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A Lesson in How Not to Fight Trump

Steven Sherman Feb 20, 2017

On Friday night I attended a panel discussion put on by the Young Democratic Socialists of America and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung as part of YDSA’s national conference about how to fight back against Trump. Speakers included one person fom National Nurses United, one from People with Bernie, and one from Black Lives Matter who was also identified as a Bernie delegate last summer.

The panel reflected concerns I have about the direction of the Bernie movement and DSA which has grown rapidly lately. This was least the case with the speaker from Black Lives Matter, who emphasized participation in local elections. But … first of all, although the panel was billed as how to fight back against Trump, no one had much to say Trump and the overall Republican victory. It was as if there is nothing much to analyze there, time to get back to our real task –challenging the Democratic center.

This was done in what I think is about the least helpful way imaginable. Two striking examples–the panelist from NNU commented "Who wants to defend a shitty neoliberal policy like the ACA? … on the other hand, the Medicaid expansion…"

First of all, the Medicaid expansion is part of the ACA, so the message is muddled. Second, lots of people are throwing themselves into defending the ACA—this is why Republican town halls have been so contentious. As a practical matter, lots of people have benefited from the ACA. From my own personal experience and what I see on Facebook, most people I know are no more than one or two degrees of separation from someone who claims to have benefited from it.

The Republicans, who currently have most of the power in Washington, are threatening to repeal and replace it, likely by reducing its redistributive features and consumer protections. Why not join the fight to save it as one step towards either single payer or extensive fixes to ACA that would move it closer to affordable universal care?

The other striking moment for me was when the speaker from People for Bernie launched into an attack on Planned Parenthood, portrayed as a "whip" for corporate Democrats and held responsible for Sanders' inability to win many African American votes, particularly in the South. In itself, this seems ridiculous—much  more important than Planned Parenthood was African American clergy and elected officials and civil rights organizations which lined up for Clinton at the start of the primary season.

But more to the point, Planned Parenthood is a crucial organization providing women's health services and family planning. Lots of people are alarmed at the prospect of it losing funding, and are rushing to defend it and donate to it. Why focus on their political limits? And whether it was Planned Parenthood or African American clergy and company to blame for Clinton winning the nomination, I would recommend seeking to understand the logic of their choices, figuring out whether we have anything to offer them to consider shifting their position, and if not, whether we can find ways to communicate with what they consider their base.

The sort of rhetoric I heard did none of this. These were two moments I was really cringing—other parts I liked more, such as the discussion of the Women's March by the People for Bernie speaker, who helped draft the excellent unity principle, and the NNU's speaker's formulation that there will not be racial justice in this country without economic justice, and there will not be economic justice without racial justice. But I felt that the basic needed strategy in the Trump era—large coalitions to defend liberal democracy and institutions we need over the long term (unions, academia, etc) and embattled communities, which will necessitate electoral support for quite yucky Democrats who nevertheless are much less likely to engage in unhinged attacks on these institutions and facilitate the worst of Trump—was  pretty much absent.

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