Trump’s erratic dismantling of American order and morals is raging into its third week. We know the Trump presidency is going to end in disaster for the country, for the world, and for all of us as individuals. Waiting around for this inevitable end seems like failing to act when a Category 5 hurricane is heading right for us. Catastrophe in the form of insulting and unconstitutional religious bans, calls for the re-embrace of torture and CIA “black sites,” the nauseating embrace of Putin, energized neo-Nazism, damaging insults to America’s allies, and even calls for shooting of protestors has become commonplace on the Trumpian right. Disaster is certain and we need to act now to stop this. And we need to act together.
Virtually every commentator in the past few months has been saying this situation is not going to end well. This isn’t just the perspective of those on the progressive left or the ungovernable anarchist black bloc. It is the mainstream’s utterly commonsensical realization of looming disaster.
Column after column ends with the same warning: “This will not end well.” “It is hard to imagine that it is going to get any better.” “Disaster is certain.” “There will be dire consequences.” “It is only going to get worse.” Paul Krugman terms Trump’s reign a “political apocalypse” and regularly warns that it will not end well. Mary Sanchez’s widely syndicated column from the Kansas City Star warned “Trump's Mexican border lunacy will not end well.” In Salon, Simon Maloy wrote “It’s hard to see how investing someone like that with the powers of the presidency will end well for anyone.” In the Washington Post, David Rothkopf, warning of the dangers of Stephen Bannon’s baleful influence, wrote “history suggests all this will not end well, with rivalries emerging with State, Defense, the Trade Representative and other agencies.” Taegan Goddad asks “How does this end well?” There is an amusing Yoda meme making the rounds: “End will this will not.”
You get the idea: this is not going to end well.
Anarchists have been among the most clear-eyed about the profound crisis Trump represents and they have highlighted a solution. Long declaring themselves personally ungovernable, they have been calling to make Trump’s America ungovernable as a whole through open confrontation in the streets. Anarchists have taken the ungovernability cry into energetic action, using direct action (including violence) to challenge the system and shut it down. This was the spirit of anarchist anti-inaugural actions and Disrupt J20. “Fuck Yea We Disrupted It” is how they saw their actions, and there is no doubt that anarchist actions grabbed a lot of the attention and forced new discussions. The recent violence in Berkeley is likewise easily justified as a protection not just of free speech, but of freedom itself.
From this philosophical basis the idea of strident resistance has been making the political rounds and the calls for action all over the place. “Make it Ungovernable” is an appealingly romantic idea, even if it’s a bit awkward for a rallying cry. It’s had an effect even outside the confines of the anarchist movement. Even Harry Belafonte has called for Democratic resistance modeled on the ways the Tea Party made Obama’s presidency ungovernable.
But what is open to question for non-anarchists seeking effective and progressive action is whether this kind of violent, confrontational strategy in the streets is useful for the truly immediate necessity of stopping Trump now, rather than just protesting and challenging the new emerging regime in self-gratifying ways.
Violent action in the street and property destruction is not fully the right formula for resistance to Trump at this moment. In part this is because anarchists aren’t the only ones around seeking to overturn the system. And they frankly are not the strongest or most energized. The Trumpian right is equally interested in disruption and revolution, and unfortunately it is in power at the moment.
Make no mistake: tearing apart American order and tearing down the global system of the free flow of peoples and ideas is Stephen Bannon’s plan. He has a revolutionary new order he wants to put into place via his useful fool Donald Trump, and it is in the process of implementation. Trump is signing executive orders Bannon has crafted to empower himself without even reading them. Republicans, with a death grip on the federal state, are interested only in using their power to ram through their actually unpopular and reactionary program. They could not have won the presidency absent the perfect storm of a truly flawed Democratic nominee in the form of Hillary Clinton, the Black Swan event of celebrity Donald Trump, and a combination of years of Republican efforts to minimize minority voting and the booster shots of FBI meddling and Russian hacking. The storm swept in a plutocratic agenda that the Republicans have been pushing for decades.
All of the plans the radical right is putting in place hinge on Trump. He has wide influence and a base of real popularity across the country, like it or not (and it’s maybe bigger than we imagine). The system needs to be made ungovernable until he yields. Trump acts must be met with unrelenting public pressure coupled with legal and constitutional constraints. It is a thin reed, to be sure, but it is the truly democratic and systemic solution to this viral assault on the actual underpinnings of our civil society, economic stability, and peace.
