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Tuesday, 27 December 2016 17:17

Silence Is Not an Option: Resisting the Right in the Age of Trump

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016silenceTrumpism demands activism, not silence. (Photo: Jemma D )

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The election of Donald Trump has seen the religious right gearing up to fight against abortion rights, defund Planned Parenthood, target transsexual rights, and re-litigate same sex marriage; economic conservatives dusting off plans to eliminate as many government regulations (and possibly departments) as possible, support school choice, the privatization of social security, Medicare, and craft a new tax code; and white supremacists and nationalists –operating under the media-friendly banner of the “alt-right” -- are looking to mainstream their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic vision of a white America, and broaden their constituency.

As reports of hate incidents and harassment soar, people are responding: Petitions are being circulated; websites are setting up mechanisms for reporting incidents of hate; demonstrations are being held in cities across the country; and, fight-back organizations are crafting plans and soliciting donations.

So how best to cope with and combat what many see as a coming maelstrom of hate attacks?

Information is key to any struggle. Naming the attackers, decoding their messages, and speaking out against hate groups, and incidents of hate and harassment is essential, and, finally, taking the long view regarding political engagement is crucial.

One of the most important tasks for dealing with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and the alt-right is understanding what they are and whom they represent, and working to make sure these movements doesn’t become the new normal by becoming more mainstreamed then they already are. The mainstream media must not be allowed to excuse the right’s racism, misogyny, nativism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. According to Ben Shapiro, a very conservative former Breitbart staffer, the alt-right has been trying to “broaden” its definition so they can “suck people in.”

On a recent episode of Mike Pesca’s podcast, “The Gist,” Shapiro talked about how the alt-right does not see necessarily see Trump, Breitbart or Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart head who became Trump’s CEO during the campaign and now his chief advisor, as part of the alt-right. Leading alt-right thinkers tend to see Trump as a useful tool who has not expelled them from the tent, and is therefore a useful ally, Shapiro said.

Dr. Harry Edwards, a longtime civil and human rights activist, told Dave Zirin on his “Edge of Sports” podcast, that people needed to educate themselves about the coming threats and to “read everything you” can get your hands on.

Speaking out, and acting up against injustice is critical. As Dr. Edwards told Dace Zirin, “If you've ever wondered what you would do had you been around in 1930s Germany, I'm awfully afraid that you're gonna get a chance to find out. It has never been without consequences.”

Our goal must be to shrink the alt-right and other far right movements. It is therefore important for progressives to be careful not to label all Trump voters as racists, homophobes or misogynists. Doing so risks pushing them into a corner where the alt-right might seem like a welcome alternative.

“In general, shining a clear spotlight on racists and extremist activity has the main benefit of more broadly informing the public on these issues so that they are better equipped when confronting its inevitable manifestations in their real lives,” David Neiwert, a longtime investigative journalist and author, wrote recently at his invaluable Orcinus blog.” “A well-informed public is the best cure for this ailment.”

To get a better understanding of the deep and dark roots of the racist right, part of which is now being called the “alt-right,” read Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, Leonard Zeskind.

Getting informed is one leg of a three-pronged focus.

Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, ordinary people have done the most amazing things: leading strikes, sitting-in at lunch counters, facing off against water hoses and dogs, marching without permits, burning draft cards, and getting arrested for righteous causes.

In the current climate, we need to highlight courageous young people standing up to bigotry, on the streets, in the classroom, on campus, in the workplace, and online.

Over the years, the cultural arena has provided numerous examples of inspiring activism. In the 1950s and 1960s, Eartha Kitt was a very popular singer, actress, cabaret star, dancer, and social activist. In 1968, she was invited to the White House, and once there, she was asked by Lady Bird Johnson (the wife of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson) about the Vietnam War. She replied: "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” Kitt’s career was short-circuited, and she was branded “a sadistic nymphomaniac” by the CIA.

In April 1967, Muhammad Ali paid a heavy price for not stepping forward for induction into the U.S. military. Decades later the Dixie Chicks’ career suffered greatly when they criticized George W. Bush’s war machine.

Recently, at a performance of “Hamilton,” the cast spoke directly to vice president-elect Mike Pence who was in attendance. A few days later, at the American Music Awards, Green Day made its voice heard by chanting “No Trump. No KKK. No Fascism in the USA,” during the middle of their new song, “Bang.”

If information gathering and speaking out is vital, organizing, locally and nationally for the long haul, is essential. It has to be done simultaneously on every level. As someone who has observed and written about the growth of the religious right for nearly thirty years, Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me in an email, that while he understands “the need for demonstrations and marches as they can be very cathartic,” he believes that “progressives must follow through with an on-the-ground political presence that has the aim of winning elections.”

