On the Town Hall Meeting Protests, and the Indivisible Guide’s Agenda:
Why the Tea Party Model “Worked” for Fascists, But Is Dangerously Wrong for Stopping Trump
Updated March 2, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
This is a revised and updated version of an article posted earlier.
In cities across the country, angry crowds are confronting Republican members of Congress. On February 21, hundreds of furious protesters confronted Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn at a town hall meeting. People angrily denounced her support for ending Obamacare. There was sustained, loud booing when she said she wasn’t aware that Trump had appointed his top adviser Steve Bannon to the National Security Council. She was booed again when she defended education secretary Betsy DeVos. And again, when in response to a question about whether it’s right to have an immigration policy that excludes Muslims and favors Christians, she claimed, “Christians have seen incredible persecution.” (For background on Bannon, DeVos, and the rest of Trump’s cabinet, see “Trump’s Team of Theocrats, War Criminals, Ghouls, & Neo-Nazis.”)
The confrontations at town hall meetings are a positive element of resistance to Trump. And they are a vehicle through which many people who have never been “political” are awakening to political life, and in turn organizing others. At the same time, there is a cohering analysis, vision, and agenda around which people are being mobilized and led for these town hall confrontations that leads away from what it will take to stop Trump. It is articulated in “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” At the core of its vision and strategy is the assertion that “The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs [Members of Congress] to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism—and they won.”
But that’s a wrong understanding of the “rise of the Tea Party.” And the implications for what needs to be done now are dangerously out of sync with reality.
The Tea Party was not in any fundamental way some kind of grassroots uprising. On an obvious level, the Tea Party was sponsored by forces like Fox “News,” funded by the reactionary billionaire machine of the Koch brothers, and backed by other powerful institutions.
Even more fundamentally, the Tea Party was an expression of powerful forces at the top of U.S. society, in the ruling class, who for decades have been moving to radically reshape U.S. society in a leaner, meaner, drastically more repressive way in response to profound challenges to the stability of the U.S. empire and its “homeland” in today’s world. Part of this has meant grooming an American fascist movement, taking different forms at different times, both outside and inside the structures of power. This movement has both been utilized by different ruling class forces and, to a degree, has a life of its own.
There is not some force among the other sections of the ruling class attempting to really cohere an uncompromising movement of those who are the targets of fascism and/or who morally oppose it because such a force, out in the streets and refusing to leave the streets until their basic demands have been met, would potentially pose too much of a threat to the system as a whole. That is, once such social forces politically awaken and begin raising questions, in the view of these rulers there is too much danger that this could break out of the confines of politics as usual.
For the Republicans (or at least very powerful sections of them), bringing the Tea Party reactionaries into the streets and whipping them up “worked” because the prejudices and demands of this backward and ignorant section of people conformed to a fascist agenda. The point is this: The Tea Party was part of a much larger strategy, over a whole period of decades, backed by very powerful forces. And now Trump has cohered these forces and trends to make an actual move to fascism.
On the other hand... the Democrats will not and cannot do that. They aim to attract and claim to speak for progressive people. But the things that progressive people want—like an end to white supremacy; ending the subjugation of women; protecting the environment; treating immigrants as human beings; an end to unjust wars—these things cannot be solved under this system. And so, in the eyes of the leaders of the Democratic Party, calling progressive people into the streets creates the real danger (as they see it) of people bumping up against and breaking out of the terms set by this system. And that is not acceptable to them. They are a party of the ruling class and their role is to maintain this system. Listen carefully and critically to the terms they consistently set, like constantly framing things in terms of “our [sic] national interests,” and you can see that.
In short, the Tea Party could and did serve the fascists, but a mass mobilization of, and uprising by progressives does not contribute to, but threatens the whole setup that the Democrats are an essential part of. The conditions and dynamics that gave rise to this situation are deeply analyzed in “The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy... And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer,” by Bob Avakian. This is a work that anyone who wants to understand the roots and the dynamics of Trump’s election should dig into.
Humanity Confronts a Historic Danger
Right now, humanity confronts a historic danger in the Trump/Pence regime. However, we live in a moment when it is still possible to prevent the full consolidation of this regime and build a movement capable of ousting it. How long this window will remain open is not predetermined; it could be slammed shut at any time, for instance, with an incident (whether real or staged) that Trump/Pence could exploit to assume extraordinary powers.
