Thursday, January 19, 2017

About #theresistance

There's a Twitter hashtag / meme / whatever: "#theresistance". At first glance it appears, mostly, to be a vehicle for ex-GOP current Dem people like Frum and Brock to continue to try to keep influential positions by making the alternative to Trump be a neocon one, using the techniques of manufactured outrage that doesn't go anywhere that they learned in the GOP.

But there are some people with similar ideas who are well-meaning and sincere. For instance, here is an article by B Sales-Lee: Keep Calm and Protect Democracy. It has the characteristic combination of two assumptions (or, in this case, what are presented as the professional judgements of a historian): 1) we're close to fascism, or at least close to authoritarian martial law; 2) we best prevent this in the short term by being calm and not breaking the rules. Further characteristics not present in the Sales-Lee article are that the goal of this resistance to fascism is implicitly or explicitly to put things back to how they were, back to "functioning democracy" and "functioning government" and generally back to the neoliberal order as it was under Obama, either because this is good in itself or because it is a lesser evil way station on the way to better things.

I have my doubts about whether Trump is really going to lead us to authoritarian martial law or fascism or however you'd like to describe it. He's a very unpopular and in many ways standard GOP politician, promising to do many of the things that Reagan promised and could not do. As Corey Robin has been writing, it's quite conceivable that plain political opposition will stop him. #theopposition doesn't have the glamour of #theresistance, of course.

But let's say he is. People are then taking the position that fascism is fast approaching and that we'd better be polite about it. This I just don't understand. It only works if you can get everyone to be polite, but of course you can't, so it predictably ends up with liberals as the "peace police": enforcing their standard of behavior on others and finally turning them in to the police or not supporting them when arrested in order to save us from fascism. (B. Sales-Lee, I should note, isn't a liberal, but rather a pacifist socialist.)

I really don't have a problem with the center-left saying that Trump is a very bad GOP pol and that we have to oppose him through normal political methods. There are always some people playing the "inside game" in politics, and that's their role. But if that's really what they are going to do, they should stop presenting themselves as resisting imminent fascism, because they aren't. Or if they do really think there's imminent fascism, then they have to recognize that this will in most people's minds demand actions that they aren't comfortable with. I think that a lot of the lower-level #theresistance talk is from people who are realizing that the Democratic party will not do even ordinary political opposition, so they are trying to ramp up expectations rhetorically.

There is one thing, though -- actual resistance is dangerous. I don't see why anyone should do it if the goal is to, explicitly or implicitly, return to the neoliberal order. That same order created the conditions that made Trump possible as a political leader in the first place, and if we return to it, those conditions will return and we'll get a worse Trump. An actual resistance has to be based around shared values that would not lead to a return to that order. Until people in the center-left are ready to treat the left as serious interlocutors rather than as encumbrances on the way towards putting everything back as it was, those shared values are impossible to work out.

ETA --

Tally of the day

3/4 of National Mall empty, in part due to checkpoint blockades

1 limo burned

1 Nazi leader punched (didn't want to embed the GIF, you can find it easily enough)

0 declarations of martial law


  1. A piece called "Keep Calm and Protect Democracy" which is one long panic of the "ZOMG fascism" and fails Godwin's law is self-contradicting. A prerequisite to any of this is some calm from the author.

    I'm seeing so much ZOMG stuff that it is self-defeating; there is so much noise that if anyone *did* find out something really exciting, I might not notice, because I've got so used to ignoring it all.

  2. Thanks, William. Yes, I substantially agree with you, but I should also mention that the author is presenting this view as informed by historical study of fascism, and therefore not Godwin's law because Godwin's law doesn't apply when you're talking about actual Nazis. The article is based around the idea that something like a Reichstag Fire really may occur. I'm skeptical, but in appeal-to-authority terms I'm not a historian.

    I will mention that as far as I do understand it historically, fascism succeeded because the vast middle, including the moderate left, is susceptible to appeals to public order. I think that not making claims that play into that is important.

  3. fascism is fast approaching and ... we'd better be polite about it

    It is a good line. I smiled.

    The call for protest and #theresistance seems reactionary to me and almost by definition the reactionary seeks a return to the status quo ante, but one more imagined than real. These center-left reactionaries -- the nice, well-intentioned obscure ones more than the cynical and more prominent practitioners of the dark arts of media manipulation -- go the arch-reactionary

  4. Bourbons one better: they learn nothing and remember nothing.

  5. Thanks, Bruce. I'm really not sure about your use of "reactionary" -- perhaps "reactive" -- since by convention progressive and reactionary are antonyms and attached to the left and right of the center, whether or not progressives actually want a return to a previous, idealized state (usually presented as a way station towards improvements). And not all protest is reactionary, of course: some people protest to try to push the situation towards a better one that they are working towards.

    So I prefer to talk in different terms about what the goal of protest or resistance is. If the liberal goal is a return to neoliberalism, then there is no left/liberal alliance. There may be protests near each other, both against Trump, but really they are working at cross purposes. People on the left have a variety of sayings about this, such as the one about liberals preferring to surrender to fascism rather than socialism. And really, historically, the reason that fascist movements succeed isn't that fascists overcome the middle, it's because the middle including the center-left would rather have public order than any of their ideals.