What’s wrong with protesting the Trump Inauguration?

by Paul Nave

If you think there is something slightly odd about protesting the result of an election, you are not alone. The result of the election may not be what you desired – but whoever heard of protesting because the majority did not vote for what you wanted? Undeterred, some left parties are pressing ahead organising a protest against the inauguration of US President Elect Donald Trump on January 20, 2017. This may well be the biggest strategic blunder in many years.

Firstly, for working people and those who see themselves as progressive politically, it is necessary to understand how Donald Trump won and why. It is difficult not to conclude that Trump won because he offered something different to the same old Obama/Clinton legacy of devastation, abandonment, war, unemployment, the collapse of social services, the hollowing out of entire cities, towns and neighbourhoods, the skyrocketing cost of living and so on. It may well be that Trump will not be able to implement any of his “Make America Great Again” slogan, or will not come through with his airy promise to bring back jobs. But, at least as far as the US electorate was concerned, he promised something. Clinton and the Democrats were barely promising anything. The US people read this to mean that Clinton and the Democrats were going to persist with an intolerable situation. That was enough for the US electorate, or the ones who did vote, to cast a vote for Trump. And who can blame them?

Those left parties who are organising a protest against the Trump inauguration should take note of at least one factor: like it or not, large sections of the US working class support Trump. They may be misguided in doing so, but on the other hand, the other option – Clinton and the Democrats – may well have been worse for them. It is of course a negative that sections of the US working class are moving to the right, and potentially towards the fascist organisations which also support Trump. But to protest against them now, before a die has been cast, will likely push these sections deeper into the arms of the far-right. The aim of the left and working class supporters should be to try to win back that section of Trump supporters which do not regard themselves as Nazis. But this cannot be done by denouncing them for “racism, sexism and homophobia” – even though this certainly exists.
Secondly, it is also difficult not to conclude that the aim of a protest against Donald Trump on or near inauguration day, is to garner support for Clinton and the Democrats, even if the organisers specifically deny this. The demands are not anything like: “Down with Clinton, Trump and the Ruling Class”.  The demands, such that we can tell, are only aimed against Trump. The reason for this is that these left parties want to draw in liberal backers of Clinton, that is, they want them to be part of the actions. Similarly here in Australia, the politics of the proposed actions are such that any liberal can take part without any questions being thrown their way. That is, once again, these protests, even if on the face of it are directed against a President who appears to be the most backward in decades, really boil down to a demand for a slightly more liberal capitalist top official. This is not radical at all, and continues the political malaise which produced something like the Trump phenomenon in the first place.

Thirdly, despite what leftists think of the capitalist electoral system, and particularly its shortcomings as it is practiced in the United States, Donald Trump won the election. Whether he won it on outright votes (which it appears he did not) or on electoral college votes (which it appears he did), according to the electoral system in place, and despite all we know about the usual irregularities (people not appearing on electoral rolls, anyone who has ever had even a minor conviction not being allowed to vote, and much more), Trump and the Republicans won the election. And they won because most Americans who did vote surmised that Clinton and the Democrats were a worse option. And they were not all wrong.

In fact, in sheer terms of war, Clinton represented something almost unimaginable – the real likelihood of World War III. No matter how bellicose some of Trump’s rhetoric towards some states may be, at least he was not willing to launch world war, or at least against Russia. The hysterical screeching of Clinton herself, and her liberal backers, that Trump was an ally of Putin or even a Russian stooge, just do not stack up. Clinton would have ramped up the already hostile manoeuvres against Russia in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Syria. In fact, even some US generals were not keen to launch a world war with Russia over Syria. As quirky as it seems, compared to Clinton, Trump was almost an anti-war candidate. Let that sink in for a moment.

Trump’s one progressive position – peace with Russia – may well be contradicted by a seeming strident opposition towards Iran. However, it could also potentially mean an end to US wars of regime change. Trump has made comments stating that the Middle East was better off with both Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi still in power in Iraq and Libya. Many are aware that what Trump says, especially with regard to foreign policy, may not be carried out, or, more than likely, will be stymied by the “deep state”. The US establishment, driven to a state of despair by the faltering state of US capitalism, engages in wars to save itself, and hang the consequences. Even someone with Trump’s politics can see the ultimately self-destructive results of this.

And what of Donald Trump’s racism, sexism and homophobia? No doubt this exists, but were Clinton and the Democrats going to be markedly better?  Racism, sexism and homophobia, amongst other things, are structurally part and parcel of the capitalist system. In the best case scenario, the Democrats would utter words against racism, sexism and homophobia, and a very mild reform perhaps. But they would not be able to end the oppression of African-Americans and others, women and LGBTI people. This requires a socialist revolution, at the least.

These “left” parties, these “socialists” who are agitating to “fight Trump”, swear blind that they do not support Clinton and the Democrats. Such assurances are so much empty rhetoric. Their political practice, including the organising of actions against the Trump inauguration, tells a different story. Moreover, for the last six years, invariably these “left” parties have wholesomely backed Washington’s wars for regime change (at least in Libya and Syria) throughout the Obama/Clinton years. What these “revolutionaries” really stand for is the election of the more liberal candidate in bourgeois elections. And they are not prepared to break from the entire liberal establishment to ensure this. Working people, on the other hand, have learnt through bitter experience, that sometimes, or indeed often, the liberal candidate will cause more harm to them than the conservative. This experience, at least in part, helped produce the Trump victory.

Hence, the way to defeat the right wing is not to attempt to push working people back into supporting liberal candidates and liberal parties – which they know from experience carry out similar, or worse, attacks on their livelihoods. Nor will anyone defeat the right wing by joining these same liberals, organised and unorganised, in protests against the one elected establishment figure which is rejected by the large majority of the US ruling class. Why not work on the contradiction within the US ruling class, to see where it leads?

Rather than joining hands with liberals and protesting conservatives, the way to win working people away from both the liberal and conservative wings of the ruling class is to build politically independent mass campaigns which aim to win real gains for workers. Demands such as: a shorter working week with no loss in pay, fully funded public healthcare, decent and affordable public transport, publicly owned utilities, an expansion of public housing, and the nationalisation of the banks could be just the start. Once working people see a movement which aims to fight and win real gains, and seeks to sign them up,  the appeal of both liberal and conservative parties – and even fascist groupings, will subside away into disuse. The organisation of a working class movement presupposes the formation of a workers’ party.  A workers’ party which fights for a workers government is the beginning of the end of the capitalist nightmare, and the opening of the road to socialism. Amongst other things, this is what is worth a demonstration in the streets.


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