By Bill Barclay
Perhaps this document should come with a trigger warning: many people are going to be upset with the gist of my argument: I don’t think “Defund the Police” is either good politics or policy. As an alternative I believe we should argue for and adopt the slogan “Demilitarize the Police” as politics and policy.
There is both a semantic problem with the slogan “Defund the Police” and two major substantive problems. The semantic problem in turn creates a political problem. The substantive problems raise more serious concerns about how policing functions in the overall the U.S. polity and economy. The first of the substantive problems is rooted in “American Exceptionalism;” the second flows from the dynamics of class and power.
A. The Semantic Problem: What Does the Slogan Actually Mean?
“Defund the police” clearly means different things to different people. And that is a major problem with this as a slogan. If you say “I’m in favor of defunding the police,” you almost immediately find yourself having to say, “well, what I really mean is X,” whether X is complete abolition, redirecting some funding into other means of dealing with the problems for which police are too often called, changing who gets recruited to the police, etc. In contrast, when the 1960s ant-war movement adopted the slogan, “U.S. out of Vietnam,” or SNCC (and others) said “Black Power,” or Occupy and many more wanted to “Tax the 1%,” the meaning was clear – it was exactly what was said and it was also clear to others. A slogan that leaves you having to explain what you mean and that is subject to too many variations is not one that will be effective politically. In addition, this slogan has given the those don’t want to fundamentally change policing in the U.S. a political opening. They are already casting themselves as defenders of civility and social order against a rising tide of chaos and civil conflict.
In short, if your goal is abolition of police forces, just say so; don’t try to obfuscate your politics. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to abolish the police but have a range of changes to pursue, say that.
B. American Exceptionalism and the Defund the Police
The problem of American exceptionalism is one for police abolitionists such as #8toAbolition (and others). But it should also be of concern to those who want fundamental changes in policing that fall short of abolition. Both argue that many, perhaps most, calls to the police are for situations that could be better handled through unarmed public safety personnel or community members at large (Calls for Service, or CFS, data show that most calls to the police are for non-violent incidents.)
There is certainly merit in this argument. But, whether advanced by abolitionists or those who want to shift funding away from but not eliminate all police funding, it fails to address an important category of law enforcement. How will we handle violent criminal activities such as robbery, rape or murder.
The problem of relying on unarmed public safety personnel or community members at large is a problem of American Exceptionalism: too many guns in the hands of too many people. The United States is the only country in the world in which there are more guns than people. We are outliers by a very large margin when compared to other wealthy, industrial nations. We have about 120 guns/100 people. In contrast, our next door neighbor, Canada, has about 35; Germany and France 20, Australia 15, India and the UK less than 5, etc. The 19 countries where police do not routinely carry firearms are ones where the ratio of guns to population is much lower than in the U.S. I, for one, would not be willing to serve as an unarmed public safety officer charged with stopping the crimes that inflict bodily harm on others. Nor do I think that many others would be willing to serve in such roles.
But beyond this problem with guns is another that should be of particular concern to progressives/socialists/the left: who has most of the guns in civilian hands in the U.S. Despite the claims that some make about Antifa, it is the case that gun owners are more white, male and self-described conservative than the population as a whole; this is particularly true for the 2/3rds of gun owners that own more than 1 gun. We have seen this pattern of gun ownership again and again in the actions of right-wing militia, most recently in efforts to intimidate elected officials over shelter-in-place policies (as I write this even the current Justice Department has become concerned about the arms and aims of armed to-the-teeth right-wing organizations.) As bad as the police may be at solving serious crimes (homicide clearance rate in the U.S. is barely over 60%) or providing protection for left organizations and actions, we would be foolish in the extreme to entrust “the community” with these tasks.
C. Who Would and Would Not Have Police
This second substantive problem with the “Defund the Police” slogan applies primarily to the abolitionist position.
