Akeel Bilgrami on fascism and the ‘movement vacuum’

Kunal Shankar interviews Akeel Bilgrami in Frontline:

Spontaneous protests broke out across the country, for example, the protest right after the visa ban on seven Muslim countries, or the Women’s March in Washington. Is that not a healthy sign?

Fl17_int_bilgrami__3138555gSome things are obvious. Trump is a combination of a xenophobe, a racist, a misogynist, and, I suppose, as we have been witnessing in his pronouncements, something of an idiot. So, of course, people are understandably shocked and dismayed and the protests are most heartening. The deeper issues, however, are not about how terrible Trump is, but about why he got elected in the first place. What does his election signify about the electorate’s instincts and dissatisfactions? Everyone knows that his constituency is the working population. And I suppose that from the point of the view of the Left, it looks like a classic case of false consciousness—I mean to expect a Trump-led government to address these dissatisfactions. But, you should also remember that there was an even more classic form of false consciousness when the African-American population voted in far larger numbers for Hillary Clinton rather than Sanders. That was sheer identity politics dominating over material interests. Sanders would have done much more for working and workless blacks than Hillary Clinton. Don’t forget that Bill Clinton signed an infamous Bill that took away welfare provisions from the blacks. And Hillary Clinton subscribes to exactly the same economic ideology. It is true that the Clintons are not racist in the social sense, but from the material point of view, Sanders’ economic policies were much more in their interests. Sanders honourably refused to play identity politics and he paid the price for it. If African-Americans had voted in large numbers for Sanders, he would have won the primaries.

Here is my worry about the reaction to the Trump victory today. The hand-wringing and the hysteria about his election and post-election pronouncements, though perfectly understandable and justified—since he is monstrous on a whole range of issues—nevertheless may have the effect of giving the impression that there was some real intrinsic merit to the political establishment that Hillary Clinton represents. That would be complacent. My own view is that it should go without saying that Hillary Clinton would have been better than Trump, but if it goes without saying, then don’t say it. Because to keep saying it may give rise to the complacence that the political establishment in the U.S. has intrinsic merit.

More here.