Trump Inauguration Day on the 20th of January was marked by widespread protests around the world, with two millions of pacific demonstrators worldwide taking the streets to rally against the newly installed administration. Political protests reached their apogee with the so-called Women’s March on Washington, which gathered more than 470.000 women (and men) to denounce the President’s worrying agenda on civil rights – starting with the restriction of women’s control over their own bodies. While protesting against a Weltanschauung so blatantly opposed to the values of gender and social equality is not only a good thing but also a true civic duty, the current mainstream framing of American politics appears quite peculiar.
Liberal media across the world unanimously hailed to the ‘resistance’ opposed by peaceful demonstrators against the advance of right-wing populism embodied by Trump. Media coverage significantly abstained from a firm condemnation of the riots that resulted in at least 217 arrests for the clashes between demonstrators and the police. As if violence were somehow justified by its ultimate target, namely undermining Trump’s legitimacy. In this regard, it is quite interesting to observe reactions of European media to the unrest created by this ‘Black Bloc’ – an expression that is European in its essence, having being invented in Germany in 1980 to label Berlin squatters involved in violent clashes with the police. While, for instance, European liberal outlets had no problems with evoking the Black Bloc threat in occasion of the clashes between the No Border movement and the Austrian police at Brennero, or for the demonstrations against the loi travail in Paris, riots in Washington received a rather different coverage. Burning bins and broken windows were regarded as the product of ‘America’s political division’, and violent perpetrators as ‘American demonstrators’ . Little reference was made to ‘guerrilla-like scenarios’ or ‘Russian infiltrators’ this time. European liberal media seemed to suggest that yes, violent protestors exaggerated, but: “hey, this is what you get when people have enough of dictators”. The ‘Liberal Bloc’, they seemed to say, brings more good than evil to the cause of the free world.
The huge impact of such a narrative appears in all its evidence when one compares audiences’ reaction to two recent viral videos featuring naïve individuals advocating violence in different contexts. In the first one, a Baltimore woman angrily slaps her son in order to remove him from the riots that ensued the death of the African-American Freddie Gray at the hands of the local police department. In the second, a Washington youngster brags about starting a small fire because: “I’m saying ‘screw our President’”. The Baltimore boy was immediately shamed on the internet and on television, while his mother became a celebrity and was praised as ‘mom of the year’. The Washington kid, on the other hand, raised to the status of public hero on social media and was called ‘a legend’ for his actions.
Unanimous condemnation of Trump by liberal media on the left and on the right mirrors the dismay of a Trans-Atlantic political elites that do not miss a chance to express their discomfort with the new President. This transversal alliance against the man considered to be the source of all problems reminds closely of the united front created in the early 2000s in Italy to counter Silvio Berlusconi’s political raise. In both occasions, liberals identified in the ‘anti-democratic’ practices of the leader the biggest threats to an open society. What they failed and keep failing to acknowledge was that acute social crisis brought about by liberal globalism, that disenfranchised wide sections of the middle class throwing them into poverty and moral humiliation.
The liberal world struggles to grasp the nature of the beast. In a desperate search for landmarks, it is waging war against the only enemy it can make sense of, that is, a slightly less liberal version of itself. Hence, the media reaction to Melania Trump’s expression during the Inauguration Ceremony, to the lack of taste of the presidential gift to Michelle Obama, and to the alleged good prospects for Barron Trump to evolve into a “homeschool shooter”.
All this also leaves the awkward impression that there would have been no Women’s March without Trump, nor protests or clashes, as if structural racial and gender inequality in the U.S. would have disappeared with the election of Hillary Clinton. No protests, for instance, surrounded Clinton’s campaign, although she voted for the 2006 Secure Fence Act Mr. Trump refers to when he speaks about building a wall at the border with Mexico.
The paradox is that an anti-Trump front composed by a mainly white, educated bourgeoisie takes the street to protest against that fraction of America’s (female and male) white, economically privileged population that Trump embodies, with both sides completely forgetting that many of Trump’s voters are to be found among those discriminated people that liberals claim to support. The Women’s March – with, on the one side, female CEOs subsiding employees’ attendance and, on the other side, Black Lives Matter activists recusing the initiative – accounts as a perfect example for the paradox. Very few representatives of the African-American and Latin communities, as well as the so-called ‘white trash’, could be found among the pussy hats that demonstrated for equality.
While liberals worldwide fight against what Donald Trump represents, they keep ignoring who he does represent. Which is, to a great extent, large sections of a deluded middle class that globalisation and thirty years of neo-liberal policies have pushed down to the redneck ranks. These people will hardly listen to those who preach social inclusion and offer an historicised and literate version of feminism. Rather, they found in Trump’s assertive campaign those promises of enduring resilience to globalisation they were denied by the Republican and Democratic establishment alike.
By demonising the Donald Trump parvenu and neglecting the structural issues affecting U.S. society, organisers of protests and marches that look up at the French strike model may be missing the target. Instead, they might look at Spain for inspiration. The Iberian country is one of the few in the West to have so far escaped from the rise of a strong right-wing populism. Among the other factors, analysts have identified a lack of fundamental conflict between natives and non-natives over welfare resources to account for the absence of a significant racist rhetoric in politics.
A fairer redistribution of resources among the population – this was the notable stone guest at the Washington protests.
Tommaso Emiliani is an IRD Academic Assistant at the College of Europe in Bruges and an alumnus of Falcone & Borsellino promotion at the College of Europe in Natolin.
The author wishes to thank the ‘Militant’ collective for the inspiration to write this article.