Archive for category: ORGANIZING UPGRADE
Members of Atlanta DSA backed by the national organization conducting an anti-Republican turnout effort in the Georgia runoffs tied to the Green New Deal and other policy outcomes that would only be possible under a Democratic-controlled Senate. Photo: Atlanta DSA
By David Duhalde
Since the 2020 general election, the Democratic Socialists of America – locally and nationally – have been moving towards a coalition politics that puts the organization and its chapters in a unique niche that is differentiated from the Democratic Party, from mainline liberal-left organizations, and from marginal tendencies in U.S. left-wing politics. As socialists, we must hold Democrats accountable to the base that elected them, and also avoid returning to the obscurity in which DSA spent the years before Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. To do so effectively, the DSA must avoid self-imposing many of the constraints that limited its work in the 2020 presidential race after the end of Sanders’ candidacy.
The Bernie or Bust resolution of DSA’s 2019 convention exemplified such a voluntary foreclosure on political possibility. The delegates overwhelmingly voted for DSA to refrain from endorsing any Democrat besides Sanders in the 2020 general election. At the event, I spoke against the proposal on the grounds it would limit DSA’s potential to help Sanders leverage support at the 2020 Democratic convention (DNC) such as coordinating actions by DSA members serving as DNC delegates should he back another candidate.
To be clear, affirmatively throwing DSA’s support behind any candidate besides Sanders would not be a particularly viable or likely outcome. As I wrote in The Nation, DSA had only endorsed two Democratic presidential candidates – John Kerry and Barack Obama in his first race – since 2000. I was also heartened to see the lukewarm reception across the organization to the handful of chapters who encouraged DSA to actively back Howie Hawkins’ Green Party candidacy. Despite my critiques of the resolution binding DSA outside of any coalition politics that involved Democratic presidential candidates, the socialist organization did avoid hitching our political capital to a marginal, but socialist, campaign too — one which ended up receiving only one quarter Jill Stein’s 2016 vote total despite 25 million additional ballots being cast.
My real concern, which I then saw validated, was that the resolution would close off DSA to allies. While DSA convention delegates in 2019 reached a clear consensus on only endorsing Bernie — the same could not be said for membership’s orientation towards the general election — particularly as the election consumed more and more of the public’s political imagination. While people knew DSA was “not endorsing Biden,” it was unclear what the largest group of socialists in the country would do. It also was the only group in the People Power for Bernie coalition to opt out of its follow-up, the United Against Trump coalition to coordinate activism to defeat the now-former president.
The National Political Committee (NPC, or DSA’s elected leadership) debated but voted down a proposal at its May 5 meeting to turn out anti-Donald Trump votes in swing states. They agreed to provide guidance to chapters in the short term and prioritize defeating fascism through social movement work. The NPC issued a statement a week after their vote expressing opposition to Trump and solidarity with Sanders’ call to defeat him — but did not provide open guidance for what members and chapters could do to specifically engage with the presidential election beyond broad calls to build the socialist movement. By September, the NPC gave internal guidance to chapter leaders on strategy and messaging, an action kit focused on a united front of the left, and guidance on incorporating the urgency of the moment in the recruitment drive.
DRIVING TURNOUT WITH DOWN-BALLOT RACES
In the absence of any public direction, I and two comrades – former Bernie 2020 labor staffer Jonah Furman and NPC member Maikiko James – organized a letter for individual DSA members to state their support for organizing as socialists to defeat Trump by driving turnout for progressive down-ballot candidates. Several hundred people signed and volunteered throughout the fall. During the Bernie or Bust debate, advocates of the resolution repeatedly assured delegates that individual members could support the nominee on their own. And while our letter never endorsed electioneering for Joe Biden, even if we had, we would be doing so in our individual capacity, respecting the letter and spirit of our convention’s democratic decision for DSA as an organization.
Others did not see it this way. Our open letter faced public pushback from fellow DSA members who did not share our urgency in taking specific action to remove Trump via down-ballot work. They did so not because they viewed Trump favorably, but out of a firm conviction that socialists shouldn’t support neoliberal candidates and that the convention resolution mandated that DSA and its members do nothing – direct or indirect – that would advance Biden’s candidacy. The contention, taken to this logical end, meant DSA members ought to be bound against formally endorsing any effort to stop Trump even as his mismanagement of a nationwide pandemic and failure to deliver relief immiserated millions of working families.
