Two problems with the liberal response to Trump’s victory

1. “Don’t worry, it’s only four years. We’ve lived through worse.”

A whole lot can happen in four years. This year alone, at least 353 POC have been shot and killed by police. Since Tuesday, there has been a nationwide string of racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic physical attacks which are a direct result of Trump’s election. While heteronormative, white, christian, american men might be (MIGHT BE) as physically safe as they were last week, the rest of us are faced with an increase in the abuses we’ve been facing for centuries.

The attitude that we can wait this out and it’ll be better next time would make sense if our favorite American Idol contestant had lost. And it’s easy to fall into the American Idol attitude if, like many people, your political life is limited to TV and the internet. Politics becomes an abstraction, a theory, an entertainment. Wins are symbolic, emotional wins. Losses are symbolic, emotional losses. But for people who have been and will continue to be victimized by the State, particularly its latest incarnation, politics is physical. We don’t have the privilege of compartmentalizing politics, or of waiting four years for someone who better represents us. Our politics sometimes involve TV and Facebook, yes, but they CONSTANTLY and ACTIVELY involve our bodies. On the street, at work, at the store, at a bar, we are constantly in a political situation because our bodies are constantly and unavoidably being subjected to oppressive power.

So when someone says, “We’ll be okay in four years,” I hear, ” What difference do a few Queer bodies make? A few Black bodies? A few female bodies? A few immigrant bodies? A few Muslim bodies? WE’LL be okay in four years.” Many of us are not okay, and will not be in four years unless there is organized action.

There’s nothing wrong with looking to the future; it’s important to maintain hope. But hope is only useful because it motivates action. Otherwise it becomes acquiescence. And those who could otherwise wait it out must take part if this action is to succeed. Politics must become physical for everyone. I hope we will do our best to make sure it is.

2. “Love Trumps Hate”

There was a beautiful, symbolic protest at the capitol building in Albany. Signs, chants, the megaphone passing around. I think we all felt safe, and got a much needed chance to gather and speak our minds at the end of a hellish week.

At one point a self-identified Black, Native, Queer person took the mic and spoke passionately about the legitimacy of righteous anger. They said that the oppressed should feel justified to use whatever means necessary to liberate themselves. It was a truly heartening thing to hear. Immediately after, a white woman took the mic and said, “I disagree.” She said that anger has no place, that we need to remain calm and nonviolent. She said that’s there are angry, non-peaceful people, and then there are “good people.”

Mental clarity is useful. Development of compassion is unspeakably important. No truly radical movement has ever existed without an immense well of courageous love to sustain it. However, cultivating compassion and open-mindedness is meaningless unless it leads to action. I will not protect my friends simply by feeling love for them or their attacker. Immediately following the election I heard endless calls to remember our “oneness,” and not to add to the anger and divisiveness that the election represented. Posts reminding me to find inner peace, that I should respond to violence with tenderness and a deepening of pacifism. Shockingly, I’ve seen people insist that we not refer to Donald Trump’s history of sexual assault because this kind of “insult” only encourages hatred.

Immediately, some of the more problematic aspects of 1960s counterculture are brought to mind. But let’s remember that the Vietnam War didn’t end because John and Yoko stayed in bed. It ended because the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) refused to stop fighting, repeatedly putting their bodies in danger and sacrificing them, single-mindedly seeking a successful revolution. Closer to home, the Queer Liberation Movement was burgeoning. Despite the narrative preferred by the State and the co-opted Gay Rights Movement, that struggle was not passive. Whatever success Queer Liberation has had was a result of compassionate people, mostly trans women of color, engaging in physical confrontation with police at the risk of death and imprisonment. I would see it as a disservice to those women to take a purely pacifist position.

