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Pussy hats, Black Lives Matter and Black Bloc: How to build power to counter Trump — America’s dictator in the making

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The surprise of inauguration weekend was not Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency. Anyone who thinks he will still pivot from his vision of a degenerate America that only he, the great leader, can redeem must be huffing his orange spray tan.

The surprise of the weekend is the multi-faceted opposition that’s emerged to his presidency. On inauguration day, activists peacefully blocked six of 14 entrances to the parade route and Black Bloc anarchists torched a limousine, smashed windows, and battled riot cops. Saturday witnessed Women’s Marches around the country, and world, that rank as some of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. This includes one in Washington, D.C., that topped 500,000 people, and which crowd scientists estimated drew three times as many attendees as Trump’s inauguration.

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The Women’s March was inspiring for its energy and breadth of participation that more accurately represents the many faces of America than Trump’s white nationalist movement.

The peaceful blockades received little media attention despite the fact Trump supporters instigated violence, according to eyewitnesses. One participant, Jamie McCallum, says, “We were attacked, pushed, insulted, spit on, and assaulted while the cops watched. But not a single person got past our line of nonviolent blockaders.”

A Black Bloc of 500 anti-capitalists damaged less property than a random drone strike, but it garnered widespread coverage and condemnation. There is much to criticize about smashy-smashy tactics, just from a self-interested position. Federal prosecutors are charging 217 arrested protesters with felony riot, which carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine as much as $250,000.

After the weekend there is a sense of a huge movement afoot against Trump. Signs and chants at the Women’s March spoke of resistance, appealed to patriotism (“Dissent is patriotic”), the power of voting, Trump’s illegitimacy, ridicule of Trump (his hair, hands, penis, and intelligence), self-affirmation (“strong women,” “nasty women”). Many slogans were blasts from the past, such as, “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” “My body, my choice,” and most tellingly, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

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The genuine hope is tempered by this extraordinarily dangerous moment in history that demands new approaches. Shaming, protesting, investigating corruption, even suing and trying to prosecute Trump and his underlings won’t work. Trump came to power on a narrow base, and his inaugural speech was a declaration that he has no interest in expanding it. A Trump administration will seek to destroy anyone who directly opposes him and try to cow anyone who doesn’t bow down to him.

Republicans in Congress will not impeach Trump, and while they may have differences with him, they agree on supersizing voter suppression against Black, brown, and poor people. This makes voting Trump out of office highly uncertain. With control of the three branches and most state governments, the Trump White House will expand mass disenfranchisement swiftly with few institutional obstacles.

The only realistic path is counter-power. This involves massive non-cooperation—peaceful strikes, blockades, boycotts, takeovers, occupations. Ending Trumpism may require protests on the scale and militancy of the Arab Spring. Movements will need the courage, resources, and social base to defend themselves against the state and vigilante violence Trump will unleash the moment he feels truly threatened, like any other strongman.

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Trump is not a dictator, but his actions, ideology, and agenda show that is his intent. It’s necessary to understand how we got to this point to put an end to it and prevent another authoritarian regime from rising again.

This story begins with Richard Nixon era and the key figures of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld whose government tenure spans Nixon to George W. Bush.

Joseph Lowndes, professor of political science at the University of Oregon, says, “Cheney and Rumsfeld felt Watergate weakened the presidency and under Bush they put forward the unitary executive theory of not just enforcing laws but interpreting laws.” This was the concept used after the September 11 attacks to act dictatorially in detaining, imprisoning, and torturing suspects without due process, launching a global “war on terror,” and engaging in warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ phone calls and emails.

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When Obama entered office, he keep those powers intact. He did try, and fail, to close the American gulag in Guantanamo. But his administration expanded presidential powers as well. It carried out and asserted the right to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process, expanded drone wars, continued surveillance of Americans, and increased sharing of that data. Obama has turned over to Trump an NSA trove of data that includes “more than 850 billion phone and internet records and contains the unfiltered private information of millions of Americans.” The Trump administration can mine that data to persecute any perceived enemy.

The final link in the chain is Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon. The Alt-Right propagandist has gone dark now that he is at Trump’s elbow inside the Oval Office, but Bannon reportedly co-wrote the inauguration speech fit for a Sith Lord. It described a corrupted, crumbling Republic that can be saved only by “total allegiance to the United States of America.” That means total allegiance to Trump, who unveiled his dictatorial ambitions in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination, “I alone can fix it.”

