Let’s make no mistake on Trump

In February 2017, Scotland saw many a demonstration against the newly elected American President, Donald Trump. In Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen people came together and shared their legitimate indignation against the Muslim ban and the racist contamination of the American diplomacy. Today, marches have stopped. Yet outrage is still high. From Trump’s despicable abortion policy to the impulsive bombings he ordered in Syria, there are still many reasons to be angered and worried. I share this outrage, and I have no intention to criticize an anti-Trump sentiment which I think is required from all progressive people, in Scotland and the world over. Should new American events call us to the streets again, I would certainly join.

However, without criticizing I think we ought to be critical. During such times of turbulence, outrage can only go so far and we need to be hard-headed with ourselves. Trump’s machismo, jingoism, islamophobia, homophobia and all the other phobias he carries with him certainly need to be tackled, put down and fought back. Fighting Trump is indeed a necessity, but we must do more and go further. Beyond our imperious anger, we, who diversely call ourselves progressive, liberals, socialists or left-wingers have to indulge in a new, more demanding, exercise: that is looking Trump with cold blood and right in the eyes.

What is Trump? Has this question really been asked? I do not pretend to answer it. ‘Trumpism’ shall wait a few decades for its first historians to be fully comprehended. What I can do nonetheless, and what we can all do, is to question ourselves about what we all seem to take so easily for granted: that Trump is a backward ‘fascist’ elected by millions of ‘ignorant red necks’, an ‘evil monster’ demanding the all-out expression of our hatred.

For, this has to be said, Trump is certainly a monster but he is not a fascist. Indeed, if we are to follow the famous line of Gramsci, he is the perfect example of those monstrous entities that emerge in the light and shade of history, when the past is dead and the future is yet to be born. Trump freezes us because he is an enormity, something that was not meant to happen and which is now here, overwhelmingly here, although we are still unable to define it properly. This is why many of us have succumbed to the alluring temptation of easy conceptualization. ‘Trump is a fascist’ they say.

This sounds like a comfortable intellectual shelter. Fascism —and therefore anti-fascism— are two convenient words: they are reassuring, they have a clear history that enable us to think we are not getting off track, that the world is not that illegible after all, and that, just like Spanish Republicans, just like French resistance fighters, and just like the spitfires of the RAF, we are fighting a well-defined and monolithic enemy, much easier to combat than an undetermined and contradictory entity.

However, beyond the convenient rally slogan, let’s be serious: Trump is not a fascist. He is a manipulative leader backed by a few oligarchs, yet he has no organised party; he uses violent words, yet he has no militia; he is the head of State, yet he certainly doesn’t worship the State; he has got scarce ideas, yet he has no ideology; he is racist, yet America didn’t wait for Hitler to be racist; he is misogynistic and homophobic, yet the whole world didn’t wait for Mussolini to be so; he is protectionist, yet he is domestically neoliberal; he puts America first but which US president has not? 

No, Trump is not a fascist. He is an American and a twenty-first century monster; and as every monster, he is polymorphous and hard to name – if not unnameable. It is, therefore, no use putting our 1930s glasses on our nose to stare at Trump, for he will appear blurry and even less charming than he already is. To determine the best means of opposition, we must first be able to explain Trump accurately.

What might be useful, then, is to follow Gramsci, and simply look at the past world that has died with Trump’s victory. Are we sure that the latter was much brighter? The reactionary world that Trump is about to build (hand in hand with Theresa May and maybe Putin) is the gravedigger of another, out of date, reactionary world, inaugurated 35 years ago by Ronald Reagan (hand-in-hand with Thatcher and Deng Xiao Ping).

Although it is for the wrong reasons, Trump’s victory is putting an end to the all-out deregulation and the world wide free market of poor-quality goods and wretched people. Certainly, this does not mean that socialism will soon be rising in the USA. On the contrary, Trump’s protectionism, which goes back to the early twentieth century American economic model, is less concerned with the welfare of American people than with the protection of American capital. Nonetheless, reactionary as he is, Trump shows us that an alternative to the Washington consensus is possible. This is will be our job to make the most of it in a progressive way.

