated, “recognition” and “like” become indistinguishable.
The nominal battle between Democrats and Republicans is simply the public, overt, electoral expression of struggles among the ruling elite for maintenance of society. It isn’t that there is a monolithic power structure, rather what we have here is one that seeks to hide its existence or diminish its observable impact. The godfather of modern public relations (i.e., propaganda), Edward Bernays, referred to this as the “invisible government” which rules by promoting only ranges of apparent options for soap, cars or politicians. Today, the more popular nomenclature is “Deep State” or the permanent apparatuses of power comprised primarily by the intelligence agencies, military and economic elite. This is, again, not to say there are no differences among these elite or their electoral political avatars Democrats and Republicans. It is, however, that those differences are magnified so as to appear as the obvious limits of what is possible. Absence of difference is easily recognized and challenged. Appearance of difference or limitations set on differences are more easily distilled via highly weaponized forms of media, messaging and symbol and are, therefore, harder to identify and combat.
From its inception, the three-branch republican form of government was imported to the U.S. specifically because of its protection against what the enslaver James Madison called the “wicked project” of democracy or the redistribution of land and the abolition of debt among the poor. From there, as Noam Chomsky has discussed extensively, voting and the idea of participation in governance has been merely seen as a mechanism of stifling dissent and resisting meaningful change. And while leaders are assassinated, exiled, imprisoned (to this very day), wars continue, poverty and inequality worsen, the environment crumbles and now a global 1 percent have more wealth than the rest of the planet combined, one party to the other has been in office each promising more than the other and delivering less. The apparatus used by Trump to now bomb Syria was put to just as much use by Obama to bomb Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.
But, rather than fear or misinterpretation of Trump’s origins, let’s consider calls from folks like Kali Akuno and Rosa Clemente that we become ungovernable and develop new formations that do not necessarily even involve electoral politics. Positions taken by Dhoruba bin-Wahad says that rather than be cowed by the election of Trump, we form a more aggressive national united front against fascism. Cynthia McKinney has argued for a “DemExit,” that we all break with all parties and become independent voters who organize in blocs to vote our interests, not a party. These are viable options provided there is an organized movement with accountable leadership whose goals are, to the extent possible, to use the concept of voting to galvanize and organize on a large scale while also challenging the contradictions inherent to electoral politics and the pursuit of political power.
This collective effort can be called The After Party. The phrase “after party” has always connoted an advance, a move to a new and better setting that will enhance previous efforts to party. What follows the abject failures of the two dominant parties? The After Party. But the goal, as I understand McKinney, would be to develop a front that operates more akin to how Malcolm X once described the Organization of Afro-American Unity’s approach to voting as stated in John Henrik Clarke’s, “Malcolm X: The Man and His Times.” “We [the OAAU] will start immediately a voter-registration drive to make an Independent voter; we propose to support and/or organize political clubs, to run Independent candidates for office, and to support any Afro-American already in office who answers to and is responsible to the Afro-American community.”
None of us has a singular sufficient solution. Electorally, we need new radical formations like the Ujima People’s Progress Party in Maryland, the first Black/Worker-led independent political party. But, we also need more offline organization building. These organizations must be led by principled and accountable leadership, no fight can be won absent such structures and nascent concepts of “leaderlessness” or being “leaderful” must be challenged and critiqued for their tendency toward instability, confusion and individual abuses of prominence. Remember, the primary causes resulting in incomplete revolutions by movements and organizations of the past were not ideology or flawed methods. They were crushed by the United States government, the most powerful state in human history and need only refinement and resolute, continued effort.
These efforts must also include more collective development of online/media space. We need more evolved and radical public spheres that can supplement, influence and encourage the efforts of offline and undisclosed organizational work. Too much of what we do is online and once there, disparate and easily negated by oppositional media that are far more prevalent and well-funded. World majority (Women, Black, Brown, working people, the poor) still have no news/media operation, no journalistic outlet forming its own core for radical movement makers. We still mostly all run to a variety of individual or independent outlets, most of whom are run, owned by and/or dominated by whites and liberals, particularly in the areas of news, journalism or political multimedia broadcasting.
As Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble an assistant professor in Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA teaches us, so much of our online work ends up funding or supporting the politics of U.S. government state agencies and elite commercial corporations. But, lets at least resist encouragements to seeing Trump as anything but what he is, another variant of the same horrific systems of power that continue to rule us all. Let’s borrow further from Busta Rhymes and have Everybody Rise!