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The Inauguration of Trump and the Early Opposition to Trumpism

CLG Exclusive: The Inauguration of Trump and the Early Opposition to Trumpism By Michael Rectenwald | 23 January 2017 |

I have been asked what I think about the protests and marches against the inauguration of Donald Trump, as well as what to say in response to liberals, leftists, women, feminists, trans* persons and others participating in them. This essay represents an answer to the question.

Let me explain: those asking are generally unsure of their position and balance in today's political landscape. While the ascension of Trump strikes many as quite ominous, those asking this are also very uncomfortable about the Trump opposition. That opposition seems coincidentally aligned with particular ruling interests and agencies, including the intelligence community, the political elite and their billionaire donors, and the corporatocracy – that is, many of the essential structural components of US worldwide dominance and domestic rule.

The fact is – despite the honest motives and real political objectives of participants – the contemporary left-liberal movement, inclusive of the Women's March on Washington, is being promoted and supported, financially and otherwise, by particular sectors of the ruling class – in particular the financial sectors inclusive of Wall Street and the banks, the dominant political sector, and the intelligence sector. These sectors are currently struggling to regain hegemony after a recent loss to the sectors that support Trump, which include the military and industrial bases. The prior sectors control most of the mainstream media and sponsored the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Most of the mainstream media are promulgating dissent and agitation against the recent realignments. And the mainstream media operate under the authority and direction of the same corporate and political masters who backed Clinton.

If you don't believe that sectors of the ruling elite are supporting and promoting the current dissent, consider the following question: Why was the biggest protest in world history ignored by the media? As a CLG's Lori Price, a participant-observer in the February 2003 anti-war protest, noted:

Over a million people in Manhattan alone marched against George W. Bush's impending invasion and occupation of Iraq. In the course of the NYC march, which was virtually blacked-out in the media, I witnessed a gaggle of reporters descend on a small counter-protest, consisting of approximately 200 people, apparently in order to record and air their views.

2003 Antiwar March, Manhattan

Many millions – in the US and throughout the world – marched against the impending Iraqi war. Why did the media largely ignore these much larger and arguably much more focused marches, while fetishizing a tiny number of pro-war marchers? And more to the point, why did these same media virtually hover over the Women's March in Washington? Clearly, the major media corporations are opposed to Trump. And so are the corporate capitals whose interests those media serve.

Mark Crispin Miller, a long-time friend and colleague at NYU, was recently called a "misogynist" for comparing the New York Times coverage of the Women's March to the relative lack of coverage of the February 2003 anti-war march in their own city of New York. Although I expect a similar backlash for this essay, such a response would be mistaken. Contrary to the "logic" of identity politics – that all statements can essentially be reduced to the identity of their speaker – it is not misogynist to state a fact – in this case, the fact that the Iraq war protests, while much larger than the Women's marches, were largely ignored by the mainstream media, while the Women's March enjoyed blanket coverage. Like nearly all SJW-based arguments, this is an ad hominem, and thus, invalid.

Occupy Wall Street activist and journalist Arun Gupta chastised others who have questioned the motives, politics, and class composition of the Women's March. Gupta wrote: "If you are not involved in social, political, or intellectual work directly related to building and strengthening organizing, and are still complaining about today, then you are a crank."

Lest I be numbered among such cranks, my response to Gupta is in part the following. (I won't deal with the obvious virtue-signaling and white-knighting of his callout): If you are involved in social, political and intellectual work that is propped up by the ruling-class sectors who sponsor the intentionally fractious, identity-politics-driven, Social-Justice-Warrior-inflected AstroTurfy anti-Trumpist movement that includes the Women's March on Washington and the like, then perhaps you are not a crank. But, be careful, lest you play the role of a dupe. This is not to erase the agency or intentionality of those involved in the protests and marches. But it is also not to ignore the blatant and undeniable fact of the socio-economic and political structures that can rightly be understood as producing and manipulating much of the Trump opposition, even while the opposition of the masses may have legitimacy in its own right. Contrary to the popular opinion on the Left, what we are witnessing and experiencing does not represent the re-emergence of a 1930s-like fascism opposed by some beleaguered and innocent liberalism. First as tragedy, then as farce.

As made evident in the DNC emails released by WikiLeaks, the notion of an innocent liberal order threatened by a belligerent, bigoted, misogynist, xenophobic, fascist and otherwise horrible emergent regime is based on disingenuous cherry-picking and utterly ignores the racism, bigotry and other foulness in their very midst. Jonathan Turley puts it as such:

What is striking to me is how many have forgotten what brought about this election. Hillary Clinton is now portrayed as a selfless feminist and progressive who was defeated by angry white men despite the fact that she did worse with women than the prior two elections and barely won the female vote. While Trump is (correctly) criticized for failing to turn over his tax records, it is forgotten that Clinton refused to turn over her Wall Street speeches. While Trump is (correctly) criticized for contradictions in the media, it is ignored that Clinton continually changed her account for such issues as her reckless use of a personal server or other accounts. That is why I was highly critical of both candidates.

Furthermore, figuring Trumpism and its opposition in such terms ignores the fact that the sides are not, as some would have it, working-class heroes versus ruling-class-supporting dopes but rather one ruling-class contingent and its mass supporters versus another ruling-class contingent and its mass supporters. The "innocent liberalism" represented by the organized Trump opposition is a thin scrim masking the voracious will to power of a ruling-class faction – of finance capital, mass media, the political elite, and the corporatocracy. And these "innocent liberals" (I am writing now of the media mouthpieces and their masters in particular, but not exclusive of their supporters who echo their epithets) aim to tarnish another faction by calling them "fascists." They also aim to figure anyone who doesn't buy into their figuration of the political situation as misogynist, reactionary, or even alt-right.

But, contrary to this facile understanding, the turmoil, disorientation, and surreality of the contemporary political moment are some of the effects of a division and struggle within the ruling sectors. We are sensing the tremors of a heaven-quake, caused by an Olympian civil war within the ruling class. Likewise, the dissent within the US today is not entirely unlike that of the CIA-fomented Arab Spring, only taking place within our borders. The only question is just how far it will go.

Michael Rectenwald is a Professor in Global Liberal Studies at New York University. He is the author of Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), primary editor of Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age (De Gruyter, 2015), and primary author of Academic Writing, Real World Topics (Broadview Press, 2015). His essays have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including the British Journal for the History of Science, Endevour, and George Eliot in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Follow him on Twitter at @TheAntiPCProf.

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