The origins of the modern urban police in northern U.S. cities came from the interests of merchants and other well-off segments of the population concerned about “social disorder.” This occurred in the 1830s and 1840s when the immigrant population first became significant in places like New York, Boston, Chicago and elsewhere. “Commercial interests,” aka the economic elite of the day, wanted to protect their lives and property and also wanted to be sure that the new urban working class would be available for employment. The previous system of private and for-profit “policing“ was both expensive (and had to be paid for by this elite) and inefficient. So, the answer was to shift the costs to the public as a whole but also to rationalize the activity of policing. The class nature of origins of policing in the U. S. is even more starkly illustrated in developments in the southern states. There the roots of police forces were the “slave patrol” of the ant-bellum South that morphed into police forces in the post-bellum states of the Confederacy.
So, you may say, it would be good to rid ourselves of an institution that is rooted in class power and the desire of our rulers for social control. But, that is not what would happen; instead the institution of the police would in all likelihood simply change form. And the change in form would also be a change in accountability.
While it was true that the economic elites of early to mid-nineteenth century U.S. waned to shift the costs of policing to the public purse, they most definitely wanted policing that protected their power and privilege. Is there any doubt that, should the public institution of the police actually be abolished, our current, extremely wealthy rulers would quickly establish their own private, for-profit, police? The U.S. already has a higher percentage of its labor force engaged in mostly private “guard labor” than other countries. This percentage would multiply in a post-public police world. And, as weak as the oversight for today’s police forces often is, this new private, for-profit police would not be accountable to anyone except their billionaire-class employers. If they harassed, attacked, or injured a citizen not protected by this private police force, there would be little or no recourse.
D. Demilitarize the Police
I think the “demilitarize the police” is a better slogan and better politics. Demilitarization has two primary thrusts.
First, end the flow of military hardware into police departments (and return the grenade launchers, the armored vehicles, etc.) In and of itself this would be a significant change in the police presence in our cities. The ready availability of this military hardware—much of it actually brand new—naturally leads to its use. It reminds me of the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant” where, in the very small town of Stockbridge MA, the pursuit of Guthrie’s littering “crime” brings out helicopters, multiple police cars, etc. It was funny in the song; it’s serious in our cities. Here’s how to start this aspect of demilitarization.
Second, change the internal culture of the police. Accomplishing this will not be easy, but one very important place to start is with the often overlooked question of who becomes a police officer. Over the past two decades we have encouraged veterans to become police officers. Veterans receive bonus points in their application for police work. It's a relatively good job in terms of pay, benefits, and stability, especially for working class people who have joined the military in the economic draft. Today, although only 7% of the U.S. population are veterans, more than 25% of police officers are veterans.
This recruitment demographic brings a problem with it. These veterans have learned the military approach to new and unpredictable situations, which seeks to immediately establish control, by whatever means you can. Perhaps a good tactic for the battlefield but a very bad one for policing communities. Coupling this with the increased access to military hardware simply compounds the police culture problem.
Of course changing the culture of the police will require more than reducing—maybe even eliminating—the flow of veterans into U.S. police departments. There are many other ideas out there that need to be explored and applied. The example of Camden NJ is intriguing—disband the existing police department and build a new one along very different lines.
Demilitarizing the police opens the path to these changes.
Jamaal Bowman, right, upset Rep. Eliot Engel, a longtime hawk, in a congressional district spanning Westchester and the Bronx.
Electoral Politics Work : The Revolt of the Cities
By Harold Meyerson
The American Prospect
In 1951, the political journalist Samuel Lubell published a book with the modest title The Future of American Politics. Its most interesting chapter dealt with the shift of the nation’s cities from the Republican to the Democratic column, which began when they voted for the Democrats’ 1928 presidential nominee, New York Gov. Al Smith, and was consolidated four years later with their overwhelming support for Franklin Roosevelt. The “Revolt of the Cities,” Lubell called it.
Part of this shift was a function of demographics. Many Eastern and Southern European immigrants who came to America from the 1880s until Congress slammed the door on all but “Nordic” immigrants in 1924 didn’t really enter the electorate until 1928, when the Democrats nominated Smith, the nation’s first Catholic presidential nominee, and the first to grow up in an immigrant slum (New York’s Lower East Side). Those immigrants—Jews, Italians, Slavs—clustered in the nation’s cities, and Smith’s candidacy brought them to the polls in sufficient numbers to turn those cities, most of which had been longtime Republican bastions, into a reliable Democratic base. What Smith began, Roosevelt continued, as the Depression not only increased the Democratic surge of immigrants and their children, but also brought the urban young of all ethnicities under the Democrats’ banner, too.