Luckily, Biden defeated Trump, in no small part due to mass organizing by UNITE-HERE and other grassroots movements to fill the gap left by the Democratic Party’s refusal to canvass voters door-to-door. Though U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib was a shoo-in for the general election, her campaign echoed my proposed fall strategy by driving up turnout in her heavily Democratic district to increase the vote for Biden in Michigan.
While DSA hadn’t backed these actions and played no formal role in them, the NPC issued a statement immediately following election day that praised the work of UNITE-HERE and Bernie Sanders to defeat Trump. In that missive, DSA did not celebrate the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Instead, the organization explicitly criticized the incoming administration and put them on notice. But for the first time in 2020, national DSA was uplifting the popular front work that defeated Trump. More importantly, the next day, the national and chapter leadership called for members to join the November 7 demonstrations with other allies to demand democracy from Trump and condemn the public attempts by him and his followers to steal the election by overturning the Electoral College results in swing states.
Many of the pro-democracy gatherings that day became victory celebrations as news networks officially called the election for Biden-Harris that afternoon. In New York City, I marched alongside hundreds of DSA members and thousands of other Big Apple residents as we took the streets of Manhattan. Across the country, there was a sigh of relief that Trump at least would be removed from office. None of us knew what would happen nearly two months later in the Capitol. But we did know the Senate balance fell onto Georgia.
Across the country, centrist Democratic Senate candidates substantially underperformed their polling, losing races in states like Maine, North Carolina, and Iowa. Trump’s surprising ability to bring out new voters kept at least 50 Senate seats in Republican hands. But now, control of the Senate, and with it, any hope of the Biden Administration delivering on the commitments that Sanders and DSA’s allied groups had fought for rested on the Georgia runoffs.
Fortunately, DSA took a different stance in the Peach State than it had in the presidential race. Instead of abstaining, DSA chapters in Georgia (with support from the national infrastructure) conducted an anti-Republican turnout effort. DSA’s four Georgia chapters didn’t — and didn’t need to — endorse either Democrat to do that, especially given Jon Ossoff’s anti-Medicare-for-All stance. Instead, the chapters collaborated with the national DSA and the Ecosocialist Working Group to tie the results to the Green New Deal and other policy outcomes that would only be possible under a Democratic-controlled US Senate.
Georgia DSA members coordinated out-of-state volunteers to text and phonebank Georgia voters with an issues-driven turnout message. Marquita Bradshaw, a DSA-aligned activist and 2020 Democratic-nominee for the Tennessee US Senate race, emceed a volunteer call to rally grassroots energy. In addition, they canvassed with flyers featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the progressive agenda she and DSA back, urging Georgians to cast their ballots with those issues in mind.
This strategy wasn’t universally embraced — meeting many of the same critics as our anti-Trump letter. Still others felt it wasn’t vocal enough in supporting the Democrats. This time, absent the chilling effect of a Bernie-or-Bust-style resolution, the NPC was able to back up the work of our Georgia comrades to defeat incumbent GOP senators. This issue-based electioneering paid off as both Republicans lost their seats, tilting the balance of the US back to Democratic control. Without the presidential race’s self-imposed constraints, the organization’s leadership and membership were able to join active struggles required to defeat the far right — which take place regardless of DSA’s actions, and do not require our positive endorsement of neoliberal Democrats to engage with.
January 6, the day after Ossoff and Warnock’s victory, thousands of Trump’s most reactionary supporters stormed the US Capitol in a bizarre and extremely dangerous gamble to overturn the election results. Their putsch failed, sparking a huge backlash across the political spectrum. DSA jumped further into coalition politics at this moment, joining the racial justice-oriented Frontline’s full-page advertisement in The New York Times calling for Trump’s removal. The next day, the national leadership issued a statement in both English and Spanish urging both trade unionists to pass resolutions in support Trump stepping down alongside uplifting of Reps. Cori Bush’s call for an investigation into the insurrection and Ilhan Omar’s resolution for Trump’s impeachment.
