Make no mistake: We are witnessing a presidential administration and campaign fundamentally based on the normalization of a blood and soil ethos in the U.S. This is something a small percentage of traditional conservatives, to their credit, recognize and abhor. This shared recognition and abhorrence must not cause the democratic left to omit from the reelection conversation a clear and resonant philosophical-political-economic counter to Trump’s blood and soil movement.
For all its value, person-specific resistance of “Trump” is not enough.
The Resistance (also known as the #Resistance) began as an American liberal-left-wing political movement that protests the presidency of Donald Trump. It was established as a grassroots movement on January 19, 2017, and has since grown to include not only Democrats, but Independents and Republicans against Trump. Members of the movement are known for their prolific use of Twitter, especially the “#Resist” hashtag.
It is critical. But it is not sufficient.
Trump’s movement is not all about Trump. He tapped into something ugly; he did not make the ugly out of whole cloth. Trump’s grotesque conduct is flamboyantly narcissistic by design, technique that comes so naturally to Trump that it diverts the eyes from the larger ugliness, but technique nonetheless.
Whether his technique is the partial product of a personality disorder, a very stable genius, or dumb luck, Trump has a bunch of wicked people and a bigger bunch of traditional conservatives united. This unity in Trump’s movement exists even if the traditional conservatives seek plausible deniability (important to some religious and Wall Street Trumpers).
There is limited value to debating Trump’s intelligence or psyche at this point. We need to give the devil his due. This buffoon has created one hell of a united movement. We must not underestimate him, but more important, we must not underestimate, much less overlook altogether, his movement as such.
Trump brilliantly but easily stitched Tea Partiers with the Alt-Right because Tea Partiers are quite comfortable with white privilege, even if in their hearts a few question white supremacy. MAGA and KAG hats, and, where I live, huge Trump flags flown in the back of huge pickups (where huge Confederate flags and more recently huge Gadsden flags once flew), are not exclusively symbols of a cult of personality but also camouflage for the ideology of the movement itself. White privilege can now be readily fought for without overtly appealing to racism, although Trump does plenty of overtly racist appealing (www.newyorker.com/…)
The everyday overt racism of the Alt-Right, which overlaps with celebration of the Confederacy, now directly and indirectly reinforces beneficiaries of white privilege who claim not to be racists and some of whom may even believe themselves. When members of the Alt-Right go “too far,” as everyone knows some will, with guns used and not simply drawn, or with a motor vehicle driven into a crowd, their more mainstream political allies can celebrate their victimhood at being tied in with “the” racists.
Such a self-reinforcing system of wide-spread community acceptance of white privilege, using as added group cohesion fuel resentment of outsider critics, worked well under Jim Crow. Not every white banker, businessman, or preacher had to don the white hood and robes to support the status quo. The lynching might take place in the town square with all the respectable people watching or it might take place out in the fields or in a barn. Thanks to Trump, but not exclusively because of Trump, widespread community support for white privilege is once again socially-acceptable even as the very existence of white privilege is denied most vociferously by the Alt-Right on behalf of the larger movement.
But as important as it is to accurately describe Trump’s movement for what it is, this also is insufficient. Those few traditional conservatives who are our allies in resisting Trump are wholely unwilling to confront him with an alternative that is appealing to a united working class. Some liberals are also reticent to do so, which helps Trump’s movement to falsely claim that it is for the working class. It is unwise for the left to acquiesce in minimizing the moment as being all about Trump or even all about resisting.
We must not overlook our responsibility to present a positive and truly working class alternative to Trump’s movement and not just confront its fascism. If we do not wish to acquiesce to Trump’s blood and soil movement, sooner rather than later we must plainly articulate a loving alternative.
Of course, positive ideas alone cannot win a dialectical struggle. We must resist too, with our very being, Trump’s blood and soil movement. However, to do our best in this struggle, principles must be inferred from events that have been going on not just in the time of Trump but also throughout recorded American history. This essay suggests these inferred principles, distilled to their essence, may be summarized as human solidarity and soil sharing, and that a counter movement should be based on these principles and not just on resistance.
