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The Undressed Empire: An Analysis of the First Weeks of the Trump Era

By Danny Haiphong

Source: Black Agenda Report

U.S. empire

Contradictions abound in the mass protests against Donald Trump’s whirlwind of proclamations. While Trump’s executive order banning many Muslims should be categorically rejected, we must also reject “the Democratic and Republican parties for creating the conditions that led to it.” Trump has stripped the socially acceptable garments from U.S. empire. But, “a naked empire remains a dangerous empire” — and only masses of people can defeat it.

A calamity has befallen the US imperialist empire. Donald Trump, the billionaire service industry magnate turned highest-appointed government official, has signed a number of executive orders geared toward the fulfillment of his campaign promises. The most controversial order thus far has restricted immigration into the US for green card and visa holders from seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The order went immediately into effect. Corporate media has reported numerous instances where recently arrived travelers from the banned countries found themselves trapped in airports across the United States. From the day it was placed, the order has received significant push back from broad sections of the population and the state.

Trump’s actions have stripped the crisis of US empire fully naked. Hundreds of thousands of people have packed into US airports across the country, helping to pressure a federal court ruling against the deportation of detained migrants. The Department of Homeland Security has also pulled back from issuing deportation notices to green card holders. When solidarity leads to positive change, it is a beautiful thing. It should be celebrated. However, the objective situation of US empire no longer affords time for blind protest or celebration. A naked empire remains a dangerous empire.

There are many protesters and observers in the United States who may see Donald Trump’s policies as surprising, perhaps unprecedented. Trump’s actions, however, are not without a catalyst. That catalyst is none other than former President Barack Obama. A Mic article published the day of Trump’s executive order reminds us that the list of countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban was supplied by the Obama Administration. In 2015, Obama signed into law the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. The bill restricted Visa waivers for anyone who applied after visiting Libya, Syria, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq within the last five years. This list is now being used by the Trump Administration’s to enforce the travel ban.

The connection between Trump’s immigration ban and the Obama Administration’s prior policies has yet to be raised in the protests against Trump. The insurgency against Trump has given rise to hostility toward criticism of those who have taken the streets against Trump but stayed silent during the Obama period. Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss all criticism as condemnation. Deep, internal contradictions exist in all phenomena, especially in the emergence of mass movements. They must be reconciled if the empire is to be defeated and not merely reformed.

The most striking internal contradiction of the protests so far is the large base of support that they have received from the Democratic Party and its non-profit operatives. Corporate Democrats such as Corey Booker and Chuck Schumer have joined protesters at the airports to condemn Trump’s immigration ban. Establishment Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham have distanced themselves from Trump’s ban as well in an obvious attempt to distance themselves from the cause of social unrest. However, these are the same politicians that supported the invasion of Iraq and Obama’s regime change policies in Libya and Syria. Regime change is the policy that created the refugee crisis. Without the imperialism’s forced displacement of people in the region, Trump would not have the initial opportunity to institute the ban until his administration waged wars of its own. And neither of the corporate parties said anything during Obama’s reign of terror by drone strike or his Kill List that targeted American citizens.

The fake conflict Democrats are waging against Trump is the sharpest contradiction of the Trump era. Pointing out the internal contradictions of this or any phenomenon should not be conflated with condemnation of any particular person or group of people protesting Donald Trump. The investigation of internal contradictions helps movement forces engage with history in a manner that can lead to a road map for action. History tells us that the Democratic Party and Republican Party elite laid the basis for Trump. The Obama period saw the erection of largest mass surveillance machinery known to humanity and the expansion of war in the Middle East and Africa. Obama bombed five of the seven countries on Trump’s ban over 26,000 times and gave billions in US tax dollars to Al Qaeda forces that laid waste to Libya, Syria, and the region at large. The roots of the refugee crisis ultimately rest at the feet of the Democratic Party and Republican Party elite.

So while Trump’s executive order should be categorically rejected, so too should the Democratic Party and Republican Parties for creating the conditions that led to it. Trump’s white supremacy is not merely his own and neither are his reactionary political positions on issues of immigration. Trump is made in the USA. His billionaire status is the product of capitalist accumulation, which compels the owners of private property to usurp surplus value and enrich themselves from the world’s laboring classes. And white supremacy and militarism has been enforced by US empire for centuries to protect the private wealth of such owners, culminating in the largest prison apparatus in the world designed specifically for the poor Black Americans.

The Trump Administration has undressed the US empire’s true character. He has taken hold of the ready-made state machinery and wielded it in a manner that is unpalatable to a large section of the ruling class and the general population. However, resistance against Trump alone will not defeat US imperialism. US imperialism has entered its most vulnerable stage of life in the political, military, and economic spheres. The US capitalist economy is currently in a permanent state of stagnation and joblessness, the military is unable to contain and control the consequences of its wars, and the two-party corporate duopoly has never been more unstable than in the era of Trump. A real opportunity exists to intensify the struggle to defeat empire and build the groundwork for a working class movement in our time.

This is an arduous task and certainly not one that can be achieved through an alliance with the Democratic Party. Democratic Party politicians must be purged from the protests and booed off the stage for their leading role in the exploitation of the masses. And if support for the Democratic Party at the protests against Trump’s policies is too deep, then a thorough analysis and plan should be formulated on how to strengthen an independent, radical alternative to US imperialism. The future is uncertain, but the tasks are crystal clear if one views the world from the desperate conditions of workers and oppressed people at this historical juncture.

Whenever mass protest erupts in the United States, radicals and progressives become excited and hopeful about the future. This is an understandable response and in many ways a desired one. Mass protest invigorates conversation on just how to approach the discontent from a radical and revolutionary orientation. Perspectives often become polarized. Some argue for gentle patience with backward elements of the protests while others criticize, sometimes harshly, those who failed to protest during prior Democratic Party Administrations. Falling on either side of this contradiction will inevitably lead to errors in thinking and action. Revolutionary optimism is the correct path, but it must be guided by sober reality if movement forces are to truly develop a full understanding of the current moment.

Take, for example, the recent US commando raid in Yemen conducted by the Trump Administration on January 29th. Thirty civilians were reported killed, including the daughter of US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki. The incident signals Trump’s continued commitment to US empire despite his campaign rhetoric. However, it was Democratic Party leadership under Obama that vastly increased drone warfare in the region. Obama assassinated Anwar Al-Awkaki by drone strike in 2011 and followed up by murdering his sixteen year-old son in the span of a few weeks. Overall, the Obama Administration’s drone program killed thousands of people in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan to name a few, many of them civilians. Trump’s seamless transition as the trigger for drone warfare is a sharp indication that war, as with all symptoms of US imperialism, does not cease with a mere change of face or party in the White House.

The era of Trump has further sharpened the contradictions between US empire and the broad masses of people. Hundreds of thousands have proclaimed solidarity with refugees targeted by Trump’s executive order. What will it take for the movement fighting Trump’s policies to begin to target the entire state apparatus that manages the exploitation and oppression of the dispossessed classes? Is the movement capable of such a leap? The only way to find out is through the development of an independent political program of the working class that puts the movement to the test.

Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com