March Point

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Climate activists blocked the Red Gate entrance to Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump supporters, many in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, tried to push through but were repeatedly rebuffed. Some waved their passes and cited credentials, as if this would magically disperse the blockade. Then an angry man stepped forward and punched one of the activists (a young friend, Andrew) in the face. He quickly left, scorned and heckled; Andrew smiled and said “That’s not the first time I’ve been hit today.”

That might have justified fearful talk about Trump’s fascist base, yet they were in scant evidence compared to those protesting. Some  seemed bewildered by the numerous groups represented. I heard one guy say to his friend that this was the first time he’d seen actual communists. Others muttered “garbage” and “scumbags.” An older Trump fan asked me if I’d ever seen “so many losers.” I stared at him for a beat, looked at his red cap and replied, “No.”

While much of the Trump faithful looked like they came from central casting (especially the Bikers For Trump, who no one dared block), there were non-white people wearing Trump gear as well. Two Black men argued about one’s support for Trump, the other shaking his head in disbelief. “Are you crazy, man?!” he yelled. “Are you suicidal?!”

Despite it all, Trump was sworn in. I watched his inaugural address in a Capitol Hill bar filled with his supporters. They were oddly quiet as Trump bellowed, and looked down when a few of us openly jeered or laughed at Trump’s “promises.” Regardless of their candidate’s victory, D.C. is doubtless seen as foreign soil. Mocking Trump in a small town bar would probably elicit a different reaction.

The Women’s March the next day made the inaugural look like a county fair. (I was surprised that no food truck proprietor put out a sign that read, “Before you smash patriarchy, try our falafel!”) I’ve participated in many marches and demonstrations, but I can’t remember the last time I felt such passion and focused energy. Every street leading into the Capitol teemed with pink-clad humanity, opposition to Trump firm, faith in each other strong.

Not everyone shared the same anti-Trump perspective. Naturally, there were countless pro-Hillary signs and clothing (though not as many Bernie Sanders displays). This included references to Trump being Putin’s Puppet, hammer and sickle emphasizing the supposed connection; the FBI as the KGB; calls for Trump to be prosecuted for treason, and the rest of the DNC script.

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I’m not sure how to alter this mindset. Facts are essentially meaningless. Once liberals embrace a line, they tend to dig in and double down. It’s why many of them still bash Ralph Nader.

There were numerous young people for whom this was their first mass action. Most appeared content to chant, cheer, shout, and march. A segment peeled away and approached one of the White House gates. Secret Service police looked edgy as the crowd swelled and the chants grew louder. People began warning about possible pepper spray use. A sweet young man, maybe my son’s age, gulped wide-eyed and asked me, “Would they really use pepper spray?” I smiled back and said, “Yes, they would, so stay alert and be ready to run.”

He fought back his fear, waved his fist and chanted with the others. Whatever tension existed soon dissipated. A SWAT officer helped a man in a wheelchair negotiate the crowd, wished him well and gently patted his shoulder. Since there was no where else to go, people began moving away from the gate, fanning out among those still marching on the main streets, or streaming into overcrowded Metro stations. The mood remained buoyant throughout.

Everyone wonders what’s next. No doubt Trump will provide daily fuel for opposition, but in what direction that goes is anybody’s guess. Radicals and social democrats will try to expand on the Sanders model; mainstream liberals may seek another savior or beloved celebrity to guide them. The youth now politicized will hopefully deepen their engagement. There remain some rifts in what has the potential to be a powerful, political force. Simply being anti-Trump is not enough.

And what of working class people who support Trump? Liberals tend to write them off completely, while radicals look for economic common ground. As Trump inevitably screws over his followers, perhaps they’ll be open to real populist appeals. I have relatives and old friends who voted for Trump. Maybe that struggle begins at home.

(Photos: Laura Guyer)

Smooth Operator

Give Barack Obama this: he knows how to leave the stage.dropp

Commuting the prison sentences of Chelsea Manning and Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera ostensibly showed the Real Obama under the imperial cloak, the savior at whom eager progressives threw themselves in 2008. And who knows — maybe a genuine heart does beat in Obama’s chest. I’m sure that Manning and Rivera embraced the news regardless of true presidential intent. Take what you can get.

Manning’s commutation was especially ironic, given Obama’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers. It put liberals in an odd position, since many have been touting the CIA in reaction to Trump’s victory. Of course, liberal support for secret police is nothing new, and in this they’ve had a friend in Obama. How rich it is to see them scurry about, trying to wrap their partisan minds around Obama’s actions. Imperial decay does have its rewarding moments.

Now that he’s done, what do we make of Obama? If not for him, we probably would have experienced President Hillary, though if she lost to Trump, she might have lost to McCain/Palin as well. (With Hillary, it’s always a crap shoot.) So we can thank Obama for sparing us that.

On the whole, Obama was the perfect neoliberal president at the most opportune time. He steadied the imperial ship after the chaotic Bush/Cheney years, while keeping in place and expanding that administration’s commitment to surveillance and war (there was no way that Obama would ever close Guantánamo). His drone program, operating in at least seven countries, has been more forward-looking than the traditional boots on the ground approach. He bailed out the big banks and preserved Big Auto. His adoption of Mitt Romney’s version of health care produced mixed results, and is now (it seems) heading for the scrap heap.

For Democrats, Obama has largely been a disaster. Unlike the Clintons, who command loyalty and deference from party regulars, Obama didn’t really help down ticket candidates. The party remained in corporate centrist hands, beat back a populist challenge with whatever weapons they could grab, which resulted in the monumental embarrassment of losing to Donald Trump. With Obama leaving, these political geniuses have retrenched themselves, certain that they control the party’s destiny. They probably do, which should alarm Democrats, but it will take more than last November’s defeat for them to learn their lesson, assuming that ever happens.

When my three-chord polemic SAVAGE MULES was published in ’08, Obama-mania was at its height. This didn’t bode well for sales, even though I mentioned Obama only at book’s end. There was little chance that my critique of the Democrats would derail Obama’s campaign, but a number of liberals, from websites to bookstores, wanted nothing to do with it or me. (Glenn Greenwald, then at Salon, was one of the few in the media to honor his commitment to discussing MULES.) Still, I think I got it mostly right:

“Little wonder that Barack Obama’s rhetoric cast such a strong, hypnotic spell over [liberals]. His oratory was sweet music. Hillary simply spooked the room, putting everyone on edge. But Saint Obama spun much gentler yarns, elevating captive moods while keeping all in place. After the madness of the Bush years, Obama clearly seemed the most logical choice to manage the abattoir — smiling, waving, oiling his hammer gun, making sure that the conveyor belt’s running smoothly and efficiently.”

With Trump’s orange riot blowing into Washington, Obama looks better than ever, at least better than he should. He and his glamorous wife Michelle will be the toast of countless parties and benefits, earning millions while receiving praise for his sane, steady leadership. Unless Trump kills us all, that is.