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Can a Majoritarian Movement Be Built to Stop Trump’s Racist Momentum?

August 2, 2019

Ajay Chaudhary & Maurice Mitchell analyze the racist right wing surge & how to fight for a real democracy built on racial, social and economic justice

Ajay Chaudhary & Maurice Mitchell analyze the racist right wing surge & how to fight for a real democracy built on racial, social and economic justice


Can a Majoritarian Movement Be Built to Stop Trump's Racist Momentum?

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us. In the last few weeks we’ve seen Trump come out attacking four women of color who are new representatives in Congress. We have seen and heard his attacks on Elijah Cummings as recently as the morning of this taping of this conversation, and we heard the chants “send her back” from the crowd where Trump stood smirking as they chanted. We have seen the racist attacks come in full blossom, threatening to take America back again.

So today we’ll discuss how fanning the flames of racial anger and fear could affect the coming elections and the growth of the reactionary racist movement inspired by his presence and rhetoric and, most importantly, what do we do about it? How to confront it and how to build a movement to defeat it and fight for a real democracy built on racial, social and economic justice.

We’re joined this morning by Ajay Singh Chaudhary, who is the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, a core faculty member there, specializing in social and political theory and working on a book on the political theory of the Anthropocene. And Maurice Mitchell, who is the National Director of the Working Families Party and prior to that he was a leading strategist and organizer with the Movement for Black Lives. Gentlemen, good to have you both with us this morning, welcome.

MAURICE MITCHELL: Thank you. Good to be here.

AJAY CHAUDHARY: Thanks for having us.

MARC STEINER:  So let me just play these, well, two clips at the very top to kind of set the tone for what we’re talking about and what kind of inspired this conversation. This first piece we’re going to do is Trump attacking Elijah Cummings, I think on the White House lawn here.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Baltimore’s been very badly mishandled for many years. As you know, Congressman Cummings has been there for a long time. He’s had a very iron hand on it. Baltimore is an example of what corrupt government leads to. And then I feel so sorry for the people of Baltimore, billions and billions of dollars have been given to Baltimore. It’s been misspent. It’s been missing. It’s been stolen. Representative Cummings should take his oversight committee and start doing oversight on Baltimore. He’d find out some real things.

MARC STEINER: I’ll leave my comment for later, and now let’s take a look at what kind of precipitated this perhaps in many ways is Cummings’ work as Chairman of the Oversight Committee, and this is an interaction with the acting head of Homeland Security.

CONGRESSMAN ELIJAH CUMMINGS: We hear about the stories coming out from you and your agency that everything is pretty good and you’re doing a great job, I guess you feel like you’re doing a great job, right? Is this what you’re saying?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: We’re doing our level best in a very challenging situation.

CONGRESSMAN ELIJAH CUMMINGS: What does that mean? What does that mean? When a child is sitting in their own feces, can’t take a shower. Come on, man. What’s that about? None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings.

MARC STEINER: So I mean I just put those two pieces up because I think they just speak to what’s happening here and the divide that’s in America already but how it’s being deepened and let me just get your analysis of, as you watch this news take place, from the four Congresswomen who were attacked and we’re going to hear one of their responses in a bit if we have time, but let me start with you, Maurice, and then we go to Ajay to talk about what were you thinking, what your analysis was as you were watching all this take place.

MAURICE MITCHELL: That those frames to me articulate sort of the danger of the white Christian identity politics that Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Trumpism use in order to animate their agenda. I think, you know, one of the mis-assessments that many people make around Donald Trump is that he’s sort of a buffoon character, sort of a larger-than-life reality TV character and many people don’t take him seriously. Many folks laugh at sort of some of his over-the-top rhetoric. I think that belies how dangerous the rhetoric is to our politics and also how deliberate it is. What Donald Trump is doing by animating this sort of white Christian identity and white supremacist sort of undercurrent in our country is, what he’s attempting to do is mobilize voters in order to advance his agenda and his agenda has nothing to do with the interest of those voters.

And so this has been the history of this country, how elites have used white Christian identity and white supremacy in order to mobilize folks around the demagoguery in order to advance their very, very niche agenda, which is all about consolidating their power and their wealth. You know, the best example I could give of that is, and it’s kind of ironic that he’s pointing out to Baltimore, so he’s pointing a finger at Baltimore, pointing a finger at people of color in Baltimore, and at the same time Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, is a slumlord in Baltimore-

MARC STEINER: That’s right.

MAURICE MITCHELL: … who is a direct driver of some of those conditions and beneficiary of the conditions in Baltimore, and so it’s elites that are creating these conditions and then they’re pointing the finger at everyday people for being in the conditions that they created and then using demagoguery in order to mobilize people to continue and exacerbate the consolidation of power. That is the actual, true reason why folks are dealing with these sort of conditions in cities like Baltimore and all over the country. So when I saw that, when I saw those frames, it really brought to life all of those politics.

