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If you want to build an alternative to Trumpism, you need to read black freedom fighter W.E.B. Du Bois

Du Bois’ example reminds us how important it is to pursue political programmes that have tactical, strategic, and utopian components – that are at once soberly realist and unapologetically visionary.

Gary Wilder
5 May 2017
Sachs Ron/CNP/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Sachs Ron/CNP/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Politics does not reflect majorities, it constructs them.

– Stuart Hall

In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory on 8 November 2016, his opposition has been caught up in debate over the causes and significance of the unexpected outcome. Central to this has been a sharp disagreement over what emphasis should be placed on class versus race, in explaining and contesting Trumpism. The insights developed within the black radical tradition remind us that this is a false opposition and a sterile debate. Recalling W.E.B. Du Bois’s Depression-era strategy for creating a socialist democracy in a racist society may help us to clarify and confront the current political predicament.

Most leftists concur that the populism, nationalism, and xenophobia leading to this authoritarian outcome can only be understood in relation to the alienation and immiseration created by the neoliberal policies that have been pursued by Republican and Democratic governments since the 1980s. From this perspective, Clintonism contributed directly to Trumpism; it is an element of, not a solution to, the political problem that must be addressed. Many on the left hope that this unfolding crisis may create an opportunity for organizing a real alternative to Democratic party liberalism. But those whose analysis focuses primarily on class versus race reach different conclusions about the way forward.

Those starting from a critique of current economic conditions tend to focus on how Trump’s victory expressed the disaffection of non-college-educated white Americans (mistakenly glossed as “the working class”) whose recent economic decline has been unrelenting and devastating. These critics emphasize that Democratic Party liberalism has ignored this group’s experience and despair. They suggest that that urban and coastal tend to treat their conservative values and rural lifestyles with condescension or contempt, and that liberals add insult to injury by foregrounding what appear like trivial or disagreeable cultural concerns such as gay marriage, trans restrooms, and diversity-oriented “identity politics.”

These commentators conclude that the Democratic Party actively lost this election by driving ordinary working people, including union members, away from their candidate. Such economy-focused interpretations tend to read Trump’s victory as a vote against Clinton and the Washington establishment rather than a vote for white supremacy. They insist that most of these supporters voted for Trump despite his evident racism and sexism, not because of it. To suggest, otherwise, we are told, is to ignore their feelings of being left out and behind and to lose working people for any future progressive project.

In contrast, those starting from a critique of structural racism tend to focus on how Trump’s victory was merely an extension, or intensification, of the white supremacy and xenophobic nationalism that has always defined American ‘democracy’ and public life. They point out that Trump’s Electoral College victory was delivered not simply by a small slice of angry Rust Belt union workers, but by a large cross-section of Americans that included massive numbers of (college-educated) Northerners, suburbanites, and women. They also observe that while the actual working class includes large numbers of black and brown men and women within and beyond large American cities, the term ‘working class’ is increasingly and mistakenly treated as a designator of white male identity.

These critics underscore the fact that those who voted for Trump are indeed aligning with Trump’s nostalgic-nationalist embrace of white supremacy, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and Islamophobia, that they identify with his monocultural, masculinist, and militarist fantasy of American society and power. Such commentators also have little patience for white liberals who have suddenly awoken to the fact that the United States is a racist society, who are now terrified by the prospect of an authoritarian police state and are calling for political resistance. This, they explain, is precisely what people of colour have known, said, and suffered all along and against which they have long been organizing.

I share this analysis. But I also believe that the only way forward must include the liberal Democrats and illiberal Trump supporters who do not.

If racism is to mean anything, there can be no doubt that to vote for Donald Trump is a racist act; it affirms a racist position and has racist consequences. This observation makes no claim about the deeper subjective motives or personal essence of Trump voters. Understanding the broader social context of the election might make their choice intelligible. But it does not make it any less racist or more ethical.

The widespread call for urban elites to ‘understand’ anxious and angry Trump voters slides quickly into a demand to accept their support for a demagogue like Trump as legitimate. Conversely, any criticism of that support is regarded as evidence of the elitism that supposedly created this problem in the first place. Worse, it is shunned as a condescending act of cultural insensitivity. But it is neither elitist nor culturally insensitive to criticize and judge acts that will have white supremacist consequences, whatever their motivations. The repeated warnings against ‘shaming’ Trump voters by calling their support racist implies that they were simply expressing a misunderstood and maligned cultural identity. This reasoning affirms the very white nationalist political project which, following an apartheid logic, claims a culture that needs to be protected. This is the identity politics that needs to be forcefully challenged.