Similarly, Trump’s victory was meant to announce the end of America’s deadly world’s police strategy and NATO’s anachronistic post-Cold War existence. A few months later, the United States’ bombing of Syria and worrying arm wrestling with North Korea seem to indicate that the new President has changed his tune on the matter. Trump is not the pro-Russian pacifist many thought he was. However, Trump’s aggressive undertakings in the Middle East and in the Sea of Japan are unilateral decisions of the American government and are – so far – not relying on the commitments of European countries and other NATO members. Dangerous though those interventions may be, they highlight, on the other hand, that Trump is accepting the United States’ important yet limited position within our new multi-polar world.

Unlike the Bushes (father and son) in Iraq and Clinton in Yugoslavia, the new President does not require the entirety of the ‘Free world’ to indulge in his militaristic frenzy. Surely, Trump’s impulsive and contradictory character is unpredictable and may not follow this ‘isolationist-interventionism’ line much longer. If he does, however, one might consider it a progress and a chance for European countries to champion world peace out-with America’s jingoistic influence.

Whatever happens next, Trump’s victory has shown the world the dangerous yet unsurpassable nature of democracy. Invisible people whose lives have been devastated by globalization have reminded the world that their voice weighs the same as the polished opinion of some very liberal, very clever and very assertive New Yorker experts.

The world Trump is about to build is gloomy; but are we really to regret the one he is burying? Standing against the worst aspects of Trumpism is mandatory. However, we should not blind ourselves and elevate him as some kind of devilish icon that would disable us to understand what he is and which historical moment we are living in.

Let us not be the useful idiots of the ruined and failed globalized world. Let us not forget that Trump won in Detroit, won in Michigan, won in Ohio, just like Brexit was embraced by Rotherham, Sheffield and Middlesbrough. Let us not forget this and let us ask ourselves, frankly, what — in comparison to this —the meaning of Dundee and Glasgow East vote for Yes in 2014 really was.

Everywhere in the Western World, the victims of never-ending neoliberal policies — unforgivably accompanied by an imbecile social-democracy — are awakening from their daydream. In return, many monsters are appearing. However, these monsters are not exclusively nightmarish. We, on the Scottish left, have often a morbid delectation in listing the genuinely ugly monsters: UKIP in Britain, the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany, the M5S in Italy, Golden Dawn in Greece, and so on.

But in the contrasting light and shade of history, some monsters can actually turn to be beautiful and extremely promising. What about, for instance, Podemos in Spain, Mélenchon in France, Corbyn in England, and Sanders in the USA (who was the only one to understand that the old world was collapsing and, therefore, the only one able to defeat Trump)? They are new, robust, hybrid, unfamiliar-monstrous- political entities, yet our best hopes.

What about ourselves? In 2014, we were a progressive, popular, anti-racist and radical monster and we scared the same people who today are crying in the face of Trump. We shall not indulge in their thoughtless complaint. On the contrary, let the Scottish behemoth – our dream and their nightmare -grow, groan and roar again.

The world of Trump is also our world. This is the world of poor folks whose trust has been deceived by years of abandonment and failed promises. This is the world where despair finally speaks. This is the world of those that the BBC never shows but to mock, the world of so-called ‘schemes’ and ‘red necks’.

Because we stand for all the poor people, whatever their colour or their gender might be, all the Trumps of the earth shall for ever be our enemies. But if we want to defeat them we have to embrace the world that makes them, because this world will also make us and is already regenerating the left throughout Europe. Let us cry with no Clinton, with no Cameron, with no Juncker: they are the old world. The time has come to look the beast right in the eyes and to sharpen our own claws.

Scotland can – and must – be one of the first places of this victorious fight. Last February’s demonstrations showed that the energy is still there. If we are careful not to misinterpret the nature of our enemies, and if we stop sobbing together with the wrong allies, Scotland shall rise and prove lethal to any suchlike Donald.

Paul Malgrati is a French PhD student at St Andrews University, working on ’Robert Burns’s legacy and Scottish politics in the twentieth century’. He first campaigned for independence as an Erasmus student in 2013-2014 and is now a SNP member. In France, he has been campaigning for the Left Front.

• In previous editions of Scottish Left Review (January-February 2017, March-April 2017), Gerry Friedman laid out the first contours of an analysis of Trump and Trumpism.