And the counter-inauguration marches
The constitutional inauguration of disaster
It is impossible of course, to know what Chief Justice John G. Roberts was thinking when he administered the presidential oath to Donald Trump, particularly considering that Trump had publically called him a “dummy” and “an absolute disaster” after Roberts cast the deciding vote to save the Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). Ironically, two years later, the same “dummy” and “absolute disaster” was the person who American constitutional protocol had put in charge of legitimizing the newly elected president, himself no ‘dummy” but potentially leading most people of the nation to absolute disaster.
Yet, interesting as having a thought bubble over the head of others may be — President Trump’s included — for the time being it remains a useless and futile impossibility. It is more valuable, I believe, to organize our inquiry around themes such as: does the ascent of a new president alter in any substantial way the current distribution of wealth and power in American society in favor of the masses? Or, who do we think the main beneficiaries and the most negatively impacted will be (in terms of classes, and/or other economic, ethnic or racial groups) in four or eight years of a Trump-led Republican administration? But to be fair, we must push the questions even further. We must go back in time and ask practically the same questions of previous administrations: Which classes and groups have been the main beneficiaries, and which classes and groups have been most negatively impacted? (The reader should be free to go as far in time as he/she pleases ending in George Washington’s first presidency at the beginning of the republic).
We also must ask ourselves whether the distribution of wealth and power in American society (in all its material, cultural, and social forms, including human and civil rights) shows a historical tendency to concentrate in fewer hands, or a tendency to be equitably distributed among its population. To put it simply, an overview of the history of the nation, of which Donald Trump is the latest official protagonist, is no other than the narrative of a well-organized economic and social system – capitalism – which in spite of all its democratic gesturing, has proved to benefit not the majority of the people but a privileged minority.
Finally, we must ask ourselves what model of political government, and what style of presidential governance, has been used by the dominant class, or class fraction, to impose the hegemony of their interests. Generally speaking, it could be said that especially after 9-11, the last administrations, while keeping the appearances of the traditional American democracy at a rhetorical level, nonetheless, in the name of national security, displayed an increasing concentration of power in the hands of the state to the detriment of other democratic institutions and rights of citizens here and abroad. This has generated what is known as the “National Security State” model, which has been given its most current form by the past eight years of the Obama administration. The last electoral process clearly suggested a crisis in the traditional model of domination and control used by the dominant classes. This crisis was loud and evident within the interior of the two parties, represented by the figures of Donald Trump on the Republican side, and by Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. Historically, political science suggests that such crises have a tendency to be solved within the dominant classes through a move towards fascist forms of government in the traditional sense — such as in Italy, Germany, and Franco’s Spain — or to authoritarian models such as the one proposed by Donald Trump. The consolidation of dominant class interests into fascist or authoritarian forms of government is accompanied by the boycott and elimination of progressive forces such as Bernie Sanders’s political platform within the Democratic Party. Only this kind of historical-political reflection will allow us to understand Trump not as the incarnation of a bizarre political persona — which he is — but most importantly, as the continuation of capitalism under an openly authoritarian, maliciously racist, misogynist, and climate change denying capitalist leader.
Trump is easy to detest but that’s part of the problem
Initially, during his period as Donald Trump the candidate, and immediately after his presidential victory, Trump’s behavior precipitated a torrent of lamentations among liberals and parts of the progressive left. Much of this original criticism pointed to the questionable characteristic of Trump’s personality. However, this form of assessment fails at two levels. First, its inability to transcend the personal level neutralizes the political, that is, the capacity to generate a critical engagement with capitalism and its processes of control and domination via the state and its institutions. We must be aware that the traditional neoliberal model of domination implemented since Ronal Reagan and perpetuated until Obama’s last day in office is about to be altered in certain areas by a variant of a defiant right wing political discourse. Second, as noted by other political commentators, such personalized critique of the individual makes it easy to ignore the political roles and implications played by other individual or politicians with better personal traits. An example of this situation is the comparison between Trump and Obama, in which case, the apparent grace and civility of the former occludes a more serious appraisal of his administration’s support of a neoliberal economic model of domination nationally and internationally. This type of criticism, no matter how acute the personality disorders or merits of the subject may be, offers neither a program nor a solution to the institutional or social crisis facing the nation.