Furthermore, the leadership explicitly called for chapters to join coalitions to “demand democracy.” I attended one such event that night outside of Brooklyn’s Barclay Center. New York City DSA leaders called a rally with the city’s Working Families Party, Sunrise chapter, and an SEIU local to stand together against a fascist attempt to violently overturn a democratic election. The cathartic gathering was for democracy in both the short and the long term. “As democratic socialists, we recognize that in the long term, the only way to beat the forces of reaction is to build a multiracial working-class mass movement rooted in justice, solidarity, and liberation,” said New York City DSA Co-Chair Chi Anunwa.
“And so in addition to our demands for impeachment and electoral reform, we are also committed to fighting for a more just vision of American society that puts people over profit and where the entire working class can experience true democracy in our government, in our workplace, and in our economy,” she added. Anunwa, myself, and nearly 1,000 others marched on December 7 from the arena to soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s house to demand he act decisively to defend democracy and hold the Republicans who attempted to throw out millions of votes accountable.
The quick action by DSA and the coalition politics of early January stood in stark contrast to the fall, when individual members could only coordinate amongst themselves — in a way that could not build power for DSA or strengthen its coalitions — as Election Day drew near. In a hypothetical world where DSA had also passed a binding resolution, over a year in advance, for the DSA to refuse any engagement in the Georgia Senate race, we would have missed this opportunity as well. But instead, we were able to assess the political situation in the moment and act appropriately. Importantly, we were able to do so without moving towards the Democratic Party or even formerly endorsing. Instead we functioned as an independent socialist organization working to mobilize voters to defeat the far right.
DSA will be most effective by keeping its political options open — carving a niche that is apart from the Democratic liberal-left, but that is also separate from the margins of left politics. We cannot solve our political problems through pre-emptive, binding resolutions. Rather, we need collective struggle marked by continued debate in response to the political opportunities before us. I am happy to see the socialist organization to which I have dedicated my adult life returning to its coalition roots- albeit in an updated fashion. That’s the DSA that will change this country and the world.
The post Returning to the Fold: DSA and Coalition Politics After Trump appeared first on Organizing Upgrade.
LUCHA in Arizona uses elections to build grassroots power for the state’s working class and people of color communities.
By Jazmín Delgado
With the last days of the elections upon us, leftists and progressives have been getting ourselves ready for the immediate task ahead: defeating white-supremacist authoritarianism while strengthening our own forces.
Some of us are leading voter turnout efforts locally and in swing states. Others are getting ready to keep our communities safe from intimidation at the ballot box, and some are continuing to do work outside of the electoral arena, whether in the form of community organizing, mutual aid, or campaigning. Almost all of us are busily drawing up post-elections plans while anticipating different scenarios that could unfold on November 3 and beyond.
The coming weeks and months will bring a lot of challenges, and our ability to confront them while building power for the long haul will depend on how well we reflect on past struggles, assess the material conditions, and develop long-term strategy for the protracted fight ahead of us. Regardless of the outcome of the elections, we will still need to contend with three intertwined global crises: a deepening economic crisis, intensifying climate catastrophe, and a deadly pandemic nowhere near contained. So, what lessons can we draw from this electoral cycle that can help us build power at the scale that we need to contend with these threats?
WHAT ELECTIONS TEACH US ABOUT THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER
Whether our organizations do electoral work or not, we can all draw lessons from elections about the nature of power. At its most basic, power, is, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “the ability to achieve purpose” and “the strength required to bring about social, political, or economic changes.”
Determining how resources are produced and allocated in our communities requires power. Being in rightful relationship with the land and protecting it from violent extraction and pollution requires power. Protecting our homelands from occupation, warfare, and displacement requires power. Simply put, we need power to build the kind of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial future we all need.
The electoral arena is one of the key sites where the fight for power happens. An electoral victory for one side translates into securing access to key instruments of the state to get them more of what they need. At the local and state level it means having power to decide what services get funding, to make policy changes that are beneficial to our communities, to overturn bad policies, and to put people in key positions of power who have a proven record of staying accountable to our movements and communities. At the federal level, the power to do good or harm gets intensified. As a case in point, just look at how swiftly the right has used the levers of state power to tear down environmental protections, gut the asylum system, intensify its attacks against organized labor, stack the Supreme Court in its favor, and rollback basic protections for communities of color, the working class, and queer and trans people – all while enriching and empowering its key allies.
