Now that the Trump administration has an expiration date, some have argued that Trump’s refusal to concede and his retaliatory governance will be of no consequence. But Trump is a showman rebelling against a narrative of loss and humiliation. Kelly Hayes talks about what’s at stake and why downplaying the risks we face is irresponsible.
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Welcome to “Movement Memos”, a Truthout podcast about things you should know if you want to change the world. I’m your host, Kelly Hayes.
First I want to say that I joined you all in a widespread sigh of relief last weekend, upon hearing that Donald Trump had been defeated at the ballot box. I took a couple days to rest and restore myself and I am so glad I did. Our bodies and minds need time to recover after so much stress, anxiety and hurt, the way a muscle needs time to relax after it contracts. Otherwise, we get stuck in fixed states that are completely unsustainable.
That said, given that Trump is still armed with every weapon in the world and has continuously stoked and perpetrated violence against marginalized people, it is irresponsible to suggest that the danger has passed. Some hoped and even predicted that Trump would hide behind his television for the next two and a half months, and take no action of consequence. That kind of wishful thinking was not helpful at the onset of the Trump administration and it is not helpful now. Pretending that the danger is now minimal reflects a total disregard for the fates of marginalized people in this political meantime. In fact, it is genuinely hard for me to accept that anyone truly believes that the risk is minimal. Because that assertion is a complete dismissal of the violence that people living in the margins have already experienced — as well as the awesome power that Trump will continue to hold until January 20. Trump has already established his genocidal desires and intentions. He is removing public officials who have hindered his violence and persecution of his enemies.
The pandemic is currently killing about 1,000 people per day in the U.S., as case rates continue to soar. Inside immigration detention facilities, the monthly case rate of COVID-19 per 100,000 detainees increased from 1,527 to 6,683 from April 2020 to August 2020. How will those people fare now, during flu season, caged in the path of the second wave, with no flu vaccines, no space to physically distance and no functional access to health care? The United States keeps upwards of two million people caged at any given time, and not one of us can pretend, in this political moment, that we don’t know what’s about to happen to a great many of those people as the second wave crashes.
There comes a point where downplaying what Trump is capable of becomes complicity, because we plainly and simply know better.
Coming from white people who are economically comfortable, the idea that we can drop our political guard is so offensive that, quite frankly, it makes me want to throw things. I am not a fool. I know the difference between alignment and a coalition, and I know that many of us worked in alignment to remove Trump who do not have ideological alignment. I know that liberals and moderates lean on leftists (or simply demand our compliance) in hard times, and frequently throw us under the bus when things get dicey. But this betrayal has been swift, and there are some people who I think know better.
For the next two months, Trump will have the same license to commit atrocity that he has had for the last four years: the presidency. And thanks to COVID-19, he will be able to perpetrate those atrocities without lifting a finger, by keeping people caged in federal prisons and detention centers, as both the flu and COVID-19 race through those facilities. He will withhold federal assistance from blue states, and could even start confiscating our medical supplies, the way he did last April.
I have long said that if Trump lost, he would go out with a bang, inflicting punishment and leaving chaos in his wake. In recent days, I have seen many people latch onto the notion that Trump will slink away out of embarrassment, inflicting no significant damage — even as he continues to file lawsuits and fire government officials. But Trump is a showman. This is his last act, and while the facts may dictate this story’s outcome, they will never dictate Trump’s narrative. He will maintain that this election is stolen. That contention will fuel racist propaganda and fascist fantasies of persecution.
Removing a fascist from the White House will not destroy the fascist movement that put him there. Fascism thrives among people who have a false sense of social humiliation and victimhood. Simply having a Black president escalated that sense of victimhood enough to propel a movement. Trump told racist white people that their feelings were well founded and that their retaliatory impulses were correct. The vast majority of Republicans who are not committed to Trump’s unreality were willing to go along with it, because whether or not they agreed with the details, they saw it as benefiting them more than the alternative. Everyday Republicans share the decades-long agenda of the Republican Party: to recreate the voting dynamics that existed in the U.S. prior to the Voting Rights Act. They may not break it down in those terms, or any terms at all, but those are exactly the dynamics that Republicans have long sought to recover. Everything they do builds toward that end.
Liberals and leftists will never adequately defend themselves politically against the Republican Party until they acknowledge the history, trajectory and intentions of that party. We are talking about acts of mass disenfranchisement, and a stated desire to reduce and limit the number of people voting. Republican officials, including Lindsey Graham and the president, have acknowledged that too many people voting means far fewer Republican victories. Republicans have, over the course of decades, painstakingly sought to overtake corporate power, to take control of local media outlets, to build a large presence in academia and in the judiciary. This has been going on since the 70’s. It has always been aimed at reasserting white dominance and codifying conservative values to create a more expansive system of social control. White racists lost some very important battles during the Civil Rights era. But they have never stopped fighting to take it all back.
To do that, they have to overcome what passes for democracy in the U.S. They have to ensure that a minority, rather than the majority, charts a political path forward. It is a matter of long term relevance, which for them, is a matter of political survival.
