The despair in the weeks following the election has now turned into constructive rage. Opposition – more precisely, oppositions – are forming, not only in the general population, but inside the government itself, as is evident from the cascade of leaks and rogue tweets. One can only speculate what is happening in the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, but the reaction to Trump’s characterization of the CIA as ‘Nazis’ and his appalling speech about the size of his inauguration crowd in front of their memorial to fallen agents was plain. Moreover, in a move at first barely noticed in the general chaos, Trump removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence from the Principals Circle of the National Security Council and replaced them with Steve Bannon, the white nationalist who has become Trump’s Cheney, co-wrote the ‘America First’ inauguration speech, and was the architect of the current Muslim ban. There is a probable impending major crisis with North Korea – probably graver than anything in the Middle East – and Trump’s fascination with nuclear weapons is well known. A military coup is no longer unimaginable in the USA: Trump calling for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pyongyang and the spooks and brass rising against him.
Less dramatically, it remains to be seen what the hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats in the government agencies will do. They are presumably dedicated to the fields in which they work: public education, environmental protection, labour laws, civil rights, public health, urban development and so on. The Trump cabinet appointees have, of course, declared war on all of these. Will there be mass resignations – playing into the hands of the new bosses who want to eliminate the work of these agencies – or attempts at subversion within? One of Trump’s first acts was to fire nearly the entire upper management of the State Department – dozens of people. These are the career officers who keep the machine running regardless of who is in the White House – they served under Obama and they served under Bush. Trump and Bannon have lobbed a grenade into the works, for as yet unknown reasons, further destabilising a professional diplomatic corps that is facing having to defend the indefensible abroad.
In the country at large, Trump is massively unpopular and, in his first days, has dizzyingly created even more reasons to be unpopular. Millions have attended demonstrations in merely the first week of the administration, thanks to social media’s extraordinary ability to gather bodies in a single day. Moreover, it is just the beginning of the bad news. Possible things to come include the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare); the selection of a Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade and various civil and voting rights; Trump’s threat to send the National Guard to Chicago; further expansion of the Muslim ban; elimination of environmental, financial and labour regulations; suppression of scientific research concerning climate change; the Mexican wall; drastic cuts in social welfare; trade wars; the deportation of the undocumented – the list is endless.
In previous eras of protest – civil rights, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War – the injustice was continuing but static. There was, in a sense, no news, only more of the same. What is new in the Trump era is his uncanny knack for provoking new outrages – so far, multiple ones on a daily basis – which open new fronts for protest and galvanise more groups. The major media – in both a response to the open hostility of the Trumpistas towards them as well as the commercial calculation that anything Trump makes good television – and social media will keep fervour alive.
This matters. Republicans are undoubtedly terrified of the 2018 elections. They have let loose Godzilla on the land and they own the rubble. More important, the passivity and complacency of the Democratic politicians and their voters have met their consequences and cannot go on. We thought we were living in a country enlightened enough to elect someone like Obama as president; that, despite Republican obstructions, things were generally improving and demographics ensured a progressive future. Trump has pitched us into icy water and, as Jesse Jackson said the other day, you have to keep kicking to stay afloat.