Suppose you’re Alice. Through the looking glass you go, to arrive at a strange place where things don’t behave as expected and the names given to them don’t fit.
In this wonderland, you find two groups arguing about the competence, organization, and political role of the major U.S. intelligence agencies. One group – let’s call them the Tweedle Dees – consider spooky agencies like the CIA and NSA bloated, inefficient, frequently dishonest, and thoroughly politicized. The Tweedle Dums, on the other hand, assert that they work for the benefit of all of us without feathering their own nests, lying to the public, or playing political games.
So, which side is which? Once upon a time, on the pre-election side of the looking glass, most Tweedle Dees were liberal or progressive critics of the national security state, although their candidate, Queen Hillary, displayed strong Tweedle Dumish tendencies. On the post-election side, however, President-elect Donald Trump (flanked by Julian Assange, with his Cheshire Cat smile) appears as Tweedle Dee himself, while the former devotes of Assange and Edward Snowden enthusiastically enlist under the Tweedle Dum banner.
Through the looking glass we go. If Trump attacks the intelligence bureaucracy, so-called progressives must defend it. Hurrah for the CIA, which always tells the truth! If Trump defends the Russians, liberals must join with John McCain and other old Cold Warriors to brand Vladimir Putin America’s prime enemy. Hurrah for a new Cold War!
Of course, we do not yet know all the facts of the alleged Plot Against America. Regardless of how current investigations turn out, however, the moral of this story seems clear: Trump-o-phobia is bad for you, almost as bad as Trump-o-philia. It warps one’s judgment in three ways: first, by inducing people to support retrogressive policies and enter into unprincipled alliances; second, by getting them to oppose “evil” personalities instead of fighting to change a destructive and violent social system; and third, by tempting them to confuse radical methods of protest with radical programs for change.
We know that The Donald is a bad guy, say the Trump-o-phobes, so let’s resist whatever he proposes, even if it’s to rein in the CIA. Let’s march on Washington with others who detest Trump and raise some hell, even though we don’t agree among ourselves about what’s wrong with the American system and how to change it. Discussing such matters is “just talk,” we are told, while “real action” means taking to the streets and proving how radical we are by making anti-Trump speeches, acting out, and maybe getting arrested.
Those of us who remember the 60s and 70s or who have studied the events of that era know that there’s nothing wrong with radical forms of protest. On the contrary, they can be a real catalyst for change – but only if protestors are united in their vision as well as in their anger. Uniting around a vision of a better future takes more than angry action (and a whole lot more than commenting on someone’s blog post!) It takes truthful, imaginative, intense, compassionate talk – and then strategic action.
Of course, we can march and demonstrate, but please, not just against Donald Trump. In Through the Looking Glass, as Alice discovered, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum only pretend to have a battle. They don’t really fight because, underneath it all, they are really on the same side.
An old American union song asks, “Which Side Are You On?”
It’s not enough to answer, “The anti-Trump side.” There is a predatory capitalist system, obsessed with profit and power, that produces both Trumps and Clintons, Tweedle Dees and Tweedle Dums, along with poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and war. We often act as though this system is eternal and (except for minor “tweaks”) unchangeable – but it’s not.
We need to talk.