White Americans in general are unwilling to honestly reckon with the fact of continuing white privilege—including not only the absence of experiencing racial prejudice in their own lives but also that they as a group financially benefit to this day. White Americans who came before them shed innocent blood of enslaved, murdered, and tortured Native Peoples, stole the soil, and then, where it was advantageous to the white ruling class, worked that stolen, blood-stained soil with enslaved, murdered, and tortured Africans and their descendants for centuries without compensation. This has profound ramifications to this day. (See, e.g., www.wipsociology.org/….)
Third generation German American Trump is right about one thing—he is quintessentially American in the philosophical-political-economic underpinnings of his movement. His is merely the latest blood and soil manifestation in the U.S.
White America was essentially a blood and soil bastion long before the Nazis ever got the idea. Before the Civil War was the centuries-long first wave of a European American blood and soil movement, violently taking most of the arable soil of the continent in what came to be known as the U.S. (en.m.wikipedia.org/…), leaving blood in its path, with much of that soil then worked through the violently-extracted blood of still more innocent, trafficked human beings and their innocent, trafficked progeny.
After the short-lived Reconstruction, the second wave of the blood and soil movement was fully back in control in the south even as it ghettoized blacks in the north and ensured the remaining desired midwestern and western hands were placed in white hands, with God on their side of course.
This writer believes that we must seek to have permeate to the Democratic Party core, through our words and actions as the left seeking to build a truly united, multi-racial working class party in the U.S., that we are a positive human solidarity and soil sharing movement, opposing with all our hearts, minds, and strength Trump’s blood and soil movement, and not merely Trump himself.
Before I briefly postulate this counter movement, I would like to dispense with the notion that Trump’s movement is not a blood and soil movement in the small “f” fascist American tradition even though its more respectable apologists would deny this fact. (The fact that some members of ethnic and racial minorities also are apologists for Trump makes it all the more important to be able to articulate an inclusive, humane alternative.)
It is easy to see that Trump purposefully makes it ever so slightly tenable for his more respectable apologists. He contextually fudges his fascism just enough to give his more respectable apologists a tiny bit of cover.
Meanwhile, while most of Trump’s brown shirts do not literally wear brown shirts, they are a key component of the “united right” as he desires it, dangerous and mobilized, ready to bring assault rifles to a state capital near you. It is fair to say that the Alt-Right is the right side of his base, significant in numbers (abcnews.go.com/…), especially in swing states, but, more important, influential in ideology and political dynamics well beyond their numbers. For Trump to truly disown them would be to reject his own blood and soil movement. In other words, unfathomable.
Here’s how former campaign chairman and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sees it:
The combative 66-year-old is the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he once described as “the platform of the ‘alt-right’”, a movement that has embraced racism and antisemitism, and an ex-chairman of Donald Trump’s divisive 2016 election campaign.
His transition to a senior role at the White House was hailed as “excellent” by the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and “amazing” by Peter Brimelow of the white nationalist site VDAR. Bannon left the administration in 2017 after playing a key role in the US president’s equivocation over a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was widely condemned, but remains influential.
“We’ve turned the Republican party into a working-class party,” said Bannon, relaxing at a table with an autographed photo of Trump behind him. “Now, interestingly, we don’t have any elected representatives who believe that, but that’s a legacy issue. We’ll get over that. We’ve got to find our AOCs.”
When Trump gave enormous comfort to his tiki torch-bearing supporters in Charlottesville he used false equivalence and hollow faux criticism because this would help provide cover for his more respectable apologists (just as the term “Alt-Right” allows the U.S. far right to sound nicer to some).
The more respectable apologists then also get to exercise their own Trumpian victimhood muscles, since they can tell each other that they are being unfairly characterized as racist “like the KKK.” Trump claimed, “You also had some very fine people on both sides.” The more respectable apologists then hear themselves as being symbolically present very fine people innocently protecting dear old Robert E. Lee’s statue from the politically correct libtards.