Yet Indivisible intends essentially to put up with the Trump/Pence regime for two years while preparing public opinion to elect more Democrats to Congress in 2018. This is explicitly spelled out in the Indivisible Guide in Chapter 1: “[B]y objecting as loudly and powerfully as possible, and by centering the voices of those who are most affected by their agenda, you can ensure that people understand exactly how bad these laws are from the very start—priming the ground for the 2018 midterms and their repeal when Democrats retake power.” [emphasis added]
A fundamental problem with that is, the choices people get in elections are not mainly or in any essential way defined by grassroots activism. More powerful forces at the top of society determine who gets to run for office (how much funding they get, what kind of coverage they get in mainstream—that is, ruling class—media). These powerful forces, the ruling class, define what people are told the important issues and legitimate terms of debate are. And nobody, at the top of this system, is right now proposing anything like an agenda to stop, undo, and reverse what Trump is doing.
But even taking Indivisible on its own terms and assuming that the Democrats would run candidates focused on ousting this whole fascist regime and removing the threat (which, again, is very unlikely, given that very few if any elected Democrats have even articulated such a stance) and that such candidates would actually win and then would be able to “make good” on this promise, this not only wouldn’t work but is extremely dangerous.
First, look at the shocking pace at which the Trump/Pence regime has implemented its fascist agenda in a month! Trump declares the mainstream media an “enemy of the people.” Roundups of undocumented immigrants are extended daily into new reaches of society. Environmental regulations are shredded. Protection for trans students is being stripped away, exposing them to bullying and dehumanization. And the Trump/Pence regime has not just attacked what Trump calls “so-called judges” but the rule of law. After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the implementation of Trump’s ban on people coming into the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries, White House policy adviser Stephen Miller made a series of high-profile appearances on Sunday network news shows. In response to the 9th Circuit ruling, he told Fox News, “The president’s powers here are beyond question.” And, “We don’t have judicial supremacy in this country.” Immediately after this, Trump tweeted, “Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!” Constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky responded, “President Trump is claiming that no court can review the constitutionality of his actions and essentially that he need not obey a court’s ruling.... The very essence of the rule of law is that no one, not even the president, is above the law. The president, like all others, must follow court orders.”
Second, Trump has adopted an extremely warlike America-first posture, including a much more aggressive development and use of nuclear weapons. If Democrats like Clinton and Obama said before the election that it was too dangerous to entrust Trump with nukes, we have to ask: What the hell has changed? Has he proved to be less dangerous? Or have they decided that the continued existence of this system, even with Trump/Pence at its head, is more important than “the dangers” in people going outside the normal channels to demand the ouster of this regime?
It Is Not Just a Set of Laws, This Is FASCISM
Finally, Indivisible is wrong to reduce what we face to a set of “bad laws.” As Refuse Fascism has said in its Call:
Fascism is not just a gross combination of horrific reactionary policies. It is a qualitative change in how society is governed. Fascism foments and relies on xenophobic nationalism, racism, misogyny, and the aggressive re-institution of oppressive “traditional values.” In Trump’s election campaign he encouraged and fed on the threat and use of violence to build a movement and come to power. In his inaugural address he pledged allegiance only to this movement. What is crucial to understand is that once in power fascism essentially eliminates traditional democratic rights.
Even as the Trump/Pence Regime is moving fast, they have not yet fully consolidated their regime, or, as yet, been able to implement their full program. But, this is their objective and it is very possible. It might only take a single serious crisis—international or domestic—for this regime to drop the hammer. We do not have much time.
What will stop Trump? The answer lies in people stepping outside the deadly confines of working through the very system and structures that put Trump in power. Mass resistance is critical. But unless the Trump/Pence regime is driven from office, resistance will be a series of battles fought on worse and worse terms. In the name of humanity, the focus of people who are outraged by Trump has to be to drive out the regime. Refuse Fascism has a vision and a plan for that. Their new Call says:
We must ORGANIZE: working with all our creativity and determination toward the time when millions of people can be moved to fill the streets of cities and towns day after day and night after night, declaring this whole regime illegitimate—Demanding, and Not Stopping, Until the Trump/Pence Regime Is Driven from Power.
If this happens, then the whole political landscape would be dramatically transformed, every faction within the established power structure would be forced to respond—and all this could lead to a situation in which this fascist regime is driven from office.
That organizing includes—very importantly—being out among everyone who is outraged by and acting to oppose the crimes the Trump/Pence regime is carrying out, and the worse ones they are rapidly preparing to carry out, no matter how they understand the problem. And in doing so engaging, and struggling with people, to confront what we are really up against. To do that, go to RefuseFascism.org. Read and sign the Call to Action. Spread it into the town hall meetings, and everywhere else. Infuse everyone outraged with what is happening to take up the single unifying objective to drive this regime from power, in the name of humanity.
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