Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
One week ago, Donald Trump took office. We at SMAC, like many other groups on campus, condemn his presidency. But we emphasize that his electoral victory was not an isolated event. We cannot condemn just Trump and his Republican Party, but the systems and society that produced him. And as we make plans to fight back this Friday, we must reject the ideology and tactics of liberal politics, which have proven unable to prevent the rise of Trump.
Trump and the ‘alt-right’ rallied the ‘white working class,’ nationalists, and elites with white supremacist policies and rhetoric. The spectres of a border fence, mass deportations, fascist Muslim registry, and “Law and Order” dogwhistles are all in line with the core values of the American project: settler colonialism, racism, capitalism, and imperialism. It is only out of this history that Trump’s success could be possible.
In addition to white supremacy, the rise of neoliberalism across both aisles of the corporate party system and the subsequent disenfranchisement of workers was central to Trump’s success. After nearly forty years of stagnant wages, the dismantling of unions and worker’s power, and three imperialist wars, we should not be surprised when people’s anger manifests itself in diverse and unexpected ways. Discontentment with the status quo has manifested itself in riots, Senator Bernie Sanders’ grassroots campaign for president, and in Trump’s popularity. Capitalism has leveraged this rage towards its own destructive reproduction, harnessing racist sentiments to elect Trump, while ignoring the socioeconomic exploitation at the intersecting nexus of oppressions.
Ironically, it is this very rage that will be its undoing.
No matter what liberal apologists and Democratic ideologues claim, Obama’s presidency looked a lot more like eight more years of George Bush and neoconservatism than eight years of “hope” and “change.” Mass deportations, the modern surveillance state, imperialist military interventions overseas, mass incarceration, neoliberal economic policy, intolerance of dissidents, and a militarized police force have all been central policy features of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party establishment for years before Trump assumed office. Obama deported more than 2.5 million people, and Hillary Clinton, as senator for New York, voted for the Secure Fence Act which proposed a 700-mile border barrier not unlike Trump’s proposed 1,000-mile wall. Under the Obama administration, the NSA expanded and continued its mass surveillance of the U.S. public and, despite his earlier condemnation, in 2011 renewed the Patriot Act.
While the Democratic party and Obama ran as the anti-war party in 2008, the U.S. continues to station ground troops in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, intervened in Libya and left the country without a central government, and has employed drone strikes in Algeria, Mali, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia— killing hundreds of civilians. Ironically, despite massive opposition from the Republican Party, the Affordable Care Act and its health care mandate actually originated as the conservative alternative to a single-payer health care system.
The Obama presidency also oversaw the bailout of the nation’s financial systems, letting bankers off the hook for the financial crisis and buying their failing corrupt institutions with public funds. The Obama administration denied a record rate of 77% of Freedom of Information Act requests and mercilessly prosecuted whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Jeffrey Sterling (Manning’s recent commutation, while a victory, is no excuse for her seven years of torture). Perhaps most egregiously of all, excess military grade equipment and vehicles from Iraq and Afghanistan were sold and gifted to police forces around the country under Obama. The weapons used to occupy people overseas are now being used by the police to occupy domestic communities, particularly low-income communities of color, as exemplified spectacularly in Charlotte, Baltimore, Ferguson, Milwaukee, and countless cities and towns across the country. Make no mistake: white supremacy and imperialism put assault rifles and Humvees from the Invasion of Iraq into the hands of the heinously racist U.S. police.
As an organization, we denounce the system regardless of its figurehead. Since much of what Trump envisions has already been enacted with the consent of Democratic Party politicians, we feel that a reformation of the Democratic Party is not the proper response to this election. The Democratic Party and its role in the maintenance of slavery and its modern incarnations, imperial expansion and intervention, and dismantling of the labor movement, is antithetical to the goals of SMAC. Reformism is futile. If its history is any indication, the Democratic Party will always thwart the liberatory, transformative politics—from prison abolition and anti-imperialism, to climate justice and socialism—that we fight for.
We hope that the election of Trump becomes an opportunity for the left to organize and agitate, to empower workers to fight against a two-party system that does not represent their interests or needs. We seek liberation from corrupt, oppressive structures and the oligarchy that they uphold, which can not be done by conceding to or petitioning for authority to act on our behalf.
While we share their anti-Trump sentiments, many on the center-left have adopted misguided tactics and strategy that we similarly cannot endorse. Politics does not end at the ballot box or with your local representative; holding out for the 2020 electoral circus does not just represent a myopic notion of political change, it’s a privilege many cannot afford. The focus on calling legislators and letter writing, while well-intentioned, only reinforces this logic. We reject liberals’ obsessive interest in discourse, for dialogue cannot be confused with action.
Fascism won’t be fought by calling Leanne Krueger-Braneky or hugging racist white people. These strategies didn’t work in the past and they won’t work now. For many people in this country, resistance is a matter of life and death and we will make no hesitation in defending these communities. SMAC aspires to mobilize such efforts.
Swarthmore Marxists and Anti-Capitalists seeks to be a place of collective struggle and solidarity. In these times, we must unite theory and practice by improving material realities for the people of our community and the greater Philadelphia area, with respect for the folks who have been doing this work before us. SMAC is an organizing hub, a space for critical Left thought, and a home for radicals on an otherwise liberal campus.
The nature of radical work is necessarily intersectional. We stand—and must act—in solidarity with people of color, queer and trans folk, undocumented people, women, indigenous communities across the globe, and people with disabilities. Thus, we do not stand in solidarity (or seek to work) with Swarthmore Conservatives or any organization that invites racist eugenicists like Charles Murray to campus or endorses “socially liberal” advocates of economic exploitation. Similarly, if a racist eugenicist is invited to campus, a leader in SMAC won’t defend their right to speak.
As a new organization on campus, SMAC is still evolving. We acknowledge that we do not have a final structure or agenda. Rather, our political lines will be flexible as current material conditions demand, aligning it with Swarthmore traditions of putting theory into practice. We desire to grow with new people, perspectives, experiences, and ideas. We will only learn what functions our organization can serve on this campus as we continue to expand. We also hope that through this work we will create new opportunities for other projects to establish themselves on campus.
SMAC will be meeting this Friday at 8 p.m. in Trotter 203 to discuss the way forward, to SMAC Back Fascism. We invite students disillusioned by the state of activism on Swarthmore’s campus to join our group and define our work. Fighting Trump requires an active and radical Left unwilling to compromise with the ascendant Fascism that is Trump and the far-right. We must reject the moral poverty of liberalism, for liberal politics contributed to the neoliberalism and racism that precipitated Trump’s rise. We must continue organizing in our communities. And we must never lose sight of the radical future that’s possible.
Featured image courtesy of Red and Black Britain.