Why We Should Be In the Streets

by Akim Reinhardt

Credit, CBS NewsDonald Trump is not a fascist. He’s far too stupid to be a fascist, or to coherently advocate for any complex national political doctrine, evil or otherwise. He is, however, a would-be tin pot dictator. And his largely failed but still very dangerous attempts to establish himself as a right wing autocrat need to be countered, not just by opposition politicians and the press, but also by responsible citizens.

It has been the case for a while now that the proper reaction to Trump’s presidency is frequent public protest. As responsible citizens, we need to engage in not just one or two massive protests per year, but rather in a steady diet of public protests that sends a strong, clear message to the body politic: We the people reject Donald Trump’s would be totalitarianism. That while his very limited abilities and profound incompetence may prove to be our saving grace, it is not enough to quietly accept his likely ultimate and embarrassing failure as reasonable consolation. Instead we must make certain that the power elite in government, corporations, and the media understand our collective revulsion at and resistance to Trump’s failing autocracy. Here are the reasons why.

Democrats Winning the House Is Not Nearly Enough
I am not a registered Democrat, never have been, and almost certainly never will be. I have very little faith that the Democratic Party will bring about any substantive progressive changes for the nation in my lifetime, and have absolutely no faith whatsoever that any party led by desiccated centrists such as Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi can, or even wants to, foment fundamental changes to the nation’s economic and political systems. Nevertheless, last Tuesday’s Democratic victories created an important impediment to Donald Trump’s corrupt agenda.

Backed by a Republican dominated Congress, until now Trump has been limited only by his own staggering incompetence. Democratic control of the House of Representatives will provide an important bulwark against his would-be despotism. A split Congress will dispel any serious legislative agenda Trump might dream up while stuffing himself with McDonald’s Happy Meals and staring slack-jawed at Fox News. A thwarted, frustrated Trump will likely reveal himself to be little more than a red-faced brat, yelling and stomping about like Rumpelstiltskin. But this is not enough.

With Republicans in firm control of the Senate, Trump will continue to pack the federal courts with Conservative judges, among whom will be a quotient of hacks and extremists. He will also use his bully pulpit to continually degrade republican and democratic (small r and d) norms, and to advance his racist/sexist world view. And there isn’t a goddamned thing House Democrats can do about it. It is up to responsible citizens to counter Trump in the public sphere, and to re-calibrate public discourse and expectations. The best way to do that is through frequent public protests.

Democrats Winning the House is Dangerously Not Enough
The aforementioned Pelosi/Schumer-led Party of Clintonian/Obaman Centrism, aka the Party of Corporations that Supposedly Aren’t as Bad as Some Other Corporations, aka the Party of Mildly Objecting and Politely Declining, aka the Party of Extreme Method Acting Commitment to Acting Normal When Things Are Clearly Not Normal, aka The Same Old Gang of Donkeys Plus a Tiny Smattering of Sandersnista Rebels, cannot be counted upon to have much of a spine. Democrats have shown time and time again that, left to their own devices, their instinct is to quietly demure.

Quite alarmingly, this Party of Shrugs and Disappointments is all we have at the moment. Here in 2018, as we face down our own cartoon Mussolini, we are represented by a chamber of Neville Chamberlains. It’s not good enough. The Democrats must be firmly shaken, awakened from their endless slumber, and forced to finally reconcile with their base; a base not ideally united around issues of economics, race, gender, or sexuality, but realistically united around a nauseating disgust of and opposition to Donald Trump. The same Donald Trump who not only seeks to move us backwards on issues of class, race, gender, and sexuality, but also poses a potent threat to the very democratic and republican (again, small r and d) ideals that empower our society to move forward on these and many other issues.

In short, before this Democratic Party can adequately defend us, we must bring it to heel. And to do that, we must frequently, publicly protest. Democratic politicians must feel the breath of our voices so that they can finally learn which way the wind blows.

The Press Is Not Enough
A fun parlor game among the literati is to debate which book offers up more prescient vision of the dystopian future: George Orwell’s 1984 (originally published in 1949) or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (originally published in 1932). During the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Blair-Obama era of runaway neoliberalism, it was fashionable to suggest that Huxley’s seductive totalitarian state of perverted science and empty pleasures was more accurate than Orwell’s brutal totalitarianism.

Then Donald Trump got elected and 1984 returned to the best seller’s list.

The truth, however, is that on some level the debate is a false dichotomy. While on the surface Orwell and Huxley seem to be describing very different dystopian societies, the basic similarities of 1984 and Brave New World are profound. Both books describe a futuristic government that has established near total control over its population. And in each book, the underlying principle making this possible is a populace that has come to accept its totalitarian society as normal. Whether it’s the grotesque hammer of 1984 or the state promoted sex, drugs, and eugenics of Brave New World, the bedrock underpinning state horrors is the normalization of those horrors. Most citizens simply accept everything as normal. And so it is no coincidence that each book revolves around a character who tries to resist, only to meet ultimate failure. In the end, each protagonist is not only ruined, but the totalitarian government successfully coopts him, turning him into an object lesson that reinforces the normalization of totalitarian horrors. Thus, both Huxley and Orwell offer the same basic warning: Whatever its particular style, totalitarianism’s ultimate success comes when the subject population accepts totalitarianism as normal.

