Opinion

Post-Trump Imperative: Fight to Keep Every Scrap of Progress We’ve Made

If we don’t unite, the radical reactionaries will keep winning.

By Crawford Kilian 20 Dec 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

Let’s get a grip, both in Canada and the U.S. In winning the presidential election, Donald Trump transformed the terms of political discourse for years, if not decades. Now the rest of us have to frame new terms of discourse, and act on them, or accept his.

I suggest we first of all drop the term “progressive.” If the 21st century has taught us anything, it’s that “progress” is a delusion, a painful dance of two steps forward, then one step back — sometimes many more than one.

We emerged from the carnage of the 20th century with one clear lesson: The greatest crime is to act on the belief that any given race, creed, class, religion, or nationality is the source of all evil and must be exterminated if good is to prevail.

If we had actually learned that lesson, this century would have been very different. Instead, bigotry’s targets have simply shifted: from Jews and communists to Muslims. Any number of American anti-Muslim websites could have been master classes in Nazi anti-Semitism. Arabs, Muslim and otherwise, driven from their homes by war have met the same response that 1930s Canada gave Germany’s Jewish refugees: “None is too many.”

Scores of millions died in the Second World War thanks to that attitude. Countries like Canada and the U.S. and Britain built new institutions like the United Nations to ensure such deaths would not be inflicted on their own children. Those institutions have failed to prevent further genocides and wars (some of those wars, like the Saudi war in Yemen, are conducted with arms purchased from us).

Bigotry never dies

Nations rise and fall, but cultures are near immortal. In the U.S., the racist bigotries developed over centuries were not killed by the Depression, the Second World War, and the brief postwar golden age. Defeated by the civil rights movement as they’d been defeated in the U.S. Civil War, the bigots went to ground. They emerged, with a shower and a haircut, to support Richard Nixon and later generations of Republicans.

Now, provoked by two terms of a black president who has done a pretty good job, those bigots ditched even lip service to the premises of American democracy. Wherever their supporters came from (and they weren’t all from forgotten Rust Belt towns), they wanted to take over the whole country the way they’d retaken the South after Reconstruction.

So now we have two factions in the U.S. The radical reactionaries elected Donald Trump. Everyone else is a conservative.

These conservatives, new and old, quarrel about a lot. But they agree on conserving democratic institutions and evidence-based argument. They still prefer to resolve their quarrels by debate, persuasion, and compromise.

The rise of radical fantasy

The radical reactionaries made their first grab for power with George W. Bush and the response to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, including the disastrous Afghan and Iraq wars. They thought the world could be run according to the wishes of whatever American was in power. The “reality-based” media and voters could just sit back and watch radical fantasy become the new reality — including happy, democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course nothing of the sort happened, but the reactionary radicals didn’t care. American voters had fallen for it once, and would fall for it again.

As Canadians to the left of the Conservatives know to their sorrow, the right will always try to divide and rule. Like true colonials, they take their cues from the nearest empire. We’ve already seen Conservatives like Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander test Trumpism in front of their followers.

So it’s up to Canadian Red Tories, Liberals and New Democrats to recognize the threat they face together, and unite to protect Canadian institutions like the supremacy of Parliament and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without them, we’re all at the mercy of radical reactionary opportunists.

Similarly, it’s up to American Democrats to build a new coalition with reasonable Republicans (many of them driven from their party by the radicals) to resist and break the radical reactionaries’ grip on the U.S.

In both countries, the coalitions should be like those in a wartime cabinet — temporary arrangements to get through an existential crisis. When the enemy is defeated, the coalitions can break up again and resume competing for power on democratic terms. Until then, routine partisanship only plays into the radical reactionaries’ hands, enabling a minority to exert dangerous leverage over the majority.

Does this sound like an extreme response to a neighbour’s election? Not in this case. With the alleged assistance of Russian hackers and American corporate media, Donald Trump has conducted two hostile takeovers: first of the Republican Party, and then of the country itself. His cabinet of billionaires shows us that the American one per cent have lost faith in their hired political help; they’re now going to rule directly, a plutocracy not even pretending to be democracy.

They will run into a lot of resistance from American institutions and citizens, but they’ll be aided by plenty of opportunists, both domestic and foreign. Anything that Canada does to get along with Trump will only strengthen him — and his Canadian fans eager to establish Trumpism here.

So the new Canadian coalition of Liberals, Red Tories and New Democrats needs to be a united front — civil to the U.S. plutocracy, but determined to resist both its influence and its bullying. We are likely to find eager allies in Europe, Latin America, and Asia — countries that will all need a friend in North America.

I still recall the words of Sergeant Williams on the firing range at Fort Ord, California, on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963. After he told us President Kennedy had been assassinated, he looked grimly around his stunned audience of basic trainees and said: “If anything comes out of this, you’re in for the duration.”

We are all in for the duration of Trumpism in America. “Progress” is a bad joke; we will now have to fight barehanded to conserve every social advance our parents and grandparents made for us since the Second World War.

If we fight instead for some trivial partisan advantage, the radical reactionaries of the plutocracy will beat us easily.  [Tyee]

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