Haki R. Madhubuti and Lasana D. Kazembe, editors. Not Our President: New Directions from the Pushed Out, the Others, and the Clear Majority in Trump’s Stolen America (Chicago: Third World Press Foundation), 422 pp.
It is as we zoom past literal interpretation to arrive at a deeper truth that we appreciate the title Not Our President. It marks the profound disconnect between the aims and practices of the Trump regime and the aspirations of those who think like the forty-two artists, intellectuals, and cultural workers collected under the phrase. This group expresses historical consciousness in the sense that Cornel West describes in the foreword, that is, keeping “in contact with the best of what has gone into you, that empowers you to be critical of the worst that’s been injected into you” (xii-xii) Accordingly, these contributors convey their opposition to the xenophobic, fearmongering, elite-White-nationalist, privatizing, anti-poor, anti-environment imperatives of Trump and his acolytes. The poet Allyson Horton explains, “not my president is the clarion call and response for such a disgusting display of wealth, male whiteness, power, privilege and yes---presidency” (61). But the work is not simply a polemic. Indeed, one of its strengths is that it presents detailed evidence in support of its claims. The specifics provided by the likes of journalist Herb Boyd, cultural worker Howard Dodson, Jr., educators Henry Giroux and Molefi Asante, historian Gerald Horne, and labor economist Julianne Malveaux can serve to ground discussion beyond the dizzying flashes of punditry in media outlets. When the campaign headlines fade along with some of the chatter of the first year of this presidential administration, the reader can return to this book for substantive engagement with fundamental issues of domestic and foreign policy. Moreover, we are reminded by dramatist Ugochi Nwaogwugwu of an important statistic regarding the 2016 election: More than 65, 844, 610 American voters, a majority of the participating electorate, did not cast ballots for Trump (171).
This volume provides many suggestions for action. For example, Bill Ayers describes how movements can be built from the bottom up. People can gather, identify the interests most relevant to them, forge unity, connect to broader initiatives, and educate. “Don’t get too lost in petitioning power,” he advises, “build your own agency, your own collective power” (10-11). Giroux shares the vision of numerous small movements merging to form a broad political formation. Moreover, he is clear that “any vision for this movement must reject the false notion that capitalism and democracy are synonymous” (49). Malveaux does not quite make the same point, but she does criticize “predatory capitalism” and argues, “45 is not my president, and this is not my economy. An economic paradigm that deals with shared prosperity is an economy that can be embraced. Resisting 45 is the first step toward embracing the ethic of sharing (277). Malveaux lays out a program of resistance that includes boycotting the Trump brand---clothing, golf courses, hotels, restaurants, etc.---as well as avoiding stores that carry the products of Ivanka Trump. The latter action, according to Malveaux, should be wed to a social media campaign by which people are reminded that Ivanka Trump has benefited from insider dealing. Also cognizant of the intimate coupling of predatory capitalism and racist oppression, Malveaux calls for pension funds to withdraw investments from private prisons and for people to advocate at all levels of government to eliminate such prisons.
Greg Carr points out that a crucial aspect of building transformative networks is deep study: “collective reading, debate, planning and executing” (339). He terms the project “re-literacy” (340). This includes, for Carr, reexamination of the nineteenth century. He opines, “Any study group that spent one month with Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America would understand the rise of Trump perhaps better than Amiri Baraka understood the tumultuous 1960s after having read it two full generations ago” (347-48). Carr adds, “a read of Du Bois’s fictional Black Fame Trilogy will find the student identifying every stock character currently being misinterpreted or ignored in social media, on television and radio news commentary, and in the newspapers and news websites” (348). Of course, Carr favors intense study of what has been written and about a post-1960s world, including analyses of the Obama Era.
As indicated, artists have formed part of the call for resistance and have done so artfully. In fact, poetry bookends the collection proper. Nikky Finney opens with the long poem “The Good Fight, Again,” which is inspired by the words of civil-rights matriarch Modjeska Monteith, who declared in 1948 that she would fight segregationist Strom Thurmond from mountain to sea. As Finney closes:
You bereft and disingenuous lying addict
of TV lights, prisoner of narcissism
and the toys of war, you A student of the quip
and inventor of the bully high bar,
you small-minded new/old stock character
of this our sweet living time,
in the tradition of other great
South Carolina women warriors,
I will fight who you say you are
From the mountain to the sea. (xxvii-xxviii)
jessica Care moore declares herself the president of her own universe. She recalls counseling her son and organizing “Sister-Fire” events to gather women for “conversation, art, strategy, self care, networking, mothering, and healing in a safe place” (415). Those are the moves to make, she asserts, in a time of spiritual warfare:
We light candles.
We speak with our ancestors
We remember our power
We raise our children with self determination
We build a beautiful, resilient fire
With Love & Struggle,
Hers is the high ground, which is not, as her co-contributors have illustrated cogently, the road sought by the Swamp-Resident-in-Chief.