After hailing down a cab blocks from John Jay College, the site of this year’s Left Forum, an annual convention for hard-core progressives, I tried to focus my attention on the weekend’s main theme: the anti-Trump “Resistance.”
As if to punctuate the message, organizers published thousands of programs with the cover art depicting a diverse group of Americans rallying behind a banner declaring “The Resistance” as they seemingly protested President Donald Trump’s presidency.
But a convention devoted primarily to oust Trump from office this was not. And if a mainstream Democrat walked through the doors of the college, they’d likely feel as out of place as the prototypical Republican.
For many liberals and Democrats, the antidote to Trump’s gloomy inauguration speech—“American carnage,” anyone?—was the historic Women’s March, which transformed town and city streets across the nation into pulsating waves of discontent.
The spirited uprising rightly served as the opening of the protest dams. Trump’s nascent administration, which some days borders on incompetence and others extreme disregard for Democratic ideals, has provoked near-daily demonstrations. Americans have decried his Muslim ban (and thus far, so have the courts), mass deportations, climate science denial, and the president’s unabashed assault on Obama-era policies—chief among these, the Affordable Care Act—as well as his attacks on the very federal departments established to safeguard the public. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, a Nixon creation, is now led by an unapologetic climate change denier.
It’s the so-called “Resistance” that mainstream Democrats have adopted as its own. What hadn’t occurred to me until it was articulated by various speakers at Left Forum, however, is that in its collective rebuke of Trump, the Resistance is unlikely to exact profound change, even if the movement successfully unites an often-splintered liberal base and Dems win control of either the House or Senate in 2018.
That’s because the system that gave us Trump—the very same that may one day contribute to his downfall—is itself part of an infected establishment, or as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges calls it, “the disease.” Trump is but a symptom, he diagnoses.
When demonstrators correctly challenge Trump’s systematic roundup of undocumented immigrants, what Democrats, blinded by their disgust for Trump forget—or worse, willfully ignore—was President Obama’s historic deportation of undocumented immigrants. When Trump demeans Muslims from other countries, what’s absent from the conversation is Obama’s seven wars across the Middle East and North Africa—which disproportionately harmed Muslims in those nations. When Trump bombed an airbase in Syria in retaliation for an alleged Syrian government-sponsored chemical attack on civilians, there was hardly a peep about how the U.S. Congress still has yet to authorize our military involvement there, further empowering the executive branch to wage open-ended warfare with near impunity. When the Resistance blasts Trump for attacking the press and antagonizing leakers, protesters and political pundits often fail to acknowledge Obama’s role in laying the groundwork, and literally writing the how-to-guide for eroding press freedoms by prosecuting reporters’ sources for espionage—essentially accusing them of being spies.
It’s early, of course, and Trump’s Justice Department has yet to criminally target any journalists, but if he so chooses to do so, he can thank Obama for establishing legal precedent. It was Obama’s DOJ, after all, that named a Fox News reporter a co-conspirator in a leak case and attempted to compel a New York Times reporter to reveal the identity of his source in the trial of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. And lest we forget, it was the same Obama DOJ that imprisoned award-winning journalist Barrett Brown as part of an investigation into a hack he played no role in. Brown initially faced more than 100 years in prison before the government dropped some dubious charges en route to a guilty plea.
While the Resistance in its most basic form represents a coalition of likeminded organizations determined to take on the president’s plutocracy, what becomes of its mission when Trump eventually leaves office? As we all know, lobbyists have successfully staged a corporate coup of America’s legislative bodies by literally writing the bills most beneficial to them, while the ultra-wealthy, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, have the power and the means to install their most obedient enablers into office.
Whoever succeeds Trump—Democrat or Republican—will inherit the very same system that at its core props up the most fortunate among us while allowing America’s social fabric to slowly fray, and ultimately disintegrate. America’s crumbling Middle Class—once the bellwether of the U.S. economy—began its deterioration long before Trump’s political emergence.
If this months-old movement truly wants to change the government, it need look no further than Occupy Wall Street, which at its core was a rebellion against the state and corporate control of democracy. Remember: The hundreds of demonstrators who claimed Zuccotti Park as their own did so when Obama was in office—a Democrat who promised change. The movement was not about resisting one man, but raising the middle finger to a corporate state emboldened by the most generous bank bailout in U.S. history. Meanwhile, those suffering the most from a recession caused by these very same banks later rescued when Democrats were the majority power in Congress, were left by the wayside. Parents saw their homes fall into foreclosure, while their children were being saddled with thousands of dollars in debilitating student loan debt.
Challenging an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant president posing as a populist is commendable. The Resistance needs to call him out, expose his lies and hypocrisy, and ensure their representatives speak out. But it’d be wise to acknowledge that the pursuit of a more empathetic and fair system of governance doesn’t end with Trump. It’s only the beginning.
The takeaway from Left Forum: If you’re only resisting Trump, then what are you truly resisting?