Of course, it would be wrong to insist that everyone take the risks that the Stonewall activists took. However, if we sit in a position of privileged safety and tell a threatened and oppressed group not to resist by whatever means necessary, we are collaborating with the oppressor. The idea that peaceful resistance is the only effective resistance is a myth propagated by oppressors. An abuser will not stop being abusive because his victim loves him.
However, rest assured that if I decide to use force to protect myself or my friends, it will be out of love. I can understand my attacker AND hit back. I can feel compassion and rage at the same time.

Here’s the thing, straight white liberals: You fucked up. You lost. Your solutions are no longer acceptable. So now it’s time to listen to the people you and your conservative cousins have marginalized. If you can’t help then at least get out of the way.

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9 comments

  1. So when someone says, “We’ll be okay in four years,” I hear, ” What difference do a few Queer bodies make? A few Black bodies? A few female bodies? A few immigrant bodies? A few Muslim bodies? WE’LL be okay in four years.” Many of us are not okay, and will not be in four years unless there is organized action.

    This is true. But it’s also true that people who think Trump is a radical break with history forget that under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria were already suffering and dying.

    White people in the United States need to learn that everybody’s lives matter (and not in the way those hypocritical racists in the “All Lives Matter” movement mean). But everybody in the United States who think his life “matters” (including and especially including black people who supported Hillary) needs to realize that an Iraqi life or a Pashtun (or a Chilean or a Vietnamese) life is worth as much as an American life.

    It’s important, not only because it’s morally right, but because it will prevent the resistance to Trump from being coopted by the Democrats the way it did during the Bush years. In 2002 and 2003, the protests against the invasion of Iraq were radical, anti-imperialist. By 2005, people were only counting dead American soldiers and not Iraqis at all. It was no longer “No Blood for Oil.” It was “Support the Troops. Bring them Home.”

    As for those liberals who want to normalize Trump, I have no use for them.

    1. Jonah moberg · · Reply

      I totally agree. was keeping a limited scope here, but I could write another piece about how any US prez can’t be anything but an imperialist monster. This was a vent piece, not intended to be totally comprehensive. Also, at the moment, domestic hate crimes and systemic violence could be stopped with community support and direct action. Drone strikes, probably not. I will try to include transnational tragedies in the future tho.

      1. Also, at the moment, domestic hate crimes and systemic violence could be stopped with community support and direct action.

        Stopping systematic violence would require dismantling the police, not just more training or body cameras, something I don’t think even Black Lives Matter has called for. We need radical solutions, not just a return of the Democrats or band aids.

        p.s. I think ending drone strikes abroad might in fact be easier than dismantling the police in the USA. I don’t know a lot of people (not even liberals) who are in favor of them. But you’d be amazed at how even radicals who know how to sound all the right cultural notes value their property and their upscale neighborhoods (and get nervous at the idea of getting rid of the cops).

        1. Jonah moberg · · Reply

          I said “direct action”, not reform. I don’t think of direct acton or community support as liberal band aids, i think they’re necessary tools for a radical resistance.

          1. Police repression is probably going to get worse under Trump, if only because local police departments can now be 100% certain that the federal government won’t intervene against them. Sadly, under Obama, they could only be 99% certain that the federal government wouldn’t intervene against them.

            I don’t know how much Obama is going to regret bailing out Wall Street. I do think that some part of him will regret not putting the Ferguson Police Department under federal control. That might have sent a message to the rest of the country’s local police departments that they should use more restraint. But I guess that’s water under the bridge, since Trump probably would have repealed any moves he could have taken anyway.

            I also think it’s important to remember the connections between the war on terror, Iraq, and local police repression. That military grade hardware the cops rolled out in Ferguson and at Standing Rock was brought to you courtesy of 9/11 and the ongoing wars overseas.

            There are times when I almost think sometimes that *some* POC and other marginalized groups in the USA (especially the ones that supported Hillary) want me (a white male) to first declare them as “more important than those Iraqis” before I declare people overseas important, that such a declaration would somehow amount to my checking my privilege. That’s not a litmus test I’m willing to take, let alone pass.

