Rules for Resistance
Advice from Around the Globe for the Age of Trump
Edited by David Cole and Melanie Wachtell Stinnet
240 ppg., The New Press (May 2017). $15.95
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a long line of forthcoming reviews of leftist resistance literature as we explore the left wing resistance movement. You can follow our progress via Low Intensity Conflict, the Forward Observer blog that chronicles the development and likelihood of a domestic conflict.
At the San Francisco International Airport with nothing to do? Browse a bookstore. There you’ll find a well-stocked assortment of leftist literature, and I needed something to read on the flight back home, anyway. My eyes were drawn to its bold, yellow cover.
Rules for Resistance: Advice from Around the Globe for the Age of Trump is generally about resisting nationalist populism, specifically about resisting the Trump agenda, and written in the context of a thinly veiled hope that the Left will be hoisted back into power to enforce the opposite: internationalist elitism.
The book is split up into five sections, each containing advice from around the globe (Europe, Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and journalists from a mix of other continents). Each author draws from his or her own experience to describe their nation’s form of national populism, and advises readers on what to expect and how to respond. The book achieves its goal of providing sound advice to the left wing resistance in the United States.
Before I get into some of the more salient points of the book, of which there are many; I will note that this book becomes extremely repetitive. Summed up: My country elected an autocratic dictator on the backs of the working class who responded to his national populist message, aforementioned dictator is just like Trump for x number of reasons, therefore Trump is literally inches away from his own turnkey dictatorship in America (and I weep for you), and here are some ways you can hold out until you win the next election and do exactly what you’re currently accusing Trump of doing.
That said, this book was worth the read because it provides great insight into actual autocratic regimes like Turkey, Egypt, Russia, China, and Venezuela. The writers of these essays do a great job of outlining how these dictators rose to power, but I often found myself reading these essays only to find that their complaints do a modestly successful job of explaining the Obama administration.
“I Watched a Populist Leader Rise in My Country. That’s Why I’m Genuinely Worried for America”
This is the first article in the book, in which the author complains that Hungarian leader Viktor Orban runs a “self-styled illiberal democracy,” and had praised Trump’s victory as ending the U.S. “dictatorship of political correctness” (page 3).
In Poland, as the next article describes (“Advice from Europe for Anti-Trump Protestors”), the author writes that protests make people feel better but random protests actually achieve very little. Instead, the solution is to hold deliberate and targeted protests that gain national and international attention, and embarrass and harass national populist leaders. Similarly, change happens in elections, so while you’re out there protesting, save some energy for the voting booth. To that point: “Five Democratic senators could do more to block extremist judges or damaging policies than 5 million–or even 50 million—people chanting slogans” (page 9).
There are some great truths in this book. The next two articles feature former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the parallels to the Trump administration.
“Life under Trump, as under Berlusconi, is likely to be one of almost constant crisis and unpredictability… Both Trump and Berlusconi love to pick fights because their popularity depends on the sense of crisis, a world of us-against-them in which the strongman alone can keep at bay the forces of evil” (page 18, “Donald Trump: America’s Own Silvio Berlusconi”).
The Trump presidency, the next article warns, “could easily turn into a Trump dynasty” (page 22, “The Right Way to Resist Trump”). That’s because, like Berlusconi, Trump’s enemies attack him personally, which emboldens Trump’s base and gains him sympathy from the anti-establishment electorate. Instead, the author writes, the Trump resistance movement should focus only on attacking his policies. Continuing to attack the Trump personality will set up future competitors for failure and Trump “as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste” (page 23).
And as if any book about the Trump resistance is incomplete without it, George Soros weighs in with an article first published in December 2016 (page 25, “Open Societies Need Defending”). In it, Soros writes that there are two types of nations: open societies, where the people elect their leaders who look after the interest of the people; and closed societies, where leaders manipulate the people into doing the bidding of the state. “Open societies are in crisis,” he writes, “and various forms of closed societies—from fascist dictatorships to mafia states—are on the rise” (page 26). That’s due to a fundamental failure of national leadership, Soros explains.
Soros goes on to applaud the members of the European Union (EU) for being “willing to sacrifice part of their sovereignty for the common good.” But after the 2008 financial crisis, the EU began to disintegrate after each nation began to “look after its own [financial] institutions.” This dysfunction, Soros says, was the catalyst leading to Europe’s “problem” with national populism. “Democracy is now in crisis” and that’s why the Trump agenda must be resisted, he implies (page 28).
“Prepare for Regime Change, Not Policy Change”
With subtitles like, “Expect the Worst” and “Protest Early and Often,” the next article likens Trump to Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The author warns that under the right conditions, like under Erdoğan, Trump can take power for himself and begin eroding the Constitution (where was this author the last eight years?).
“Citizens of consolidated democracies have absorbed a genteel lesson: If our side loses, we wait our turn until the next election… When those in power are poised to destroy constitutional safeguards, however, hanging on in quiet desperation until the next election can be fatal to democracy… Civic action needs to begin now.”
A later article (“What Americans Against Trump Can Learn from the Failures of the Israeli Opposition”) suggests de facto secession:
“Alliances of blue states could act as federated countries, with the wealth and legal latitude to advance in the most important areas [high-speed rails, abortion rights, minimum wage raises, etc.]” (page 50).
Here are some other gems:
“[F]ollow your plan and your social justice dream—day by day, step by step” (page 83, “In Case of Political Catastrophe”).
“If your government is a pile of trash, build your own guerrilla government. Build and participate and support the network of alternative institutions, organizations, initiatives” (page 84).
“Show no contempt… That includes rebukes such as the one the Hamilton cast gave Vice President-elect Mike Pence shortly after the election. While sincere, it only antagonized Trump; it surely did not convince a single Trump supporter to change his or her mind. Shaming has never been an effective method of persuasion” (page 111, “In Venezuela, We Couldn’t Stop Chávez. Don’t Make the Same Mistakes We Did”).
“Don’t try to force him out… The people on the other side—and crucially, independents—will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind” (page 112).
“It’s a chance for America’s rusty left to form new alliances, articulate a modern agenda for social justice, and imbue a younger generation with a deep awareness of human rights… [T]hose who have led revolutionary movements in Latin America think some of the same principles they applied in clandestine circumstances against tin-pot tyrants could now apply just as well to a peaceful resistance” (page 124, “Latin American Revolutionaries Have Some Urgent Advice for Dealing with Trump”).
“‘Economic growth will be crucial,’ [a former Nicaraguan guerrilla commander] said. ‘The hope these people have in Trump is so great it will only be matched by the size of their deception if Trump doesn’t deliver quickly. That’s Trump’s boomerang… This might be the best opportunity we have had for a North-South dialogue between the US and Latin America,’ Vasquez said. ‘We have wanted this for years. Collective action is the only way forward'” (page 125).
Bottom Line: Rules for Resistance was an insightful read. It’s changed my thoughts in some ways and amplified them in others. If we use these tactics as a starting point for observing and understanding non-violent resistance, then I believe we’ll be better prepared to predict what happens in 2018 and 2020 should Leftist non-violent resistance be unsuccessful.