Not bystanding

Having watched the highlights, such as they were, of the first Presidential debate, I find myself concurring with the general view among commentators, that a new low has been reached in US political discourse. Trump made no effort to advance any sort of vision beyond his usual litany of incoherent grievance, calculated to inflame the fear and anger of his core supporters. Biden could hardly avoid looking Presidential in comparison, which will have played well with those already planning to vote for him, as well as winning over some waverers, but this seems unlikely to significantly alter the trajectory of the campaign.

The important point to grasp is that the liberal notion that fascism can be defeated in “the marketplace of ideas” represents a serious misunderstanding of the nature of the struggle. The likes of Trump do not come to events like these in good faith, to calmly discuss policy differences in the hope of convincing undecided voters of the merits of their platform, but rather view them as opportunities to further their narrative of conflict, where uncompromising strength is the ultimate virtue, and falsehood and provocation are legitimate tools in the pursuit of total victory. Trump was not trying to win any new hearts and minds last night; he was rallying his troops for the battle ahead.

This presents a dilemma for the left; one does not want to validate Trump’s apocalyptic fantasies, but, when the President of the United States is openly calling on white supremacist militias to ready themselves for action, it does seem irresponsible not to prepare some sort of response.

That doesn’t mean that we have to mirror Trump’s violence. The strength of the proletariat is in their solidarity; faced with that, Trump’s goons and enablers, whether in the streets, the Senate, or the Supreme Court, are powerless. Between now and election day there needs to be some serious organising done; to be ready to counter any attempt at voter suppression, and to turn out in mass demonstrations if, or more likely when, Trump tries to dispute the outcome.

Of course I’m writing this from an ocean away, but I’m confident that my US comrades will have come to the same conclusions, and will already be working on building the movement. The next few weeks may get ugly, but I’m sure that progress will prevail.

RBG RIP

As if the current election season wasn’t fraught enough, the stakes have been raised even further by the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For about a moment after I heard the news I thought there was no way that Republicans would have the gall to attempt to fill the vacancy before election day, after obstructing Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for ten months in 2016, but then I realised, yes, of course they would, and, sure enough, Mitch McConnell has announced his intention to push for confirmation quickly, though he left the exact timetable vague, perhaps reflecting some uncertainty over whether he has the votes to support such a course of action.

To be fair, I would do exactly the same thing in his position, though I hope I’d be a little more honest in acknowledging that the manoeuvre was a partisan power-play rather than some high-minded act of principle. At least the situation makes clear once again the thoroughly political nature of the Law, and the need to approach the confirmation as another front in the class struggle.

Hierarchy of fear

So, what should I be feeling more anxious about; the increasingly febrile atmosphere surrounding the US elections, or the stalemate in the Brexit negotiations?

On the face of it, the outlook in the US does appear more alarming. Donald Trump is upping the ante of threatened chaos as election day approaches, and he remains stubbornly behind in the polls. It initially looked like he would limit himself to suggesting that his supporters should dispute the outcome if he lost, but now he is leaning towards encouraging them to take up arms to protect the vote from alleged fraud, thus giving a green light to bands of trigger-happy vigilantes to descend upon the polling stations and deny access to anyone who they think looks suspicious (ie non-white). This would be incendiary at the best of times, but with the country in the grip of a deadly epidemic, economic insecurity on the rise, anger over racial injustice still at boiling point, and the western states literally in flames, it’s not unimaginable that the situation could deteriorate to the extent that the right’s wilder fantasies of nullifying opposition by imposing martial law may be realised.

Compared with such an apocalyptic scenario, the latest difficulties in the never-ending Brexit saga must seem, to our US readers, charmingly inconsequential. It’s true that the sight of Her Majesty’s Prime Minister declaring his intention to breach international law by going back on a treaty that he himself agreed less than a year ago, on the grounds that he didn’t really understand what he was signing up to, is something that must, in outside observers, inspire pity rather than fear, but, for those of us actually living here, the implications are rather more sobering. It is clear that Boris Johnson and those around him have absolutely no grasp of the seriousness of the situation, let alone any strategy for navigating the turmoil that will result if, as seems inevitable, they fail to negotiate an EU trade deal before the middle of next month. Similarly, it is difficult to have any confidence in their ability to handle the looming resurgence of coronavirus cases, given that their plans rely on the widespread application of as-yet uninvented technology. The combined effect of all this threatens a social crisis which could be every bit as traumatic as that in the US, though, since the UK is, thankfully, not awash with firearms, it will hopefully be less bloody.

What really concerns me about our domestic situation though is the lack of coherent opposition to the government. One has the sense that, in the US, there is a sizeable and growing constituency, both within and outside the political establishment, that is aware of what Trump is up to, and is working to stop him. Over here, while there is no shortage of dismay at Johnson’s antics, it is far from clear what anyone plans to do about it.

I guess I should count myself amongst the guilty on that count; the demoralisation I felt after the election has never lifted, and I’ve made no real effort to contribute to any sort of resistance recently. I know that I would feel calmer if I was engaged in some kind of collective effort, and even in the current circumstances there are plenty of things going on locally that I could help out with, to feel that I was making even a little difference. Perhaps if I focus on the small things for now, with time my appetite to tackle the big issues will return.