Jessica Burke | SIPA Class of 2018 | February 23, 2017
The two recent posts on Fighting the good fight in the age of Trump” intrigued me. I would like to add my own two cents to the discussion, as I believe it is perhaps the most important conversation that those who want to fight Trump can engage in at the moment.
I agree with Luke that the gross oversimplification that comes with the Obama-good/Trump-bad narrative which so many people are currently operating under is a cause for concern as we work towards a future without Trump and his ilk in it. I need to preface this by saying that I would not presume to know if Leyth falls into this camp based on a single blog post which, to be fair, was primarily about whether public servants can meaningfully participate in a Trump administration (and not about the split in the left that I am attempting to dive into). All I mean to critique here are similar narratives made most especially–and toxically–by powerful Democratic party leaders and surrogates.
Like Luke, I’m also not going to bother going into the assertion that American foreign policy “serves the greater good of humanity,” because I have such a fundamentally different view I wouldn’t even know where to start… But on social and civil issues, I suspect that Leyth and I share many of the same values, so I will use that as a point of entry to the debate.
Even if we put aside the real economic decline that was pushed by a bipartisan embrace of pro-corporate, anti/de-regulation policies (which *is* what the election results were about, I would argue)—even if we focus only on social issues and totally ignore the neoliberal elephant in the room as Leyth has chosen to do in his article and as most establishment Democrats in their defense of Clinton and opposition to Trump have done, the contrast between the Obama administration and the Trump administration is significantly less severe than is so often taken for granted.
Take the ICE raids, for example. They are terrible, terrifying, against what so many of us agree America is meant to stand for… But the Obama administration deported more people than any other US administration—more than the sum of all presidents in the 20th century combined. (His average was over 5,000 per week.) The Trump administration is largely continuing the same policies of the previous administration, so while its calls to intensify these efforts and expand the pool of people to be deported are criminal and need to be resisted, no one should operate under the illusion that this is a totally new phenomenon.
(As an aside, it is also worth noting that none of us should give de Blasio too much credit for the sanctuary city that we live in, either. He told the state assembly in late January that he would be willing to add to the list of 170 offenses that are exempted from the city’s detainer law, which essentially means that he is willing to make even more crimes eligible for the the NYPD to turn undocumented immigrants over to the feds.)
Or take the basic civil rights like freedom of speech and the press which Leyth referenced. While speaking of the importance of protecting whistleblowers—and to be fair, actually doing quite a bit to protect private sector whistleblowers (even if his administration failed to truly prosecute the corporate abuses they revealed)—Obama revived the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more government leakers and whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee famously listed ways in which the Obama administration made public information harder than any president in the last 50 years, including such truly indefensible actions as reclassifying jobs as menial as stocking sunglasses on a military base as “sensitive jobs” in order to exploit a loophole that is meant to keep government employees from speaking out about waste, fraud, and abuse. And I won’t even start on NSA surveillance tactics built up by the Obama administration that can now be further used and abused by the Trump administration.
And before we say, “yes, but at least we are the party of social progress!,” lets not forget that the Democrats (Obama among them) only stopped with their cowardly “leave it to the states” stance on gay marriage in 2013. When Obama was accused (“accused”) of being Muslim, the DNC commentariat that rushed to defend him didn’t say “no, but would it matter if he was?” No, they rushed to assure the public that he was a good Christian and here is his family pastor and here is his proof of his long-term commitment to Christian (“Christian”) values and here are pictures of him attending church throughout the last 3 decades… blah blah blah, ad nauseum.
And I would not be the first to point out the utter hypocrisy of pretending to be the party that speaks for marginalized Americans while, as just one example in a sea of horrific examples, the Obama administration did almost nothing to defend the mostly black and hispanic recipients of predatory loans in the (toothless) Dodd-Frank legislation or to hold anyone accountable for the devastation that the (often fraudulent!) foreclosure crisis caused. (As one state rep memorably said at the time, this crisis was “an extinction event” for the black and hispanic middle class.)
Yes, you might (rightly) argue that politics is the art of the possible. That would be all well and good and acceptable if the Democrats didn’t then spin on their heals to denounce Republicans as the party of hate, the party of bankers, the party against the middle class. It is a classic eye-wink-at-the-hand scenario which has become too much to bear—not just for the white working class which used to be a critical component of the Democrats’ base, but also increasingly for people like myself who are further to the left and less and less willing to accept the fallacy that the party of Hillary Clinton is the best we can hope for. Democrats paying lip service to progressive politics while willfully participating in the ever-increasing right-ward shift of American governing principles and policies has been detrimental to any effort to meaningfully advance any genuine progressive agenda, and a sober look at the complicity of the Demoractic party is absolutely required to move forward constructively.
So yes, lets fight for the marginalized. Let’s speak out publicly against the “Trump administration’s erosion of American civil rights and immoral executive actions that threaten immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community,” as Leyth so nicely put it in his article. But let’s not pretend that this erosion of so-called “American values” is in any way novel. The Trump administration may be uniquely corrupt, cruel, and incompetent, but as the resistance against it coalesces, we cannot afford and we do not deserve to be in any way sanctimonious about how much better “our guy” was for these populations (not to mention how much better our candidate would have been for them), if for no other reason than that we risk alienating new allies in the process.