The world Trump inherits
First and foremost, Trump inherits a capitalist state with its economic, judiciary, and legislative systems already in place. He inherits the ideological and repressive apparatuses of the state. He inherits what Cornell West describes as “the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world.” The day after his inauguration, Trump also formally inherited an item not included or foreseen in the official will of the inauguration process. He inherited the Women’s Marches, one of the largest forms of popular discontent organized throughout the nation. Women, men, and children of all ages and from different ethnic origins, classes, religions, and political views marched united, city after city, from Anchorage, Alaska to Austin, Texas; from New York, Boston, and Washington DC to Chicago, and Minneapolis; from Seattle to Los Angeles and San Francisco, not to mention protests that took place in other parts of the world such as London, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Oslo, Madrid, Barcelona, Dublin, Tokyo, Sydney, and even Antarctica. No other president in American history has been the recipient of such rejection so early and so massively. No one hundred day honeymoon will be allowed. It appears as if a large segment of the American population has wakened not out of sleep but into an earlier dream, the dream of a better and egalitarian democratic society.
Even though the Women’s March at one level still contained elements of a personalized critique of Trump that neutralized the political in the terms described above, the counter-inauguration marches agglutinated a clear and strong message of protest and resistance in favor of radical feminism, LGBTQ issues, Black Lives Matter, environmental justice, defense of immigrants, and against Islamophobia. Its massive presence suggests the gestation of a new stage for the American progressive political imagination offering a fertile point of departure from which to connect with other political and economic narratives of capitalism and class struggle. Contrary to the traditional principles of inheritance, the Women’s March did not add but subtracted power right from the very beginning of Trump’s ominous administration.
America’s crisis of representation and Trump’s cacophony
The latest electoral process, its mode of organization and voting system, as well as Trump’s validation by the electoral college, is one of many proofs that there is very little reflected in the mirror of American democracy. Ironically, official public discourse portrays America as the ‘crib of democracy’ and as an example to be followed — in many occasions reinforced — by the rest of the world. However, within the context of the National Security State and the role played by big corporation through PACS and other forms of intervention, there is very little evidence of democratic processes within American institutions. In other words, there is a substantial distance between the reality experienced by many and the referential discourse of Washington. This lack of correspondence between facts and the represented world allows conservative politicians and intellectuals to ignore real existing social needs, including ‘inconvenient truths’ validated by science such as climate change, since these referents have essentially been erased from their perception of reality and consequently their vocabulary.
A government guided more by referential discourse rather than the reality experienced by people will be unable to fulfill its mission of representing. Evidence of the crisis of representation becomes visible when the written or spoken communication used by politicians and government officials consists only of catchwords or plain distortions of the facts. The two most recent examples of such instances — at the moment of this writing — were provided first, by Trump’s use of the word ‘patriotism’ during his inaugural speech, manipulating the concept as a blanket to occlude and neutralize serious needs and demands of popular sections of the American people and society who subsequently appear as ‘non-patriotic’ by the mere fact of sustaining their legitimate demands. It is worth remembering the words of Samuel Johnson, who back in 1775 pronounced patriotism as the ‘last refuge of the scoundrel.” The second example came the day after the inauguration through the vocal cords of Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer (from whom we will probably be hearing plenty of future official misrepresentations) who, reaching levels of distortion surprising even for Washington DC, lied at his first White House Conference while trying to cover the low attendance at Trump’s inauguration ceremony, claiming that “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration” in spite of photographic and DC Metro transportation evidence clearly showing the significant difference between Obama’s well-attended 2009 inauguration and Trump’s.
The Women’s Marches across the nation clearly marked a political counter- inauguration enacted by millions of American people. For the marchers, and all who support them, any distance between the referential discourse of discontent and the reality of lived experience was erased, in that moment, culminating in, if but for a moment, a sound rejection of the Trump administration and the policies it stands for. On the day of the march, the reflection in the mirror of American democracy ceased to be empty and instead reflected the image of ‘WE THE PEOPLE’, an image that most be expanded and maintained by all of us in future and continued actions.
Enrique Quintero was a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, then taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.