Anti-racist critics rightly challenge the renewed attack on ‘identity politics’ by anti-Trump commentators. This shibboleth either functions as a misguided echo of Trump’s own attack on ‘political correctness’ or it allows liberal assimilationists to disavow the depth of structural racism in the US. Both perversely affirm white identitarianism, one in the name of class and the other in the name of nation (e.g. a supposedly common and colour-blind civic society). These commentators rightly remind us that white supremacy had been a central feature of the Clinton-Obama approach to governance. But the chickens-coming-home-to-roost analysis, however correct, is a Pyrrhic victory. The travel bans, anti-immigrant round-ups, social service cuts, and increase in hate-crimes already indicate that precarious racialised communities will suffer the worst under this regime. We should not underplay the extent to which something dangerously new may be developing in American politics; overcoming it will require a broad-based movement that transcends traditional group divisions.

The need to identify Trump support as racist, the imperative to challenge its racist conditions and consequences, should not let liberal Democrats off the hook for either the structural racism or the destructive neoliberal policies they have more or less consciously accommodated. The ‘resentful white working class’ interpretation of Trumpism rightly challenges smug coastal urbanites who regard themselves as morally superior to whole categories of people who have different views of the world. It is indeed necessary to craft a politics that begins with people as they are, in their lives, and take seriously the lived conditions that shape their understandings and actions. But this does not mean accepting those understandings and actions at face value, especially when they violate the basic ethical and legal presuppositions of living in common within a democratic society. Doing so normalizes a radical right-wing view of the world.

To craft electoral campaigns that try to win the support of Trump supporters without challenging the premises of some of their positions is exactly how such positions have been progressively legitimized since the 1960s. Thus the short-sighted narcissism of Democratic Party attempts to simply ‘win back,’ by catering to, lost voters through more appealing messages without changing their own platform or practices.

From the other side, progressive advocates of white working-class interests seem to believe that the solution to Trumpism and Clintonism can be found in left-populist candidates promoting economic justice policies. But this position is often advocated by the same observers who insist on the deep cultural divide that has made left-liberal candidates so repellent to Trump voters. Insofar as this is true, it belies the fantasy that these people would simply align, on policy grounds, with a left-liberal party that did address ‘working class’ economic issues.

Insfoar as contemporary racism is fuelled by capitalist exploitation (and vice versa) there cannot be anything like genuine racial justice under existing economic arrangements. Nor can there be anything like social justice under existing racial arrangements. Yet such restructuring will only be possible through a mass movement and ideological reorientation that somehow addresses and includes a sizable number of Trump voters, including the angry, white, racist ones. And given the cultural divisions in this country, the left will have to do a great deal more to transform American common-sense (about race, nation, individualism, families, gender, corporations, and so on) than either appropriating anti-elite rhetoric or running left-leaning economic populists for office.

Du Bois’ legacy

This monumental effort required to overcome this dilemma will require a great deal of humility, patience, and fortitude. To this end, all Americans should follow the lead of, and learn valuable lessons from, communities of colour about commitment, resolve, equanimity, conviviality, and solidarity in the face of far more dangerous and hopeless situations.  Especially valuable are the political understandings, strategies, and sensibilities cultivated by black radicals who have long confronted the U.S. as an authoritarian police state

At this juncture, let us turn to W.E.B. Du Bois’ analysis and response to the Great Depression. His engagement with the peril and promise of that general crisis in American democracy marked a turning point in his own political thinking and activism. By the early 1930s, he had already concluded that the NAACP’s strategy to confront US racism through legal struggles over civil rights had reached its limit. Despite 30 years of courtroom victories, he observed, US racism was at least as deep and widespread as it had ever been, if not more.

Du Bois ascribed this persistence primarily to two factors. First, he came to believe that racism was not simply a feature of ignorance or bad thinking. Nor did it express rational beliefs and conscious decisions. It was sedimented in peoples’ everyday assumptions, habits, dispositions, desires and fantasies. This meant that racism could not simply be contested through rational arguments or legal measures which did not touch white peoples’ deeper and unconscious senses of self and society. Second, Du Bois increasingly recognized how in twentieth-century America, racism and poverty were inextricable. Capitalist accumulation depended largely on racial divisions (to allow for ongoing expropriation, ensure cheap labour, keep the working class divided). National unity depended largely on white supremacy across class divisions. Racial hierarchies were naturalised by the evident economic misery, social separation, and political disenfranchisement of racialised communities.