MARC STEINER: Ajay?

AJAY CHAUDHARY: I would echo a lot of what Maurice just said. I think the only things that I would add is that at the same time as it’s a sort of a strategy to mobilize voters, right, to mobilize parts of Trump’s base, I think it’s also a strategy, A, to demotivate or demobilize, depoliticize potential countermeasures or like I think especially when you’re talking about going after Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar, and Pressley, I mean these are representatives are not only, you know, women of color but people advancing an extraordinarily appealing and popular agenda. I think that that’s a real threat to Trump and at the same time, I think he is also trying to suppress and depress the turnout certainly from many minority communities and also trying to peel off, some parts of the Trump sort of nativist, chauvinist agenda are about peeling off just a little bit, just a person here or there, especially along sort of masculine and sometimes religious lines from a coalition that would be advancing otherwise quite a progressive agenda.

MARC STEINER: So you know what, when I look at the history of this country and if I just take for a moment from the end of the Civil War and the attempt to build a real democracy during the Reconstruction period and then comes 1877 and Rutherford B. Hayes and Redemptionist Democrats along with moderate Republicans who start 90 years of abject terror against the black community, especially in the South, but across the country. And if you look at that, you look at the growth and the power of the Klan in the 1920s starting with Wilson’s presidency and then leading to the Klan and what that built in this country, so you look at our history sometimes, at least I look at our history sometimes, and think about what that says about this very moment we’re in and what the potential is for this reactionary movement to be built. So I wonder how the two of you think about that, what your reflections have been about this potential, Ajay?

AJAY CHAUDHARY: I mean, unquestionably. I mean, part of what makes Trump, and it’s not just Trump, right, I would think of someone like Senator Hawley from Missouri almost is like, just imagine Trump but like a little more organized, a little better at doing his job and you can actually see an even more frightening prospect, which is that like there is, as with all sort of demagoguery, with all sorts of conspiratorial kinds of ways of thinking about politics, there’s like a tiny grain of truth. There is real suffering, there is real problems that he is trying to sort of attach his agenda to, but then that agenda is a complete collapse and a completely, you know, misguiding of anything, as Maurice said, that would be actually be in the interests of the vast majority of people, not the vast majority, actually most people who voted for Trump are just relatively well-off white Republicans.

But like for many people who may have been attracted to Trump, in this moment we have seen an unquestionable rise in hate crimes, an uptick in racist attacks, in anti-Semitic attacks, in Islamophobic rhetoric, even, you know, not quite to the levels of what it was during the sort of dawn of the war on terror, but I mean, especially when you think about the sort of incredible virulence of the send-her-back line, send-them-back line, is especially against Representative Ilhan Omar. I mean that is really amping up this kind of xenophobia and hate to levels that are, in fact, I mean even if that that only appeals to five, 15%, whatever it is, of the base, that is a huge number of people being animated into a pretty reactionary formation.

MARC STEINER: Maurice?

MAURICE MITCHELL: Yeah, I think that’s right and I think it’s hard for folks to understand this from the standpoint of majoritarian politics, right? Because all of this seems so offensive, it’s hard to understand how a majority of people would support some of these things, but that’s not the game, right?

AJAY CHAUDHARY: That’s not the-

MAURICE MITCHELL: The game is to sliver off a percentage here and a percentage here in Michigan or in Pennsylvania or in Minnesota. What’s fascinating about some of the, and they’re using many different tactics and many different strategies, right? So what’s fascinating about it is the multiplicity of strategies that they’re using. So they’re even, you know, they’re developing a white Christian identity politics that some of the strategies are multiracial. So you know, they’re engaging, so like for example, some of the sort of brands that focus on young people, you have young people, including some young people of color, who are aligned around some of those politics, right?

And they’ll never get a majority of young people of color, but if they can sliver off 1% in particular geography that is very, very electorally necessary for them to be able to win 270 electoral votes and win the presidency. So this is a very deliberate strategy. On top of that, this is a strategy, there’s already been a number of examples of political violence and there’s likely to be more, and the political violence isn’t random. It’s right-wing, white supremacist, political violence and terrorism and we’re going to see a lot more of it. People say, you know, our politics are tribal, and I think that’s a mis-assessment. There is one tribe, the white Christian identity tribe, and there’s one set of tribal politics against everybody else in order to advantage the ruling class. And so we talk about like the political violence like there’s violence on all sides; no, there is a concerted effort to weaponize white Christian identity violence in order to electoral-ize and politicize the interests of the ruling class.

