Even in my fever-induced haze, I was looking forward to a Clinton win, not, as I’ve explained before, because I thought she would be a great or even good president but because this would finally allow us to get beyond the pale of liberal politics. Most of all, for purely selfish reasons, I wanted her to win so that I could finally get some rest and at least a week’s worth of sleep, free of election tension and drama, while everyone else popped champagne and did whatever they did to go wild in the wake of yet another liberal win.
Instead, Trump won, and here we are. Welcome to the Morning After.
This feels, to many, like a post-apocalyptic nightmare, as if we are in fact in zombie-land, scavenging through dead people’s houses and kitchen cabinets, looking for aspirin, tampons, mouthwash, anything to connect us to a reality that now seems unutterably distant and far away. Was it just yesterday we on the left saw ourselves sighing and rolling our eyes as Clinton let fly the champagne corks and as confetti shaped like glass shards rained down on her? We were downing our wine and beer, attempting to find some way to sleep through what seemed like the inevitable, just wanting this whole damn thing to be over so we could go back to the things that mattered, like healthcare, immigration, queer rights beyond gay marriage — all issues we knew she didn’t give a damn about, but that seemed easier to fight for with a Democrat in the White House?
Why did this happen? For that, we don’t have to look too far because there were plenty of warning signs. Michael Moore was mocked in many quarters for predicting a Trump win, and it turns out that much of the boosterism about Clinton, even within the Left, came about within circles of people more attuned to the high-pitched punditry of people on both coasts or in certain cities like Chicago, where I live.
I have no wish to ride the bandwagon of “I told you so,” except, well, that I did tell people so. Look, there were times I thought that even if he won, Trump wouldn’t last all four years, or even four months (and I still actually think that’s a possibility: this is a man completely unprepared for the Presidency). As the election heated up, Clinton’s past and, really, her giant arrogance (she spent nearly all her last few months hobnobbing with wealthy campaign donors instead of appearing in key states like Wisconsin), kept returning, like a bad and slightly poisonous meal that needed to be vomited out yet again. I thought often of the place from where I sometimes claim my origins in very complicated ways (I have reasons to love and hate it), Indiana, and how much what lefties routinely dismissed as “Middle America” is in fact a far more complex reality. Even now, as the shock barely sets in, liberals and the left are wringing their hands about how “we” need to reconnect with the “Working Class” and somehow teach it to be less racist (which is what many have said in so many words). So, what the left really means by “Working Class” is the white working class, and in fact several have already begun to use that term so much that they actually resort to an acronym, WWC.
It’s a shocking erasure of vast populations of non-white working class people and it’s a fervently anti-capitalist move for a group of people who otherwise love to boast about how they see beyond “identities” and only think of class. And, yet, in this case, their analysis actually depends on ignoring massive numbers of people in a particular class formation. But how do you talk about “class” and simultaneously ignore large numbers of people who constitute that class? Over and over, the left continues to demonstrate that its purportedly anti-identitarian and class-based analysis is really all about re-establishing the supremacy of whiteness as the presumptive basis for all analysis.
I’m neither working class nor white. I’m very poor, yes, but not working class and for complicated reasons. I will never be working class in terms of my class identity. By the same logic, it is entirely possible that someone might make themselves out of a working class world in terms of leaving it behind, but that their class identity will also leave an indelible imprint, for better or for worse. Class is complicated, and it has never failed to surprise me, ever since I came to a country which takes such pride in its myth of equality, how rarely Americans are actually willing to talk honestly about class without either demonising or romanticising members of a particular class — and all of that still happens with most Americans refusing to believe that class actually functions in a systemic way. Yes, it may be true that more people identify as working class, but that doesn’t mean they actually know what that means or that they do more than grab that term as yet another identity category.
This is not to disparage the “working class” but to distance myself from large segments of liberals and the left who are now fetishising the Working Class in a desperate attempt to come to terms with what happened. The popular — and entirely misguided — diagnosis is that “we” failed to understand the “White Working Class” which, unthinking entity that it is, simply voted for Trump in large numbers to give the world a giant middle finger. It doesn’t seem to occur to people that the WWC actually put some thought into figuring out who, of the two candidates, spoke to its interests more or, at the least was less mendacious and uncaring about its issues. It wasn’t the rich white lady with thirty years of a public service record, who took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Goldman Sachs and never saw why it was troubling to use a private server while Secretary of State, or who created a giant Foundation named after her own family that mostly concentrated on creating hotspots for multimillionaire celebrities.
