Liberation Road

Trump’s Shutdown: What We Learned

Emboldened white supremacists have assassinated random Black people and Jews, and hate crimes are up dramatically.  Our countries is embroiled in more wars than most people can keep track of – in fact we are in a state of permanent war, without end.  An opioids crisis manufactured by big pharma bribes and lies has produced drug lord billionaires (the legal variety) and tens of thousands of deaths of our peoples.  Fires, droughts and record storms signal climate disaster. Inequality is at a record high, Black and Latino and poor folks face a drastic housing crisis in the cities, and health care costs spiral out of reach of working class people.

Somehow President Trump has discovered the real problem: a few thousand migrants fleeing corporate devastation, criminal violence, political persecution and environmental disasters in their home countries, who come here for their family’s safety and are willing to do such dream jobs as cleaning the gold-plated toilets at Trump’s Mar A Lago.  The President willfully ignores the source of mass migration is often in US policies of intervention and exploitation of the global south

For this Trump shuts down the government to build a Wall on the Southern border?

The shutdown is unpopular, largely blamed on Trump and the Republicans, and nearly 60% of the American people opposed funding for a Wall, for different reasons.

The current shutdown crisis provides a glimpse into the current state of affairs in our country and the anti-Trump United Front that is fighting the New Confederacy.

The shutdown has damaged Trump and the New Confederacy which he leads. The notion of people being forced to work without pay violates a simple fairness standard that Americans hold to: if you work, you get paid, and if you work hard, you can get ahead. The latter is one of the great foundational myths of American politics identified by W.E.B Dubois as the American Assumption.  The Shutdown even peeled off some of Trump’s “base”, centered on the 1/3 or so of the electorate which is largely supportive of white supremacy and existed long before Trump – and will exist when he is gone.  The minority of this group that is not hard-core gets that people should not be made to work for nothing.

  1. The public exposure of low-paid government workers and contractors choosing between health care (rationing insulin, for example) and rent or mortgages is a dent in the right wing caricature of government workers as overpaid loafers sponging off the “middle-class” (read white) tax payers. It turns out these folks do hard work that we all rely on. The suffering fell disproportionately on workers of color, who came into government in larger numbers as the Second Reconstruction coincided with the grown of government employment beginning in the 1960s.
  2. Middle class pundits who criticize federal workers who did not simply strike en masse have little understanding of the repressive legal restrictions on government workers. These workers are usually doing work that they know is important to the people they serve, providing services these workers WANT to provide. And if you don’t work now the promised back pay won’t be there when it’s over. (Government contract workers won’t see back pay at all.)
  3. It’s true that federal union leaders paid too much attention to their attorneys (whose job it is to always counsel caution and paint the worst case legal scenario) and did not seize the moment to break the norm with dramatic action, including strikes. Local leaders were left mostly to their own resources with little direction, encouraged only towards symbolic protests and calling their Congressional representatives.
  4. Despite this, it was the growing surge of striking workers, along with the polls and frightened Republican office holders and the imminent food stamp disruption, that suspended the shutdown for now. Key airports were slowed to a crawl by sickouts and slowdowns by TSAs and Air Traffic Controllers, and 14,000 IRS workers failed to show up for work by the third week, with tax season beginning to heat up. Plans for immediate and more powerful job actions by Jobs with Justice and others are already underway should Trump opt for another Shutdown.
  5. The political response to the shutdown was led almost exclusively by the neo-liberal Democratic leadership, who seized Trump’s isolation to take the initiative. But their response devolved pretty quickly into who has the best plan to defend the border – we’ll give you the billions for high tech equipment, more agents, etc., that is more efficient than a Wall.  The left’s ability to fundamentally attack the entire concept of the border crisis and the racist nationalism of the Wall propaganda was limited.  Our ability to turn the Shutdown into a defense of the public sector was also subsumed in the din. The neo-liberal mainstream Dems have, for now, helped secure their position as the leaders of the Resistance, going into the 2020 elections. If this blows over the focus will return to their favorite topics, like the Russia investigation.
  6. As we approach the end of the three-week truce that suspended the shutdown, Trump’s choices are limited. He has threatened to renew the shutdown if he does not get a budget from Congress that provides $5.7 billion for a wall on the Southern border—a poor option when support among Republican elected officials is weakening and workers are likely to react more quickly and powerfully if they are told to work for nothing – again. Facts not being his strong suit, he could take whatever defeat the Democrats give him and declare victory – or even successfully flip the spin. Or he may declare National Emergency powers and order construction of a wall by Presidential decree, then blame the “liberal courts” when his order is inevitably tied up in injunctions and lengthy court processes.
  7. He could even invade Venezuela or create a crisis with Iran. This has historically worked for Presidents who seek “national unity” to paper over a domestic crises.  Trump has experimented with this approach with his “peace and legislation, not war and investigations” line in his State of the Union speech. The President who promised to get us out of the Iraq war, and pull troops from Syria and Afghanistan, has done none of those things.  In fact he has brought in the bloody interventionist team of John Bolton and Elliot Abrams of the Contra wars, from the most militaristic wing of the Republican Party.
  8. Whatever the next steps in this drama may be, they are symptoms of the long term crisis of governability that Liberation Road/Organizacion Socialista del Camino para la Libertad identified several years ago. Unable to cohere a stable dominant trend among the ruling class with credibility among the people, the government lurches from crisis to crisis.  Trump’s right-wing racist patriarchal bloc, which has consolidated its hold on the Republican Party, cannot consolidate its power.  The neo-liberal Democrats’ free market globalist policies of austerity offer no answers – in fact they are what gave the initiative to Trump in the first place.
  9. The left is growing, both in base-building projects and experimental efforts to challenge for governing power through electoral work, developing political organizations that work in the terrain of the Democratic Party but also build power independent of it. But the initiative is rarely in our hands.  These independent organizations are based in what we call the “strategic alliance” of the multinational working class and the movements of Black and Brown and peoples of color in the US. Actually contending for power, state by state, is the challenge we face, and the strategy that will move us forward, in the short term and in the context of the next shutdown and the next crisis in the years ahead.