The other co-author of the inaugural speech was another senior Trump advisor, Stephen Miller. Politico described a Miller speech last summer:

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“The point, as Miller would lay it out in Dallas and has laid out countless times before, is that there is a vast conspiracy that blurs together all wings of the American political spectrum in its quest to keep the American masses down. ‘That’s what this all comes down to,’ Miller said, picking up steam and poking the air with his index finger. ‘Everybody who stands against Donald Trump are the people who have been running the country into the ground, who have been controlling the levers of power. They’re the people who are responsible for our open borders, for our shrinking middle class, for our terrible trade deals.’ His voice stiffly added decibels. ‘Everything that is wrong with this country today, the people who are opposed to Donald Trump are responsible for!’”

Simply put, the Trump administration is initiating all-out war against any progressive functions of government, civil liberties, women’s rights, voting rights, science, the media, labor unions, social movements, progressives and the left. Trump’s braintrust sees them as responsible for everything wrong in America, and therefore they must be wiped out.

Lowndes argues, “Bannon is looking to Dick Cheney to say we are going to use this unitary executive power as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.” This is far more dangerous than Nixon or even George W. Bush. Lowndes says, “Nixon was hemmed in by strong institutions like the Supreme Court, Congress, and the Fourth Estate, but now they lack public legitimacy and suffer internal dysfunction. With Trump there’s very few institutional brakes on him and his clique has internal coherence and power.” Not longer after Bush had control of Congress, in 2003, his ambitions bogged down in the Iraq quagmire.

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What does this mean for trying to stop Trump? Resistance will have limited effect against the legal and police forces Trump has. He doesn’t care about public perception, the media, or legitimacy. Trump blew up the entire system during his march to power, why should he care about its norms now that he controls all the levers? Ridicule may be satisfying, but it is counterproductive because Trump encourages his supporters to see him as their avenging angel for a lifetime of perceived grievances. As such, ridicule only strengthens that bond.

Any discussion of the Constitution or corruption is irrelevant. It’s absurd to think a Republican House will vote to charge Trump with articles of impeachment and then two-thirds of a Republican-controlled Senate will vote to impeach.

Electoral politics are necessary, but are secondary. Organized labor and progressives should bird-dog Democrats, to demand they obstruct Trump’s policies without mercy, as outlined in the Indivisible Guide. But they lack the billionaires and media outlets to primary Democrats as the Tea Party had in their battles with establishment Republicans. Electoral politics will have maximum efficacy in urban areas where unions and progressives can build principled power against Trump. This will likely entail clashes with the Clinton, Obama, and Chuck Schumer wing of the Democratic Party that is more inclined to capitulate to Trump than pursue white-knuckled brinksmanship.

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The best strategy is counter-power. Because Trump is in the mold of a Third World autocrat, state force can only be confronted by popular force in the streets. But this means unions, liberals and leftists will all have to address their respective failures.

Unions need to return to educating, politicizing, and organizing workers instead of acting as ATMs and get-out-the-vote machines for Democrats. They have little choice in any case. With a national right-to-work law or court ruling set to happen in the next two years, union coffers will be drained, and to survive they will have to organize workers into democratic and militant class movements rather than telling them to vote for Wall Street Democrats.

As for the left, the legions of activists who whine but don’t organize or educate need to STFU. Social media leftists who attacked the Women’s March for a lack of radicalism fail to realize that is not the marchers’ fault; it’s the left’s failure to build a popular alternative to bankrupt liberalism.

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Lowndes sees the Women’s Marches as a step forward. “Millions of people were in the streets who were never there before. The act of protesting changes you. They see the weakness of the Democratic Party. You realize the Clintons and Obamas are not going to take care of you. You are on your own.”

Liberal groups that jumped on the Women’s March like MoveOn, the National Action Network, and NOW will try to shunt that energy into the Democrats. If that happens, any opposition to Trumpism will be co-opted and neutered, as happened to Iraq antiwar movement and immigrant-rights movement from a decade ago.

Even if Trump goes up in flames and voter suppression can’t save him from being a one-term president, electing a pro-war, corporate Democrat like Cory Booker, could lead to someone even worse than Trump. Since the 1960s, each party has moved to the right in lockstep. It’s now so bad Trump will make the post-9/11 Bush presidency look like an age of reason.

