UP FOR DEBATE: The Lesser Evil

In These Times is dedicated to providing an accessible forum for strategic debate on the Left. In this Up for Debate series, we host a range of views on what has become a divisive question: how to approach voting in the November presidential election.

How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence—And Devastate the Left

The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.

To gin up progressive votes for center-right candidates, Democrats cry wolf every four years: “This is the most important election ever! If the Republican wins, the world will come to an end!” Understandably, progressives who feel burned by this routine have joined the “Never Hillary” camp. And it’s hard to disagree when Clinton rubs elbows with neocons, Wall Street bankers and Henry Kissinger.

But the moral of the fable is this: The wolf eventually shows up—and no one takes the threat seriously.

This is the case with Donald Trump, who is all too easy to dismiss as inept, a clown, clueless, and more interested in the trappings of power than the details of policies.

However much truth there is to all this, it masks a grim reality. As president, Trump would launch an all-out war on social progress. 

Those who think the ruling class will restrain him ignore that it has been unable to stop him thus far. Trump’s own party couldn’t do it. And despite Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the corporate media all lining up behind Clinton, Trump is gaining in the polls. Given his disdains for any laws, norms or rules, he would make the Bush era look like a paragon of probity and judiciousness.

And he’ll have momentum on his side. If Trump wins, he will probably carry enough Senate candidates with him to retain GOP control of both houses of Congress. More sobering, a Trump victory would embolden white nationalists, giving them access to vast state power and resources and a White House that would downplay or ignore their violent excesses. Trump has bundled together many branches of racism into a proto-fascist movement hell-bent on the ethnic cleansing of America by eliminating Muslims and many immigrants through walls, bans, barriers and deportations.

Movements that have emerged or gained strength during the Obama years, such as Black Lives Matter, immigrant-rights “Dreamers,” the climate justice movement, and low-wage worker and reinvigorated labor campaigns would be devastated. All that work would be crushed or abandoned as activists desperately try to defend the millions in Trump’s crosshairs.

This is an especially painful election because I, like many, have despised the Clintons since their racist 1992 campaign, and through their ensuing record of free-trade deals, assaults on social welfare, war, mass incarceration, pro-police and anti-immigrant policies, coziness with Wall Street, mendacity, and corruption.

But this is a case, as Adolph Reed puts it, when it’s essential to “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger.” This is not a call to back Clinton’s policies; it’s a recognition that an authoritarian strongman like Trump is such a threat, there is an urgent need to defend people of color and social movements from the violent white nationalists now riding his coattails and who will shape his White House agenda.

Think of it this way. If a doctor says you are dying of cancer and only radiation therapy will save you, that doesn’t mean you suddenly think the nuclear power industry is great. But you’ll take the treatment. On November 9, the day after the election, the Left should redouble the real political work of building independent mass movements and working against the right-wing elements of Clinton’s agenda.

This is not a call to stop criticizing Clinton or to abandon independent organizing and shunt that energy into the Clinton campaign. That must continue without pause, but taking a second to cast a vote to stop Trumpism from taking state power will benefit that organizing enormously.

While Clinton, like Obama, is no friend of social movements, Democratic presidents must pay them lip service because they are the party’s base. To Trump and his supporters, especially the Alt Right he has embraced, the Left is public enemy number one. He would crush progressive movements and overturn many of the hard-fought and partial victories over the last eight years, while rampaging across the planet with no check.

Think about all the damage Trump would do, far beyond what Clinton is capable of.

Last decade, under President Bush, the FBI designated the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front a “serious terrorist threat,” ending these movements. The right is clamoring for the same designation for Black Lives Matter, and Trump will happily oblige, effectively outlawing the movement to end police violence and structural racism.

Obama’s halting steps to mitigate climate change would be reversed as Trump opens up lands and coasts to oil, coal and gas industry plunder, and pulls out of international agreements to reduce carbon emissions. He would likely send the National Guard to bulldoze the climate justice movement blockading oil pipelines, trains and terminals, along with the indigenous communities defending their lands. His platform calls for overturning rules favoring renewable energy. All this would be a prelude to gifting tens of millions of acres of federal lands and monuments to mining, grazing, logging, and energy interests. The Right, especially the Koch Brothers, has been pushing hard for this for years, and Trump is unlikely to stand in their way.