If we want the power to move resources towards our communities at the scale that we need, then we can’t cede this crucial part of the political terrain to authoritarians or neoliberals. There’s a lot to learn from leftist organizers who are stepping into the contradictions of the moment to take power back for our people.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STUDYING THE BALANCE OF FORCES
Engaging in the fight for power means that we need to study the forces we’re up against and pose the following questions:
- Who are the main camps competing for power and what are their constituent factions?
- How stable or unstable are these alliances?
- What do these actors have the power to move?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses in relation to ours?
- How should leftists relate to these forces as we also try to gain some ground?
If we don’t understand the balance of forces in a given fight, it’s difficult to impossible to develop an effective strategy to build power. For example, we might overestimate our influence and fail to form crucial alliances needed to make an impact, or we could miss openings where we could be making bold interventions that can lead to powerful change. Without a solid framework for thinking about elections (or politics more broadly), It’s easy to get caught up in focusing on individual characters and letting our personal predilections and aversions take center stage, while missing the larger contestation for power shaping the political terrain.
ELECTIONS TEACH THAT A LONG-TERM STRATEGY PAYS OFF
Looking at the big picture helps us understand how we got here. We come to understand that Trump’s administration is not an inevitable of outgrowth of this political system, but it’s the result of long-term organizing by a coalition of right-wing forces that’s been building power over the past 45 years both in and out of the electoral terrain. From school boards to the Supreme Court, this right-wing bloc has been placing their people in key positions of power across the board.
This group is not a monolith, but the glue that binds them together is a white supremacist, authoritarian ideology and a commitment to roll back all the gains that have been made by working-class, Black, Indigenous, and People of color movements. They’re doing this by actively seeking to dismantle democratic institutions and processes.
MOVEMENTS BUILD DEMOCRACY
Elections teach us that the building blocks of democracy have been laid by our movements, and we are the best situated to bring true democracy into fruition.
Trump has sent out strong signals that he will not respect the results of the elections should he lose. Due to the fact that a lot of people will be casting their votes through mail-in ballots, we can anticipate that the current administration will try to disrupt the vote count or reject the results outright. We will need to come out in large numbers to protect the democratic space that our movements have been able to win.
This includes defending people’s right to vote safely through programs like Election Defenders and taking action post-elections with movements like The Frontline to ensure that every vote is counted, and that the results of the election are respected in the face of possible litigation or flat-out rejection. But the fight for democratic space is also much more than that – it’s also about bringing democracy to life through the creation of new practices, capacities, and forms of organization that support liberation and self-determination for our communities.
Left organizing and the Black Radical tradition provide a deep well of knowledge and inspiration for our movements today. From the Black-led construction of a multiracial democratic society in the U.S. South during the Reconstruction project (from which we have inherited free and publicly funded education); to the organizing by Fanny Lou Hamer and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to win and protect the franchise for Black southerners in the face of white supremacist terror campaigns against them, to the recent triumph by Bolivia’s Indigenous-led Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) over the US-backed fascist regime, to the recent decision by the people of Chile to rewrite the country’s constitution put into place by another US-backed authoritarian government – all these efforts and many more, led precisely by some of the most oppressed and politically marginalized actors, have key lessons for us. And make no mistake – none of these struggles have been purely electoral. They’ve also involved direct action, uprisings, militant long-term organizing, and alternative economic experiments. We would be wise to learn from these movements in the turbulent weeks and months ahead.
As we move into the next phase of the struggle, here are some of the questions our movements need to answer:
- How will our movements position themselves in this struggle, as we try to gain more ground in the political terrain and bring more people over to our side?
- What role are our movements best situated to play in the fight to protect democracy?
- What kind of alliances do we need to draw, and how do we ensure that we keep building independent and internationalist left political power with a clear horizon towards a liberated future where we can all thrive?
These are all big questions that none of us can answer alone but can only come to through a process of study, principled struggle, and bold experimentation. In the midst of intense repression and attacks against our communities, our movements have built significant strength and have the potential to grow even more cohesive, powerful, and effective. When our movements are disconnected, or when we’re not connected to an organization, it’s easy to feel like our political futures are at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves every election cycle. As practitioners and students of social change, let’s take seriously the lessons that elections teach about power so that through effective organizing and strategic thinking, it’s our people that set and steer the course towards our liberated futures.
This article was first published by the Center for Political Education (CPE) in the San Francisco Bay Area. CPE is a non-partisan resource for left and progressive movements that helps them strengthen their work through grounding in historical knowledge, strong theory, and rigorous analysis. The author thanks CPE Executive Director Rachel Herzing for input on this piece.
