On how and how not to resist Trump

I have a piece on resisting Trump in the February issue of Harper’s. The opening discussion came to me one Saturday morning in shul, not long after the election, while we were reading the parsha.

Gazing back on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt. Why? Other characters in the Bible disobey God without meeting the same fate. Perhaps it is her irrepressible interest in the destruction she has been spared — her sense that the evil she has left behind is more real than the possibilities that beckon — that dooms her. Instructed to choose life over death, Lot’s wife opts to find life in death. The known past is more compelling than the promised future. Hence the salt — a substance that suspends time, that preserves things by drying them out.

As liberals and leftists confront the reality of a Trump Administration, they will face a similar question of orientation. Will they…

You can read on here.


  1. xenon2 January 18, 2017 at 11:53 pm | #

    The sky will fall?

    ‘Because that fearing it so long
    Had almost made it dear.’

    I’m a fan everything-Harper’s, just need it to be recorded by http://www.loc.gov/nls
    I’m a subscriber to mag in print and on the computer. I give the print copy to
    a friend, but I can’t read it b/c I’ve had a brain injury and read s-l-o-w-l-y.

    loc has this wonderful program where they have actors record books and mags.
    Carla Hayden, whom you’ll remember from ‘the library law’, just became the
    Librarian of Congress.

    Please explain this to Rick, who is still living in the Renaissance.

    Thank you!

  2. fosforos January 19, 2017 at 12:20 am | #

    The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an End-of-the-world event. So terrible that even to look back was fatal. It then would be much more fruitful to find models in Lot’s daughters, not his wife.

  3. stevenjohnson January 19, 2017 at 12:44 am | #

    Lot’s daughters seduced their father to repopulate the world. Or, in other words, Moab and Ammon were related to Israel/Judah but they were irremediably tainted at their origin, similar to the way Esau as founder of Edom/Idumaea tainted that land by his rejection of God’s gifts.

    As to the symbolic significance of salt…actually, the story smells like a place myth, a story purporting to explain how a prominent landmark (a rock formation believed to be a salt) got its name. Or how it is a marker in national history. These myths can serve a useful role in territorial claims for a kingdom. Salt is not just a preservative, nor is it even just a condiment. It is essential for life. I’m not sure people think a salt lick is about drying out the animals who seek it out so they can be preserved unchanging. Honey is a preservative too, for that matter. Using your imagination to make a religious service seem meaningful is one way to make the experience palatable. I suppose there’s no point in arguing much about how you do that.

    So far as resisting Trump goes, you could for example argue Trump lost the popular vote therefore has no mandate to do things like dumping Obamacare. The importance of seeing Trump as just another president and of empathizing with Trump voters may be issues for Harpers’ but I can’t seem this as guiding resistance to Trump.

  4. relstprof January 19, 2017 at 4:20 am | #

    “Such a liberalism becomes dependent on the very thing it opposes, with a tepid mix of neoliberal markets and multicultural morals getting much-needed spice from a terrifying right.”

    Amen and amen.

    And —
    Bernie would have won.

  5. mark January 19, 2017 at 4:51 am | #


    I put this link up before, but I like its sublime revelation of terrifying thunder.

    The Donald spake.

  6. Matt_L January 19, 2017 at 9:20 am | #

    I agree, its been a long time since liberals offered a positive view of where we are going. It seemed like HRC was offering a vision of the negative, not Donald, not the GOP, but nothing different from the existing institutions. Its almost like Change stopped in January 2009.

    But here is the rub, the left, or progressives or radicals, or what ever we are calling ourselves now has also failed to articulate that vision of multiracial social democracy. What does that look like? What is the road map? What does this better world look like? I liked Bernie Sanders, not because I thought he was a socialist, but because he was a talking like a New Deal Democrat. While the New Deal (minus the blatant racism and entrenchment of white supremacy) is better than what we have now, its still the past.

    We won’t win this contest until we can articulate that vision. We won’t win until we can show people what multiracial social democracy looks like. Ironically, I think we have to be more ‘Utopian’

    Thank you for writing this. Its the most productive and hopeful thing I have read since the election.

    • herme January 22, 2017 at 4:26 pm | #

      That’s funny, I thought Bernie did an excellent job articulating a vision of multiracial social democracy. That his vision shares similarities with the New Deal seem quite beside the point, his social democratic solutions are for problems that exist in our society today, not in some irredeemably racist past. Furthermore, the solutions, such a single payer health care and free higher education, are actual existing solutions that do have records of success around the globe today.

  7. Rich Puchalsky January 19, 2017 at 4:18 pm | #

    Here’s my piece on #theresistance. I agree broadly with what you start to write in your excerpt above, but the Harpers article is paywalled.

  8. Roquentin January 19, 2017 at 5:47 pm | #

    A couple of things:

    1) I’m going to get Hegelian and state that, similar to your views, globalized, technocratic, neoliberal capitalism and right wing, nationalist, ethnic populism are in a dialectical relationship each side mutually reproducing and reinforcing the other. Any attempts to reinstate this sort of capitalism will only fan the flames of the very conditions which produced a character like Trump. I see Trump as little more than a pure opportunist, a crude huckster who believes in precious little besides expediency, who was slick enough to step into the role the historical situation had readymade for him. This dynamic absolutely isn’t local to the US. Modi in India, Putin in Russia, Le Pen in France, Berlusconi in Italy, Brexit in the UK. These movements cannot and will not be defeated by trying to reinstate the exactly what created them.

    It’s also becoming clear to me, that when faced with the prospect of socialism, maybe even social democracy most of the ruling class would pick a strongman like Trump to uphold the system instead. If we are headed for dark it is times because of that.

    2) One of the long list of mistakes the left made in 2016, and they were legion, was to make the election about personality and “qualifications.” I’m here to tell you no one gives a shit. People liked Sanders because he actually talked about what he’d do for them, something Clinton practically never did. Every mention of the word “qualifications” is like nails across a blackboard for me. The bulk of every pernicious, bad, stupid liberal strategy rolls out of that term and the thought associated with it. I’ll go even further. It was precisely Hillary’s “qualifications,” the thing all these liberals thought made her inevitable that sank her campaign. It was precisely her long history in politics which made no one believe her, it was precisely this history of selling out everything and everyone that made all her claims fall on deaf ears. Seriously, this is the single shittiest line of thought in the entire rank body of moth-eaten liberal talking points.

    3) Let’s put it bluntly. If the left stops solving ordinary people’s problems and becomes the multicultural wing of neoliberal capitalism, those same people are going to look to nationalists to solve their problems. The nationalists won’t either, but this is of little consequence. They will at least talk about doing so, or provide enough symbolic gestures to put gas in the tank for a whole lot of damage to be done. So much of what’s coming from liberal pundits these days makes me think of that famous line from Brecht about “dissolving the people and electing another.”

  9. Carolyn Doric January 19, 2017 at 6:29 pm | #

    It isn’t so much the Trump supporters that I view as monsters, but GOP strategists & politicians, and their allies on the religious right, that seem to have adopted the ethic that the ends justify any means. Hard to find empathy for that behavior……but to understand it in context is better than to fear injustice & oppression are inevitable and unavoidable. And yes, yes, it is better to resist under the banner of universal ideals than under the prod of fear. Better for fight for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for instance, rather than to give it up as impossible. Better to apologetically resist in the name of decency and justice and humanity.

  10. xenon2 January 19, 2017 at 11:03 pm | #

    ED seems to everywhere.

    I’m Nobody! Who are you?
    Are you – Nobody – too?
    Then there’s a pair of us!
    Don’t tell! They’d advertise – you know!
    How dreary – to be – Somebody!
    How public – like a Frog –
    To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
    To an admiring Bog!

  11. Rich Puchalsky January 20, 2017 at 11:51 am | #

    Best interview I’ve seen on resistance so far: victory from “unity in purpose, diversity in tactics”.


  12. WLGR January 20, 2017 at 3:52 pm | #

    I’m not sure if you make this citation in your book or anywhere else, but if you’re correct in dating the turn toward a liberal ethics of fear and evil  to the ’90s and ’00s, then it was pre-emptively and succinctly eviscerated by Alain Badiou in his seminal Ethics from 1991. I bolded some snippets here that seem particularly relevant to the point you’re making:

    The heart of the question concerns the presumption of a universal human Subject, capable of reducing ethical issues to matters of human rights and humanitarian actions. We have seen that ethics subordinates the identification of this subject to the universal recognition of the evil that is done to him. Ethics thus defines man as a victim. It will be objected: ‘No! You are forgetting the active subject, the one that intervenes against barbarism!’ So let us be precise: man is the being who is capable of recognizing himself as a victim. It is this definition that we must proclaim unacceptable – for three reasons in particular:

