“...[T]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr., channeling Rev. Theodore Parker, Selma, Alabama, 1965
“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”
- C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
Way back on November 2, 2016 (which now seems like another geologic epoch) I tweeted, what is in hindsight, a very unfortunate Tweet:
While it did garner me a follow from a “futurist” Twitter bot, its flippant dismissal of the possibility of a Trump presidency haunts me. I did, however, get half the prediction correct—Trump will be running for election in 2020, only as the incumbent now, not a challenger. He has already registered his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, and came up with a very creative campaign slogan.
To that end, the Trump administration and the newly empowered and radicalized Right have already begun laying the groundwork for the next election cycles—not just in 2018, but in 2020 and beyond. They are thinking ahead—way ahead—and so should we.
I am going to modify King’s imagery here. If we are to keep the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, we need to think of bending it from both ends: one toward economic justice, and the other toward political justice. This is hard work and many forces are now arrayed against those ends.
Rest assured, anti-fascists will not win this fight in 2018, and we will not win it in 2020. We need to organize for the long term. Even if Trump’s particular brand of autocracy is immediately defeated or stalled, planning for the deeper future means preparing for a United States that will not succumb to it again.
We should plan beyond Trump, because he is planning for a future without those who oppose fascism. Without you, without me.
I know concrete signs that our “long term” will be actually very, very short seem to arrive in thicker droves every day—global war, unchecked climate change, the literal end of life on earth, tacos with fried chicken shells. At no time in history has economic injustice been more stark, and never has so much wealth been concentrated into the hands of so few.
And now with the Trump administration, all that financial capital is finally merging with political capital in a Marxian fever dream. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that none of you are in Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross’ or Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin’s tax bracket (Just in case you are, I know of a leading politics and culture blog that could benefit from some venture funding).
In fact, the net worth of Trump’s cabinet is far and away the highest of any incoming administration ever (between $5 billion and $13 billion, depending on how you calculate it, not counting the personal fortune of Trump himself). Speaking of tax brackets, Trump and some members of his cabinet have failed to fully disclose their financial conflicts, only intensifying the funnel of wealth whose maelstrom is consuming our political system.
We are looking now at a concrete redefinition of who is “rich” and who is decidedly not. And as for political justice, the threats are mounting almost too quickly to keep up: from crackdowns on peaceful protest, to threatening the Fourth Estate with censorship and exclusion (calling the press “the opposition”), to undermining our electoral system, to an unconstitutional travel embargo on Muslims, to preparing to sell off America’s public lands, to dismissing Federal employees for “betrayal,” to gutting our national security apparatus, to whatever fascist outrage is on its way next, it’s beginning to look an awful lot like what Yonatan Zunger has called a coup from within. All within two weeks of Trump’s inauguration.
This is the landscape we occupy. These are the stakes.
C.L.R. James was an unlikely scholar in an unlikely time. Born into poverty in Trinidad near the turn of the last century and largely self-taught, James wrote histories, novels, and a memoir inspired by the working poor and the oppressed. He was politically active in international socialist and anti-colonial movements throughout his life. His 1938 study of the Haitian slave revolt and revolution, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, is a masterpiece of Marxian history. In The Black Jacobins, he writes:
When history is written as it ought to be written, it is the moderation and long patience of the masses at which men will wonder, not their ferocity. . . . The patience and forbearance of the poor are among the strongest bulwarks of the rich.
This is the real paradox for those of us who increasingly lack the means of both economic and political production. It seems that we are doomed to patience in unwitting support of those who would seek to oppress us in the long run—pawns in an historical game with only one end. But we are simultaneously spurred to action in the short term. We have nothing to lose but our chains. (As somebody said somewhere. I dunno.)
We are now called to ferocity, to bend the arc of the moral universe from both ends.
Two years is a temporal blip, and the American political system is designed to turn over on a regular basis. But don’t assume that even a strong reaction against Trumpism in the 2018 mid-term election will be the end. The arrow of history suggests that when the forces of monetary and political capital coalesce, the real foundation for revolution will find its footing. This is a fight for the long term.
Work now to elect progressives to local and national office. Run for office yourself. Demand accountability from your Senators and Congressmen, from your mayors, state legislators, and those who sit on your county commission, city council, or school board. Organize the labor, go to the march, make the call, write the letter, show up at the office. See if your representatives are willing to stand on principle for you and your fellow citizens, or whether they will succumb to fascism. Your vote and your action will make a difference now.
But do that work for the future.