By the Organizing Upgrade Editors
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project anchored the launch of The Frontline September 21 and offered a hard-hitting sum-up of the project’s goals.
“We are part of The Frontline because our lives and the lives of the people that we love depend on us fighting with everything we’ve got to overthrow the Trumpism, the white supremacy, the white nationalism – all the harm that is being done by this administration to our communities. We are committed, not to fighting for a savior on Pennsylvania Avenue, but to fighting for our next target. And we will come as hard at the new administration that we hope will follow the Trump administration as we are at Trump right now.”
The full recording of the 40-minute launch can be viewed here (the program begins about minute 2:24):
Posted by Working Families Party on Monday, September 21, 2020
CONTINUE THE LARGEST SOCIAL MOVEMENT IN U.S. HISTORY
The Frontline is a new initiative from the Working Families Party and the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project that aims to forge a Black-led, multiracial coalition that can carry forward the energy of the uprising – “the largest social movement in U.S. history” – in both electoral and non-electoral forms.
Maurice Mitchell, National Director of Working Families Party, stressed the stakes in 2020 and explained The Frontline’s use-every-tool-in-the-tool-box approach:
“Every four years there’s a chorus of voices that say, ‘This is the most important election of our lifetime.’ This year, I’m one of those voices. The stakes could not be higher.
“In the midst of unprecedented crises, millions of people have taken to the streets to support and flank the Movement for Black Lives and focus on ending systemic violence and racism against Black folks. We’ve seen how powerful it can be when the movement in the streets is channeled into the polls. Amid a pandemic when voting was literally a risk to people’s lives, movement candidates like Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush shocked the establishment.
“But electoral power alone will not get us free. Protests alone are insufficient. We need to vote. We need to protest. We need to organize. We need to study. We need to strike. And then we need to protest again.”
The speakers who elaborated on the vision of the new formation highlight the breadth of experience from The Frontline’s partner groups: Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter; Brittany Ramos DeBarros, Organizing Director of About Face: Veterans Against the War; Greisa Martinez Rosas, Executive Director of United We Dream Action and M. Adams, Co-Executive Director of Freedom, Inc.
WIN AND PROTECT THE VOTE, LIFT UP RADICAL DEMANDS
Frontline volunteer Cindy Wiesner focused on The Frontline’s strategy and specific objectives:
“The Frontline is a movement-driven space with vision that not only articulates what we want, but also begins to cohere us. Not only from now through November 3, but for the first 100 days and beyond that…
“We plan to work together in the smartest, the most principled, visionary way. So, here’s the proposal. We need to defeat Trump in a landslide. Number two, we need to use this movement to push Biden and Harris and move them to the left. Social movements have the ability to do that, as this summer’s Black liberation uprising has shown. We need to be on the offensive.
“We also need to plan for the possible chaos that will happen from the election to the inauguration. We need to be prepared for rapid response, for building the biggest possible ‘we’ to defend the democracy that is our democratic process.
“And then we must seize the opportunity in the first hundred days to lift up the demands our movements have been fighting for decades. We have an opportunity to make the BREATHE Act real. We have the capacity to pass a Green New Deal, to continue to push for a real People’s Bailout, not a corporate bailout.
“But we can only do this if we make these demands movement demands, make them demands across our particular sectors and constituencies. We envision a Black-led, multi-racial front that has a vision to defeat Trumpism and neoliberalism and all systems of oppression, and build toward a radical governance rooted in justice and dignity.”
THE SPACE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
Brittany Ramos DeBarros of About Face pulled no punches in talking about the political and emotional dilemmas confronting antiwar activists in this election.
“The wars that have continued under Trump are wars that Biden helped make happen. We have to be honest about that. I deployed to Afghanistan under Obama and Biden’s administration, so when I say I have nothing nice to say about the man, I want you to know that it is not just ideological, it is personal. And yet, I’m here, unified with our people, because this is about us, not him. My integrity has to be rooted in the principle of what allows us to fight another day.”
DeBarros went on to describe Trump’s polices toward Yemen, Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries, debunking the notion that he is in any way a peacemaker. Both Biden and Trump are warmongers, she said, but “we cannot be lazy in our assessment and pretend they are the same…”
“How do we relate to an election where this is the choice that is offered us? I encourage us to side with our people. It is not about the person; it is about choosing the terrain that we will be fighting on. We have to move collectively and strategically.”
