How Do We Defeat Trump?


As I have been saying since the nineties, a violent right-wing movement—a new fascist axis, if you will—is forming all over the world, united by principles of white supremacy, ethnic nationalism, sexism, and religious fundamentalism. Backed by certain billionaires and a few like-minded governments, Trump and what remains of the Republican party are part of this axis. They must be vigorously opposed, based on the same strategy that was successful in opposing fascism during World War II— a united front between liberals and the left.


That doesn't mean the left has to love the liberal elite. Women, people of color, immigrants, workers have gotten little joy from those who have governed us since the eighties, either the Democrats whom Bernie calls "the establishment" or the "moderate Republicans" now deserting the wreck of their party. Both supported the war in Iraq. Both are patriarchal and racist, each in its own style. Both suck up to the rich and are happy to see them get richer on our backs.


But the left is not strong enough to take on both fascists and neoliberal elites at the same time. We need to be able to work with liberals on things we can agree about, or we will lose.


The left was not strong enough to go it alone in the Thirties either. The Communist International tried for a while, in what is now called its Third Period, calling for a "united front from below." In practice, that meant it attacked the liberal parties that were competing for the allegiance of the working class, rather than focusing on the fascists. In Germany, for instance, their slogan in 1932 and 1933 was, "After Hitler, us!" But after Hitler, there was no us—the German left was dead, in exile, or in concentration camps. As Harold Meyerson wrote in 2016:


"In the last years of the Weimar Republic, the real menace to Germany, Thälmann [leader of the German communists] argued, wasn't the Nazis but the Communists' center-left, and more successful, rival for the backing of German workers: the Social Democrats. The SDs, he said, were actually "social fascists," never mind that they were a deeply democratic party without so much as a tinge of fascism in their theory and practice. But as the Communists' rival for the support of the German working class, the SDs became the chief target of the Communists' campaigns."


Remind you of anything?


After 1935, the Communist International reversed its policy and called for a popular front with everyone who opposed fascism. They have been rebuked for this ever since by Trotskyists and other "class against class" leftists who think any compromise with the bourgeoisie is a disgrace. But radicals need to be able to compromise on some things in order to get into a position to win anything major, as the united front did under Roosevelt.


The left has to retain what some call "independence and initiative" in the united front, meaning we agree on what we can agree on and argue about everything else. But it is impossible to win everything with a single campaign. Without a united front and the strength that comes from numbers, the left will be isolated and have no way to actually achieve the changes we are calling for, including Medicare for All, a higher minimum wage, an end to the crimes against immigrants, reproductive and gender rights, a decent foreign policy, and above all, an urgent reorientation on climate change. A movement is essential and Bernie's campaign has done wonders to push the process forward but a movement is not broad enough; we need to be inside the Democratic Party in order to get a chance to make these changes.


Both Bernie and Biden need to be pushed as hard as possible to build such a united front. I wish I were more hopeful about the ability of either to do so. Biden seems so wobbly and lost in space that I am not confident he can even debate Trump without falling to bits. Beyond that, his history of compromise with the right—making alliances with no independence and initiative—is all too clear, along with his role in promoting the Iraq War, his treatment of Anita Hill, his coziness with the Dixiecrats, and his long-term support for the Hyde Amendment. I will vote for him if he is the nominee but nothing about him makes me think he can effectively fight Trump, even with the help of Bloomberg's bottomless purse.


I have always said that I supported both progressive candidates, Bernie and Warren. I think Warren was smarter and better suited to the job than anyone else running, but she did not build the kind of movement Bernie did, was weaker on foreign policy, and now has ended her campaign. So I am supporting Bernie and hope he and the movement can rise to the occasion.


But I am very worried about his insistence on fighting fascism and the liberal elite at the same time. The left needs liberal allies who support some of the same thing we do—including a science-based approach to climate change and a health care system designed for patients instead of insurance companies. I am hoping Bernie can stop acting like a prophet crying in the wilderness and start acting like a politician, because if he doesn't start building a united front, Biden will get the nomination. In that case, I fear, our only hope of winning will be Rachel Bitecofer's theory that it doesn't matter who the nominee is because everyone hates Trump so much that Democratic turnout will be immense.