Eternal vigilance guarantees no freedom, but to abandon our duties of vigilance is to abandon the last barrier that stands between us and the curtailing of important moral and political values that we have held so dear to us, as liberals and conservatives alike. Donald Trump’s inauguration on 20 January 2017 was a moment of farce, anger, shock, and—above all—a wake-up call from reality that we ought not ignore.
I was in London the day the Women’s March happened. On my Facebook newsfeed I saw hundreds of slogans, signs, banners, and posters that called for the defiance of Trump. Sadly, I was unable to physically attend. The march itself was beautiful, and epitomised contentious politics at its very best: dynamic, vibrant, performatively defiant, and united in difference. It gave a voice to those in the American subaltern fighting back against a new reincarnation of an old Establishment who has sought to and will continually seek to dismiss their voices through championing a privileged conception of “free speech”. It was testimony to the power of psychological solidarity in an age of contentious politics, by subverting the precarity of millions of women living under a “pussy-grabbing”, “locker-room-talk” President and reclaiming the rhetoric of sexual violence historically used to endorse pernicious assaults upon women’s dignity and honour. Above all, it provided psychological comfort and much needed catharsis to both the thousands who attended marches all across the world, and the many millions more who observed in mournful silence.
But beyond the warm glow I felt as I parsed images of individuals defiantly calling out the nefarious hypocrisy of the Trump administration, beyond the moderate reassurance that the cause for egalitarianism and feminism has not been lost—yet—I was deeply troubled by an underlying sense of paranoia and deep-rooted fear. I was struck by the fact that if we were to hold the Trump administration to account, the Women’s March was nothing but a mere first step amongst the many hundreds and thousands more we have yet to make in fighting the good fight for the upcoming four to eight years. No doubt it is essential to maintain a strong, feel-good factor as a morale boost—sharing, commenting, and liking on social media; shouting chants in the March; performing Queerness outside Pence’s mansion—these actions are necessary in sustaining both the normative purpose and motivational solidarity that structure our ongoing fight.
But against a regime that is seeking to overthrow past Executive Orders and legislative decisions concerning protecting ethnic minorities and the Queer populace; that deems Climate Change a “hoax” and prioritises asserting its “Alternative Facts” whilst shutting down dissenting media views—activism that prioritises our short-term gratification and immediate consumption could only get us so far. If we were to believe that expressive demonstrations alone are “enough” in “expressing our solidarity” and “showing that we are not afraid of Trump”, then the future could never be any more bleak for the liberal movement. Don’t get me wrong—we must keep marching on. But marching alone would ultimately achieve nothing.
First, we must recognise the intersectionality of oppression that would only become more prevalent as the rise of the far right persists. There is Trump—but there’s also Farage (UK), Petry (Germany), Wilders (the Netherlands), Salvini (Italy), and more. Intersectionality—contrary to popular belief amongst certain circles—is not the glib belief that ‘all minorities should come together and sing Kumbaya, hand-in-hand’.
Instead, it is the recognition that whilst white women are clearly victims of far-right authoritarianism—which has sought to strip them of their basic healthcare (cf. Planned Parenthood), deny them their rights to access equal economic opportunities (cf. Trump’s plans to scrap legislation designed to facilitate better female representation in corporations), and transform their reproductive rights into subjects of masculine fetishisation and monopoly (cf. abortion), women of colour are additionally affected by problems such as the re-institutionalisation of the school-to-prison pipeline and explicitly racialised policing methods under Trump; it is the acknowledgment that female immigrants and refugees would be faced with increasingly harsh threats of cruel repatriation into warzones, as well as violent abuse in camps without due processes; it is the realisation that the particularly pernicious means in which the purging of gender-neutral facilities and gender reassignment surgery will be systemically attacking non-cis women who do not fit comfortably within the gender binary or the heteronormative order of relations.
The Women’s March was a march for the Woman, but for whom does this Woman speak? And who will speak for those who will be living under constant fear of Trump’s authoritarianism, as he seeks to cut down on Section 8 housing (council housing) and obliterate medical safety nets with an alternative that has little beyond being “bigly” and “the best plan ever”? And who will march for those who face increasing racialised profiling and abuse, who find themselves walking down a street being told to “f*ck back to where they’re from”; told that a nation with which they have identified for no longer has any space for their presence; and coerced into apologising for their sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnicities, and races?
Let’s be very clear here. To recognise that oppression operates in an intersectional manner does not—under any circumstance—entail that we dismiss the experiences of suffering of one minority or another. We could oppose racism without being sexists; sexism without being racists; classism without queerphobia; queerphobia without classism. Justice is not a zero-sum game. It is a collective effort.
Second, we must mobilise capital for political change. This is where the global nature of contentious politics kicks in. Social movements are crucial—but they could often only succeed when they successfully map themselves onto the political opportunity structures of countries (as Tarrow and Tilley prophetically noted). Keep protesting—but let’s target the protests at those individuals who must truly be held accountable. Keep calling for reforms and justices—but let’s replace the often vacuous, idealistically vague slogans with focused visions and specific demands. Keep mocking the figures that have, and will continue to make our lives miserable—but let’s not squander our credibility and moral capital by bizarrely abusing the likes of a 10-year-old son and a woman whom we seem to mock because of their associations with an authoritarian villain (how misogynistic, ironically, is the trope that wives somehow deserve to be blamed, attacked, or vilified on the basis of their husbands’ characters?). Keep signing online petitions—but also reach out to your Senators and MPs, your local politicians and party leaders. When 2018 comes around, vote for those who could genuinely defend the rights of the 99 per cent; when 2020 comes around, vote in the good faith that you could expel the impostor who—four years ago—claimed to be able to help those that he will have done very little for by 2020.
Some say we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. And we did—from 2015 to that fateful November night, and from 9 November to 20 January, and today: we have given this incompetent mess of a man far too much benefit of the doubt, and I dare say it’s high time we abandoned any deluded possibilities that Trump would somehow magically ‘pivot’ back to making moderate compromises—this man would not pivot back to pragmatism and commonsense, let alone compromise. So why dream on?
Above all, we must remain vigilant. Vigilant, in recognising that the most pernicious forms of oppression often come not from the State, but the civil society; vigilant, in giving a voice to our brothers and sisters, comrades and fellow human beings where they could not be heard. Vigilant against mendacious ‘Alternative Facts’; against the post-truth conceit in the post-modern era; against the damned lies told to us again and again by blatantly wrong politicians—and against the tides of darkness that threaten to undermine our most fundamental values of decency and common respect for each other as human beings.
Eternal vigilance guarantees no freedom.
But all it takes for Evil to prevail is that good men do nothing.