Several other speakers at the launch also fused personal experience and political insight, emphasizing the urgency of addressing and engaging those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. These constituencies have the biggest stake in social change, but also have seen their interests most ignored by politicians of all stripes. Many – especially among Black and Latinx youth – have been spurred to action by the uprising in defense of Black life. But these are also the constituencies that the Trumpist right is working hardest to exclude from participation in politics through voter suppression, disinformation, malignant neglect in the COVID crisis, and threats and use of both state and non-state violence.
The uprising moved the fight for racial justice to the center of the overall progressive agenda. The Frontline aims to keep it there and bring the energy of the most excluded and marginalized into a Black-led multiracial coalition united around visionary demands and a practical strategy to move them forward: engage the electoral fight to defeat Trump, take to the streets to protect the election results, and catapult the BREATHE Act and other big-change legislation into the first-hundred-days agenda of the next administration.
The more progress The Frontline makes, the more strength will accrue to every component of the fight for democracy, justice, working class power and deep structural change.
Individuals can join The Frontline by signing up on the project website here or by texting “Frontline” to 30403.
The post The Frontline: A Black-Led, Multiracial Coalition Throws Down appeared first on Organizing Upgrade.
By Van Gosse
The United States is fast approaching a tipping point. Consider the following:
- A coordinated mobilization of armed militias threatens elected officials in Democratic states, with open White House backing;
- The most powerful member of the national legislature interferes in judicial appointments to gain his party permanent dominance over this branch of government;
- A top official who has admitted his guilt in a major breach of national security is released from prosecution by the nation’s chief judicial officer.
These attacks on democratic norms should have rung every alarm we have. But more than three years of Trump’s transgressions have numbed much of the progressive base. The steps outlined above document a clear and present danger: whatever `democracy’ we have acquired, through enormous struggle, is now on the line.
TYRANNY BY ANOTHER NAME
For good reason, many people will snort at the notion that the U.S. has ever lived up to the core premises of liberal democracy: the rule of law applied equally to all citizens; majority rule through free and fair elections. As the author of “Why the United States is Not a True Democracy, Parts 1 and 2,” I can hardly disagree! Majorities do not rule in this country. Basic citizenship rights, whether the right to vote or to be secure in one’s own person, are routinely violated by local and state governments.
But it could get much worse if Trump wins again. In a second Trump administration, with Republicans controlling the Senate and the federal court system, it is more than possible that the U.S. will move sharply towards illiberal democracy.
“Illiberal Democracy” is not a play on words. It is the self-description for a new model of authoritarian governance sweeping large parts of the world, from India (soon to be first in the world in population) to Brazil, Turkey, Russia, and a brace of central and eastern European states (Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary).
In an illiberal democracy, a temporary electoral majority uses its grip on power to subvert the main institutions of the state and civil society: the independent media; the judiciary; the police. All the while, a façade of electoral democracy is maintained, with multi-party elections, a parliament that meets and debates, and some toleration of dissent. But the essence of democratic rule is regularly violated.
In each of these cases, the winning party has polarized popular sentiment via appeals to xenophobic, nativist, religious, and ethno-racial phobias. Muslims are the target in India, Roma in Hungary, Jews and LGBT people in Poland, the indigenous in Brazil, Kurds in Turkey, a full rainbow of “foreign,” mostly non-white peoples in the U.S. and Russia.
Here are a few examples.
In India, Narendra Modi’s BJP government has incited pogroms against Muslims, stripped citizenship from millions of non-Hindus, and intimidated the press into sycophantic adoration, all while winning elections.
In Turkey, Recip Erdogan’s AKP regime dominates the judicial system and routinely jails journalists, while Erdogan and his family own 90% of the media outlets.
In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro presides over a “death squad democracy,” giving a green light to groups that murder indigenous and Afro-descended Brazilians in rural areas, while urban police and militias kill at will in favelas.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s government controls all the electronic media, disappears critical journalists at home, assassinates opponents abroad, and changes the constitution as Putin sees fit, to maintain his grip on power.
In Hungary, the Fidesz Party controlling parliament has granted Prime Minister Victor Orban unlimited authority to rule by decree.
In Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski ‘s Law and Justice Party has systematically attacked the entire judicial system, using the state media to harass any judge who disagrees.
WHAT MIGHT IT LOOK LIKE HERE?
Pundits, scholars, and activists have sketched many bad things that could happen if Trump wins in November. But most of those scenarios presume the basic legal structures of the U.S. state continue to function, even if under Republican rule they are temporarily skewed.
My presumption is different. I think those structures will be pulverized and a fundamentally lawless regime will set about maintaining itself in power, while pretending to democratic norms. Indeed, this assault on democracy is already happening. So far it is aimed mainly at people who are not Trump loyalists who hold some power: the Governor of Michigan or longtime officials in the so-called “Deep State,” meaning the federal civil service. (The organized left is not yet significant enough to be high-priority targets on Trump’s to-do list, perhaps one reason some progressives do not fully understand the threat he poses).
In a second Trump Administration, I see this assault on democracy proceeding in four stages:
First, pack the judiciary. Second, plant loyalists in all decision-making posts in the larger state apparatus. Third, green light paramilitary violence. Fourth, seize control of the state’s monopoly on legitimate coercion via the police.
Keep in mind that implementing this progression does not require the popularly understood signs that a dictator has taken over: tanks in the streets and thousands jailed overnight. Trump likely would let the New York Times continue publishing, and the formal mechanisms of parliamentary representation would continue. Old-guard Democrats would remain in Congress and state houses, because their impotent voices would legitimize rule by a Republican Party committed to staying in power by any means necessary.
The attack on the democratic gains of the 1960s – in particular, voting rights for African Americans – began long before Trump. Republicans recognized decades ago that changing demographics would make it less and less likely that a party anchored in overt white supremacy could win many victories in a genuine one-person, one-vote system. GOP gains in voter suppression are part of the reason Trump was able to win in 2016. Since his inauguration, attacks on voting rights have increased, and a second Trump term promises much worse.
AN INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY NO LONGER
Nearly everyone alive today grew up believing that the federal judiciary would either extend rights, or at least guarantee them against erosion. Even as the Burger, Rehnquist, and now Roberts Supreme Courts turned ever more rightward, the precedents set by the Warren Court in 1953-1969 were presumed to hold, in part because new rights were occasionally added, as specific gay and lesbian rights were in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). The 1980s and after rulings that enabled racialized mass incarceration largely escaped notice, so that by the time Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow appeared in 2011, the damage was already done.
Shelby v. Holder in 2013, which ruled key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, and the 2019 Rucho v. Common Cause ruling that “Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts” were massive setbacks. The Court’s April 2020 refusal to block Wisconsin Republicans’ attempted mass disfranchisement clarifies that we are in the middle of a judicial counter-revolution.
We now have a Court like those which permitted Jim Crow’s apparatus of repression, violence, and disfranchisement from the 1870s to the 1940s. In that era, the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process explicitly did not apply to the states. As long as poll taxes and literacy tests were nominally nonracial, they were permitted; similarly, in the 21st century, we can expect that “voter identification” laws, purges of voter rolls, and gerrymanders will be permitted under almost any circumstance.
In a second Trump administration, the Supreme Court, already under right-wing control, will be further undermined by threatened impeachment and forced retirement of the remaining liberal justices. That judicial purge will be extended to the entire federal bench, as signaled by Mitch McConnell personally pressuring judges to retire so Trump can replace them. We should expect a scenario in which there is no possibility of judicial review or restraint, and the remaining independent judges are subjected to public and private intimidation.
That we have to consider this possibility suggests how far the process of “illiberalization” has already moved. If Trump wins and McConnell consolidates his take-over of the federal bench, we move very far back to a world of constant quasi-legal repression–grand jury indictments, tax and fraud prosecutions, weaponizing the IRS against political groups and individual activists, a barrage of injunctions to block protests, strikes, and any effort by local and state governments to resist Trump.
MONOPOLIZING THE STATE
Since he was elected, Trump has steadily undermined structures of government that benefit ordinary people, whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Labor Relations Board, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Labor, the National Park Service, or the Environmental Protection Agency. All the above have been corrupted for narrow partisan purposes.
The current attempts to destroy the Postal Service and politicize the United States Census, two of the success stories of American governance since the 1790s, are the most perverse illustrations of this larger attack.
