The weekend’s Women’s Marches were historic events that showed the world the depth and passion of the anti-Trump movement. But we have to keep it going
Paul Mason/The Guardian – Monday 23 January 2017 14.15 EST
On Saturday night, for Donald Trump’s inauguration ball, police turned an entire grid square of Washington DC into a maze of fences, checkpoints and deserted roads, just to protect the partygoers. But even the cleverest maze has to have an entrance – and it took just a couple of hundred peaceful but courageous protesters to block it. As a result, thousands of rich people had to thread their way across a square mile of wire and concrete in their tuxedos and taffeta.
I know it annoyed them because I walked with them. In the absolute silence, I could hear they were angry and afraid. They looked, collectively, like a George Grosz painting of the Weimar elite come to life.
And then, to annoy them some more, one out of every 100 people in America marched to reject Trump’s project in its entirety. In the US, nearly 3.5 million people marched, the majority of them women, a huge proportion of them wearing pink, woolly “pussy hats” (There were marches against Trump in 20 countries around the world).
When a million people choke the transport system of a city, exchanging sudden and ephemeral chants, jokes and slogans with people they’ll never meet again, it is the collective memory they establish that truly records the event. For people who were not there, the media records such events according to an established formula: a soundbite from Madonna, a wide shot of the crowd, a vox pop with somebody’s grandma and finally a sceptic saying it’s all a waste of time. But events such as this alter people’s lives. They thrust big and complicated political questions into lives of routinely depoliticised people.
A marcher in Washington. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
One woman, who flew from the west coast to attend, told me: “I can’t stand the colour pink, and that hat looks really shitty on me. But right now it’s my most precious material possession. I’m betting there are lots of people out there who will look at their hats and remember that they need to do something – not just today, but tomorrow and the next.”
As they left the march, women in the underground stations passed round a phone number created to sign people up for action. There’s a big focus on the swingleft.org campaign, which aims to retake the House of Representatives by focusing on swing states in 2018.
But you would miss the historic significance of the Women’s March if – as with Trump’s army of trolls – you viewed it only through the frame of something called “feminism” or “identity politics”.
To comprehend the power of Saturday’s demos, we have to understand the true nature of the threat Trump poses. The dominant trope in the US media is delusion. It says Trump is a charlatan, who will be restrained by the American constitution, tamed by office and gone in four years.
The importance of this delusion is that, for the liberal section of the US elite, it allowed them to justify continuity. They could go on ingesting the standardised prose of the New York Times, even though its editors were “timid” (according to its public editor) in the face of the emerging news story about Trump’s links with Russia. They could cling to the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; that the Russians probably rigged the election. They could, above all, cling to the belief that US capitalism has turned a corner permanently, towards corporate social responsibility, equal opportunities and low-carbon energy.
But what Trump represents creates a split in the US business elite. And though he is not – as the chant goes – “fascist”, the dynamic between his white-supremacist misogynist mass base and the super-rich is playing out similarly to the way it did for Mussolini after 1922 and Hitler 10 years later.
The whiny old racist, in his hunting camouflage; the devoutly Christian housewife shouting obscenities at Hillary Clinton; the men in the tuxedoes yelping “sore losers”, “snowflake” and “cuck” at the protesters … they have all seen an illusion expire. The doctrine of manifest destiny tells them their nation was born to shape the world; the Presbyterian ideology of the founding fathers tells them that the individual is master of his fate. The crisis of neoliberal capitalism after 2008 has permanently cancelled both these dreams but the illusion lives, and must find an enemy to blame.
The march in Washington. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardi