Talk about days that will live in infamy. On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the United States of America – after years of corrupt, establishment, insider politicians enriching themselves at ordinary workers’ expense – decided it had enough. Voters pushed a self-destruct button called Donald Trump and now the entire world is at the mercy of the most reactionary, incompetent, dishonest person ever to run for the presidency. With a Republican-controlled Congress at his back and only a small cadre of committed progressives to block him, the damage Trump could do is impossible to guess at.
When Trump swaggered into the presidential race, the first thing he did was align himself against a specific ethnic group. Throughout the campaign he continued to paint with a broad brush about Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and others. He was always confident even when he was clearly clueless. While the press gave him billions of dollars in free advertising, he alleged that they and the entire political system were against him. He styled himself as a self-sacrificing martyr, which is how Orwell viewed Hitler.
Despite Trump having every opportunity imaginable handed to him since birth, he was able to connect with Americans’ feelings of falling behind, of being unwilling participants in a system that ignores them. And he was able to do so in large part because it’s true. The system doesn’t represent the American people. It represents corporate interests. But voters weren’t bothered that Trump is a literal corporate personification, the very thing that has made their lives miserable. He fed America the right rhetoric and America took his bait.
Whatever happens next, it will be pretty scary. Hatred of others fueled much of Trump’s campaign. That hate isn’t going anywhere. It certainly isn’t leaving Trump, whose neurotic revenge fantasies now swirl in the head of the most powerful man on earth. Will his presidency focus on getting even with his opponents – perhaps even imprisoning Hillary Clinton – or will it be a strong push for the most ultra-right, racist, nationalistic platform in American history?
How seriously Trump takes his own policy positions has been a matter of long debate. Like Clinton, he has taken just about every position on just about every issue. But even a man with the severe cognitive limitations of Trump is surely more fully-formed after an experience like this. And the issues he has been most clear on are where there is the most room for worry.
First and foremost, the environment will take a severe hit, one that will probably put human civilization past the tipping point on climate change. Trump is a huge fan of oil companies. His biggest problem with the Iraq War is that the United States didn’t steal the country’s oil. Trump has said, “How good they are, the great oil companies? They’ll rebuild that sucker [refineries] brand new. And I’ll take the oil.” Trump will side with Big Oil in the destruction of federally protected lands, in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in cases where communities try to ban fracking.
Trump’s plan to pillage Middle East oil fields is piracy of a kind that would make a Viking blush. It’s also a supreme war crime, as are his plans to murder civilians and begin using even more barbaric forms of torture than waterboarding. Needless to say, all these policies – apart from their extreme, inherent immorality – will give rise to ever-increasing numbers of terrorists who will jeopardize American lives. That is, so long as Trump doesn’t wipe the Middle East out entirely with nukes, as he’s suggested he might.
Other arenas are just as likely to suffer. Trump has promised to repeal Obamacare and with Republican backing he very likely will, throwing tens of millions of Americans off their insurance plans. He has campaigned as a law-and-order candidate with the intention of implementing nationwide stop-and-frisk; there is now nothing to stop him from finalizing America’s transformation into a police state. And a woman’s right to choose whether she carries a fertilized egg to term, already under severe threat from Republican governors and the Congress, may be finally revoked.
A couple slim silver linings do exist. Though he has focused on it less and less, infrastructure repair was a cornerstone of Trump’s primary campaign. This is something America badly needs. And if his isolationism can be believed – difficult given his stances on torture, bombing “the shit out of them,” and nuclear weapons – it might be wonderful for America to sit out a few wars and trade deals. But there is little source for optimism. The likelihood is that President Trump will leave this nation a withered husk.
What makes the Trump presidency such a crushing defeat is that the organized left can do so little to stop it. Under a Clinton administration, pressure from grassroots organizers could conceivably be exerted. Such pressure compelled President Obama to come around on gay marriage, for instance. But with a Republican Congress and a conservative Supreme Court, there are no formal checks on the power of Donald Trump. Organizers will be met with the harshest state violence yet experienced. Without Washington allies, they will only get more to protest.
The energy of the left must now be transferred to actual nonviolent resistance. Activists will have to spend their time locking arms around the homes of immigrants so they can’t be deported. They will have to stand with the Sioux in North Dakota, and stand together to protect federal lands, in far greater numbers. There’s a strong chance they’ll have to protest the imprisonment of Trump’s critics. Millions will have to quit their jobs and absorb the violence from Trump’s militarized goon squads.
One doesn’t wish to oppose a democratically elected president before he has even taken office. But this president-elect has already declared war on the American people. He has promised to enact intolerable setbacks to the compassion and empathy activists have struggled to introduce to political and social life. His entire campaign has been one of antagonism, and his presidency will surely be met with antagonists. The only question is whether it will be enough with Trump enjoying the full force of Congress, the Supreme Court, and Republican governors behind him.