What can stop the Kidnapper-in-Chief?

June 19, 2018

The mainstream political system has no answer to confronting Trump’s outrages, but the protests against the administration’s cruel border policies can show a different way.

OUTRAGE OVER Donald Trump’s policy of seizing migrating children from their parents is spreading, even on the right end of the political spectrum — and Trump’s by now familiar mix of sniveling lies and sickening smears in response is only fueling the fire.

The sudden creation of desert tent cities and Walmart concentration camps for children is a deliberate spectacle of sadism — a moral and humanitarian crisis knowingly orchestrated by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to inflict suffering on migrant parents and children, many of whom are seeking refugee status as a result of trauma they already experienced in their countries of origin.

But the anger at this horror is boiling over. Already this weekend, thousands of people mobilized to the remote Texas border town of Tornillo, southeast of El Paso, to send a message of resistance outside a tent city where federal authorities want to house up to 4,000 children.

Protesters rally outside a detention camp for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas
Protesters rally outside a detention camp for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas

On Tuesday, members of National Nurses Organizing Committee-Texas, which represents 1,700 nurses at four El Paso hospitals, is calling for members to join a protest march to the ICE field office in El Paso.

And a coalition of civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, MoveOn, the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance and others, is initiating a day of mass mobilizations on June 30, with an anchor demonstration in Washington, D.C.

Like similar moments in the past, this upsurge of protest could turn the political mood at a time when Trump has been riding an increase in popularity among his right-wing base, thanks to the still-growing economy — feeding the perception that he can get away with anything, no matter how cruel.

THE GOAL of the Trump administration’s state-sponsored kidnapping is to scare potential future migrants and refugees from making the journey, as well as to create leverage on congressional Democrats to concede to White House demands for draconian policies against future immigration, legal and illegal.

But the cruelty of the family separation policy isn’t just as a means to these ends. Cruelty itself is the goal — another lurch in the Trumpist project of shifting the mainstream political spectrum so far to the right that fascism, or something close to it, defines one end, while the other is the tepid liberalism put forward by the Democratic Party and MSNBC.

Trump’s child prisons are rooted in the horrible border policies begun by his predecessors, including Barack Obama. But by expanding on those atrocities — and, even more, by proudly proclaiming them — Trump is throwing down a gauntlet to all those who would challenge his barbarism.

In this respect, Trump is following the example of Dick Cheney after the September 11 attacks, when Cheney boasted that the U.S. was turning to “the dark side” of torture, a policy that the CIA had used frequently in previous decades, but in secret.

The open embrace of torture sent a message to anyone who opposed the Bush administration’s more aggressive assertion of imperial power: Who’s going to stop us?

That is a question that looms today — and the leaders of the Democratic Party make it obvious every day that they aren’t the answer.

Actually, at various points in the past year and a half, it has seemed more likely that some “responsible” faction of the Republican Party would try to curb Trump’s worst excesses. But any such faction is running scared now, with another reactionary Republican who dared to criticize Trump defeated by a primary challenge earlier this month.

The lesson for Republicans: Keep your head down and be satisfied with the pro-corporate, pro-rich, anti-everybody-else agenda that Trump is delivering.

As for the Democrats, it’s been some talk, some of the time, maybe — but little to no action.

The party leadership’s instinct is always to move right — even when that means criticizing Donald Trump, of all people, for not being tough enough on China or threatening enough against North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

That’s true of the most liberal reaches of the party: Bernie Sanders has reserved some of his harshest criticisms of the administration for the occasions when Trump looked like he may relent from an all-out trade war against China.

On the immigration issue, the Democrats will talk much tougher against Trump, and some candidates and officeholders are part of the spreading protests today. But anyone wondering where this will lead should remember the Democrats’ pathetic retreat this January from pressuring Trump to extend the DACA program for undocumented youth.

The honest hope of millions of people has been dashed many times: No part of the ruling elite in America — not the main political parties, nor some section of the ruling class, nor the “deep state,” nor the media — is waiting to rise up and rein in Trump, much less bring him down.

There is a simple reason why: Too many of them have too much to gain in Trump’s America.

WHAT’S NECESSARY is to mobilize the majority opposition to Trump’s hateful policies into an effective resistance — not in future elections, but now.

The new heights of popular outrage at the heartbreaking images of imprisoned migrant children are a start. But as we have learned from the beginning of the Trump presidency, outrage that isn’t organized into an active force isn’t enough.

The protests against family separation are heartening, but they have some distance to go to reach the scale of the Women’s Marches this year and last, or the recent protests against gun violence.

Likewise, rallies are being planned against the Supreme Court’s anticipated decision to uphold the latest version of Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban, but few expect these protests to reach the intensity of the “uprising at the airports” that pressured the courts to halt the first version of the ban a year ago.

The mismatch between the massive disgust and anger people feel about Trump and the actual scale of active resistance can be corrosive to the spirit. But this is the situation that the left must confront.

The first thing to remember — because it can be easy to forget in the face of the onslaught — is that Trump, despite an uptick in his approval rating, remains the most unpopular president at each point in his reign since opinion polling began after the Second World War.

And not only that, but he has faced historic active opposition.

The Women’s Marches in 2016 and 2017 were among the largest single days of protest in U.S. history, as were this spring’s demonstrations against gun violence and school shootings — at least as much a cry of outrage at Trump and the right wing as a mobilization for gun control.

The uprising at the airports did halt the Muslim ban for a time, and the Republican Party’s top priority at the start of Trump’s reign — repealing Obamacare and wrecking the Medicaid public health care system for the poor — was defeated after pressure from a grassroots mobilization fractured the GOP majority in Congress.

Even on the issue of immigration — where the power of the state, taking its orders from Trump, is at its most overwhelming — the brave defiance of immigrants and their supporters has gone beyond anything during the previous era of the Obama administration’s record-setting deportations.

Then there are the uprisings of educators this winter, which erupted, seemingly out of nowhere, in West Virginia and spread to other “red states” across the U.S. They not only protested Trump-like regimes in Republican-dominated states, but they showed that victory was possible.

Even when they didn’t get everything they were fighting for, teachers won salary hikes and funding increases for public schools that were unimaginable just months before — and moreover, they achieved these victories through the power of strikes and protest, not “working through the system.”

THE HARD realities of the Trump nightmare weigh heavily every day, and even when the administration faces setbacks, the wider war goes on.

For example, the Republicans’ maximum program for wrecking health care was defeated last year, but the Trump administration is continuing to undermine and dismantle any positive part of the Obamacare system, even without congressional approval. Latest case in point: The Justice Department is joining a right-wing legal attempt to unravel legal protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

And Trump and the Republicans show no sign of bending on their border reign of terror, even when parts of it are criticized by fellow right-wingers. Trump is still trying to use the inhuman family separation policy to extort an agreement from Congress on his most extreme proposals for further immigration enforcement measures, including the border wall.

Still, for all that, the challenges described above during the past year and a half, even when they weren’t successful, contributed to the opportunities for building a stronger left and a broader resistance. The lessons each holds can teach the next.

In the end, that ongoing project — building the left while fighting the right — will be as decisive as any single battle.

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The outrage at Trump’s sickening policies at the border is building and could crystallize into a strong protest movement. We urge all our readers to find ways to contribute to this struggle. It matters what we do to challenge the Trump administration’s hateful policies in the most immediate of ways: parents must be reunited with their children now.

But we also have a bigger fight ahead of us to challenge the whole twisted system of border controls and immigrant criminalization, whether that system is run by a Republican or a Democrat.

And we have a world without borders to win — because that is the only way to finally end a system that will tear families apart in order to defend the political and social status quo.

Further Reading

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