Six years ago in the pages of the Prospect, I noted that another such revolt was taking shape. The great wave of Latin American, Asian, African, and Caribbean immigrants was finally beginning to shape the politics of cities. In 2013, a host of progressive mayors (at least by 2013 standards) were elected in New York, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Seattle, and other major cities, all brought to power in part by coalitions of left-leaning unions and community groups rooted chiefly in minority and immigrant communities. I noted that while Barack Obama in his 2012 race for re-election outpolled the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, Walter Mondale, by 10.5 percent nationally, he outpolled Mondale by well over 20 percentage points in large cities.
More from Harold Meyerson
But just as the immigrant surge of 1928 became both a broader and more radical force in cities once the Depression took hold, the movements for change in today’s cities have become broader and more radical in the wake of the Great Recession, the current pandemic and its accompanying economic dislocations, and the anti-racist upheavals following the murder of George Floyd. Just as millions of young people in the 1930s were at least partly radicalized by the Depression, so today’s millennials and zoomers, clustered in our cities, have been radicalized by the past 12 years of governmental and societal failures, not least the failure to come to terms with the climate crisis.
If anyone had doubts about where our cities—and much of the Democratic Party—are headed, they should have been dispelled by Tuesday’s primary elections. Young progressive insurgents won a host of Democratic contests in New York. Jamaal Bowman upset House Foreign Policy Committee Chair Eliot Engel, a longtime hawk, in a congressional district spanning Westchester and the Bronx, while in a neighboring New York suburban district, progressive Mondaire Jones won a multi-candidate contest for a seat vacated by retiring House member Nita Lowey. Both Bowman and Jones are African American. A progressive Indian American, Suraj Patel, is roughly tied with longtime House incumbent Carolyn Maloney in New York’s fabled “Silk Stocking” district on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with many votes still to be counted. And down-ballot, as my colleague Alex Sammon reports, progressive Democrats unseated incumbents and won open seats in state legislative contests.
Most of these candidates had backing from the leaders and institutions of America’s new left: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and New York’s own Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who kicked off this generational and ideological revolution two years ago when she stunned the political world by unseating Joe Crowley, widely considered to be Nancy Pelosi’s successor as the Democrats’ House leader, in the 2018 primaries.
But it wasn’t just progressive pols who lined up behind Tuesday’s insurgent victors. Since at least the late 19th century, New York has been home to the largest and best-organized left in American politics, and their handiwork has been increasingly apparent in Gotham’s current move leftward. The Working Families Party has campaigned for progressive New York candidates for two decades, and in the 2018 elections, it succeeded in ousting the city’s conservative Democratic state senators, who for years had given Republicans control of the state Senate, in favor of a new generation of progressives. New York’s local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America cut their electoral teeth in 2018, too, playing a key role in Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory. Both those groups, and others like them, were instrumental in the progressive victories that swept New York on Tuesday. The mass protests against racism and police violence that have filled New York’s streets in recent weeks were not only a further factor in Tuesday’s victories, but they also appear to have elevated longtime Working Families Party standard-bearer Jumaane Williams, the city’s elected public advocate, to a front-running position should he choose to run for mayor in 2021.
New York may have moved farthest down this path of urban transformation, but it is hardly alone. Last year, six members of DSA were elected to Chicago’s city council, while in 2018, Ayanna Pressley ousted a longtime liberal incumbent for a congressional seat in Boston. Two other members of “The Squad”—Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar—won seats in inner-city Detroit and Minneapolis, respectively.
