This is a lot. The gravity of the situation hits me in waves. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I had assumed the Obama coalition from 2012 would hold up, given that Obama had made a couple of speeches endorsing Clinton. Michelle had made a really strong one too. I had thought it would be the margin of Obama’s win over Romney, that the bad old familiar order would continue. I didn’t bother to look into the polls or the specific states in the Midwest more closely, Clinton was experienced enough and the Democratic GOTV machine strong enough to carry it home.
Seeing the results come in on 11 pm on Tuesday, I felt a sinking familiar to me from past election nights. I was now numb to the painful realization that the familiar, comfortable liberal world of the late 90s and early 2000s was ultimately over. This certainty has been exploded many times in my life now. I felt like when I did in Edinburgh in May 2014, preparing to move to Chicago in a couple of weeks but broken apart by the Modi BJP’s resounding win: a clear single-party majority for the most authoritarian candidate in India since Indira Gandhi. It reminded me of what I felt seeing David Cameron win a single-party majority in May 2015. Like Clinton this year, Ed Miliband of the Labour Party ran an unfocussed, uninspired campaign – dogged by a press more intent on bringing him down a peg than challenge Tory dogmas on deficit-spending. It reminded me of the Brexit referendum in June this year; another muddle-headed campaign for an admittedly unpleasant and imperfect status quo surprisingly lost to a clear, direct message – fuck ‘em.
All four moments have something in common. The polls did not see them coming. In India and in the UK we were meant to have hung parliaments. For Brexit, we were supposed to see a narrow win for Remain, because enough people were middle class and reasonable to vote for the status quo. With Trump. Well. The three previous events have been quickly normalized in the respective countries: just realities to be dealt with. A politics as usual to come to terms with a politics of right-wing extremism, an extremism that perhaps at least a third of the electorates in my respective home countries share. With Trump. Well.
I share this not to make a point about the rise of global neo-fascist politics, although that point needs to be made with more nuance and detail. I share it to try and give you a sense of how I feel prepared for Trump, prepared for the onslaught to come. Modi’s commitment to Hindu supremacy; his party paramilitary’s role in fomenting violence in marginal constituencies to drive up the Hindu vote; his party’s discussion of Muslims and, indeed all critics, as foreigners who need to return to Pakistan – were in no way disqualifying to the Indian electorate. Nigel Farage’s racism and Islamophobia too were not important to Brexit voters, some of whom included diasporic South Asians. The problem is that Islamophobia – like classism, racism and sexism generally – is practically invisible and non-existent for everyone but those who bear the brunt of it.
The past few years have taught me that things will get worse than we expect. They have also taught me that a marxist, antiracist (black and postcolonial), feminist, and queer politics can and must address the issues that liberals have refused to address in their deep affective immersion in a political normal.
A big part of being a radical leftist is living with the constant sense that the normal shouldn’t be normal. The catastrophe has been here all along. As I read Ta-Nehisi Coates and James Baldwin and Cedric Robinson and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Audre Lorde, I learn that racism on the scale of Trumpism is a central continuity in American history; integral to the American state, to the American economy, to American culture. As I read Elena Ferrante and Simone de Beauvoir and Donna Harraway and Angela Davis, I learn that the very idea of the woman under the patriarchy is license for curtailing her freedom, for inflicting violence upon her body, for exploiting her labour. From Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, Capital, and his and Engels’ many other writings on the capitalist system of political economy – I take away their stunning insights into the depths of exploitation and the heights of instability that capitalism can maintain in order to reproduce itself. Capitalism is a continuous crisis of production. The remarkable thing that capital and wage-labour do is that they mask the extent of this crisis to ourselves. The catastrophe was already here, and I was living in it.
I have been ready for this, but I was also not ready. I would have much rather criticized Clinton or Manmohan Singh or Miliband than Trump or Modi or Theresa May. The former three are familiar ground, they are a lesser evil: centrist liberals trying to balance budgets, improve civil rights for minorities, carry out low-scale wars in colonial frontiers. The latter three represent a reactionary attempt to completely redefine the post-war liberal state: to make each of their countries ethnically pure, to privatize and hand over to the market all of the public goods possible, to expand the security and surveillance apparatus such that dissent becomes discouraged, if not outright banned. This is not the ground that I want to fight on. I am not ready for state-organized Muslim registrations in the US; for the comprehensive curtailment of women’s reproductive rights and legal attacks on queer and trans rights; for cuts to welfare and the privatization of Medicare; for a militarized police force further emboldened to take the law into its own hands, jailing and murdering people of colour; for mass deportations. This is fucking awful.
Every new thought about the shape of the Trump presidency breaks me.
The Trump Senate. The Trump House of Representatives. The Trump Supreme Court.
I am not here to offer easy consolation. Best I can do is the difficult consolation of the truth. There is no single moral evil or story where if we just do this, this, and this, things will be fine. Where if we just blame the hateful, angry, ignorant Republicans, we ourselves will be fine. These issues are systemic and institutional. Obama developed and expanded the vast state surveillance apparatus handed to him by Bush – Clinton would have continued to do so. Snowden was concerned that such an apparatus could be used against citizens exercising their first amendment rights. Strange that Obama, a professor of constitutional law, wasn’t. Now Trump is in charge, and his first tweet as president-elect was a direct rebuke to the legitimacy of protest. What do we call it when lesser evils pile up over time and, in the moment of utmost necessity, leave us in the lurch?
A big part of being a radical leftist is rejecting hopelessness, nihilism, and worst of all, individualism: we know that these are luxuries of the rich. When one gives up on being a Rawlsian, absolutely transparent to oneself, perfectly good in one’s own life, autonomous liberal subject – one gains the Platonic, the feminist, the Marxist sense of a self as constituted essentially by interdependence. I am not an individual. I am the voices and affects and legacies and bodies of everyone I’ve ever read, talked to, befriended, and loved; their parents and grandparents; the dead. Solidarity consists in this refusal of individuality – and simultaneously the maintenance of difference that makes interdependence possible. We got each other. I will learn from you about your struggle, and I will talk to you about mine. Together we build. We have no choice.