Trump’s special targets, however, are those parts of the government that regulate and enforce laws domestically and abide by norms and agreements internationally. He has moved to turn the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the entire intelligence apparatus from institutions accountable to Congress (and hence on some issues forced to respond to popular pressure) into enforcers of his personal agenda. Even the military, formerly sacrosanct, has been humiliated by his overturning the court martials of war criminals like the SEAL “Eddie” Gallagher.
Richard Nixon once attempted to move at least part way in this direction with his efforts to gain personal control of the FBI and CIA. But the terrain was different then, and he was beaten back. It was FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt who acted as the Deep Throat informer to blow up Nixon’s plans.
If Trump games the November election, the FBI will become Trump’s personal police, with the President acting as the new J. Edgar Hoover who led the Bureau from 1924 to 1972. Any individual or organization will be fair game for infiltration, disruption, suppression, and blackmail at the behest of the White House. Trump’s enemies in the Democratic Party, the press, and the state apparatus will likely be first-priority targets. More and more people will disappear from public life in a campaign of vengeance that will make Nixon’s “enemies list” look small-scale. Once they have been knocked down, any kind of grassroots opposition by progressives will be next in line.
GANGS OF ARMED MEN
The next possibility, signaling a descent into the tactics historically associated with fascism, would be outright political violence condoned from the top and hailed by his base. We have not seen that kind of politics since the routine floggings and killings of Black and white Republicans by Democrats during Reconstruction. The Bundys’ occupation of federal lands, the Nazi gangs marching through Charlottesville, and the mass gun-rights rallies at state capitols just before COVID-19 hit, featuring men in body armor with automatic weapons, are now escalating into armed parades in streets and legislative chambers.
We need to take these escalations seriously. Every day I get emails from websites like Conservative-Daily.com calling Schumer and Pelosi “traitors.” Trump began his rise to power by suggesting that his opponent should be “locked up.” Last year he regularly stoked crowds chanting “Send Her Back!” against Representative Ilhan Omar and the Squad, and last month he urged mobs to “liberate” their states. How long before zealots act on that language, and give traitors what they deserve?
WELCOME TO A PRIVATIZED POLICE STATE!
Brutally violent, repressive policing, aimed directly at people of color and political dissenters, is a deep-rooted feature of U.S. society. But the systemic impact of that coercion has been curtailed by the dispersed structure of our policing system. A national paramilitary police force directed from the White House would be genuinely new, and extraordinarily dangerous.
This potential was signaled in February when Trump sent what is essentially a military unit, the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), into sanctuary cities to work with ICE. Beyond that, what do you think will happen if ICE or FBI agents start arresting his most outspoken opponents? Would the New York or Chicago police departments disarm federal officers rounding up leftwing Black and Latino city council members and Members of Congress?
In this previously unimaginable scenario, Trump would appeal to the “thin blue line” to come to his aid, and armed men in uniform would answer his call in the Blue states, while Red state governors and legislatures respond enthusiastically. At that point, it will not matter that there is no constitutional authority for a president seizing control of local police.
THE FORK IN THE ROAD
We must stop hoping that the millions of Republicans who supported Trump’s opponents in 2016, and believe themselves to be law-abiding people, will object to an ever-more authoritarian government. Of course, not every Republican is a hater or a permanent enemy. But their class interest and racial blinders—functionally the same thing—precludes any rocking of the boat. They have gained greatly under him, and the consequences of admitting his increasing despotism, in terms of personal ruin and moral responsibility, would be very grave.
Here is the parallel from our history of authoritarian governments. For three-quarters of a century, the overwhelming majority of southern whites defended the Jim Crow system as natural and fitting. They ignored the racial terror deployed against their black neighbors, just as today’s Republicans avow how much they wish the President would stop tweeting, or not say such terrible things, or tone it down. They “don’t agree with everything he does,” but they will vote for him anyway. With a few exceptions like Mitt Romney and the Lincoln Project, they insist the Emperor is wearing fine new clothes even though his gross old torso is naked in plain sight.
Given the real possibility of Trump winning again via votes suppressed and votes bought, just enough to take the Electoral College, we face a stark necessity. The majority must mass together to defeat Trump and crush Trumpism. We cannot stay where we are, we will move forward or we will move back. Democracy, all that we have fought for and not-yet achieved, is on the line.