With Trump not only in power, but recklessly in power, this seems impossible to say. But it can be said: we’re winning.
Have we achieved victory? No–not even close. Are we in a position of power? No. And yet, the progress we have made is a sign that we have begun a process that can result in victory and change, a struggle that can transform politics for the better. The needle is moving–even if only slightly–but now is the time to push it, not bemoan its speed or delay.
Trump is in power and a hail mary from the Russia controversy or any other miracle is unlikely to unseat him. What we have done instead is engage in the shockingly forgotten practice of mass politics.
In the crashing waves of articles from mainstream media outlets about the efficacy and particularities of protest, the forest has been lost for the trees. Protest has been our main way of steering the direction of discourse and establishing the language of discussion and it has worked extremely well.
Protest has made resistance visible and in so doing, it has articulated a non-complacent alternative to Trump’s policies that people can identify with. Protest builds on itself exponentially as its image gathers people to itself. It makes possible identification with an alternative space, a space from which can spring new ideas.
Though this seems conceptual and abstract, this is the long term territory over which the real fight will be waged.
An essential concept for this is hegemony, a term used by the Marxist Antonio Gramsci to describe the methods by which the state achieves consent and consensus of and from the governed. In other words, rather than beating the populace over the head with propaganda until submission, hegemony achieves dominance through a multitude of organizations that instill in people certain ideas about the parameters and meanings of society that begin to seem unquestionable.
Hegemony, like ideology, can be difficult to see but if one clues into when people say something like “Use your common sense!” then you may begin to see it. It’s an assumption that there is an obvious, objective sense common to us all and that this sense, as evidenced by every time someone uses that phrase, is conservative, careful, cautious, and ultimately reliant on the status quo.
Hegemony constitutes the greatest limits on our political imaginations.
Basic income? Use your common sense! People would squander the money.
Universal healthcare? Use your common sense! Service would be too slow and too bureaucratic.
Debt-free education? Use your common sense! Those entitled kids would take it for granted!
The key here is less the truth value in any of these arguments and more the gut-felt instinct to reject new ideas, to purge the imagination.
This hegemonic instinct cuts across political parties and it is the result of a multitude of material organizations that have their continuances rooted in the maintenance of the status quo. Both political parties have stakes in keeping up their fight on the terms they’re familiar with, even if it means losing–as was shown with the felling of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
The future rests on our ability to construct a radical political imagination and for enough people to be collectively working toward it that it feels real enough for an exponentially larger group of people to join them.
The seed of this new hegemony is the right to explain.
Trump desperately wants the right to explain. Intuitively, he knows its power or at least feels an urge toward it.
Every fact dredged up through evidence and testable theory is doubted, deemed “alternative fact” or worse, “fake news.”
Trump wants to explain but here’s the thing: we know we’re winning because we don’t allow him to explain.
The Muslim Ban could have made sense. Without any outcry, it would have been a simple, clean way to ensure security. And isn’t security paramount? (You should be hearing the siren cry of common sense, the slight tug of an urge that could make this make sense to you. Don’t the words sound right after all?).
To disrupt hegemony, the consent of the governed to be governed in a particular manner and take that as common sense, we must first of all not consent. Protest disrupted the image, made it difficult to believe in fully and easily. Now, the ban’s oppressive nature is just as visible. Even if we haven’t convinced everyone, we have opened an alternative interpretation and barred another one from being generally accepted.
We must remember the temporality that power wants us to forget, the temporality that gives us the ability to imagine. Just as we struggle for change now, just as we struggle for the power to explain what just happened, so do we struggle for a claim over memory. Long lasting power will be constituted by the ability to interpret the meaning of this administration, what this resistance movement was against and what it was for.
When crisis occurs, whether that be from economic or environmental or civil collapse, partial or whole, it is the memories we form and solidify now that will establish the new common sense we reach for to make sense of the world that must be borne from collapse.
When the old way of doing things falls apart, it is up to us to provide an explanation that makes sense and points a way forward through the chaos.
Once this decaying, fraying set of power relations that currently holds together society, as evidenced by the desperate fringe that is Trump himself, comes undone, we must have already laid the groundwork for an alternative explanation to make sense. That is how we establish a new hegemony.
We’re far from being able to afford ourselves confidence but if we continue to organize a willing and active and engaged population on the one hand and build a radical imagination with practical ideas on the other, there’s a real chance we could seize the future.