While the movement of cities is uniformly leftward, the composition of the cities determines just how far left that movement goes. The 2018 elections also saw Democratic challengers winning long-Republican congressional seats in Oklahoma City and Charleston, South Carolina. Those two Democrats are on the right flank of the party’s House delegation, but that Democrats represent those cities at all indicates just how different urban America has become from Donald Trump’s increasingly rural base. That difference may be highlighted again when all the votes in Tuesday’s Kentucky primary come in. Right now, centrist Amy McGrath holds a narrow lead over progressive Charles Booker in the race to determine who will be the Democratic nominee to oppose Mitch McConnell in the fall. But the vote of Kentucky’s one sizable city, Louisville, has yet to be tallied, and when it is, there’s a good chance that Booker—an African American state senator from Louisville’s poorest ZIP code who came to prominence during demonstrations for black lives over the past month—will emerge victorious.
In almost every major metropolitan area, particularly outside the non-union South, a generational tide is beginning to sweep away veteran moderates and even longtime center-left Democrats in favor of younger, leftier candidates. With the depredations of Donald Trump now pushing many hitherto Republican suburbs into the Democratic column as well, these two distinct evolutions foretell a wide ideological range within the Democrats’ future congressional delegations. But with Democrats clustered in cities and their leftward-moving inner suburbs, it’s clear that the future of the party is with the left, and that the efforts of its current legislative leaders to defend the old guard will increasingly call to mind those of Canute on the beach, helpless as the tide rolls in.
The senator on the protests, his phone calls with Joe Biden, and when to compromise.
By Andrew Marantz
June 9, 2020
In 1997, during his fourth term as a U.S. representative, Bernie Sanders published a political memoir called “Outsider in the House.” On the book’s cover, superimposed over an image of the Capitol, was a photo of Sanders, with his signature Coke-bottle glasses and mussed gray hair, raising his arm in a closed-fist salute. At the time, he was the only member of Congress who was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. This was the essence of his public image: in the establishment, but not of it.
The previous year, Bill Clinton had won reëlection, in part, by running to the right of the Republicans on several issues. Sanders, who described himself interchangeably as “a progressive” and “a democratic socialist,” ran far to Clinton’s left. “This is a book about hopes and dreams that will not be realized in our lifetimes,” Sanders and his co-author, a poetry scholar at the University of Vermont named Huck Gutman, wrote in the introduction. “It examines the two major political parties—neither of which comes close to representing the needs of working people—and the frustrations and successes of helping to create an independent progressive political movement.” Sanders seemed to define “success” as a long career in Congress, during which he could continue his quixotic advocacy for “programs which sustain the weakest and most vulnerable among us,” such as “health care for all people as a right of citizenship.”
In 2015, the book was reissued under a new title: “Outsider in the White House.” On the new cover, Sanders, now a senator, looked more or less the same—he has looked more or less the same since 1987—but the raised fist was gone, replaced by a professional-looking haircut and an innocuous grin. The question posed by the book’s final chapter, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” now had a simpler answer: vote for me for President. “The majority of Americans today are outsiders,” the new preface read. “Together, we can remake our politics and our governance so that none of us are outsiders anymore.”
In 2016, and then in 2020, Sanders fell short of taking over the Democratic Party and capturing the Presidency. But he did remake our politics. Throughout the interminable primary campaign of the past year, in televised debate after televised debate, Sanders stood near the center of the stage, delivering the same populist talking points he’d been repeating for four decades. His more Clintonian opponents ran to his right; a variety of other candidates looked for signature issues—Julián Castro on immigration, Beto O’Rourke on gun control—that might allow them to outflank Sanders from the left. In the end, Democratic voters coalesced around Joe Biden, but exit polls indicated that a majority of them supported Sanders’s platform, including Medicare for All. In the most recent Morning Consult poll, Sanders was the most popular senator in the nation.
Recently, with the covid-19 pandemic still raging and protests against police brutality lighting up cities and towns around the country, I spoke to Sanders by phone. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
I have to start by asking you about everything that’s happening in our country right now. Many people are comparing this moment to 1968. You lived through the sixties. You were arrested at civil-rights protests in the sixties. What do you make of that comparison?
