What is the first thing that Leftists and concerned citizens should be doing, in the wake of Trump? The first step among today’s activists should be the same as the first step as drug addicts: awareness of the problem and acceptance of its seriousness. We need to acknowledge that there are major structural problems in our societies, and that all of us are enmeshed in them, regardless of who we vote for, what zip code we live in, or what we shop for.
We can start by not reacting emotionally, by not organizing protests simply to make us feel better. We can resist better by being calm, rational, and patient: reflecting on where we are as a culture, and how our blood-soaked history of capitalism and imperialism brought us here. Rather than reacting out of anger or sadness, serious activists should take a step back, reflect on the hydra-like nature of capitalism and how their own lives have become ensnared by it, and begin to organize for the long game, beyond the legitimate grievances against Trump.
We can continue the fight by acknowledging our own complicity as US citizens in the ongoing global bloodbath: we use gas, oil, and coal far beyond our basic needs; we pay taxes which pay for the weapons of death our government wields against weak, defenseless nations. Between Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other not-so-covert operations worldwide, our country is directly responsible for tens of millions of deaths worldwide since WWII, not to mention the countless plants and animals killed from deadly toxins and resource extraction such as indiscriminant and unnecessary pesticide and herbicide use, nuclear radiation, DDT, Agent Orange, strip mining, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, and many, many more disgusting acts of cruelty against the planet and our fellow man. In short, the US has become the fourth Reich, with a truly hegemonic, global reach.
A dignified silence, a brief respite to ignore the ignoble Trump administration, could work wonders: imagine if the mainstream media took a few days or a week not reporting on Trump’s every breath and actually reported real issues, such as the fact that the UN is sounding the alarm about the worst famine crisis since World War Two.
It is mainstream culture that has embraced who Trump is and what he stands for. It was our media that slavishly and mind-numbingly normalized Trump’s dangerous, irrational, and sociopathic behavior. The US political system, with its tentacles entangled in the endless distraction of state primaries, using discriminatory policies against third parties, controlled by corporate conglomerates and lobbyists, with public discourse replaced by sensationalist, headline-seeking yellow journalism and sound bites, has denied us the soil in which democracy can grow.
Citizens have been reduced to spectators in elections, where every state is a contest, a trivial competition to be won for Team Red or Blue. There is very little mention that elections exist not just for parties to gain power, taxes to be apportioned, and for our representatives to pass necessary legislation, but that informed and spirited public debate is the well-spring of democracy, where novel ideas can take root and flourish. Yet capitalist exploitation, whether of Team Red or Team Blue variety, continues to prevent people and communities from redesigning their lives and redefining progress to allow for a peaceful, egalitarian way of life.
Let’s take one recent example of the miseducation of liberals. Mainstream Democratic supporters still prattle on uselessly about possible Russian involvement in the election, although the likelihood is very low. What they fail to understand is that interfering is exactly what governments and foreign intelligence agencies are designed to do: meddle in other’s affairs abroad, gather and keep secrets for blackmail and leverage over other countries, steal technology and military techniques, use black propaganda to shape national perceptions, etc. Never mind the innocuous pretensions to gathering information for “national security”. The CIA has murderously overthrown dozens of governments since WWII: please see William Blum’s Killing Hope for details.
Instead, we should call for a ban on all intelligence agencies, and for that matter, all nuclear weapons and energy, and all standing armies worldwide: killing is killing, no matter who is doing it, governments or terrorists. The dark arts which the intelligence communities specialize in are kept secret not to keep adversaries guessing about the sources and methods used, but because, exposed to the light of day, the public would never accept such outright, barbaric depravity.
This will require citizens and activists to look beyond our own borders, to see the levels and layers of devastation capitalism has reaped around the world. It will require us to understand that no country can stand alone, that all of our actions are interconnected, and that many of the products we use are ripped from the Earth’s body without any recompense, without any acknowledgment of the grievous injuries we cause. It will require people to learn about the civil war in South Sudan which is driven by famine, of state repression in Lhasa, to learn about the Kings of Corruption in Argentina and Brazil.
Only an internationalist Left can begin to work towards fighting global warming, deforestation, ethnic wars, and desertification of the planet. Countries using xenophobia and nativism as their raison d’etre simply can’t develop enough solidarity for the many pressing crises of the 21st century. This can only be done by enlarging a sense of care in our communities to include protection for peoples of all nations, plant and animal life, and future human generations. To survive, we must develop a Planetary Vision.
If the past year has taught us anything, it is that now, after the initial shocks of Brexit and Trump, we simply don’t have as much time as we previously thought we had. The pace of the unraveling is picking up, and Western governments are continuing to hollow out our social services and environmental regulations against the will of the people, all the while convincing the populace that their interests lie solely in provincial, domestic affairs, with little to no sympathy for international disasters, wars, droughts, etc.
As the pace of social disorientation continues to pick up, we have foolishly deepened our addictions to social media and our screen times, if only to shield us from the rising tides of inequality and social injustice. Digital technologies should be reevaluated as means to the ends of diminishing human suffering and increasing the planetary knowledge base, instead of ends in themselves, becoming the mass distractions of our age.
It’s quite late in the evening for capitalist governments. Their demise is in many ways overdue, but most people in the West haven’t learned to look down yet. Proper political reflection requires this, an unblinking, unflinching gaze at the carnage caused by our culture’s complicity and acquiescence towards industrialism, free-market ideology, and globalization. The mega- corporations, the federal government, and our military-industrial complex are not our friends.
The industrialized capitalist nations are headed for a cataclysm, and the worst shockwaves will fall upon the smaller, developing nations. Can Western activists, concerned citizens, and academics look down, get off their treadmills, go beyond their specialized niches, lecture circuits, and unite to form a global Left?
Once we collectively accept responsibility for the sorry state of our union, we can begin the healing process. The first step is always the hardest, but we can’t avoid the facts: our childlike dependency and unquestioning loyalty towards our corporate and political leaders must be broken, starting now.