Trump in practice warmly embraced “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups” comprising the marchers by superficially stating that such groups are, after all, generic “criminals and thugs, … repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans”—blah blah blah, wink wink, nudge nudge—but heck, “they’re calling you, MAGA hat man, a racist too, even as you’re just a Great American, that’s all,” nothing to see here, go to a gun show.
It was no less tactical than when these same fascists call the Democratic governor of Michigan a Nazi for not reopening the state during the pandemic, even as Trump eggs them on while simultaneously maintaining his shallow appearance of national leadership for his more respectable apologists.
If those who show up at the Capitol really want to protest a Nazi, they could have done so while still complying with stay-at-home orders: All they need to find an inheritor of the racist logic of that terrible regime is a look in the nearest mirror.
In other words, confuse or “trigger” the enemy, crowd out the conversation with meaningless words, and keep those brown shirts happy down deep while fanning the flames of victimhood for the more respectable apologists of the movement.
As should be clear by now, there were no “very fine people” who were part of the organizing or promotion of Unite the Right. Unite the Right was an event planned not by traditional conservatives, but by groups and individuals that despise traditional conservatives, like Peinovich, who helped coin the term “cuckservative” to refer to traditional conservatives who spoke out against racism and anti-Semitism.
And during that same press conference, Trump added this:
No, no. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly, the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call ’em. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know, I don’t know if you know, but they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this: there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country. Does anybody have a final – does anybody have a final question? You have an infrastructure question.
“The night before” is referring to the Friday night torchlit rally of August 11, where more than 200 attendees held tiki torches on the campus of the University of Virginia and chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil.” Whatever this event may have been, it was certainly not “people protesting very quietly.”
The starting place in opposing Trump’s movement is plainly calling it what it is, a blood and soil movement. Then, knowing what we are resisting, we must as a matter of politics, form a broad but also passionate coalition of well-intentioned people of good will to oppose it. That coalition will need to coalesce around a candidate, and at this point we know that candidate will be Joe Biden. However, support for Biden must not be the ending place. No single candidate, and certainly not Biden, can be the sum total of the left’s political existence.
Our political existence must accurately reflect the dialectical reality of objective conditions. These objective conditions include the fact that Trump has tapped into a sometimes dominant, now long-festering, fascist tendency in America.
We cannot rely on an idyllic view of America, much less American exceptionalism of the type espoused by traditional conservatives, to save us when our opposition reflects a very real and dangerous tendency deeply rooted within that culture. In fact, fully pulling this tendency out by the roots is probably not possible. Try as we may, even our best counter efforts are part of a dialectical process only partly within our control. But we are responsible for doing our best as humans to get a humane outcome for all, which can build but not rely on such worthy American philosophical ideals as “liberty and justice for all.”
Everything is in continual process of becoming and ceasing to be, in which nothing is permanent but everything changes and is eventually superseded. All things contain contradictory sides or aspects, whose tension or conflict is the driving force of change and eventually transforms or dissolves them. But whereas Hegel saw change and development as the expression of the world spirit, or Idea, realizing itself in nature and in human society, for Marx and Engels change was inherent in the nature of the material world. They therefore held that one could not, as Hegel tried, deduce the actual course of events from any “principles of dialectics”; the principles must be inferred from the events.
The theory of knowledge of Marx and Engels started from the materialist premise that all knowledge is derived from the senses. But against the mechanist view that derives knowledge exclusively from given sense impressions, they stressed the dialectical development of human knowledge, socially acquired in the course of practical activity. Individuals can gain knowledge of things only through their practical interaction with those things, framing their ideas corresponding to their practice; and social practice alone provides the test of the correspondence of idea with reality—i.e., of truth.
Part of our best efforts includes articulating a positive philosophical-political-economic vision in opposition to the fascist tendency Trump enhances. This positive vision should empower and instruct us while also democratically appealing to better angels. The question remains, what should the counter movement itself mobilize in favor of as opposed to be against?