The sixties were largely provoked by opposition to the war in Vietnam, by racism, by economic injustice. And what we’re seeing now, and why we have perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, is focussed on systemic racism, on police brutality, and police murder. But I believe also that a lot of that anger that so many people are feeling goes beyond police murder, and it goes to the fact that we have a President who is a narcissist and a pathological liar. It goes, I think, into an economy in which many of the young people who are demonstrating today don’t have jobs, and the likelihood is, unless we make fundamental changes, they’re not going to have jobs. And it goes to a health-care system which is clearly dysfunctional, and it goes to neglect about the crisis of climate change. So I think it speaks to the over-all powerlessness that people are now feeling amidst all of the crises that we are experiencing with, clearly, a President who is a fraud and a danger to the country. You add all that stuff up, you got millions of people who are angry and are trying to fight back.
Since you mentioned the danger of the President: in the past, you have called Donald Trump an “authoritarian leader.” In 2018, there was a video on your Senate Web site called “Flirting with Fascism,” which was obviously about Trump. Now that he’s openly considering calling for the military to quell a mostly peaceful protest movement, do you think it’s time to call Donald Trump a fascist?
Doesn’t matter what you call him. I’m not worried about what you call him. I was very impressed by the statement of Jim Mattis, the former Trump Secretary of Defense, who made the very simple point that, in a democratic society, a society that has a Constitution, you don’t call out the military against civilian demonstrations. So the issue is, I think, you have, clearly, a President who, time and time again, has shown his authoritarian tendencies, who has shown his affection, deep affection for authoritarian leaders all over the world—in Eastern Europe, in China, in North Korea, in Russia—who introduced us to a military parade in Washington, D.C., and who is indicating now his desire to see our U.S. military attack civilian demonstrators. So I don’t care what you call it, but, clearly, we understand that we have a President who has very little understanding of the Constitution, a complete disregard for civil liberties in this country, and who will do anything that he can for his own political purposes and his own financial purposes. This is a narcissist who could care less about anything other than his own political power and financial well-being.
When you announced the suspension of your Presidential campaign, in April, you said, “Our movement has won the ideological struggle.” You listed a few of the ideas that you’ve pushed for for years now—a fifteen-dollar minimum wage, universal health care—which were once fringe and are now mainstream. What are the most urgent things that you intend to do, especially in the five months between now and the election, to translate those ideological victories into tangible policy victories?
As a United States senator, I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that another major piece of emergency legislation is passed as quickly as possible to deal with the extraordinary suffering that the working families of this country are experiencing right now. It’s very easy to ignore the reality that you’ve got millions of families in Vermont, and across this country, who literally have no food in their cupboards right now; who are scared to death; and, in fact, are being evicted from their homes, from their apartments, or are losing their homes. So where my attention is right now is to do everything I can as a senator to make sure that we move forward as quickly and aggressively as we can for a major piece of legislation which addresses the crises facing working families today. That means, in my view, the need for what we call a Paycheck Security Act, which does what European countries do, and that makes sure that every unemployed worker continues to receive his or her paycheck and the benefits that go with that. For those who don’t [have health care], I want Medicare to cover all health-care needs during the crisis. I believe every family, every individual, should get two thousand dollars a month during the crisis. We’ve got to save the Postal Service, which is a huge issue, and make sure that everybody has enough food to survive on. So that’s the immediate crisis.
Democratic Left MARCH 7, 2020
By Daniel Denvir
Donald Trump is in the White House, so it might surprise you to learn that U.S. support for immigrant rights is at a historic high. In 1994, 63% of Americans agreed that “immigrants are a burden on the country because they take jobs, housing and health care,” according to the Pew Research Center. By 2019, 28% thought that, while 62% agreed that “immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents.”
The Republican Party has made xenophobia a cornerstone of its politics. But Democratic voters have moved in the opposite direction. And fast. Until a decade ago, Republicans and Democrats held similar opinions on immigration. Then they diverged sharply. Last year, 83% of Democrats had positive views of immigrants, compared to 38% of Republicans. And Republicans who oppose immigration have come to oppose it in more brazenly racist terms, growing more likely since Trump took office to believe that the United States risks losing its identity if it is too open to immigration. At the same time, immigrants and an increasingly diverse Democratic Party base have emphatically supported of immigrant rights and freedom. The task of the Left is to join the immigrant rights movement in forcing Democratic politicians to catch up to their base—or, if necessary, to replace those politicians.
