Trump's language has a history that must be acknowledged, made known for the suffering it produces, and challenged with an alternative critical and hope-producing narrative. Such a language must be willing to make power visible, uncover the truth, contest falsehoods, and create a formative and critical culture that can nurture and sustain collective resistance to the diverse modes of oppression that characterize the times that have overtaken the United States, and increasingly many other countries. Progressives need a language that both embraces the political potential of diverse forms racial, gender and sexual identity, and the forms of "oppression, exclusion, and marginalization" they make visible while simultaneously working to unify such movements into a broader social formation and political party willing to challenge the core values and institutional structures of the American-style fascism. No form of oppression, however hideous, can be overlooked. And with that critical gaze must emerge a critical language, a new narrative and a different story about what a socialist democracy will look like in the United States.
At the same time, there is a need to strengthen and expand the reach and power of established public spheres as sites of critical learning. There is also a need to encourage artists, intellectuals, academics and other cultural workers to talk, educate, make oppression visible, and challenge the normalizing discourses of casino capitalism, white supremacy and fascism. There is no room here for a language shaped by political purity or a limited to politics of outrage. A truly democratic vision has a broader and more capacious overview and project of struggle and transformation.
Language is not simply an instrument of fear, violence and intimidation; it is also a vehicle for critique, civic courage, resistance, and engaged and informed agency. We live at a time when the language of democracy has been pillaged, stripped of its promises and hopes. If fascism is to be defeated, there is a need to make education central to politics. In part this can be done with a language that exposes and unravels falsehoods, systems of oppression and corrupt relations of power while making clear that an alternative future is possible. A critical language can guide us in our thinking about the relationship between older elements of fascism and how such practices are emerging in new forms. The search and use of such a language can also reinforce and accelerate the need for young people to continue creating alternative public spaces in which critical dialogue, exchange and a new understanding of politics in its totality can emerge. Focusing on language as a strategic element of political struggle is not only about meaning, critique and the search for the truth, it is also about power, both in terms of understanding how it works and using it as part of ongoing struggles that merge the language of critique and possibility, theory and action.
Without a faith in intelligence, critical education and the power to resist, humanity will be powerless to challenge the threat that fascism and right-wing populism pose to the world. All forms of fascism aim at destroying standards of truth, empathy, informed reason and the institutions that make them possible. The current struggle against a nascent fascism in the United States is not only a struggle over economic structures or the commanding heights of corporate power. It is also a struggle over visions, ideas, consciousness and the power to shift the culture itself.
Progressives need to formulate a new language, alternative cultural spheres and fresh narratives about freedom, the power of collective struggle, empathy, solidarity and the promise of a real socialist democracy. We need a new vision that refuses to equate capitalism and democracy, normalize greed and excessive competition, and accept self-interest as the highest form of motivation. We need a language, vision and understanding of power to enable the conditions in which education is linked to social change and the capacity to promote human agency through the registers of cooperation, compassion, care, love, equality and a respect for difference.
Any struggle for a radical democratic socialist order will not take place if "the lessons from our dark past [cannot] be learned and transformed into constructive resolutions" and solutions for struggling for and creating a post-capitalist society. Ariel Dorfman's ode to the struggle over language and its relationship to the power of the imagination, collective resistance and hope offers a fitting reminder of what needs to be done. He writes:
"We must trust that the intelligence that has allowed humanity to stave off death, make medical and engineering breakthroughs, reach the stars, build wondrous temples, and write complex tales will save us again. We must nurse the conviction that we can use the gentle graces of science and reason to prove that the truth cannot be vanquished so easily. To those who would repudiate intelligence, we must say: you will not conquer and we will find a way to convince.
In the end, there is no democracy without informed citizens and no justice without a language critical of injustice.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).