MARC STEINER: So I know we don’t have a great deal of time left because you gentlemen both have things to do and so we’re going to have to let you go in a minute, but I want to take off from what you just said and talk about that. I mean A, we’re in a moment where I think a lot of the right wing in this country is heavily armed and that’s not a joke, they’re heavily armed, and a percentage of people who carry weapons for a living, whether they’re in the police or the military, are also sympathetic to some of what’s going on here. So, after we watch this short clip from Ilhan Omar, I want to kind of really wrestle for a few minutes we have left with what do you do? How do you build a movement? What’s the political response? What happens in response to that so we don’t become 1877 or 1932, and so let’s just watch this for a moment.

CONGRESSWOMAN ILHAN OMAR: When he made the comment, I know that every single Muslim who has lived in this country and across the world has heard that comment. So I will not dignify it with an answer because I know that every single Islamophobe, every single person who is hateful, who is driven by an ideology of othering as this president is, rejoices in us responding to that, in us defending ourselves. I do not expect every time there is a white supremacist who attacks or there is a white man kills in a school or in a movie theater or in a mosque or in a synagogue, I don’t expect my white community members to respond on whether they love that person or not. We are no longer going to allow the dignification of such ridiculous, ridiculous statements.

MARC STEINER: If we won’t allow it, what do we do about it? I mean let’s talk a bit about what movement has to be built and how you do it, both in terms of the election, but not just the election, just in terms of what are we building here and how does it get there? Why don’t we just start with you, Maurice, and then go to Ajay before we conclude?

MAURICE MITCHELL: Yeah, I strongly believe, and this comes from my years as an organizer both in movement politics with the Movement for Black Lives but also on the ground in local communities, we have to, have to, have to invest in organizing on the ground and building a solidarity politics that focuses on, as working people, as poor people, all the things that we have in common and that require us to build solidarity together. That happens through the concerted effort and focus and investment in organizing. You look at the Christian right. The Christian right is a perfect example of a laser-like dedication over four decades in organizing, political education, in the development of that movement where white Christian evangelicals are 15% of the population, but they’re 25% of the voting population. That is a result of organizing. There’s no magic bullet. You have to invest in your people. You have to really invest in your folks and build the solidarity, political education on the ground that bring us together, that’ll bring a white worker, a Latinx worker, and a black worker from rural America and urban America together around our shared interests.

MARC STEINER: And it can be done. I’ve seen it done in the past. It’s not a mystery. Maybe we’ll have another conversation about how we get there, which I think would be important. I’m sorry, Ajay, go ahead.

AJAY CHAUDHARY: No, again, I would echo everything Maurice just said. I would add I think from both a sort of historical and a political strategy, political theory perspective that in some ways we have to conceive of such a solidarity, not simply in terms of elections but also in terms of other efforts that are being built from the ground up, other movements that are happening. And partially the response, I think, you know you just showed that clip from Representative Omar, and one of the things that I think is part of the politics of this moment is that she is doing great work for all the constituents of her district. I mean she is advancing a solidaristic agenda, along with the other representatives I was just talking about. You mentioned Reconstruction. In some ways you could imagine the kinds of policies that these representatives are advancing as a kind of like “let’s return and actually do reconstruction. Let’s actually achieve something that should have been achieved in this country over 100 years ago.”

And actually I do think there’s like, you know, as fraught and as frightening as this moment can be to so many, there is a possibility in it too, that actually is part of why I think Trump and so many of his other right-wing figures are sort of amping up these kinds of attacks because I do think they are legitimately scared about the ways in which these politics, the politics of solidarity that Maurice was just talking about, the politics advanced by these representatives, by organizations or umbrella organizations like Black Lives Matter, by all kinds of different groups in the United States, DSA, whoever you want to be looking at that moment, do actually have a potential to make a true majoritarian power in this country and that frightens Republicans of all stripes and at all levels. Their agenda for decades has been to shrink the electorate and walk in a permanent minoritarian rule of, yes, white Christian wealthy ruling-class and for that to be forever, like that is the agenda. They have an endgame, so like they’re attacking our version of that.

MARC STEINER: Right. Both of you have made really powerful points here and I wish we had more time today, but what I am going to ask both Ajay and Maurice here, I know you have incredibly busy schedules, we’re going to have to do this again and really develop a conversation around this, which I think is critically important. A, I want to thank you both for the work you do to advance that, and we look forward to really delving into this in an even deeper way.

Ajay Chaudhary and Maurice Mitchell, thank you so much for your time with us today. Let’s continue the struggle and make this a better place to live for all of us. Thank you.

MAURICE MITCHELL: Thank you, Marc. It’s been a pleasure.

AJAY CHAUDHARY: Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER: Mine as well. and I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Please let us know what you think about what we’ve talked about and where you think we should go. Take care.