Under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, the war on immigrants was bipartisan. But escalating enforcement and the spectacular demonization of immigrants provoked a powerful movement in response. Starting in 2006, that movement began to weaken xenophobia’s hold on the Democratic base, even as Republican xenophobia become more radical. Today, nativism is increasingly a project of a right wing that—while tenaciously using anti-democratic levers to maintain power—is in long-term decline.
This polarization presents dangers, as when Trump moves to terrorize asylum-seekers and ban Muslims and Africans. But it also provides immense opportunities for the immigrant rights movement, because the bipartisan war on immigrants can’t continue as such without bipartisan public support. It’s an opportunity for the socialist Left to put immigrant workers at the core of an agenda that transforms this country for all workers.
It’s no coincidence that immigrants and their children—Latinos and Muslims in particular—are now core to Bernie Sanders’s base. Sanders pledges not only to end the war on immigrants but also to transform the rotten system that made it possible.
Bernie has a stellar immigration plan, but it’s his universal class-struggle politics that has been key to drawing the support of Latinos, who’ve long been central to an emerging multiracial U.S. working class and its labor struggles. For decades, immigrants have been stigmatized for using social services, softening up the public for an attack on everyone’s social services. Sanders’s proposal for Medicare for All includes undocumented people, a radical break with an ugly history of using racism and xenophobia to attack the welfare state.
The Right wins when it uses racism to divide ordinary people against one another. The Left wins when it embraces a capacious and inclusive “we the people” against economic elites. That is why we’re starting to win right now.
During the 1990s, Bill Clinton co-opted Republican nativism, painting immigrants as a welfare drain and criminal threat. With support from both parties, Congress militarized the border and passed laws that connected the deportation machine to the country’s criminal justice system. It also made deportations more difficult to fight, and deportees’ exclusion more permanent. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, immigrants came to be portrayed as a terrorist threat, and the deportation machinery was attached to the national security state. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (the latter earning the moniker “Deporter in Chief”) pushed for more deportations and more border crackdowns—in the hope of winning right-wing members of Congress over to “comprehensive immigration reform,” which combined legalization of undocumented people with guestworker programs and new enforcement measures. The right wing, however, consistently refused to support anything that looked like “amnesty.” They accepted the crackdowns as a free gift, offering nothing in return—all while further radicalizing their position and accusing Democrats of advocating open borders.
Any Democrat who defeats Trump will likely at minimum reverse escalations in the long-running war on immigrants—such as his Muslim ban and deep cuts to refugee admissions. We on the socialist Left must work with organizations like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and Movimiento Cosecha and others in fighting for just bills and executive actions that demilitarize the border, legalize undocumented immigrants, and break the ties between the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems— rejecting all compromise with the nativist Right.
What history demonstrates is that such compromises are not only morally odious as policy but also disastrous politically. For decades, the liberal establishment has abetted nativist politics and caused misery for immigrants. But worker freedom depends on immigrant freedom, because immigration status is used to divide the working class. And immigrant freedom depends on worker freedom, because immigrant struggles on the job are inseparable from their struggles for legal status. The good news is that immigrants are at the center of a U.S. working class that is starting to fight back and win.
From Democratic Left
Posted with permission
March 7, 2020.
About Daniel Denvir
Providence DSA member Daniel Denvir is a visiting fellow in International and Public Affairs at Brown University, host of The Dig podcast on Jacobin Radio, and author of All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It (Verso, 2020).
By Harold Meyerson
Within just a single hour on Monday afternoon, Donald Trump broke new ground for an American president in two distinct ways. First, in awkwardly and hesitantly brandishing a Bible outside St. John’s Church, he became the first U.S. president to publicly demonstrate how unaccustomed he is to actually holding a book. (“A Bible? I won’t have to read from it, will I? Is this the same one I got sworn in on? Can I just take the oath for my second term and be done with all this election shit?”)