            Trump is going to be a disaster for anybody in the United States who isn’t a straight white male (and even for many people who are). But I also think that overseas he’s pretty much going to be George W. Bush on steroids. Right now, a lot of those neocon war criminals who supported Bush (and who supported Hillary) are gathering around Trump, mainly because they know he’s an easily controlled lightweight. James Woolsey as his National Security Adviser means a hardcore turn towards Israel and a repeal of the Iran Peace Treaty.

            1. Jonah moberg · · Reply

              this isn’t a conversation i’m willing to have right now. however: supporting marginalized groups in the US is simply not equivalent to dismissing the international effects of US imperialism. From the beginning of BLM its leadership has been advocating for international victims. I think you should deeply reexamine your position in relation to current liberation movements.

              1. however: supporting marginalized groups in the US is simply not equivalent to dismissing the international effects of US imperialism

                Nobody said it was. In fact, if you don’t address US imperialism, you can’t support marginalized groups in the US. So if you’re “not willing to have this conversation” than you’re not really willing to support “marginalized groups in the USA.”

                In fact, many of these “marginalized groups in the USA” are only in the USA because of American imperialism abroad. The largest group of Latinos in Elizabeth, NJ (where I live) are Salvadorans, who came to New Jersey in the 1980s to get away from US funded death squads. Add to them those Hondurans who now live in the most violent country in the world because of the coup Hillary supported, and you have another group that’s threatened by Trump. If they get deported, many of them die.

                Like it or not, you can’t be anti-police violence in the USA without being anti-imperialist. The idea you can is liberal misdirection as bad as the idea that we should “understand and forgive Trump voters.”

  2. Jonah moberg · · Reply

    Okay. Last night I was unwilling to continue this conversation because I was busy, and because I was tired. I was busy working on some things which, if things go well, will contribute materially to the destabilization of imperialism. Now I’m at work, and instead of doing my job I’ll respond to you.
    I don’t think anything in the piece suggests that I support US imperialism. I apologise for not being more clear and comprehensive.
    I think a lot of things you’ve said so far are rooted in and support racist imperialism. That’s not intended as a personal insult, just an observation. More than once you specifically criticized Black activists for, to summarize you, prioritizing their own liberation. First of all I think the generalizations you made are racist. Second, I think you should read the platform published by the Movement for Black Lives. If I remember correctly it’s explicity anti-imperialist and does recommend that local police forces dissolve. Third, the recommendation that the Federal Gov’t take over the Ferguson PD is excplicity imperialist.
    Finally, I think you’ve read a lot of things into what I wrote that aren’t there. Never did I dismiss the connections between intra- and international oppression, nor did I advocate for and liberal or democratic reforms. I’m not sure where those criticism came from. Now, if I don’t continue this discussion it isn’t because I’m not concerned about this subject matter, it’s because I don’t think this is going anywhere and I have more constructive things to do.

    1. 1.) If criticizing Black Lives Matter and their largely passive (although sometimes explicit) support for Clinton is racist, than I guess I’m a racist. The program you refer to was published well after Clinton got the nomination and their leaders got fellowships at Yale and corporate sponsored speaking tours.

      2.) I will absolutely continue to criticize people who are “marginalized” in the United States but who ignore the drones falling on people much poorer than themselves.

      3.) I brought up Obama’s federalizing the Ferguson police only because this is a discussion of what the President can or cannot do about police repression. If you consider that “imperialist” so be it. Trump may be bad. But the current round of police repression has a lot to do with Obama’s failure to intervene. So what will actually be different about Trump? That he’ll set some kind of “tone” that’s different from Obama’s? The cops don’t give a fuck.

      Feel free to respond or not. I honestly don’t care. But I will continue to feel free to comment on these myopic identitarian takes on Trump. If “straight white men” blew it on Trump (and they did by voting for him) then everybody blew it by ignoring Obama’s continuing wars in the Middle East and lack of action on police repression at home.

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