The Current Landscape & Our Key Strategic Questions
Since the 2016 elections, questions of power, strategy and scale have been at the forefront in the minds of progressive activists and organizers across the country. There are five developments that have taken place since the election that we think are especially important for developing effective strategies to build the anti-Trump resistance and the left:
- How Trump’s agenda has actually unfolded: Trump won the 2016 election using rhetoric that combined economic populism with racism and misogyny and intertwined economic nationalism with allusions to dovishness. After facing a great deal of initial opposition to his policy agenda, Trump has started to gain some traction in moving legislation on top of his use of executive power to reshape policy across almost all federal departments (EPA, DoJ, FCC, NLRB, etc.). While he has maintained his populist rhetoric, his economic policy agenda has transferred massive amounts of wealth to the rich (form the tax cuts to giveaways to the fossil fuel industry). He has compensated for this contradiction by doubling down on racism, xenophobia and misogyny to build loyalty within his core base. He has taken on a level of military hawkishness that has drastically increased the danger of all-out war, and his attacks on the media and elements of the judiciary continue to suggest the threat of authoritarianism.
- Shifting Dynamics in the Republican Party: There was an initial level of resistance to Trump’s agenda within the establishment of the Republican Party, and this made it difficult for Trump to move significant legislation through Congress. Over the course of the last year, a number of his stronger opponents have retired from public office. While the remaining Republican leadership occasionally objects to his extreme rhetoric, they have largely fallen in line behind his agenda, while a hard core of right-wingers continue to push more in the direction of racism, xenophobia, war and profiteering. Trump has effectively captured the Republican Party.
- The Resistance Continues: The last year has been marked by a surge of opposition to Trump’s agenda from very wide sectors of society. Mass actions – beginning with the 2017 Women’s March – set the tone, and the large Women’s Marches in 2018 showed that the surge of participatory energy from the grassroots has not dissipated. Much of this “resistance” energy is now directed toward involvement in or preparation for the electoral battles of 2018. Thousands of new people, including large numbers of women and people of color, have decided to run for office. The ability to turn this momentum into electoral victory has been demonstrated in the recent Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama elections. The broad front of forces opposing Trump’s agenda include everyone from disgusted conservatives to socialists and everything in between. Within that breadth, the forces that want to build on the momentum of the resistance to move past the former status quo have shown the most dynamism and capacity to galvanize large-scale enthusiasm, while the liberal sectors of the elite and the corporate wing of the Democratic Party have far more resources. Both set of forces are contending to set the agenda of resistance movements and to influence the Democratic Party as we move towards the mid-term elections. The struggle between these forces has become a major feature of the anti-Trump landscape.
- Contention within the Democratic Party: There are a number of live debates within the Democratic Party that will have significant impacts on the elections in 2018 and 2020. Is left populism or moderated liberalism a better strategy for defeating Trump and Trumpism in 2018 and 2020? How will different candidates and campaigns resolve the standing debate over whether to prioritize economic justice issues or racial and gender justice struggles? Should the Party primarily invest in building electoral power in communities of color, in re-building a base among white working-class voters, in trying to swing moderate Republicans in the suburbs, or in a combination of these strategies? These struggles are playing out at all levels of the Party, within its formal offices and structures and over who will win the ballot line in town and cities across the country.
- Longer-term trends: And all of this is taking place against the background of an overall crisis of the “neo-liberal model” that has dominated the US and global economy for several decades, a crisis that has led to a substantial erosion of the legitimacy of established governments in numerous countries. This has led, on the one hand, to an uptick in leftist activism and renewed interest in socialism in many place, and, on the other hand to a rise of right-wing populism, authoritarianism and chauvinist nationalism in countries around the world. In the United States, this has resonated with a series of struggles over racial power and national identity that has grown increasingly polarized and explicit over the last decade, with growing levels of organization among both white nationalist forces and racial justice forces.
These developments have brought a set of strategic questions to the fore.
- What prospects are there for turning the rough progressive alignment that exists between numerous movements into a distinctly progressive pole that can fight politically both inside and outside the Democratic Party? Do we need a more coherent coalition, a unified party-type organizations, or a looser alignment? What priority should be given to trying to bring about more organizational cooperation and unity, what are the next steps for doing so?
- What mix of electoral organizing, protest and mass mobilization, and propaganda work do we need to defeat Trumpism, which is the main strategic task of the current moment? How do the 2018 and 2020 elections fit into what is certain to be a longer-range struggle against the white nationalist-driven authoritarian current that has been exposed as a rooted and growing force in U.S. politics?
- Within the realm of electoral action, what are the key races where progressive efforts can make the most difference in breaking the GOP’s grip on power? Which House races, Senate races, gubernatorial races and State Legislative races are those where concentration of our forces can make the most difference?
- How do we simultaneously build the broad front we need to defeat Trumpism at the polls, while also building the power and influence of the most progressive sectors of the broad front, especially those rooted in communities of color and the working class? How does the fight against Trumpism relate to the fight against the neo-liberal economic project, for which support remains strong among a number of the sectors that are opposed to Trumpism? What are the best tactics to pursue in relationship to corporate Democratic candidates? Is it in our long-range interest to support such figures in general election contests against Republicans, or is refusing to back them the appropriate road?
- What are the key constituencies that can anchor a durable progressive movement, and what program is needed to inspire and activate those constituencies? This discussion is part of a multi-faceted and complex debate underway about the tensions and synergies between advancing a universal vision anchored in the solidarity of the working class across sectors and borders and advancing the specific demands of constituencies that are facing racial, national, gender and other particular forms of oppression. In other words, how do we weave particular demands and universal visions together into a political program that can inspire millions?
Organizing Upgrade will tackle these and other strategic questions over the next year. We will both weigh in with our own opinions, and we will feature the viewpoints of others within progressive movements and the left. As always, we will prioritize the strategic thinking of on-the-ground organizers who are reflecting on their experiences and trying to draw out the broader lessons for our movements. Through our coverage of these lessons, we hope to learn from one another and to foster dialogue between organizations focused on different issues and constituencies. More than that, we hope to be a force for building greater strategic alignment and operational unity on a number of different levels: unity of the broadest possible coalition of forces against the Trumpist GOP; unity among the social justice forces that are striving to establish a durable progressive pole in mass politics; and unity between the sectors of the anti-capitalist left are engaged in these efforts and are working to rebuild a durable and fully inclusive working class movement for systemic change.