After World War I, and increasingly by the early 1930s, Du Bois warned liberal leaders of the civil rights struggle that there could be no real racial emancipation for black Americans under existing capitalist arrangements. At the same time, he warned anti-capitalists that socialism could never be fully realized as long as a colour bar existed. It followed that racism and poverty, the dual causes and consequences of what Cedric Robinson would later call racial capitalism, would have to be confronted simultaneously. Accordingly, the NAACP’s legal campaign to secure full citizenship for black Americans would not be adequate to this task.

Du Bois also recognised that these long-term structural features of US racism (unconscious, socially embedded, and economically rooted) were intensified by the Great Depression. He noted that the economic crisis was striking black communities with special force, popular racism (especially among poor whites) was surging, and New Deal relief plans contained unacceptable racial preferences and racist exclusions. With the very survival of the black American community at stake, Du Bois insisted that the short-term tactics and long-term strategy of the black freedom struggle would have to shift. He contended that this would likely be a long struggle and would have to be waged on many fronts. On the one hand, it would have to recognise and build upon the reality of racial segregation in the US. On the other, it would have to fight for the wholesale reconstruction of American democracy on a new non-racist and socialist foundation.

Du Bois’ liberal NAACP colleagues refused to accept his radical analysis and programme, which linked self-segregation, black cooperatives, and socialist solidarity. After several fruitless years of debate, Du Bois resigned from the NAACP and The Crisis, which he edited, in 1934. He accepted an academic appointment at Atlanta University where he taught classes on “Marxism and the Negro Problem” and worked to complete Black Reconstruction in America, the magnum opus that he began writing in 1931 and published in 1935.

Given its subtitle – Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 – this landmark book is best remembered for Du Bois’ field-changing argument about how masses of enslaved blacks de facto emancipated themselves by fleeing plantations, withdrawing their labour from the Confederacy, and offering it to Union armies. Du Bois provocatively called their spontaneous rebellion a “general strike” which, he persuasively argued, transformed the Civil War into a revolutionary struggle against slavery and, possibly, for a different America. By arguing that this mass action allowed the North to win the war, Du Bois overturned the existing corpus of racist historiography and exploded centuries of white nationalist mythology.

But as central to Black Reconstruction is Du Bois’ account of the missed opportunity to remake American democracy after the abolition of slavery. He demonstrates how a postwar alliance of freed blacks, Southern white workers, and Northern “abolition democrats” (black and white) was briefly able to leverage the federal Freedman’s Bureau to open the possibility for an experiment in non-racial socialist democracy. By challenging the very basis of capitalist private property and American social divisions, the Bureau’s social impact pointed far beyond the intentions of the US government and Northern interests that had supported its creation.

But Du Bois traces how this revolutionary “Southern Experiment” was ultimately foreclosed by white working-class racism. When poor Southern whites allied with the planter class against freed blacks, Northern capital was allowed to destroy the prospect of real democracy and racial equality in America (and across the imperialist world). Du Bois demonstrates how this process allowed slave emancipation to evolve into a regime of legal segregation and social stigmatization that continued to deny full citizenship to nominally emancipated blacks.

Du Bois was long interested in the idea of Reconstruction as a historical turning-point that led to the consolidation of the regime of racist capitalism and capitalist racism (characterised by popular violence, Jim Crow segregation, state discrimination, second-class citizenship, and the destruction of popular accountability by big business) into which he was born and against which he spent his life struggling. Du Bois had written important pieces about Reconstruction at every previous stage of his career. But it was only in the early 1930s that he undertook this monumental historical account. Given the timing, we should also read Black Reconstruction as Du Bois’ attempt to write a history of his own present. In it, he explicitly traces a genealogy leading to the situation then confronting black Americans, whose real emancipation remained incomplete. Implicitly, the study allowed Du Bois to think the crisis of the 1930s in relation to the failure of the 1870s (and vice versa).

