Eight years ago, in the aftermath of a different American election, Maia and I were discussing the personality cult that was flourishing around Barack Obama. It was clear to both of us that Obama’s presidency would mean business as usual, in terms of both US foreign policy and its domestic politics. What would happen, we wondered, to all the people who’d invested their energy and time and resources into getting Obama elected? What would they do once they realized their new president didn’t live up to their expectations? Would they take all the new skills and experience and networks they’d built and put it into grassroots organising instead? Or would they be so jaded and disappointed that they’d give up on any possibility of a better world?
In hindsight, I’d say we were right. Obama never shut down Guantanamo Bay (which he’d promised to do), he was responsible for drone bombings of civilians in Yemen and Pakistan (among other places), under his administration police murders of Black people are terrifyingly common (over 100 dead in 2015 alone), whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning are incarcerated, and the Sioux of Standing Rock have faced horrific violence for defending their community’s water supply. As terrible as the USA, and the world, was while George W Bush was in power, Obama did very little to improve things.
Fortunately for humanity, all those people who’d fought so hard for Obama to become president didn’t give up, they did take their newfound skills and relationships and use them to build grassroots movements against racist police violence (Black Lives Matter) and colonial violence (Standing Rock). So that now that a man with a history of violence towards women, who campaigned on a platform of White supremacy and xenophobia, has been elected president of the most powerful country in the world, the base for organising resistance already exists.
In the last few weeks I’ve read dozens of thinkpieces on the US election. Everyone is trying to work out whom to blame. I’ve read people blaming the Democratic Party for not choosing Bernie Sanders as a candidate, which doesn’t make sense to me because I can’t see why anyone who’d vote for Sanders would vote for Trump over Clinton. I’ve read people blaming Jill Stein and the Green Party for taking votes away from Clinton, which also doesn’t make sense, because if people don’t vote for a candidate, the problem is the candidate, not the voters. I’ve read people blaming the people who didn’t vote, and again, the fact that so few eligible people voted is just an indication of how disillusioned people are with electoral democracy. I’ve read people blaming poor White people for being racist and ignorant, which I don’t buy because Trump has plenty of support from rich White people too. I’ve read people blaming leftists for failing to engage with poor White people, which I also don’t buy, because poor White people are not mindless victims of capitalism waiting for someone to enlighten them, and when they are racist they should be held responsible for it.
All this analysis is useful in as far as it might teach us lessons for the future. But right now the most urgent question isn’t ‘whose fault is this?’ it’s ‘what should we do now?’ That question is just as relevant to those of us living outside the USA, because we know that when it comes to foreign policy, the US leads and New Zealand and Australia follow (gotta secure those trade deals right?) and we’ve seen that far-right politicians like Pauline Hanson and Winston Peters are empowered by Trump’s victory, and so are neo-Nazi organisations, and regular everyday racists and homophobes.
It seems to me that Trump’s opponents fall into two camps: the people who think up to now everything’s been great, and it’s about to get really bad, and the people who think everything’s already really bad, and it’s about to get worse. Unsurprisingly I’m with the latter group. That’s why I don’t see this as a fight against Trump and his “alt-right” (ie Nazis who like memes) support base. I see it as an escalation of an ongoing fight against colonialism.
So now what do we do?
First off, we need to look after ourselves and each other. What we’re facing is not just a matter of waiting out four years until Americans elect a different president. This is a long-term struggle for justice and liberation. I understand the sense of urgency and the compulsion to throw yourself into political organising, but I’ve learned from experience that that’s a recipe for burnout. So give yourself time to live your life, to meet your material needs, to have fun, to do things that make life worth living—and don’t guilt trip others for doing the same.
Second up, I’ve read a lot of arguments about how we should give the new US regime a chance. That is the exact opposite of what anyone should do, in the US and outside its borders. Don’t build bridges with white supremacists, build bridges between the people white supremacists hate. Don’t give the far right a chance, don’t wait for them to do exactly what they’ve promised to do. Organise pre-emptively, before they have a chance to take away even more healthcare, education, housing, water, freedom, joy.
Don’t put your faith in political candidates. Remember all those people who worked to make Obama president? Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn would probably do a better job of leading a country than Donald Trump or Theresa May, but they’re still politicians, and politicians are opportunists. If they lose an election, you’ve lost all your groundwork. If they win, they will disappoint you. Put your energy into organising in your neighbourhood, your work, your school, your religious or ethnic community, your local groups, your cirlce of friends. Organise around your demands, not political candidates. It’s a much better use of your time and resources.
There’s been a terrifying trend lately towards blurring lines between the left and the far right (“red–brown alliances”) and Trump’s victory is probably gonna lead to more of this, because some leftists think the way to defeat him is to adopt his populist tactics. This would make sense if it were a sports game where the goal is to win. However, this is life, and the goal is to make the world a better place. Don’t avoid tackling racism, transphobia, and homophobia because you think it’ll alienate bigots. Don’t tolerate anti-Semitism and xenophobia in the interest of building a broad base. Don’t compromise your integrity.
Rather than appealing to populist bigotry, we ought to be starting at the root of the problem, and that is colonisation and White supremacy. It’s no coincidence that in the USA it’s Indigenous and Black people who are on the frontlines of the struggle for justice. They’re the ones who’ve been denied it the longest. Likewise, in Australia and New Zealand struggles for justice are led by Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islanders and Māori. That’s where organising against the far-right begins.
I know the temptation is to give in, dilute our demands, become more moderate, but that just constitutes conceding ground to the right. Instead of moving towards the centre, we should be pulling the centre to us. We need to be vocal in insisting that wanting a society and an economy where people’s needs are met is not an extreme position.
Finally, Jews in particularly need to organise together, because we’re about to get attacked from all sides: there are Jew-hating White supremacists gaining more and more positions of political power, there are hardline Zionists who will ally with anti-Semites when it’s in Israel’s interests, and there are those on the left who’ll happily throw us under the bus if it’s politically expedient. It’s becoming even more vital that we build alliances with Palestinians, with Muslims, with migrants and with Indigenous people to protect all of us against White supremacy.