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Liberals need to understand that supporting pro-war, pro-cop, pro-Wall Street Democrats does not appease the right, it only leaves room for the GOP to go farther right. There is no middle ground any more. The Clintonian strategy of corporate free trade deals and working-class support just blew up in everyone’s face. There are only two paths: embracing fascism tighter or adopting redistributive economics and politics, which is the only way to justly resolve global inequality, wars, and climate change.

History shows that the radical left has always been the spearhead of opposition to right-wing and fascistic forces. The radical left was front and center in the struggles against European fascism, anti-colonial revolutions, toppling dictators in the Global South, and organizing against Klan terror, various wars, and for the Civil Rights movement.

But the left needs to address its failures. It is prone to moralizing and lecturing rather than patiently winning people over to a radical analysis through action and organizing. Leftists need to stop making people feel guilty if they say something un-P.C. or stupid if they don’t know academic jargon. In a world defined by capitalism, working-class politics is the only way to build broad movements. But this means understanding how class is lived across race, gender, and sexual orientation, and rejecting any pandering to the bigotry of Trump voters. It will also involve organization and organizing, systematically reaching out to people who don’t agree with you rather than falling back on protesting, mobilizing the already committed, and elections.

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Just as significant, Black Bloc tactics are largely a dead-end. Smashing Starbucks and Bank of America windows does not hurt capital. And it’s not an issue of the corporate media using it to demonize protests. Having walked around in the aftermath of numerous Black Bloc actions, I’ve found the overwhelming majority of protesters oppose it, and low-wage workers in business districts, almost always people of color, are alienated and even frightened by tactics that make no sense to them. The Black Bloc undemocratically takes political space others create. The type of Black-Bloc tactics on display at the inauguration were anti-political and anti-worker. Just because a Nazi like Richard Spencer got clocked in the face by a Black Bloc anarchist does not lend an aura of righteousness to the generalized folly, as some believe.

One labor organizer who watched the battles between the Black Bloc and riot cops during the inauguration says, “This is different than Europe. A general strike might result in extensive property destruction. Plenty of workers aren’t happy about it, particularly if their car gets torched. But they understand it. The strike has a clear point, it has mass participation, not a few hundred anarchists, and they are trying to achieve a strategic goal, such as forcing a change in policy or change in government. None of that is present with the Black Bloc.”

But there is a role for disciplined, organized, and intelligent self-defense given the violence Trump will unleash. There will be, at times, a need for militant confrontation with the police. But that such be used rarely and democratically decided, not left to the anarchic and unaccountable free-for-all of Black Blocs. At two protests last year in Portland witnessed by the Raw Story that included elements of the Black Bloc, one included an undercover cop and another saw a pissed-off Black protester unmask a window-smashing anarchist who is a despised local troublemaker.

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And self-defense is far more important. On inauguration day, an anarchist organizer was shot and nearly killed at a protest outside a University of Washington talk by neo-fascist Milo Yiannopoulos. The police failed to nab the perpetrator, who eventually turned himself in. But he was released merely by claiming “self-defense.” That is one sign that many police side with Trumpism and are eager to carry out his repression.

At the top of cops’ enemies list is Black Lives Matter, a peaceful movement. (The two shooters who gunned down eight police over the summer had no affiliation with Black Lives Matter, and organizers quickly condemned the killings.) Lowndes argues all you need to know about Trump’s agenda is his nomination of Jeff Sessions to U.S. Attorney General. “Sessions nomination doesn’t just point to massive voter suppression, it raises the possibility of Black Lives Matter activists being prosecuted under RICO or domestic terrorism statutes.”

This will be the tip of the iceberg of widespread repression against entire communities and movements. If support sags among his base, Trump will likely resort to mass deportations, Islamophobia, and violence so as to distract them.

Stopping Trump’s repression will require broad social power. If the movements that protested the inauguration remain isolated from each other, any hope of defeating Trumpism will be for naught. At best, it will result in electing a right-wing Democrat who legitimizes the even more horrendous Republican next time.

Building a movement to demolish Trumpism and bring to fruition a vision founded on justice and equality not fear and division, will need to unify Pussy Hats, Black Lives Matter, the Climate Justice movement, and Native, LGBTQ, and immigrant-rights activists with anarchists and socialists. It will need to build organization and power in cities, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods, and act militantly and strategically. It means turning the slogan of “behaving badly” into action. And it means deploying popular power to remove a tyrant and eradicate the disease that caused it. History shows it’s the only strategy that has ever worked.

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Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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