Du Bois’ generation of black radicals confronted a situation resembling that faced after the Civil War by “abolition democrats”. In both cases, a national crisis created an opportunity to radically reconstruct American society as a multi-racial socialist democracy. Du Bois observed that the Great Depression might finally allow Americans to recognize how industrial capitalism had produced an oligarchic state that was destroying the foundations of real democracy. Ordinary people had lost any prospect of controlling the conditions of their lives and deciding on the kind of society in which they wanted to live. More and more people lived to work rather than worked to live, serving the mad goal of accumulation for accumulation’s sake. He wrote insightfully about how this system depended on racism at home and fuelled imperialism and interstate war abroad.

Du Bois hoped that the Depression would allow US citizens to finally discard the illusion of what he called “the American Assumption” that through hard work and thrift the average worker can become wealthy. He also hoped that the economic crisis might create an opening for a cross-class and multi-racial alignment within a mass movement to radically reconstruct American democracy as based on popular participation rather than racial segregation and the power of big business.

But Du Bois was not naïve about how difficult it would be to realise such an ambitious political project, especially during a period of economic catastrophe. He was a political visionary but a strategic realist who understood clearly that black radicals faced an almost impossible dilemma. On the one hand, full citizenship and real emancipation for African Americans would require large-scale societal transformation. This meant that the black freedom struggle would have to align with the white labour movement and radical political parties within a broad progressive movement. On the other hand, Du Bois wrote forcefully about the long history of racist practices by white workers, US trade unions, and socialist and communist parties. Each of these had consistently refused to include the masses of black workers and farmers within their organisations as equals and comrades. Such exclusion, Du Bois insisted, was neither accidental nor a function of ignorance. White workers had material and psychic investments in a segmented labour market based on a racial hierarchy. This meant that black labourers were subject simultaneously to the structural violence of capitalism, the legal violence of the US state, and the direct popular violence of poor whites.

Du Bois thus recognised a contradictory imperative: black radicals would have to coordinate political action and envision an alternative future with social groups that were themselves actively producing the racist conditions (and perpetuating the economic logic) that had to be overcome. Under such conditions, it would be difficult to find a balance between protecting a precarious black population and organising to transform American society.

In attempting to grapple with this black radical predicament, Du Bois was mindful of the missed opportunity of post-Civil War Reconstruction when racial emancipation and democratic socialism were undermined by white working-class racism. In many ways he hoped to realise in the 1930s what might have been possible for the nation in the 1870s. But he seemed also to have learned crucial lessons from the earlier tragedy. Black communities would have to find a way to participate in a broad-based movement to reconstruct American democracy without relying on the good will of the white labour movement, the good faith of the US government, or the leadership of white liberals. Black radicals would have to take responsibility for their own emancipation while also recognizing that this emancipation could never succeed if it was not part of a wider social transformation.

In response to this predicament, Du Bois formulated a new programme for black self-management through consumer cooperatives. These, he believed, would allow black communities to establish an alternative network of cooperative production and distribution that would eliminate labour exploitation. They could “socialize” banking, insurance, medicine, education, publishing and any number of other professional activities by reorganising them on a “mutual” rather than “private property” basis. In this way, he explained in his 1935 piece “A Nation within a Nation”, “Negroes can develop in the United States an economic nation within a nation, able to work through inner cooperation, to found its own institutions, to educate its genius, and…to keep in helpful touch and cooperate with the mass of the nation.”

Du Bois envisioned this plan as working on multiple levels. Most immediately, it was a realist response to the current economic crisis that would help to secure blacks’ social survival during the Depression. It would protect them from “spiritual and physical disaster”, he wrote in his 1934 essay “Separation and Self-Respect”, by leveraging the fact of existing segregation into a form of  “internal self-organization for self-respect and self-defense.” The aim for Du Bois was not merely to reject every instance of racial segregation in American society, but to “carefully plan and guide… segregated life, organize in industry and politics to protect it and expand it and… give it unhampered spiritual expression in art and literature,” as he put it in his 1933 piece “The Negro College”.

At the same time, Du Bois emphasised that such planned “self-segregation” was a short-term tactic, not the ultimate aim of the black freedom struggle. In the medium-term, he hoped that economic autonomy would provide black communities with a more secure basis from which to challenge institutional segregation. Greater economic power, he argued, would also make it more difficult for the government to continue to deny full citizenship to such a large number of Americans. Even more expansively, he suggested that a black cooperative movement could establish a new mode of democratic self-government that would form the backbone of an inclusive and transformative national network whose aim was to build a “co-operative commonwealth.” In this way, he explained in Dusk of Dawn, black radicals had a “chance to teach industrial and cultural democracy to a world that bitterly needs it.”

