Countdown to democracy’s death; It’s so quiet

BY BILL WEINBERG | By the time you are reading this, Congress will almost certainly have certified Donald Trump’s win in the Electoral College, and cleared the last remaining hurdle before his inauguration. And I keep asking myself… Why is everyone so quiet?

I recall the powerful opening sequence of Michael Moore’s 2004 film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which featured C-SPAN footage of that similar ritual after Dubya Bush’s contested 2000 election. The viewer is supposed to be outraged as members of the Black Congressional Caucus, one after another, petition to challenge Bush’s pending inauguration as illegitimate, and no senator — not John Kerry, not Ted Kennedy — would add the needed signature. Al Gore, presiding over the Senate in one of his final acts as vice president, condescendingly interrupted and dismissed the black lawmakers. The viewer’s blood is supposed to boil at this betrayal of democracy.

On Nov. 12, thousands of protesters marched from Union Square Park to Trump Tower to denounce the president-elect. A big protest presence is expected at the inauguration — though the writer is holding out hope that Trump actually is not inaugurated. Villager file photo by Q. Sakamaki
On Nov. 12, thousands of protesters marched from Union Square Park to Trump Tower to denounce the president-elect. A big protest presence is expected at the inauguration — though the writer is holding out hope that Trump actually is not inaugurated. Villager file photo by Q. Sakamaki

Now, in contrast — with the stakes immeasurably higher — everybody seems to take it completely for granted that Congress will just rubber-stamp the Electoral College vote without any discussion.

And even voices on the far political left — those who should be calling most vociferously for the inauguration to be blocked — are instead choosing to spend their energies denying Russian meddling in the election. Actually abetting Trump, wittingly or not.

I again look wistfully to news from beyond our borders for signs of potential for genuine civil resistance. I have already noted in this column the inspiring victory of how a sustained protest campaign brought about the impeachment of South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye last month. Now a new victory is reported from Poland.

Over the holidays, Poland’s increasingly authoritarian government capitulated after days of angry protests and agreed to scrap a proposed law that would have imposed harsh restrictions on the media. The announcement came after thousands marched on the presidential palace on Dec. 18, chanting “Freedom! Equality! Democracy!” Protests even penetrated the parliament chamber on Dec. 19, when opposition members of parliament blockaded the entrance, forcing MPs from the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) into another room to vote on the next year’s budget.

The law, which would have placed restrictions on media access in the Polish parliament, is part of a growing centralization of power by the PiS since it came to power in October 2015. But this is not the first victory over the PiS government. In October, the party withdrew plans for a total abortion ban after huge numbers of women dressed in black protested across the country.

Here in the United States, protest seems not to be about actually getting the goods, but making a symbolic statement.

Of course, even if Congress failed to certify the needed 270 electoral votes, the question would get thrown to the (Republican-controlled) House of Representatives — which would likely seat Trump anyway.

Still, raising the demand would give the anti-Trump resistance the moral high ground — giving the legal mechanisms their every chance to bar the seating of an open fascist as president of the United States. And a part of me dares to believe that if thousands (proportional to population, many hundreds of thousands) took to the streets, as in Poland and South Korea…maybe we could even prevail.

But we will never know. No such movement is happening. The only group even to call openly for it is the new Refuse Fascism coalition, unhappily initiated by the annoying sectarians of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Their founding statement called for “tens of millions” to take the streets nationwide to bar Trump’s inauguration. I was tempted to go to their New Year’s Eve protest march from Columbus Circle to Trump Tower. I’m glad I didn’t. They said only some 100 people showed up, with similar or smaller numbers in San Francisco, Chicago and a handful of other cities.

Instead, the planned protests are mostly focused on the inauguration itself — not trying to head it off, as the “Green Revolution” protesters tried in Iran in 2009, or as the Serbian protesters achieved in 2000, barring Slobodan Milosevic from a second term as president of Yugoslavia, forcing his resignation.

At least, Trump’s presidential term will open with widespread displays of revulsion in the streets of Washington, D.C. Veteran activist and former East Village denizen John Penley informs me that he has a permit for Franklin Square at noon on Thurs., Jan. 19, the day before the inauguration. The protest will be focused on nuclear weapons — certainly an issue that demands greater attention at this moment, with arms-control treaties being abandoned and Trump openly calling for a new nuclear arms race.

The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance has put out a call for Inauguration Day protests in D.C., also emphasizing issues of war and peace.

An Occupy Inauguration has inevitably emerged, stressing economic grievances, and will be gathering at Anacostia Park at 10 a.m. on Fri., Jan. 20.

The more anarchist-inclined DisruptJ20 will be meeting the morning of Jan. 20 at McPherson Square Park. Their action will probably be more mobile and creative — with (just being honest) greater potential for arrest.

The renascent Students for a Democratic Society is calling for a national student walk-out on Inauguration Day.

And on the day after the inauguration, a Women’s March on Washington will doubtless bring out many thousands, with such groups as the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International and the NAACP on board. They’ll be gathering in front of the Capitol Building at 10 a.m. Sat., Jan. 21.

But all these organizations seem to take the inauguration as a fait accompli. I wonder if a President Trump won’t wake up the remnants of the American left to the true urgency of the situation. And I wish I weren’t so damn certain that I’m going to find out.