In many areas, Trump is turning over policy to extremists. He has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, he will no doubt stack courts with judges who will further erode if not strike down reproductive rights, and he has allied with fundamentalist Christian forces eager to overturn all the recent LGBT victories.

The Obamacare coverage millions of Americans received, while inadequate, would be wiped out under Trump and replaced with purely market-based measures, while Medicaid would be gutted through a conversion to block grants. There would be no plan to end the student debt cycle for millions, which is the one big concession Bernie Sanders extracted from Clinton.

Under Trump and an attorney general like Rudy Giuliani, cops would have a free hand to brutalize Black and brown people. There will be no more federal scrutiny of police violence, no more investigations, or consent decrees with police departments. Indeed, Trump has recently endorsed “stop-and-frisk” policing, which was abandoned in his hometown of New York City after a judge determined the practice unconstitutionally targeted Black men and Latinos. With a right-wing Supreme Court, voter suppression would also become the norm to solidify overt white nationalist rule for a generation.

African-Americans are well aware of the risks Trump poses and how he has stirred old racist demons. This is why Trump is getting zero percent African-American support in some polls. While Trumpism will linger even if he loses, and white nationalists remain dangerous, they would also be demoralized, with the movement splintering and descending into infighting rather than having a door thrown open to the most powerful entity in the world: the U.S. government.

As we know, Trump has called to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and “build a wall”—a plan so outrageous that it has overshadowed many of his other radical proposals. Trump has vowed to kill Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that provides protection from deportation for up to 1.7 million undocumented immigrant youth, He aims to bar federal funds to cities with sanctuary programs. He wants to curb even legal programs for foreign workers and slash the share of all immigrants in America to “moderate historical averages,” which, based on statistics in an article linked on his website, would mean a two-thirds reduction, or expelling 27 million immigrants.

This is only the half of it. If Trump slaps tariffs on imports, deports millions, and gives huge tax breaks the wealthy, Moody’s paints a dire scenario of declining home prices, 3.5 million jobs lost, and a downturn outlasting the Great Recession. If he also roils relations with Europe, the Middle East, and Asia that will further cripple the economy. As much as free trade harms workers and the environment, once an economy is hooked on it, you can’t just pull the plug. We have to be weaned off slowly while supply chains and networks are rebuilt.

Put it all together: a white America angered by fewer jobs and declining income, a campaign that has brought together neo-Confederates, white nationalists and Neo-Nazis (and emboldened the Klan to openly recruit), and there will be a hunt for scapegoats. Trump will deliver them because his candidacy was born in a sewer of racism, beginning with birtherism.

This could include a ban on Muslim immigration, a registration program, police invasions of Latino communities, or mass round-ups—which would mean concentration camps to hold immigrants before they were forced out, overseen by his “deportation force” of Brownshirts.

There is a quaint notion on the Left that somehow Trump is hot air. This ignores the dynamics he's set in motion that will make new types of state-sponsored racial violence all but inevitable. This is not just a quantitative change over Obama and Clinton, but a qualitative one.

This is a man who wants to fling around nukes, kill the families of terrorists, conduct mass racial profiling, and enact torture “a lot worse than waterboarding.” Millions approve when he calls for the assassination of his opponents and mass ethnic cleansing.

But nattering leftists on social media go to Trumpian extremes to downplay the threat. They have an unbelievable faith in the ruling class to hold back Trump. They think if Trump takes power, terrible racist violence will spur incredible mass movements. Of course, if extreme violence alone could kickstart a proletariat revolution, half the world would be in open rebellion. Rather, these Facebook revolutionaries are willing, even eager, to see new forms of extremism unleashed on untold millions inside and outside the United States because they’ve burrowed so deep into rotted-out political clichés, they can’t see the threat before them.

For those not drowning in the dogma, but focused on making social change in the real world, this election poses as stark a choice as there ever was.

Do you want to see movements like Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice, low-wage workers, immigrant rights, and other left social forces continue to grow and develop? Or do you want to see a Trump administration carry out ethnic cleansing as it sets loose armed white nationalists?

It’s that simple.

Arun Gupta is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York and has written for publications including the Washington Post, The Nation, Salon, and the Guardian. He is the author of Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food-Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste (The New Press).

Up for Debate: The Lesser Evil

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