Second, and more importantly, Trump also casually announced he’d send in the troops—which could mean federalizing the National Guard or actually unleashing the Army on America’s cities—if he thought governors and mayors weren’t sufficiently beating the crap out of protesters or rioters (it wasn’t clear which from what he said, and from the way such actions usually play out). What was clear was that he saw such action as a way to intensify his campaign against the Democrats in this year’s election: He’d come off as the tough guy (and presumably more effectual than he’s been in dealing with the pandemic and the economic collapse), while painting the Democrats as the world’s worst wusses.
It’s the absence of all calculations save the political that makes Trump’s intervention something new under the American sun. After all, presidents have sent in the troops before under a range of conditions. Rutherford B. Hayes sent in the Army to break the nationwide railroad strike of 1877, while Grover Cleveland did the same during the Pullman Strike of 1894. Interventions on behalf of equal rights have happened, too: In 1863, Abraham Lincoln sent Union troops (some of whom were still recovering from fighting at Gettysburg) to New York to suppress an anti-draft riot that had turned into a mass lynching of African Americans. In 1957, Dwight Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock to protect the first nine black children to integrate a school there. And throughout most of his two terms as president, Ulysses Grant deployed federal troops to the South to enforce Reconstruction and suppress the Ku Klux Klan. Though the actions Grant ordered were increasingly unpopular in not just the white South but the white North, too, and though Grant understood full well the depth of their unpopularity, his sense of duty and fairness compelled him to keep dispatching the troops.
It’s the absence of all calculations save the political that makes Trump’s intervention something new under the American sun.
Sometimes, a sense of duty and fairness, abetted by prudence and calculation, has kept a president from sending in the troops when powerful interests have clamored for it. I’ve written on several occasions that the most radical thing Franklin Roosevelt ever did was … nothing. When San Francisco and Minneapolis were shut down in 1934 by general strikes, American big business and conservatives demanded FDR send in the troops; many of them did the same when autoworkers illegally occupied General Motors factories in Flint, Michigan, in the winter of 1936-1937. During the San Francisco strike (at which time, Roosevelt was Hawaii-bound in mid-Pacific, on the cruiser Houston) and the other worker uprisings, however, Roosevelt declined to deploy the Army. As he told reporters, off the record but recorded nonetheless, “In the San Francisco strike a lot of people completely lost their heads and telegraphed me, ‘For God’s sake, come back; turn the ship around.’ Everybody demanded that I sail into San Francisco Bay, all flags flying and guns double-shotted, and end the strike.” By refusing to move against striking workers in 1934, FDR laid some of the groundwork for the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act one year later. By refusing to move against the GM sit-downers, he midwifed the birth of industrial unionism and the creation of a decently paid working class, which endured for the next 40 years.
But even among presidents who did send in troops, not a one did so for such purely electoral calculations as Trump—as ever, blazing a new path in America’s journey, albeit straight to hell.
(Ed.: See post below. The Fierce Urgency of Now.)
We have seen in the recent actions of Trump how he would move to consolidate authoritarian power. He claimed the nation was in danger. He claimed the danger was from Antifa.
Here is the statement of the Communications Workers of America:
He claimed the right to use military force even over the opposition of some governors.
He used the military force in the Washington D.C. event- now described as a photo op. He has turned it into a campaign video claiming that he alone protected religious institutions.
His media camp has endorsed and supported him.
Military forces and police forces cooperated with him in an unconstitutional seizure of power.
Naomi Klein makes a good case in No is Not Enough, that we should prepare to resist a seizure of power.
As responsible citizens, we should begin to plan for resistance.
For example, we could plan to resist the imposition of a curfew by mass demonstrations. We will need ways to control those who will provide the Trump regime an excuse for repression with their looting.
The military action taken by Trump and Barr strongly reinforce our need to continue to work toward the defeat of Trump in the 2020 elections if those elections go forward. The need to defeat Trump in the elections is even more urgent today than it was two weeks ago.
National DSA is beginning a process of creating a new strategic plan. Certainly, the new urgency to defeat Trump should be reflected in DSA planning.