The awakening of mass protests against Donald Trump’s executive orders and appointments could become a real movement, but it must realize a critically important point: Trump is not the problem, the system is.
Trump is a symptom of a long-term trend of a failing democracy that is too closely tied to Wall Street and the war machine. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are part of this failed system that does not represent the people of the United States.
This week the Economist Intelligence Unit issued its ninth annual Democracy Index. In doing so the report described the decline of U.S. democracy as developing over decades. People have lost faith in the elected government with “political disaffection with the functioning of democracy.” They also describe Donald Trump as “being a beneficiary of the low esteem in which U.S. voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation.”
In short, the United States is in a crisis of Democracy and Donald Trump is a symptom of that crisis. To be an effective political movement we must see the crisis for what it is and focus on the root causes of failed democracy. Our movement should not be about Trump but about transformation of the United States.
Immigration prejudice has deep roots
We could go back to previous generations and more than 100 years of examples of the mixed views of the United States both being a nation of immigrants but also one that commonly mistreats and is prejudiced against immigrants. This prejudice has been seen in every recent president of the last several decades, as one said:
“All Americans … are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants … they use impose burdens on our taxpayers … our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders … by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens … we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace …”
This statement was from Bill Clinton’s State of the Union in 1995. Clinton was urging NAFTA at the time, which became law in 1996, and which undermined the Mexican economy by destroying its agricultural economy, forcing people into cities, lowering wages and requiring many of them to cross the border in order to survive. Perhaps Clinton saw this coming with NAFTA and tried to restrict the borders
And, as the United States’ never-ending wars of the 21st Century have created chaos around the world and mass refugees, especially in the Middle East and parts of Africa, presidents have sought to prevent those who are victims of U.S. destruction from coming to the United States where they could seek revenge for the destruction of their countries and deaths of family members and friends.
Donald Trump’s executive order stopping travel from seven Muslim nations built on a program enacted by President Obama. According to Trump’s executive order, the action applies to “countries designated pursuant to Division O, Title II, Section 203 of the 2016 consolidated Appropriations Act.” That refers to a 2015 act, signed into law by Obama concerning people who had visited Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security announced restrictions on travel from those same countries.
Similarly, the Trump announcement of a ban on refugees from Syria is very similar to a ban during the Obama era on people from Iraq. In 2011, Obama’s state department stopped processing Iraqi refugee requests for six months, though it didn’t disclose the policy like Trump did. It was not until ABC reported in 2013 that some potential Iraqi terrorists came into the United States that the policy was made public. Obama did not tweet about it or make a big display about the ban like Trump did. Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report points out that Trump is just a “less effective evil” than previous presidents because of the way he puts forward the same policies. While other presidents hide, or disguise their evil, Trump she writes does “just the opposite. He is openly evil…”
Let’s not forget
We should not have short memories and put all of our focus on Trump. It was during the Obama era that the revolt of the occupy occurred in 2011, three years into his time in office. The revolts against foreclosures, massive debt, particularly student debt, followed. Then came protests and strikes around the country demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage, and protests against the militarization and violence of police in black communities as well as protests against fossil fuel infrastructure, assaults on Indigenous rights, corporate trade agreements and more.
People were protesting not only because of Obama’s policies but against decades of bi-partisan rule for the rich that had created widespread poverty and high unemployment, stagnant wages and economic insecurity for most people in the U.S., unaffordable healthcare that made it too expensive to go to the doctor when someone was ill (problems that continue today under Obamacare), failing schools that were being corporatized and privatized as well as never-ending ongoing wars that made the nation less secure and created chaos around the world.
While 60 million people voted for Donald Trump in the hope that these trends would end; hoping they would gain economic security, healthcare that would be accessible and schools that would serve their children and that the U.S. would stop massive spending on war and militarism, the reality is, these trends and policies will continue.
As a movement, we must remember that when Trump acts, he is often following the path of previous presidents. This week the Trump administration may have put the U.S. on a path to war with Iran. National Security advisor, Michael Flynn drew a red line saying they were putting Iran “on notice” and the United States would not rule out an attack. Trump backed up Flynn in a tweet writing “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.” Iran did not violate any agreement by firing a medium range ballistic missile so the threat was based on nothing.
Before the Trump threat against Iran, Rep. Alcee Hastings introduced a resolution authorizing the use of the military to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Hastings is a close ally of Hillary Clinton and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. After Trump’s escalated rhetoric against Iran the neocons and bi-partisan war supporters started to push for more aggressive action against Iran. Trump may have started a cascade of war talk from both parties. As Pat Buchanan wrote by making a public threat it becomes very difficult for Trump or Iran to back down, making “a collision with Iran almost unavoidable, and a war with Iran quite possible.” It may be that organized popular opposition to an attack on Iran is our only hope of preventing it.
If military action occurs, let’s remember the U.S. has been in continuous war for almost all of this century and that Obama broke Bush’s record for bombs dropped with more than 100,000 compared to Bush’s 70,000. Further, let’s not forget General Wesley Clark’s report during the Bush administration that listed the seven nations the United States intended to destroy: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. All but Iran have been attacked, destroyed or made dysfunctional. In 2002 Al Gore said Iran needed to be at the top of the list when he endorsed George W. Bush’s war on terror and Iraq War in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Trump is a continuation of much of U.S. policy, not an aberration. This is so hard for people to see because Trump is less artful and less politic and therefore brings long-term problems out into the open.
We are all working to build a mass movement for economic, racial and environmental justice that is bigger than Donald Trump. As the extremist actions of the Trump administration are put in place we need to remember that extremism for the wealthy, for war and ignoring of environmental catastrophe is consistent with the actions of all recent presidents and the leadership of both corporate parties. Playing political ping-pong by electing a Democrat to replace the Republican will not confront the root cause of these problems. The issues of racism, anti-immigration and bigotry have even deeper histories in the U.S. The movement we need must be clear in understanding and politically educated enough to understand, Donald Trump is a symptom of a system that is in crisis; transforming that system is our task.
While we resist, we also need to promote a positive agenda of what we want to see, In addition to pushing for peace, another major issue is health care. The threatened repeal of the so-called Affordable Care Act has opened political space to organize and demand what the majority of people want and what works, a National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA). We launched HealthOverProfit.org this week to provide tools and actions to make NIMA the only politically viable solution. Please visit the Health Over Profit for Everyone website and consider getting involved.