But right now, it’s the WWC that’s suddenly earning the attention of a left largely dominated by people who either have no real clue what that means or who would like to ascribe all kinds of semi-magical qualities to it (Plain Speaking! Rough but Loyal! Salty!). The vision of the “working class” among a desperate and delusional Left is somewhere between Deliverance and Norma Rae, with a soundtrack influenced by Bruce Springsteen.
I recently discovered, to my eternal delight, that it’s now possible to link to Facebook status updates and have them be visible even to those (many) people who are not on Facebook, a boon because I’ve been too sick to develop my thoughts into longer posts right now. So, please forgive me if much of follows is mostly (but not entirely) a compendium of my thoughts as expressed on social media — in the next few weeks, As I kept pointing out and will keep emphasising over the next many months and years, this is not a new reality. We need to get used to a reality that, like Homan Square which existed unknown to too many of us in the middle of the city of Chicago, has been in our midst all along.
First, please let’s end this hysterical idea that everything has changed for the worse. Are we faced with someone who could potentially behave like a reckless tyrant and has demonstrated that he will embolden and empower the worst of the Right? Yes. But let’s not fool ourselves that Trump’s stated policies on matters like immigration are a massive departure from what we’ve seen in the Clinton and Obama years. Before I get to details on all that, a few points.
This is an excellent time for the Left. This is no time for flat-footed, clumsy, faux-populist bullshit about the 99% — the problem with that formulation, which has irked me since its inception during Occupy, is that it allows people to dissociate themselves from capitalism, to believe that they are somehow outside it and not implicated in its workings. This was why Occupy, which achieved many remarkable things, was nevertheless filled with people who were not angry at capitalism but that capitalism had failed them, that they had not secured their place on the ladder of ascension. Everywhere I went during Occupy, there were signs by people bemoaning the fact that they had done everything right — and why hadn’t things worked out for them?
As a result, for instance, we’re still in an economy which prizes and values home ownership over what should be a fundamental right, the right to housing itself. Those two things are not the same, but the collective inability to actually dream of a future where people’s worth in life is not tied to “growing up” and finally owning a house will continue to plague us. Extend that to realms like education: The problem with arguing for free college education as a way to combat massive student debt or to ensure a happier (and more compliant) workforce is that it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, which is that education is a basic right and that people are entitled to it regardless of whether they become “productive citizens” or “free-loading bums.”
In the weeks leading up the election, some pundits were celebrating the possibility of a Clinton win with the assertion that it would create a stronger left, emboldened by a Bernie Sanders-led “left.” I’m not a huge Bernie Sanders supporter, so I wasn’t and am not interested in that kind of vision, but I did think, mostly with a sense of wanting to get it all over with, that we would be able to, for instance, fight for a real feminism after a Clinton win.
Now that she has lost, I think I was wrong and that we actually have a chance of building a better left because of her defeat. Take the fractious world of feminism. With a Clinton win, we would have been confronted with a faux feminism dominated by powerful elite liberal feminists like Lena Dunham, whose vision of women’s rights ignores the needs of non-elite women, as Liza Featherstone so lucidly points out, here. With a Clinton defeat, the faux feminists who supported Clinton are currently busy blaming everyone else. But the dust will settle on all this, and when it does feminists of all ages and stripes are going to have to confront the hard questions and pose them to “feminist” writers and thinkers like Joan Walsh and Katha Pollitt: How do you explain that so many women voted for Trump? And can you now articulate a vision of what your feminism actually stands for without simply blaming other women with left credentials for everything that went wrong? Can you think about a feminism beyond representational politics and, oh, maybe stop disgorging vomitous pieces about how Hillary Clinton is a “world-historical heroine?”
Discourse matters. And that means using words like “discourse” without shame. I’m hearing a lot of people now insist that “we” need to find a way to reach the “working class” and speak and write like “normal people.” I’ve already pointed to my issues with the term “working class” as used by the left, but I have issues with the idea of “normal” as well, and I have issues with the idea that “we” must now talk like, well, who, exactly? What do we mean by “normal” people and their speech?
