Transformational Solidarity in the Time of Trump

face2Michael Kennedy
Brown University

November 11, 2016

Three sensibilities of solidarity sweep America, but we need a fourth.

Solidarity as Electoral Democracy is apparent in the graciousness of Secretary Clinton’s concession speech, President Obama’s report on his conversation with President-Elect Trump, and in the peaceful transfer of power. It’s heard in calls to give Trump a chance to become presidential, with the difference between his tweets last night and this morning to evidence that he might honor his pledge to be President of all Americans.

Solidarity in opposition is readily evident among all those who find in Trump’s victory proof of white supremacy as America’s foundation and who mount demonstrations to declare he is not our president.

Solidarity as dialogue was manifest in the tough conversation among Michael Moore, Eddie Glaude, Jr. and Anand Giridharadas this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Michael explained how the liberal elite didn’t get those who wore ball caps, Eddie explained how Michael didn’t acknowledge the deep racial animus in this election, and Anand explained that the Midwest needed to meet Manhattan halfway in mutual curiosity.

Solidarity depends on all three, but it can’t work if it is limited to these as choices. We need this fusion, and to learn from these different expressions of solidarity in order to build a fourth.

Acknowledge that Trump’s campaign has made people fear for their lives, their ways of being, their rights. When white folks see “What a privilege it must be to look past Trump’s racism because it won’t ever affect you”, or when straight folks, citizens, men, and others privileged in our society see something similarly challenging, recognize it’s not necessarily about you. It rather poses this question: how will you use your privilege in solidarity with those legitimately fearful, and already hurt by this election and the hate that it has made legitimate.

Second, hear those from the Midwest, and other rural areas, saying that they felt abandoned by the liberal elite. Moore rightly mentioned that Flint fell off the mass media’s attention once President Obama drank water from the tap and said everything would be alright. The Democratic Party establishment has abandoned those it feels captured by Republicans, and has taken constituencies of color for granted. In this, all of those disenfranchised by this current party system are alienated, and need a political revolution to feel like they matter. This is not a revolution, however, based on listening more carefully and improving dialogue.

People are suffering, and find little value in philosophical celebrations of dialogue’s importance. Solidarity begins with recognizing others’ conditions of life, and offering more than reassurance that they matter. Putting bodies and other material resources on the line counts. But with whom do we develop this solidarity?

Donnie Radcliffe, one of my Midwestern friends, asked that coastal elites recognize the legitimate disaffections of rural folks. Fair enough. But I suggested that we might develop a solidarity that transcends the rural/urban divide by building on a solidarity movement that already exists: the solidarity at Standing Rock in opposition to a corporate elite that has captured state power to move against sacred lands and life giving waters.   That’s harder than it sounds, however, for you are asking white folks to reframe with whom they have interests in common. It means moving directly against white supremacy in defining rights to natural resources.

As soon as I invoke white supremacy or privilege, however, I immediately betray the solidarity accent with which I think we need to start. And for the folks I know who begin there, I also know that’s not the only language they speak. Acknowledging that enduring injustice is a way to articulate the solidarity that enables us to mark other injustices. And that’s why these demonstrations are so important.

Like those who protest, I fear this election has destroyed the checks and balances that enable those who don’t share my privilege to feel any modicum of security in Trump’s America. These demonstrations are the signal to Trump, and they will grow louder if he cannot hear, that it’s not his presidential authority or personal magnanimity that will make him president of all Americans. If he does not respect the rights of those who reside among us, he will not be able to govern. It’s not the legislative gridlock that President Obama faced in Washington. It’s a civil society roadblock that will define what democracy is about.

This America that did not elect Trump will not allow the pundits to say that democracy has spoken and that we must now respect the office of the President, that we must come together to celebrate Trump’s America. Those pundits don’t know what democracy is at root. Democracy is rather about the degree to which “political relations between the state and its citizens feature broad, equal, protected, and mutually binding consultation.”¹ The solidarity of opposition knows this, and is expressing it on the streets.

If President Trump does not respect this democracy, solidarity will be rearticulated and grow in opposition. At the same time, those in opposition must also struggle to articulate a solidarity that denies the racism Trump has embodied and has mobilized. It’s not entirely a dialogue of mutuality, however, for it needs begin with recognizing the racism that has defined America, and then we can talk, too, about rustbelt and rural disenfranchisement that has not been acknowledged by “liberal media”. We need to build a fourth solidarity with both those recognitions at heart.

That means that we need to focus on the democracy we want, not the democracy that won. America cannot become great again, for that expresses racism resurgent. America might only become great if a new solidarity that respects us all can be found. I can’t see Trump managing that. But I can see America realizing that if those who have taught me about the disenfranchisement of so many come together, we can then articulate a Solidarity that is to come. We need a Transformational Solidarity.

  1. Charles Tilly, Democracy. Cambridge University Press, 2007: 59.
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One thought on “Transformational Solidarity in the Time of Trump

  1. This is valid and hopeful advice. We now need to develop more and more specific actions that can help build and sustain this solidarity.

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