First taking a step back, this male, half-white writer is highly respectful of and hesitant to critique the opposition to Trump. Although much of the organized Resistance seems to have been corporatized and lost its substantive edge, even now it is necessary to tread lightly into this even when one envisions one’s own motives as being for sincere Socratic purposes.
With that caveat, postulating a positive and holistic left response to Trump is not merely about substance but also about simple, resonant messaging in a protracted dialectical struggle. The Resistance a year after Trump’s electoral college victory was as substantively robust as it was in raw numbers of activists. Arguably no would-be mass movement in U.S. history initially placed a greater emphasis on intersectionality.
Since then, people have continued to show up to protests in significant numbers – a research team led by civil-resistance scholar Erica Chenoweth and political scientist Jeremy Pressman has tallied hundreds of demonstrations around the country each month since January.
But the more dramatic development has been a quieter one: all around the country, people have channeled the restless, do-it-yourself political energy that fueled the Women’s Marches and the airport protests into the formation of locally grounded, multi-issue resistance groups.
The recent Women’s Convention organized by the national team behind the Women’s Marches was a conscious and deliberate effort to lift up the political analysis and organizing wisdom of women of color and provide intersectional feminist leadership to the resistance at large.
Trump’s ethnonationalism is still enthusiastically embraced by most of his base, who will very likely remain loyal to it even if he loses reelection. In its retreat to blood and soil ideology it was in part a reaction to neoliberal globalism but more so an upwelling of white supremacy already strongly present. These truly are dangerous times, but for many the dangerous times never ended.
An opposition to Trump’s reactionary movement that either overlooks substance or is easily caricatured as confounding, complex, or hyperintellectual will lack staying power at our collective peril. There must be a simple way of describing the dialectical antidote to Trump’s two-pronged blood and soil movement. While it must be substantively robust, its themes must be easily understandable and salient to the full spectrum of needs of humanity.
“Human solidarity” as a counter to Trump’s tacit emphasis on “white blood”
Whether it is civil, reproductive, labor, or immigrant rights, or programmatic concerns such as the need for a good health care system and healthy environment for all, human solidarity beckons us to reject, not exacerbate, divisions based on anyone’s so-called blood. All humans bleed red. Regardless of one’s race or sexuality, for instance, we all need the same basic material needs to be met. Trump’s appeal for whites to reject concern for others not from one’s tribe is an unintentional clarion call for a dialectical counter demand for a concern for others just based on their shared humanity.
No one likes to feel abandoned to suffer alone. Everyone has experiences in their own lives or in that of their near ancestors where this is evidenced. Many children have experienced or are experiencing the gut-wrenching horror of seeing parents unemployed. Moreover, many children are going hungry in the U.S. as you read these words. (www.brookings.edu/…)
As an American socialist in the Eugene V. Debs tradition, I recently thought of the moving story of his encounter with the old umbrella mender. Even in the man’s intense suffering he showed stalwart human solidarity.
There was something peculiarly grand about the scarred old veteran of the industrial battlefield. His shabbiness was all on the outside, and he seemed transfigured to me and clad in garments of glory. He loomed before me like a forest-monarch the tempests had riven and denuded of its foliage but could not lay low.
He had kept the faith and had never scabbed!
A passionate societal commitment to human solidarity tells you that you are not alone, that I care about you and am willing to sacrifice with you and share your struggles. I am willing to try to help you up even when you have fallen in despair.
Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Your suffering matters to me so much so that it becomes my aim to alleviate this suffering in as reliable a manner as possible. The spilled blood of a young African American on a Georgia street is a call to human solidarity not a celebration of the blood of his white killers. Which side are we on? Hopefully we are on the side of human solidarity, not the side of “white blood,” which is a proxy for white aggression and privilege.
“Soil sharing” as a counter to Trump’s tacit emphasis on “white soil”
We cannot restrict our human solidarity to civil rights, as important as those are. Human solidarity must extend to the material world, including to the very soil beneath our feet, which provides us all with space to live and food to eat. Soil and its yield are not for the privileged or for one race which happened to prevail, with God on its side, but for sharing for the common benefit of all.