Some years ago, while talking to a friend who is well acquainted with the publishing world, I mentioned the name of my book project (Strange Love: Neoliberalism, Affect, and the Invention of Social Justice) and she cautioned me that using “neoliberalism” in a book title would drastically reduce its reach. She was absolutely right at the time (and perhaps even now, who knows?), but today “neoliberalism” is a word that gets thrown around almost casually in even middlebrow publications like the New York Times (whether or not everyone, including learned academics, entirely agrees on what it means may be a different matter). Even five years ago, no one was talking about the prison industrial complex but today that phrase is everywhere. During the first Republican debate this year, candidates were jostling each other to see who could be more critical of “mass incarceration.” None of this means that we now turn to that suspect category, the “public intellectual” or, worse, the many disenfranchised and disgruntled scab academics desperately hoping for a second career to revitalise a broader cultural and political discourse. It means recognising that public discourse is already complicated (see, again, the left’s continuous refusal to acknowledge that the WWC actually thinks about its political positions) and that we need to built on it to build the left, not demolish the very possibility for complicated thought and action by running around like headless chickens in search of easy sloganeering.
The way ahead for the left is not to cede both discourse and imagination, but to think about how to expand on both to make itself felt as a living, breathing, entity that offers several wild and fantastic possibilities, utopias even, in a frightened and frightening world. In such times, I always think of the words of my friend and comrade Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore who once said, in critiquing the paltry excuse of a movement that was and is Gay Marriage: “Our dreams have become so small.”
Enough already with the romanticisation of the White Working Class; you can read my brief response to that here.
If you keep pinning your hopes only on winning, you’ve already lost. I once reported on an event about immigration, during the years of George W. Bush, and Fred Tsao, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a particularly monstrous and gigantic organisation, spoke proudly of the concessions that his group was willing to make to “power.” Here’s what I wrote some years later:
“A public meeting on new immigration proposals organised by the Chicago-based LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Organization included IYJL and ICIRR on the panel; I covered it for the Windy City Times. One audience member expressed concern about the DREAM Act and other measures of reform, and the ways these distinguish between good and bad immigrants. Fred Tsao, Policy Director for ICIRR responded that the group sought power in the immigration debate, implying that it did what it had to in get the changes it wanted.
Seeking power is not in itself problematic – the left tends to be suspicious of power and fails to recognise how it might grapple with and gain power to effect the changes it needs to make. But in Tsao's terms, and the ever-growing silence of undocuqueers and the youth, is the assumption that power will bring change. The question left unanswered is, “Power for whom?” Power in and of itself also means the forced creation of a disempowered constituency. In this case, and as the next installment in this series will show more clearly, those seeking power turn upon those whom they consider more dispensable – the undocumented deliberately erase the lives and realities of those whose lives are not as exceptional as theirs.”
So, yes, fight to win, but consider what you’re winning, exactly, and for whom. In the case of ICIRR: my experience and those of others who’ve worked with them) is that the organisation is brutal about clamping down on its message that the only immigrants who matter are the “good” ones. Scan its website, examine its agendas, and you’ll find nothing but a valorisation of good, non-criminal immigrants, not unlike what Obama has always emphasised or what Trump advocates. They also stress family reunification as an overarching goal, something that the immigration rights movement overall has supported at the cost of a more expansive vision that would actually actually the brutality of immigration laws in a more general framework. Overall, the immigration rights movement has given up on of course, families (the words crops up a lot there). If that’s something you agree with, by all means, support it. But if not, think about ways to work with immigrants who actually don’t fit those paradigms.
You don’t know any? Well, rethink that. “Coming out” as undocumented is not this grand, romantic gesture which brings happiness and light to most people’s lives: For many, it can mean heightened harassment, insecurity, and even death. Rethink your fetishisation of “coming out” and think more broadly of the concerns of people without papers, even the ones you may not like or the “criminals.”
No one doing the work of resistance and organising is blind to the need for power, even and especially when that means divesting someone of theirs — as I’ve frequently pointed out, campaigns like #ByeAnita were all about ousting people from positions of power, fully understanding that this was a necessary starting point. I don’t want to fetishise BLM and other groups doing on the ground work against police brutality and state oppression, and I also hope we will agree to keep a critical eye on their work as their campaigns continue to develop. As I’ve pointed out in this profile of Mariame Kaba, black and queer groups in particular have been building long-term abolitionist and anti-brutality work for decades. That work has been generations in the making and it has always been present, long before social media made it possible to document and amplify actions. And it has been built not just on actions, but on a long, deep understanding of analysis and a historical understanding of how power works.