And here we are, two years after the 2016 election, with a mainstream press that continues to normalize Donald Trump.

Never mind the right wing propaganda machines like Fox News and AM talk radio that continually exalt the Great Leader. Far more damaging in some ways are the responsible newspapers, magazines, and tv and radio stations that continue to treat Trump like a “normal” president.

Yes, the press is striving, under difficult circumstances, to maintain professional standards. And that’s very important. But at times it seems the they are quite concerned about their own big picture while not addressing the nation’s big picture. The result is a general journalistic tendency to continue respecting the presidency even as Trump relentlessly degrades it. To fretfully parse “misstatements” from “lies,” and carefully and calmly document each one instead of critiquing the great danger that comes from a president who, as a course of habit, actively disregards and even attacks facts. In a broader sense, the mainstream press by and large is only willing to report on the status of individual trees without offering much serious reportage about the changing forest. And that, as much as anything, enables society to eventually accept the new forest as normal.

As citizens in a free society, we often rely on a free press to outline and report on serious challenges and threats to civil society. But given the shortcomings of the fourth estate during these unusual times, that task has become the primary responsibility of the citizenry. Under more normal circumstances, vocal citizen complaints and critiques are important for reigning in modest dangers. Under current circumstances, vocal citizen complaints and critiques in the form of public protests are absolutely vital to reject the new norm. Frequent demonstrations will do what the press has thus far failed to accomplish: firmly establish in the popular culture the fantastic abnormality of Donald Trump’s wannabe totalitarian presidency.

In short, Donald Trump frequently says and does outrageous things, and the mainstream press seems unwilling or unable to effectively combat this.  And so his outrage must be met with our own.

Do Not Fear Alienating Moderates
Pragmatic moderates often profit from the same radical rhetoric and activities they so bitterly complain about. Even as they chide radicals for being unrealistic and for alienating potential allies, moderates make gains by appearing more attractive than the radical alternative. We could have a lively debate about the merits and demerits of moderate concerns over, and attacks on, radicalism. But that wouldn’t be very timely. Because this is clearly not an era of moderation.

In times of extremism, the center collapses. And in today’s United States, the center has fallen away. That’s a difficult reality for moderates to accept, but right now many of them are quietly barking up a dead tree. So you can quite reasonably ask if frequently taking to the streets will alienate potential moderate allies in the Republican Party, but it’s a silly question. Because there currently are no potential moderate allies in the Republican Party.

For the past quarter-century, the Republican Party has been slowly morphing into a bastion of extremism. The underdog election of Donald Trump hastened that transformation. Today’s Republican Party is a roster of right wing extremists and center-right moderates who must pretend to be extremists or be bullied out of office by a rabid primary electorate. Reaching out to them will be appropriate in due course, but is rather counterproductive right now when the only remaining form of effective Republicanism is right wing extremism. The only proper response is a radical response.

Sustained public protests are not normal. But neither is the Republican Party’s hyper partisanship. We must meet their extremism with our own, lest theirs become the norm. Responsible citizens should not be concerned that radical action, such as frequent public protest, will alienate potential allies on the other side of the aisle, because right now there are no potential allies on the other side of the aisle. Moderate ideology has been expunged from today’s GOP, and there remains no moderate core with which to build a centrist coalition. What’s more, in this Trumpist moment, moderate responses bent on political alliance with Republicans are not only fruitless, they are dangerous, because they contribute to the normalization of Donald Trump.

Defeat a Republican Party That Wants to Win At All Costs
The Republican Party is dedicated to winning at all costs. That does not mean Democrats are angels. Far from it. For example, both parties engage in unrepentant gerrymandering whenever they can, thereby effectively disenfranchising chunks of the opposition. A pox on both these houses. However, Republicans are now engaging in a far more devious and direct forms of voter suppression, as witnessed in last Tuesday’s elections. They also routinely engage in forms of political action that until recently were considered well beyond the norm of healthy U.S. governance. The year-long submarining of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination is just one potent example.

In short, the Republican Party has cast the nation’s interests as secondary to its own quest for power. Too many Republicans see themselves as the only legitimate Americans, boasting the only legitimate “American” concerns and goals. And their de-legitimizing of opposition concerns becomes their excuse for attacks on our republican (small r) government and society.

The proper response is clear. If Republicans are willing to disrupt responsible, compromise-driven politics, responsible citizens must be willing to disrupt civil affairs.

In Sum
Today’s Republican Party is a danger and a threat to American republicanism and democracy. In attempting to counter that threat, we cannot rely entirely on the timid, centrist Democratic Party or the somewhat myopic mainstream press. They mean well, but they are limited institutions. Rather, it is time for responsible citizens to stand up, literally and metaphorically, to would-be dictator Donald Trump and his corrupt party of enablists. We must do so with a sustained agenda of public protest.

We should be in the streets.

Akim Reinhardt’s website is ThePublicProfessor.com