How we choose to equitably manifest this soil sharing must be democratically decided, but share we must if we believe in human solidarity. Well-funded and widely accessible food stamp, school meal, housing, and domestic violence shelter programs are examples, as is support for UNICEF (www.unicef.org) and UNHCR (www.unhcr.org/…) and peace initiatives.
Prior to and throughout recorded history human beings have been arguing and fighting about the space between us all. The space between us all is neither a vacuum nor solely metaphorical. It includes real irreplaceable things such as the air, water, land, and other resources of our planet. …
We live on and from a thin layer of precariously-watered soil which formed from weathering rocks and decaying organic matter over millions of years and which human beings are capable of eroding and depleting in a geological second and have never figured out how to share for the common good. We need to start thinking and talking more lovingly about this space and each other’s place in it so that we can identify and do just and rational things to deal with our shared space plight.(gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com/…)
Again, we can all borrow from our own experiences of serious vulnerability or those of our recent forebears, or we can look around our own city or county. Desperate and disenfranchised people are all around us. Food bank shelves are empty as soon as they are stocked.
I have never gone hungry. My parents were dirt poor but seemed to have managed to eat enough. But their parents sometimes did go hungry and dressed in rags, as did endless generations of kin who came before them, some of whom were active in the 19th and 20th century labor movement. My grandparents did not talk much about their childhoods. I recently learned a family story from around the same time as Debs met the old umbrella mender.
My paternal Cuban American grandmother was a homeless young girl living in the woods of Hillsborough County, Florida, where she was born in 1906. One night she was given a small dry piece of bread by her striking cigarmaker father for dinner. He did not have anything that night for dinner himself. By 1918 he would be dead, leaving behind a widow and three kids, and Debs would be disenfranchised and in receipt of a 10-year federal prison sentence for his human solidarity in a time of war.
Little wonder that as an elderly widow decades later she grew peas in her tiny Hialeah yard. “Solidarity with all the hungry people!,” she seems now to have been subconsciously saying, as she also did through the cheap print of JFK with words from his “ask not” speech hanging inside and her frequent reminders that the Democratic Party was the party of the working people.
Her joyful and simple instruction on pea growing made a great impression on me when I would visit her as a youngster. It inspired me as an adult to learn more about our soil and to ponder how all people should have access to gardening.
I have come to believe, both as a soil scientist and as a socialist, that, where climate and other natural conditions will permit it, workers’ gardens in some form need to be made available to everyone. Workers’ gardens at the very least would allow humans living in crowded settings to produce some good and needed food, and to provide some mutual aid in society’s restoration of its lost nutrient balance. The demand for workers’ gardens could easily be part of, and not undercut, the broader demand for justice.
The same unjust system that once slaughtered and enslaved PoC and even now uses fascists to provide militant force has led both to homelessness and to a metabolic rift between humans and the rest of nature.
“Metabolism” for Marx, signified the whole of nature and its interdependent processes, of which humans were necessarily a part.
In 1844 he declared:
Humans live from nature, ie: nature is our body, and we must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if we are not to die.
To say that humanity’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for humans are part of nature.
And in his notes for Capital, later assembled by Engels as Volume 3, Marx declared that capitalism had severed that link, to produce “an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of the social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself.”
Things do not have to be this way. God did not ordain this. Please let us not shrink from resisting Trump’s blood and soil movement not only with a broad spectrum of political allies but also with our human solidarity fully intact to ensure that our soil is equitably shared.
We can manifest our counter movement in our daily lives through human solidarity and soil sharing. We can even, as part of our holistic movement, grow and share the produce of whatever pot or patch of soil we can touch with our own hands, just like our grandmothers did.
(For additional thoughts on soil sharing, please see this 2018 piece on the need for a better, and progressively socialistic, U.S. agriculture policy, which would leave us much better prepared for pandemics: www.dailykos.com/…)