So you’ll excuse me when I have no patience for people who suddenly want a recognisable game plan and agendas and plans for action, when they were so ignorant about the work being done that they failed to see the massive turn of events we saw recently. You never had an agenda or an idea in the first place, and you were complacent about Clinton’s win — and now you want everyone else to give you a plan, STAT? Yeah, no.
You can read my thoughts on not giving into what I call the Pornography of Panic here.
Don’t give people and groups money because you fear end times. Several people have asked about how to support organisations that are now asking for money, and seem to really need it in what appear to be end times. My first and initial response is: Hold off on giving money for at least four months and, in some cases, don’t give any money at all. Gay groups like Human Rights Campaign and The Task Force will be sending out manipulative messages about how the future of LGBTQ people and their humanity itself is at risk without your support (and have already begun). Remember, if you’ve followed what queer radicals like me have been saying for years, you know that these very same groups effectively helped to defund every other queer cause that was not directly linked to marriage, including queer housing, queer youth matters, and queer geriatric care.
The fact that most or all these issues — including the vital one of healthcare — depends on the philanthropy of private institutions is not a matter of pride but a sign of how badly off queers are everywhere. In the months to come, I’ll have more work on how to move forward and demand a gay agenda that puts the lives of queer people at the centre, outside of matters like gay marriage. For now, trust me when I tell you that Big Gay, which has literally millions of dollars at its disposal, does not need your donation. Give it four months (more than three, less than six, so not too short a time nor too long), do your research, look at what they claim to have accomplished, look at their agenda items and —- this is really important — write to them and ask them what concrete steps they’re taking to ensure that queer interests beyond marriage and family-related issues are being served. If you’re on the straight left and are wondering what a baseline for understanding a really queer, radical agenda should look like, please, do your research.
The same is true of immigration groups — there are smaller, more active organisations doing the actual work of getting resources to those who need it but for the most part, large and even mid-size ones like ICIRR have distanced themselves from the millions now under threat from Trump.
Remember that support for an issue or a group of people is not limited to giving them money. Now, more than ever, you have to, first, make sure you’re not being pulled into panicked narratives. Acquaint yourself with the history of immigration, and you’ll see that the Clintons and Obama have actually created legislation which made life impossible for millions of immigrants: Trump has still to enact a single policy. Don’t let your fear of what has not yet transpired blind you to the reality of what has already been a reality for millions.
You can read my short post on giving here.
Are you wondering how to organise effectively? I offer some preliminary thoughts here.
If you would like to support just one organisation, please give to my beloved Chicago Freedom School.
Gay marriages will not be invalidated and abortion rights will decrease but, guess what? They were practically non-existent to begin with. I write here about why Trump will, of course, support gay marriage before he allows women to have the right to abortion.
You can read my thoughts on why Trump supports gay marriage but is adamant about wiping out abortions rights here.
I was on on The Roundhouse Show with Minelle Mahtani the day of the election (the interview is about 20 minutes long).
And here are a couple of my pieces which tackled the issue of gay elites: “How Gay Money Became Gay Wealth: A Fable,” and “Choose Your Elite: Edith Windsor, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump.”
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on what we face and our hypocrisy in not recognising the past.
Here is the lucid, limpid prose of Liza Featherstone, writing so eloquently on how and why a certain kind of feminism needs to disappear: “Elite, White Feminism Gave Us Trump: It Needs to Die.”
And here she is in the Guardian as well: Feminists Misunderstood the Presidential Election from Day One.
This Buzzfeed listicle on dreams about Trump is messy and sloppy, but Catherine Liu’s thoughts on why we want Trump to be a cartoon villain are worth reading (scroll to the end).
The Intercept’s piece on how we enabled presidential overreach during the Obama years (and why that will now bite us in the ass) is necessary reading.
Here's Thomas Frank on how liberals put Trump in the White House.
Here’s Sarah Jaffe, on why anti-Trump protests matter.
Nathan J. Robinson What This Means, How It Happened, What to Do Now.
And Nathan was one of the few who laid out the case for why Bernie Sanders and not Hillary Clinton needed to be the nominee; you can read his older piece here.
John Cale’s "Dying on the Vine" is giving me particular comfort.
Here’s one of my favourite cat videos to give you some more, “A Valentine for Perfect Strangers.”
As I said the day before the election, the world will still need your attention. That remains true, even more so now.
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