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In the age of Trump, that arc has gotten much longer.

The election of Donald Trump has seen the religious right gearing up to fight against abortion rights, defund Planned Parenthood, target transsexual rights, and re-litigate same sex marriage; economic conservatives dusting off plans to eliminate as many government regulations (and possibly departments) as possible, support school choice, the privatization of social security, Medicare, and craft a new tax code; and white supremacists and nationalists –operating under the media-friendly banner of the “alt-right” -- are looking to mainstream their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic vision of a white America, and broaden their constituency.

As reports of hate incidents and harassment soar, people are responding: Petitions are being circulated; websites are setting up mechanisms for reporting incidents of hate; demonstrations are being held in cities across the country; and, fight-back organizations are crafting plans and soliciting donations.

So how best to cope with and combat what many see as a coming maelstrom of hate attacks?

Information is key to any struggle. Naming the attackers, decoding their messages, and speaking out against hate groups, and incidents of hate and harassment is essential, and, finally, taking the long view regarding political engagement is crucial.

One of the most important tasks for dealing with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and the alt-right is understanding what they are and whom they represent, and working to make sure these movements doesn’t become the new normal by becoming more mainstreamed then they already are. The mainstream media must not be allowed to excuse the right’s racism, misogyny, nativism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. According to Ben Shapiro, a very conservative former Breitbart staffer, the alt-right has been trying to “broaden” its definition so they can “suck people in.”

On a recent episode of Mike Pesca’s podcast, “The Gist,” Shapiro talked about how the alt-right does not see necessarily see Trump, Breitbart or Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart head who became Trump’s CEO during the campaign and now his chief advisor, as part of the alt-right. Leading alt-right thinkers tend to see Trump as a useful tool who has not expelled them from the tent, and is therefore a useful ally, Shapiro said.

Dr. Harry Edwards, a longtime civil and human rights activist, told Dave Zirin on his “Edge of Sports” podcast, that people needed to educate themselves about the coming threats and to “read everything you” can get your hands on.

Speaking out, and acting up against injustice is critical. As Dr. Edwards told Dace Zirin, “If you've ever wondered what you would do had you been around in 1930s Germany, I'm awfully afraid that you're gonna get a chance to find out. It has never been without consequences.”

Our goal must be to shrink the alt-right and other far right movements. It is therefore important for progressives to be careful not to label all Trump voters as racists, homophobes or misogynists. Doing so risks pushing them into a corner where the alt-right might seem like a welcome alternative.

“In general, shining a clear spotlight on racists and extremist activity has the main benefit of more broadly informing the public on these issues so that they are better equipped when confronting its inevitable manifestations in their real lives,” David Neiwert, a longtime investigative journalist and author, wrote recently at his invaluable Orcinus blog.” “A well-informed public is the best cure for this ailment.”

To get a better understanding of the deep and dark roots of the racist right, part of which is now being called the “alt-right,” read Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, Leonard Zeskind.

Getting informed is one leg of a three-pronged focus.

Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, ordinary people have done the most amazing things: leading strikes, sitting-in at lunch counters, facing off against water hoses and dogs, marching without permits, burning draft cards, and getting arrested for righteous causes.

In the current climate, we need to highlight courageous young people standing up to bigotry, on the streets, in the classroom, on campus, in the workplace, and online.

Over the years, the cultural arena has provided numerous examples of inspiring activism. In the 1950s and 1960s, Eartha Kitt was a very popular singer, actress, cabaret star, dancer, and social activist. In 1968, she was invited to the White House, and once there, she was asked by Lady Bird Johnson (the wife of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson) about the Vietnam War. She replied: "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” Kitt’s career was short-circuited, and she was branded “a sadistic nymphomaniac” by the CIA.

In April 1967, Muhammad Ali paid a heavy price for not stepping forward for induction into the U.S. military. Decades later the Dixie Chicks’ career suffered greatly when they criticized George W. Bush’s war machine.

Recently, at a performance of “Hamilton,” the cast spoke directly to vice president-elect Mike Pence who was in attendance. A few days later, at the American Music Awards, Green Day made its voice heard by chanting “No Trump. No KKK. No Fascism in the USA,” during the middle of their new song, “Bang.”

If information gathering and speaking out is vital, organizing, locally and nationally for the long haul, is essential. It has to be done simultaneously on every level. As someone who has observed and written about the growth of the religious right for nearly thirty years, Rob Boston, Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me in an email, that while he understands “the need for demonstrations and marches as they can be very cathartic,” he believes that “progressives must follow through with an on-the-ground political presence that has the aim of winning elections.”

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In the age of Trump, that arc has gotten much longer.