Violent action, well intentioned and idealistic though it might be, merely serves the fraudulent “law and order” narrative Trump used so effectively during the campaign, and helps grease the skids for Bannon’s revolution.
Street violence is an easily exploitable optic. No doubt you think Trump’s lies about disorder in the campaign and in his inaugural address sounded ridiculous and removed from reality, since they were. But millions quite readily lapped it up. This is a practical problem to be dealt with at a future time, but in the immediate frame it is best not to feed that narrative for no immediately identifiable political end. Strident protest needs be practical, focused, and ruthless without being violent.
Ungovernability needs to be the tactical as well as philosophical objective. Transformation, not destruction, should be the goal of making things ungovernable for Trump now. Saving the system so it can be reimaged and recreated should be the immediate goal. The immediately life threatening problem, needs to be addressed first. That is Trump himself.
Making the country ungovernable for Trump is the way to save the overall system. Ungovernability is the tactic we must adopt to restore the kind of stability and social comity, even the morality, necessary for a free society.
It can be accomplished with relentless effort on a wide variety of fronts. The foundation is personal liberation as each of us must become personally ungovernable in spirit and in practice. This requires a fundamental reorientation to total rejection of legitimacy for Trump’s rule so that we cannot be ignored and cannot be run in circles or into exhaustion. In all of our daily lives we need to maintain political action, of course, but we also must commit ourselves to refusing the slow creep of normality as the pressures of regular daily life continue relentlessly. By redefining ourselves as personally ungovernable we will remain liberated in mind and in action for the struggle we are in at this moment.
From this core strength of individual ungovernability, we must adopt avid but nonviolent protests in the streets and in public institutions like transportation hubs and commercial districts to highlight the ideas of resistance, to arrest commerce, and to disrupt any semblance of normal order in service of forcing ungovernablity into public view. Violent direct action and calls for intensifying violence are simply not going to produce the change we need to see right at this critical moment. It is creating a diversion from the immediate necessary focus on stopping Trump now. In contrast, look at the direct successes in South Korea last month and Romania this week to see the power of truly mass protest to force positive government transformation.
Finally, a key aspect of making ungovernability for Trump effective is coordinated legal action against Trumps policies not just from individuals and non-profits but from the states. For example, states attorneys general acting in concert at abuses of federal authority such as in the green card cases. There are numerous lawsuits filed across the country which attack Trump’s illegal actions and illegal and inadvisable policies form numerous angles, and more need to be filed and pursued. This systematic legal systemic combined with concerted individual ungovernability and mass action in the street is self-supporting and unstoppable. It is a triple pronged approach of immense strength.
In critical ways, we actually need our system to be more governable now than it ever has been in the form of a flourishing and powerful legal system capable of stopping Trump. With a government entirely in the hands of the Republican party, it is only the judiciary, the states, and the people in the streets that will have the power that matters. The law is an abstraction and the decisions of a court only have the power of the public’s belief in them. Trump has shown himself adept at undercutting confidence in institutions and individuals with a single cascade of tweets. But we have tools at our disposal.
As H. Robert Baker recently wrote, “Politics and law are substitutes for violence, and we sometimes forget that this is their primary, everyday purpose. This is what makes American federalism such a frustrating, brilliant endeavor.”
Power is what matters, and it’s the people within our federal system that have it in the end. A perfect example is the ways the ferocity and speed of the protests to Trump’s immoral, illegal, and incompetently implemented Muslim ban yielded a nationwide stay from a federal judge in Seattle. The actions of Washington state at the forefront of the anti-Trump movement demonstrate the effectiveness of a coordinated stance based upon ungovernability. The ongoing protests in Seattle in the streets and the airport linked with the public resistance of Mayor Ed Murray to foster an atmosphere where the actions of U.S. District Judge James L. Robart (a Republican appointee) were amplified and empowered
The rage directed toward Republican Representatives hellbent on disrupting the health care system with no alternative to offer in place has produced highly effective political theatre which is beginning to yield political results. The impact is certain to be more effective than small scale violent direct action.
The essence of Trump’s political approach is to erode and undermine public confidence in our institutions en route to destroying the institutions themselves. But we can refuse to allow this destruction through purposeful and unrelenting action. We need to force ungovernability or this truly is not going to end well.