It has been entertaining to watch all the demonstrations and actions by anarchists and leftists since the election of Donald Trump. These have largely been prophylactic interventions since Trump had not yet actually done much but talk and insult people, having failed to implement very many real changes. It was unclear what the point of some of these marches was other than support for all good things and opposition to bad ones, presumably all of which were caused by Trump. A recurring image has been a sign that reads “Not My President.” Anarchists, one would hope, have never had a president but some of them seem to feel it is more important to point this out at present than it was under the regime of Obama.
There is a widespread belief on the left that Trump is uniquely evil and is more deserving of contempt than were at least some of his predecessors. While there have often been protests at the inaugurations of republican presidents, anarchists largely gave Clinton and Obama a pass and the small actions surrounding Obama’s second coronation focused on government policies in general rather than Obama’s role in them. It certainly looks as if at least some anarchists have been swept up by the lesser-of-two-evils sentiment, looking back affectionately on the days of the last president. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that the inauguration protests and women’s marches would have happened at all if his protégé Clinton had been elected instead. Prior to the election, “libertarian” socialist Noam Chomsky co-wrote something called An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting) which encouraged skeptics to hold their noses and vote for Clinton, just as he supported Obama both times he ran for president.
The “Lesser” of Two Evils Is Still Evil
It is difficult to see where these fond memories of Obama come from. What did Obama do during his eight long years as president? His military bombed hospitals and massacred non-combatants, including children, in iraq and afghanistan. He sent killer drones into pakistan, somalia and yemen and supported and supplied the saudi government in its war against regular people in yemen. He criticized the tyrants in iran but cozied up to the equally reprehensible rulers of saudi arabia who arrest women for driving and kill people for engaging in consensual sex and selling recreational drugs to willing customers. He and his buddies watched live streaming of the killing of bin-Laden as if it were a sports game. He extended the patriot act, and supported roaming wiretaps and government surveillance both of americans and of others, including politicians in other countries whom he officially considered allies.
While Obama criticized unfair sentences for the use and sale of drugs that the government has made illegal, he waited until his term was nearly over, thus eliminating any personal risk, to actually free the vast majority of those to whom he granted pardons or commutations for drug “offenses,” while he did nothing to decriminalize sale and use of marijuana and other drugs. Similarly, he commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence on his way out the door, but he refused to consider forgiving Edward Snowden for airing the government’s dirty laundry, even as Obama nurtured and grew the surveillance state. Meanwhile, he declined to release Leonard Peltier who has been imprisoned for almost 40 years for killing two FBI agents in self-defense in 1975. And the concentration camp the united states runs in Guantanamo remains open despite Obama’s promises to close it. All this is entirely consistent with his support for drug laws, cops, spies, prisons, and government secrecy, which he shares with his predecessors and successor.
Those who believe that same-sex marriage is actually a good thing thank Obama for making this happen nationally. But once again, he was way too calculating to allow such a change in his first term, since, like any other politician, a second term in power was more important than principles—if he had any, that is. He (as did Clinton) lied and claimed that he had simply changed his mind on such things over time, but anyone who actually believes such nonsense is a fool.
He talked about the dreamers and very publicly let in some young migrants, but meanwhile the thugs he oversaw deported 2,7000,000 other people. He made deals with the brutes running cuba, and, thankfully, reduced some of the travel and trade barriers imposed on people living there. However, he did not have the courage to eliminate all the restrictions created and maintained by his predecessors. As a parting shot he even eliminated the “wet foot, dry foot” policy which eased the way for some cuban migrants to enter the united states legally, and thereby kissed the arse of those who rule cuba. This policy was obviously unfair, offering special rules for people from cuba but denying such access to people from places like haiti who were just as deserving of refuge from the nasty thugs who run their country as were the cuban migrants. But Obama showed his true colors once again by eliminating it instead of expanding this limited access to include others seeking to escape from authoritarian governments elsewhere.
Those who label Trump a fascist seem to forget about the killer cops who ran amok under Obama, how he gave lip service to those who campaigned against police violence but curried favor with cops as well. How he consorted with authoritarian rulers of countries from saudi arabia to china to iraq to ethiopia. How he displayed his corporatist approach to the economy by taking over GM and transferring millions of dollars extorted from working people to bankers and corporate executives, while workers lost jobs and regular people lost their homes. How he consistently favored the wealthy and well-connected over working and poor people whether it was in banking, industry, health care, or the mammoth government bureaucracy he oversaw. How he and his supporters promoted what bordered on a personality cult starting with that inane image on the “hope” poster.
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
And what has Trump actually done since the election? He has tried, unsuccessfully, to block travelers and immigrants from other countries but was blocked by the courts. He has attempted to switch out one burdensome, expensive, inefficient government health insurance scheme for another, but has so far been unsuccessful here as well. He continues to prattle on about a border wall which may well never come to be. He drops bombs on the people of other countries. He pals around with authoritarian rulers of other countries. In other words, he is turning out to be very much like Obama and those who came before him.
All presidents, all politicians, all leaders are contemptible by their very nature. As Proudhon concisely put it “Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and tyrant, and I declare him my enemy.” This insight has apparently been lost on much of the left, including some anarchists, who seem to believe that there really is an important difference between Trump and Obama/Clinton. While the antifa street warriors are taking this opportunity to feel really good about themselves, the day-to-day workings of the state plod along much the same as they always have. And focusing on the supposed fascist tendencies of Trump (or whoever else) does not encourage a critical look at the very institution of the state and government, without which there can be no fascism.
Instead of challenging a specific president, we must challenge the presidency. We must contest the very idea that it is OK for some people to rule and others to be ruled, some to tax and others to be taxed, some to kill and others to be killed. Focusing one’s protests and actions on the particular, egregious actions of a particular president is fair game, but portraying that person as an aberration from the usual type gives the institution a pass and focuses on the failings of one person, with the implication that if only someone else had been elected, things would be qualitatively different. And if that were true, then voting would seem a reasonable approach to social change.
The electoral circus is a sewer which anarchists would do well to avoid, but which seems irresistible to so many. Call out Trump for his racist and sexist attitudes, oppose his attempts to restrict migration, demand an end to the killings around the world by the american military. But don’t promote the idea that he is not “my” president without pointing out that no free person, no anarchist has ever had a president. Singling him out for special contempt makes him the main villain, not the state, not the bureaucracy, not the military without which he and Obama and all the rest would not have been able to do the damage they have all caused. Whoever the president is, the state will continue its work of theft and murder, whoever is in the white house the wealthy will have a friend there, whoever is in the white house regular people will remain unfree.