|Anti-Trump protesters rally on November 19, 2016. (Photo: CaliCal / Flickr)|
It is much too early to say to what extent President Trump will enact his campaign promises as government policy and, indeed, how much he will actually be able to do in office. But every day since his election demonstrations have sprung up throughout the United States to express outrage, apprehension and dismay.
Moreover, there is no doubt that once in office Trump and his administration will continually do and say things that will inspire protest. For at least the next four years people in the US will rally and march against his government, regularly and in large numbers. Protesting against threats to the environment will undoubtedly be urgent, as will be the generalized atmosphere of violence against people of color, women, LGBTQ populations, migrants, Muslims, workers of various sorts, the poor -- and the list goes on.
One of the potential pitfalls for social movements, however, is that activism goes no further than protest. Protest, of course, can bring a city to a halt, can block temporarily the action of the government, and can even play the crucial role of opening up spaces for political alternatives. But on its own, protest is never enough to create lasting social transformation.
The significance of the Trump presidency and, moreover, the keys to developing protest against it become clearer, we think, when posed in a global context. Before coming back to the questions for social movements, then, let us frame some of the basic aspects of the global context into which Trump’s government will enter.
The Many Faces of the Global Right
Although Trump is certainly an idiosyncratic figure, he is really one of many "populist" right-wing leaders that have emerged on the global stage against the backdrop of the economic crisis, including Vladimir Putin in Russia, Narendra Modi in India, General Al Sisi in Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Michel Temer in Brazil, Mauricio Macri in Argentina, and perhaps soon Norbert Hofer in Austria and Marine Le Pen in France.
This is a heterogeneous group, obviously -- and even the label "populism" we use as shorthand here deserves greater critical scrutiny. But these right-wing figures do share several characteristics. All of them promise a combination of neoliberalism and nationalism as the solution to economic and social malaise. Most of them also manage to mobilize for the right a widespread hatred for the entire political class and contempt for the political establishment -- a sentiment that at other times has been mobilized effectively by the left, for instance in 2001 in Argentina and 2011 in Spain.
Many of these right-wing leaders and political forces also add some traditional characteristics of fascism, such as the threat of the mass expulsion of migrants, racial purity as a condition of legitimate belonging to the nation, the suspension of normal legal procedures to imprison and repress political opponents, attacks on the independent press, and creating an atmosphere of terror for LGBTQ populations, people of color, women and others.
Note too that the rise of these right-wing "populisms" has exacerbated in all of these countries a profound institutional crisis, often blocking, for instance, the basic traditional functions of government (passing budgets, approving nominations) as well as undermining the standard political rationalities of administration. And the economic crisis that began in 2007 has functioned as a hothouse to facilitate and accelerate all of these phenomena.
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