The political events of the past few days have been downright frightening. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey puts on full display the fact that the current president has no intention of abiding by the rules of democracy.
The New York Times noted in the wake of Comey’s abrupt dismissal that the FBI director “was fired because he was leading an active investigation that could bring down a president,” referring to the Russia scandal, and “whether the presidency was effectively stolen by a hostile foreign power.” The Times, continued that “this is a tense and uncertain time in the nation’s history,” and that the Russian situation could be “one of the biggest political scandals in the nation’s history.”
Much like the famous frog in the pot of water that slowly starts to boil, the American people are watching the democratic norms that once governed our nation stripped away. Unlike the frog, though, we have been fighting back, and have scored some important victories. Nonetheless, the constant barrage of insane statements coming from the presidency, conflicts of interest, and openly anti-democratic rhetoric and actions have left many of us unable to fully recall the feel of more democratic days, very recent, but quickly being shrouded by the fastest moving mists of time we’ve seen.
The authoritarian threat is real, and there is a line that, once crossed, the republic is unlikely to recover from. Trump has to be removed, or, at the very least, his administration has to be seriously crippled. To accomplish that, we need an anti-authoritarian movement or, as some might call it, an anti-fascist movement.
Real anti-fascism has to mean the widest, broadest possible front against Trump. So called “Antifa” demonstrations that have caused some annoyances recently (an example local to my city) are the exact opposite of what America needs. “Antifa,” short for “anti-fascist,” demonstrations are generally anarchist gatherings, with people chanting revolutionary slogans and breaking glass, marching around without permits, blocking traffic on interstate highways, etc. Obviously, this sort of thing alienates many, and isn’t helpful in building a broad, actually anti-fascist front.
Also not helpful is some continued push to move the Democratic Party to the left. While it is nice to try to bring progressive issues forward – the fight for $15, for example – we can’t let any issue divide the movement against Trump and his extremists (another example from my hometown; in defense of the Antifa groups, though, here’s a video of them helping to divide the Trump movement in Minnesota). The coalition that defeats Trump and his national and local allies, if it can, won’t be a left grouping. Probably it will not even be a solely center-left grouping.
If we look to history, at the great anti-fascist movements of the early 20th century, or the movements that brought about the end to dictatorships in nations across the world, we see the successful ones all have one thing in common: diversity of political tendencies, with major weight given to centrists. They included everyone from the left to centrists to even, oftentimes, conservatives who opposed fascism. This was the case the first time fascism was fought, in Spain as well as in Germany and Italy, and across Latin America. Anyone who supported basic democracy was part of the movement. The tactics of the movement, when successful, were based off of that need for a united coalition.
It was generally not a slide to the right that those who fought for democracy had to worry about. Often, it was the left that was the problem. I’ve written about this in reference to Germany. In Spain, more “revolutionary” elements caused problems. While the communists and republicans were working together to fight Franco (including many Americans who went there to fight as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades), a group of anarchists and “left-wing communists” decided that it was time to end capitalism altogether, and fought both the fascist and republican forces. The infighting, of course, led to the victory of fascism in Spain, which lasted up through the 1970s.
We have to avoid these mistakes. While the “Antifa” groups are small, it’s important to make sure that they are not seen as representative of the larger movement. More of a worry is some in the camp that supported Sanders, even after Hillary won the primary, who have made a fetish of criticizing everything the Democratic Party, and especially the DNC, do or stand for. I would take issue with their characterizations of the DNC in general, but now is certainly not the time to wage internecine wars within the party. Especially troublesome, though thankfully small, is the strain of thought around Jill Stein and the Green Party.
Indeed, while the Democratic Party is the umbrella for the vast majority of the movement, to be successful, we need allies even beyond that. The real anti-fascist movement in America has to include everyone opposed to Trump’s agenda. That will include some of the more moderate and democratic (with a small “d”) Republicans, people who in normal times would be opponents, e.g. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. We have to fight to bring these people into the democratic coalition, with phone calls and letters to all of those who are wavering. We saw an example of how such a coalition can function earlier, when some top Republicans defected to defeat Trump’s attempt to repeal an Obama-era methane rule. (Of course, this does not mean giving up on principled issues: it’s important to organize against, for example, any repeal of Obamacare, even when this means calling out those who side with Trump on that particular issue.)
It’s clear that Trump won’t allow the FBI to do its job. We need to build a democratic united front that can pull a few Republicans over to vote for an independent, well funded investigation into what happened in Russia. Of course, all sections of the Democratic coalition have to be completely united, with no litmus tests whatsoever on any issue, to change the makeup of the House and Senate next year, as well as this year in municipal elections across the country. Across the country, state Democratic Parties will be having their conventions. It is important to push as much as possible for the adoption of good, progressive policies, but not in a way that dis-unifies the party.
And if a broad enough coalition can be built, with enough Republicans brought over, it is possible to impeach Trump and then remove him from office. But that will require, before anything else, that the left section of the Democratic Party (of which I consider myself a part) work constructively with the center and more conservative elements within it.
And, aside from in eye-catching headlines, I’d probably ditch the term “anti-fascist” or “Antifa” altogether, and instead use something like “fight to save American democracy” or a phrase along those lines.
Image by Feral 78, used under a Creative Commons license.