Du Bois thereby outlined a far-reaching strategy through which to abolish the colour bar, transform economic relations, and reconstruct American democracy. The latter could then serve as a model and lever for democratic and socialist movements across the world. He did not presume that this programme would unfold automatically or be easily realised. But he did believe that this was one way to confront the black radical predicament in a way that would not reproduce the false opposition between race and class, or black freedom and socialist democracy, that needed to be overcome.

The task today

Just as Du Bois attempted to think the challenge of the 1930s in relation to the promise and failures of Reconstruction, we might try to think the present predicament in relation to Du Bois’ Depression-era programme. At a moment when old debates about ‘identity politics’ are being resurrected, it may help to remember Du Bois’ belief that under conditions of pervasive racial violence and structural exclusion, there is no place for fantasies of colour-blind unity (whether regarding a mythic working-class or an idealized national polity). Sheer survival, not to mention group flourishing, will require self-organization within autonomous and resistant enclaves that attempt in various (partial and provisional) ways to de-link from the broader, oppressive, social order.

Such practices recall the long history of enslaved peoples fleeing plantations to create self-organised Maroon communities that were no longer subject to the immediate violence and direct supervision of racist authorities. In the current conjuncture, this might mean that an anti-Trump movement must at least embrace and learn from the Maroon strategies practiced by groups such as immigrant advocacy coalitions, anti-Islamophobic organizations, and Black Lives Matter/The Movement for Black Lives.

We might also come to understand, and treat universities, cities, neighbourhoods, municipal governments, Occupy encampments, expatriate communities, and alternative media as Maroon-like spaces. These may provide care and protection for precarious populations as well as bases from which to organise resistance. As importantly, they may also serve as spaces for democratic experimentation where new ways of social being, making, and deciding can be developed. Where risky alliances may be essayed. Where the kinds of collective self-management and social justice that should be instituted in a better America could be anticipated and enacted.

At the same time, Du Bois’ legacy reminds us that de-linking is a limited strategy that cannot provide long-term solutions. Real democracy that is based neither on the logic of racial hierarchy nor on the unfettered rule of capital will require large-scale social transformations that cannot be realised through flight and separation into autarchic enclaves. Du Bois insisted that the specific traditions, values, and ways of life developed within African American communities be recognised, respected, and protected. But he also always linked the black freedom struggle to an expansive vision of real democracy, an equitable world order, and a more fully realised humanity.

His reflections on American politics always began with the indisputable history of racial exclusion, the fact of segregation, and the emergence of a distinctive African American cultural community. But he did not insist on incommensurable differences and irreconcilable identities. His thinking and politics thus cut across many of the conventional oppositions -- such as assimilation versus separation, unity versus differentiation, race versus class, Marxism versus nationalism, and so on – that continue to shape our political debates today. He believed that liberal and working-class racism were to be named and contested directly. But he also argued that full black emancipation would never be realised without a broad movement that included segregationist white workers and assimilationist white liberals whose consciousness would have to be transformed.

Du Bois’ example reminds us how important it is to pursue political programmes that have tactical, strategic, and utopian components, that respond to immediate threats and pursue long-term aims, that target material conditions and institutional arrangements as well as subjectivity and worldviews, whose means and ends reaffirm each another, and that are at once soberly realist and unapologetically visionary.

These insights are evident in the extraordinary Platform published in August 2016 by The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). Propelled into being by the series of unpunished police killings of black civilians since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, the M4BL emerged as a large collective of black organisations from across the country to contest systemic state violence – through police, prisons, the legal system, housing, education, underinvestment in social services, discriminatory employment practices, among others – against African American communities.

The Platform exists as both an interactive website and a downloadable document entitled “A Vision for Black Lives” (available in English, Arabic, and Chinese). At its core are six overarching demands: End the War on Black People, Reparations, Divest-Invest, Economic Justice, Community Control, and Political Power. Each of these sections is accompanied by a series of concrete demands, a description of the general problem, and an explanation of the proposed solutions and which sectors of the black community they will protect. The sections also contain specific suggestions for actions to be taken at federal, state, and local levels, examples of model legislation, lists of organisations currently working on the specific issue, and resource links for further reading. The site also offers additional downloadable materials, including flyers listing the major demands, “policy briefs” on the many specific issues addressed in the document, and posters to be used for publicity and protest.

