With Trump in the White House and GOP majorities in the House and Senate, we must look to cities to protect civil liberties and build progressive alternatives from the bottom up.
“I want New Yorkers to know: we have a lot of tools at our disposal; we’re going to use them. And we’re not going to take anything lying down.” On the morning after Donald Trump was declared the victor in the US presidential election, Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, wasted no time in signaling his intention to use the city government as a bulwark against the policy agenda of the President-Elect. The move made one thing very clear; with the Republican Party holding the House and Senate, and at least one Supreme Court nomination in the pipeline, it will fall to America’s cities and local leaders to act as the institutional frontline of resistance against the Trump administration.
However, cities can be more than just a last line of defense against the worst excesses of an authoritarian central government; they have huge, positive potential as spaces from which to radicalize democracy and build alternatives to the neoliberal economic model. The urgent questions that progressive activists in the States are now asking themselves are, not just how to fight back against Trump, but also how to harness the momentum of Bernie Sanders’ primary run to fight for the change he promised. As we consider potential strategies going forward, a look at the global context suggests that local politics may be the best place to start.
The election of Trump has not occurred in a vacuum. Across the West, we are witnessing a wholesale breakdown of the existing political order; the neoliberal project is broken, the center-left is vanishing, and the old left is at a loss for what to do. In many countries, it is the far right that is most successful in harnessing people’s desire to regain a sense of control over their lives. Where progressives have tried to beat the right at its own game by competing on the battleground of the nation state, they have fared extremely poorly, as recent elections and referenda across Europe have shown. Even where a progressive force has managed to win national office, as happened in Greece in 2015, the limits of this strategy have become abundantly clear, with global markets and transnational institutions quickly bullying the Syriza government into compliance.