Hopefully the Senate runoff in Georgia will cause people to take a harder look at voter suppression, given what Georgia organizers have had to overcome on that front. I hope everyone will get behind the people waging those battles, and stay behind them, well after this runoff is over.
One word that I have absolutely no interest in right now is “unity.”
The word “unity,” in the mouths of Democratic elites, is about order, not justice. It’s about quieting expectations and ensuring our cooperation with compromises that should not be made. It asks us to treat things that should be rooted out of any society — abhorrent views that uphold systemic violence — as socially acceptable, for the sake of living in peace with Trump supporters. The expectation of unity is never allowed to hinge on whether Republicans will accept the humanity of people who their preferred leaders would grind under. The expectation is never that conservatives accept systemic changes that would make life more livable for many, including themselves in some cases. The expectation is not that Republicans accept that some people will offer water to migrants in the desert who might otherwise die of thirst, or that they accept that a white man might be prosecuted for the murder of a Black man. That is never the cost of political calm. The cost of calm is to further normalize white entitlement and false victimhood, a violent desire for retribution, and the cruelty being the point — we have to treat all of that as socially negotiable and empathize. The people asking you to do all of that are not concerned with long term ethical frameworks. They are concerned with your cooperation, even if complacency allows the right wing to flourish in the mainstream, rather than being named for what it is and attacked accordingly.
Democrats will talk about the need to come together around legislative goals but the truth is that the GOP will negotiate in its own interests, and no amount of good will on the part of the Democrats will shift the strategy of Senate Republicans. Appearing permissive now, in the face of Trump’s anti-Democratic antics, will not pave an easier path for Democrats later.
What we need to survive these times is not unity. It is alignment — functional alignment among those who agree on key goals, like universal mask wearing and keeping people fed and housed. We need to pool our efforts to keep as many people safe and alive as we can for as long as possible. “Unity” and other emotional homework assignments are meaningless. Solidarity is about meaningful political action in support of one another’s liberation and survival. That’s what is needed in this moment.
Calls for “unity” are about keeping the status quo intact. This is a problem, since the status quo often exists in opposition to the well being of people.
When it comes to Trump’s intransigence, there also seems to be little concern among Democrats about the same scene playing out again in the not so distant future, with another Republican, perhaps even an incumbent, refusing to accept the outcome of an election. If Trump’s tactics are ultimately employed by a Republican who has fared better at the polls, who has not clearly lost, who actually does have a legal strategy, how will Democrats feel about having acted like it was no big deal when Donald Trump refused to concede? How many times will the Democrats be backed by the will of the majority, only to be toppled by Republicans who are better at gaming the system?
Democrats failed us terribly in the 2000’s when they catered to Republican claims that “voter fraud” was a problem. They even agreed to address the issue in legislation in order to win other reforms. Since then, the Republican mythology of voter fraud has continued to flourish and has helped usher in sweeping acts of voter suppression. Democrats conceding that voter fraud was a problem when it was not, and allowing legal redress for a problem that didn’t exist, helped propel the Republicans on their quest to quash and prevent as many votes as possible. Black votes, Native votes, disabled votes. Democratic votes.
Their lies must not be allowed to flourish. A Republican coup, no matter how poorly armed or artless it might seem, must not be normalized. I know this must be a jarring time for people seeking guidance. Some of those who have insisted that we are no longer in danger have even suggested that it is the fears of those of us who are still sounding the alarm that are empowering Trump, rather than his racist supporters. To be clear, those arguments are cruel and irresponsible attacks on people who have good cause to fear Trump, and amount to victim blaming. All such statements should be condemned by all people of conscience. The truth is, Trump has been underestimated far too often. People who have raised the alarm about him, at every stage of his politics, have been gaslit and mocked. That’s about control.
The damage Trump can still do is being minimized by people who will not experience the brunt of it. But if anyone expects Trump to leave the White House without stripping out the copper wiring in the walls, I don’t know what to tell them. Trump has outlined and explained his own character many times. He has told us how he operates and shown us how he operates, and yet some people will continue to predict his actions on the basis of norms that have never applied.
We don’t get to make assumptions about how well things will go. We have to be planners and troubleshooters, and we have to be building and solidifying connections and points of solidarity that will help us adapt and organize as needed to get through what’s ahead, and to organize beyond these difficult months into a new future.
What the moment demands is solidarity, courage, and for some of us, sacrifice. We don’t know what all of that will look like yet, but we cannot embrace baseless assumptions that we are no longer at risk. We’ve had time to throw confetti over the fact that we have created a finish line for the Trump administration. That’s done now. The work of everything after begins today, if you haven’t begun it yet. The future is here and we are already making choices that will inform it. As many said at the start of the Trump administration, no one gets to sit this one out.
I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. And remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
Detention Watch Network’s #FreeThemAll: Toolkit to Support Local Demands for Mass Release of People in ICE Custody is a “working toolkit to help guide and support the work of organizations and individuals looking to demand the release of people in ICE custody.”
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