The programme for action is based on a deep understanding that real change will have to be pursued on many fronts – intersecting policy domains, legislative initiatives, education campaigns, and direct action, through a broadly inclusive movement pursuing both short and long-term aims. It insists on the radical transformation of American society in order to create “a fundamentally different world” which does not “place profit over people and make it impossible for many of us to breathe.” But it also proposes more modest policy reforms that will address immediate suffering. It is both a statement of “collective aspirations” and a series of policy proposals. The Platform recognizes that some of its demands are already in reach, while others  seem to be nearly impossible. It is guided at every step by specific information, concrete proposals, and practical steps to be taken. At the same time, it announces itself as a “visionary agenda” formulated by “dreamers and doers…to forge a fierce, free and beautiful future together that we can only imagine into reality.”

The M4BL is a model of community self-determination: “Our history has taught us that we must create our own agenda, we must implement it, and we must hold elected leaders accountable to following through.” Most importantly, it insists that the time is now: “We cannot wait.” Yet it also recognises that the kind of transformations envisioned cannot be achieved in isolation. “We have created this platform to articulate and support the ambitions and work of Black people. We also seek to intervene in the current political climate and assert a clear vision, particularly for those who claim to be our allies, of the world we want them to help us create.” The platform, moreover, indicates the leadership role M4BL may have in a broader struggle to create a more just society. “Black humanity and dignity requires Black political will and power. Despite constant exploitation and perpetual oppression, Black people have bravely and brilliantly been the driving force pushing the US towards the ideals it articulates but has never achieved.”

This non-provincial orientation is one if its most remarkable features. The Platform consistently seeks to link local concerns to broader processes, domestic African American issues to black international struggles, and a programme for black liberation to one for human freedom more generally. “We are a collective that centers and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognize we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all of our work.” The stated aim is “to move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.” 

Like Du Bois, the M4BL Platform reminds us that we face a situation in which real democracy will depend on both abolishing racism and reorganising economic relations. This will require initiatives by activated communities in the service of a broad-based movement that links together progressive forces across racial, regional, religious, and class differences. Yet, as in the 1930s many of these would-be consociates are deeply identified with the racist, capitalist, and anti-democratic norms that are the very sources of their economic suffering and social alienation.

A alternative to Trumpism and Clintonism will require alliances that include a sizeable number of Trump voters and Clinton liberals. This despite the fact that the former have expressed anxiety and anger by embracing racist nationalism, and the latter have proven their blindness to racial and economic suffering caused by their own policies while believing that the current crisis can be resolved through electoral politics.

Such political work will of course be shot through with conflict and hostility among participants. But this effort to challenge the unfettered power of big money, the unaccountable rule of experts, and the systemic racism that grounds American society and institutions would need to respect peoples’ situated forms of life yet not be based on narrow identitarian foundations or demands. It will also need to understand the global dimensions of Trumpism, by examining the it as part of a worldwide shift toward authoritarian populist and nationalist regimes (e.g. Europe, Russia, Turkey, India, Israel, Philippines) that must also be addressed transnationally.

This kind of movement, as the right has known since the late 1970s, will need to pay special attention to the struggle over ideas by presenting persuasive accounts of the current crisis and a compelling vision of alternative possibilities. This means addressing peoples’ everyday experiences of anxiety, alienation, and frustration without either only offering an inventory of policy reforms or pandering to scapegoating impulses. It means shifting the axis of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ (away from rural vs. urban, white vs. others, or ‘Americans’ vs. foreigners). This prospect was powerfully, if evanescently, crystallized by public invocations of “the 99%” during the Occupy movement.

An empowering alternative to the false choice between Clintonism and Trumpism therefore requires a massive shift in ordinary Americans’ common-sense ideas about society and government. Such work can only be pursued on multiple fronts, over a long period of time, and on the terrain of everyday life. It will mean building new relations of trust, creating fragile alliances, and experimenting with different organisational forms. It certainly cannot be reduced to the scale of four-year electoral cycles, political candidates, and party politics.

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