Jane Latour is a freelance writer and author of Sisters in the Brotherhoods Working Women Organizing for Equality in New York City. I asked her to give an activist’s view, both personal and political, on the impact of the election of Donald Trump. Jane quoted Tom Paine “These are the times that try men’s souls“ and I think that that sums up how many activists both in the UK and USA feel.
Seven months into the new administration, progressives in the United States are still reeling from the election of Donald J. Trump on November 8th, 2016. “President Trump” still sounds like an oxymoron. However, Progressives, and women in particular, responded with alacrity–organizing the historically huge women’s marches on January 21st, the day after the inauguration.
Others have followed. Personally, it took me, a Leftist and a feminist, longer to recover. One fact alone:that 51 percent of women without a college degree voted for Trump – despite all of the revelations about his degrading behavior toward women – sidelined me and sent me into a “why bother” mode.
After spending several months moving through four of the seven stages of grief (shock and denial; pain and guilt; anger and bargaining; depression, loneliness and reflection), slowly, acceptance and hope returned. I started to write again about issues that matter to me.
But fundamental questions remain: How did we get here? And how do we work our way out? The United Kingdom has also experienced eye-opening events that raise the same profoundly fundamental questions–with the Brexit vote, and the fire at Grenfell. They bring to the foreground all of the contradictions of capitalism and of our current “Gilded Age.”
The Guardian perfectly described the fire in the Grenfell Tower as “austerity in ruins,” writing that “Symbolism is everything in politics and nothing better signifies the May-Cameron-Osborne era that stripped bare the state and its social and physical protection of citizens.”
The split in my own deeply divided country goes way back. Trump played it perfectly, built his campaign on it, and brought it out of the shadows. But for decades, politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have “stripped bare’ our communities, exported jobs, enacted so-called “Welfare Reform” and policies that led to the mass incarceration of African-Americans and people of color; ignored our cities and the ever-escalating problems of poverty.
As a trade unionist, I have watched our labor movement become preoccupied with reacting to the wretchedness of these policies and the attacks on workers and the middle-class. The war on workers has been on-going in the extreme since the 1970s. The unions long ago adopted a protective, reactive stance. Now, only 10 percent of working people still enjoy the protections and benefits of union membership. And the trade unions are facing significant challenges as the conservative-led U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to rule on various upcoming arguments which pose existential threats to their ability to function.
Now we are faced with a deeply entrenched political establishment that favors policies extremely detrimental to the populace (aside from the top ten percent), to the environment, and to the future of Planet Earth.
The new people ensconced in power are perfectly epitomized by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a fabulously wealthy banker otherwise known as the “Foreclosure King.” During the recession that started in 2008, with the global economy in freefall, millions of foreclosures took place.
But the bank that Mnuchin and his partners purchased and renamed as OneWest, was the most egregious actor. ProPublica released a report shortly after Mnuchin was nominated by Trump to lead the Treasury, documenting the misconduct of this bank, and the aggressive and illegal tactics to foreclose on homeowners. “OneWest was responsible for 39 percent of all foreclosures nationwide, from 2009 through 2014, even though it only serviced about 17 percent of the loans.” As Senator Elizabeth Warren, a banking expert and former Harvard professor described it, “OneWest was notorious for its belligerance and for its cruelty.”
This is but one example of the many rapacious billionaires who are now in place in the U.S. government, implementing policies that further their corporate agenda. Trump and his supporters are fond of the saying, “Drain the Swamp” but this administration has filled the Washington, D.C. swamp with a whole new cast of greedy, self-interested co-conspirators.
Meanwhile, the problems facing ordinary citizens continue to escalate: an opioid and drug-addiction epidemic that is now a public health crisis, while homelessness is now a problem in cities and small towns across America eg in New York City the official tally puts the number of homeless people in municipal shelters at 60,717, and the city is planning to set up 90 new shelters.
Stagnant wages; the shredding of environmental protections; the dismissal of scientific, fact-based evidence in the face of a global climate change crisis; the enduring phenomena of segregated housing and schools; the attacks on immigrants across the country; the rising levels of white supremacy and surfacing of neo-Nazis; all of these scourges and more are afflicting our cities and towns, our urban and rural areas. And no help is on the way.
So, the second fundamental question is: how do we work our way out? We are the ones we must depend on. To quote the author Naomi Klein, it’s not enough to say “No.” We have to be the “Yes.”
Labor has to move in a new direction. The same goes for our political organizing. We need new voices; new strategies; and a new vision. It is time to realize that we are in a crisis mode. How to turn this giant ship-of-state around is the question we need to address. It can be done.
In 1964, the Republicans went down to defeat in the national election,when Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater lost in a landslide to President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Rick Perlstein, the premier historian of the American conservative movement, has documented in voluminous detail (in a highly readable trilogy), how the Right began to organize and has continued to do so over the decades since. They succeeded in convincing a large portion of the country that, “We don’t need no stinkin’ unions.” “We don’t need no stinkin’ government.” “We don’t need no stinkin’ taxes.” The dismaying, horrifying results are all around us.
Now, we, the Left, Progressives, need to do the difficult, painstaking work of organizing, educating, and agitating. Patiently, we need to connect to our fellow citizens; stop speaking only to ourselves, and work on creating a world where everyone is ensured access to the basics of life: enough food; good health care; a good education; a job with livable wages; shelter. This, and more, is what is missing from the lives of millions of our fellow citizens, but should be the floor under everyone’s feet. The preservation of the planet, peace, and a nuclear-free world, must be part of our agenda.
Trump is an embarrassment, dangerous, vile–a predator, a bully, a miscreant. No list of adjectives will change this reality. But he is also a representative of a system. Now is the time to look to ourselves for solutions: to organize locally; to challenge the status quo; to speak up and speak out. To connect. And to hope. As the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote:
History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed-for tidal wave
of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
And a parody parodying Trump watch