The Left’s Fighting Spirit

Somewhere along the way, the American right started believing their own lies, made up stories they continually told about the left’s weakness, immorality, and lack of patriotism. The right severely underestimated the left’s love of our constitution and our country.

That’s what I saw this weekend at the protests in Boston at Logan International Airport and Copley Square, in Boston. Thousands of Americans spontaneously coming out to defend the country that they loved from an illegal executive order that targeted legal aliens residing in the country and laid the groundwork for discriminating against immigrants based on national origin and religion. The protests across the country should serve as a warning to the new president and his enablers that the people of this country are awake, and won’t easily surrender our values or our laws.

The visceral dislike of the new president, paired with his disrespect for the laws of this land, including those inscribed within the founding documents, has brought home to a lot of people how fragile our system is if we don’t actively defend it. But many of us  saw signs of its fragility long before the recent election of Donald Trump (and those familiar with history know that our values have never been perfectly realized). For instance, the constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure has been eroded beyond recognition. Corporations have been afforded constitutional protections that had previously been reserved for individuals. And, the power of the president has gradually expanded, while congress’ place in the system has contracted. These are gradual, long term trends that can’t be blamed on any one individual or party. It is, however, safe to say that every single one of our elected officials, as well as the interest groups and lobbyists who largely set the political agenda, and the corporate owned mainstream media, and all of us as individuals, have some measure of responsibility for letting it get to this point.

The question I’m asking myself, after I finish asking myself if our system of government can survive the unprecedented threat that Donald Trump poses, is whether there’s a way to oppose Trump that also manages to breathe new life into our politics, that rejects leaving certain people out of civil life based on race, or class, or geography, or any other factor, and leaves us stronger and more committed to American laws and to our country’s values of radical equality, individual freedom, and tolerance for difference than we were before. If there is, it’s up to those of us somewhere to the left of liberal to find it. Supporters of Black Lives Matter and Bernie Bros alike, we are united at the very least by our knowledge that the system wasn’t broken by Trump. We saw its fractures when he was just a laugh line.

We need to come together. We need to put aside our differences and work for a common cause. We need to fight this urgent threat to our constitution and our way of life. I believe all that. But is it enough to fight only for a return to the status quo which produced Trump in the first place? I don’t believe it is.

What Do We Know: Trump’s Rise

This will be an ongoing series, trying to tease out facts we can rely on from a morass of opinion, suspicion, and outright falsehood.

We know that in the primaries Donald Trump made sexist and racist comments, mocked a disabled reporter, said false and prejudicial things about a major religion, and made suspicion of legal and illegal immigrants a key plank in his platform. This was unlike the statements of any politician in recent memory, and brought sexism, racism, etc into the political mainstream in a way those of us in our 20s and 30s had never seen before. We also know that this rhetoric was rejected by many Americans, but greeted by some of his supporters as a refreshing lack of a filter and a rejection of oppressive political correctness, and by others of his supporters as a chance for white nationalist groups to gain newfound political influence.

How do we know this? We heard his words with our own ears (some of which I’ve linked to above), as well as the words of his opponents and supporters, including those who were members of white nationalist groups such as the KKK. Our memories tell us that this is a change from previous politicians, who were careful not to say openly racist, sexist, or prejudiced things, or who apologized when they said something that was construed that way.

We know that Donald Trump believes in torture, which is illegal according to the Geneva Conventions, that he’s expressed an openness to using nuclear weapons, and more recently in sending “the feds” into a major American city. We also know that he has spoken admiringly of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. This knowledge supports a belief that he is an authoritarian who respects strength to the extent that he might not agree with (or even understand) the constitutional limitations on presidential power in America, or the consequences that the use of torture or nuclear weapons might have on American soldiers or the safety of the American homeland.

We know that Trump has visited Russia, but at present we do not know what sort of ties, if any, Trump has to Russia, or if Russia has some sort of leverage against Trump. On that we have only rumors, suspicions, and innuendo. In fact, the evidence for Trump’s Russia connections at this time resembles the “evidence” for weapons of mass destruction that was amassed in the lead up to the war in Iraq, which subsequently turned out not to have such weapons. The case for Russian hacking and subsequent dissemination of material harmful to Hillary Clinton in the election is stronger, but I’m still hesitant to put it in the category of something we know for certain. This is my skepticism at work—I haven’t personally seen the proof of Russian hacking and do not have the technical expertise to evaluate it if I’d seen it.

To summarize: I know that Donald Trump has brought racist, sexist, and anti-immigrant sentiments into the political mainstream. I believe he has an authoritarian temperament and lacks respect for (or understanding of) the US constitution, based on the evidence in his own statements. Some people suspect (but I do not know) that he has unusual support from/connection to Russia for an American president. We can argue about whether these are good things, bad things, or irrelevant things, but I believe we can agree on them.

A caveat: Philosophically speaking, all of these things are in some sense unknowable. We’re just doing our best here. If you’d like to dispute my facts or their interpretations, leave me a comment.