    1. In the first place … if we equate Man with the simple reality of his living being, we are inevitably pushed to a conclusion quite opposite to the one that the principle of life seems to imply. For this ‘living being’ is in reality contemptible, and he will indeed be held in contempt. Who can fail to see that in our humanitarian expeditions, interventions, embarkations of charitable légionnaires, the Subject presumed to be universal is split? On the side of the victims, the haggard animal exposed on television screens. On the side of the benefactors, conscience and the imperative to intervene. And why does this splitting always assign the same roles to the same sides? Who cannot see that this ethics which rests on the misery of the world hides, behind its victim-Man, the good-Man, the white-Man? Since the barbarity of the situation is considered only in terms of ‘human rights’ – whereas in fact we are always dealing with a political situation, one calls for a political thought-practice, one that is peopled by its own authentic actors – it is perceived, from the heights of our apparent civil peace, as the uncivilized that demands of the civilized a civilizing intervention. Every intervention is in the name of a civilization requires an initial contempt for the situation as a whole, including its victims. And this is why the reign of ‘ethics’ coincides, after decades of courageous critiques of colonialism and imperialism, with today’s sordid self-satisfaction in the ‘West’, with the insistent argument according to which the misery of the Third World is the result of its own incompetence, its own inanity – in short, of its subhumanity.

    2. In the second place, because if the ethical ‘consensus’ is founded on the recognition of Evil, it follows that every effort to unite people around a positive idea of the Good, let alone identify Man with projects of this kind, becomes in fact the real source of evil itself. Such is the accusation so often repeated over the last fifteen years: every revolutionary project stigmatized as ‘utopian’ turns, we are told, into totalitarian nightmare. Every will to inscribe an idea of justice or equality turns bad. Every collective will to the Good creates Evil. … In reality, the price paid by ethics is a stodgy conservatism. The ethical conception of man, besides the fact that its foundation is either biological (images of victims) or ‘Western’ (the self-satisfaction of the armed benefactor), prohibits every broad, positive vision of possibilities. What is vaunted here, what ethics legitimates, is in fact the conservation by the so-called ‘West’ of what it possesses. … To forbid [Man] to imagine the Good, to devote his collective powers to it, to work towards the realization of unknown possibilities, to think what might be in terms that break radically with what is, is quite simply to forbid him humanity as such.

    3. Finally, thanks to its negative and a priori determination of Evil, ethics prevents itself from thinking the singularity of situations as such, which is the obligatory starting point of all properly human action. Thus, for instance, the doctor won over to ‘ethical’ ideology will ponder, in meetings and commissions, all sorts of considerations regarding ‘the sick’, conceived of in exactly the same way as the partisans of human rights conceives of the indistinct crowd of victims – the ‘human’ totality of subhuman entities. But the same doctor will have no difficulty in accepting the fact that this particular person is not treated at the hospital, and accorded all necessary measures, because he or she is without legal residency papers, or not a contributor to Social Security. … As a matter of fact, bureaucratic medicine that complies with ethical ideology depends on ‘the sick’ conceived as vague victims or statistics, but is quickly overwhelmed by any urgent, singular situation of need. Hence the reduction of ‘managed’, ‘responsible’ and ‘ethical’ health-care to the abject task of deciding which sick people the ‘French medical system’ can treat and which others – because the Budget and public opinion demand it – it must send away to die in the shantytowns of Kinshasa.

    • WLGR January 20, 2017 at 8:50 pm | #

      I goofed: 1993 not 1991. The English translation first appeared in November 2001, which seems like a rather auspicious historical moment for a book like that to be published given the publication had presumably been slated since before 9/11.

      • LFC January 23, 2017 at 6:00 pm | #

        I wonder what was Badiou’s stance on, say, the Rwandan genocide? Would an intervention to stop it have been rooted in “an initial contempt for the situation as a whole, including its victims”?

  13. LFC January 20, 2017 at 9:43 pm | #

    I agree with the main point of the piece (which now seems to have been un-paywalled — see RichP’s comment above). The characterization of HRC is perhaos a bit harsh, but no pt in rehashing that at length here. (As has been pointed out elsewhere, she had a positive not just a negative program, but imo it wasn’t delivered that effectively, though given all the external factors not under her control she might have lost regardless.)

    Re looking back a la Lot’s wife, W. Benjamin’s ‘angel of history’ also does that (in a diff. context), though can’t say I remember the surrounding discussion well offhand…

    • LFC January 20, 2017 at 9:45 pm | #

      typo: perhaps

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