On April 22, the Saudi-led coalition used American-made bombs in an airstrike on a Yemeni wedding that killed at least 33 people, including the bride. This comes not long after Senators condemned the Trump administration’s recent arms deals to Saudi Arabia for over $2 billion in artillery and maintenance.
The Senate came close to stopping these military handouts last month, but the tripartisan bill failed by a 55-44 margin after Secretary of Defense Mattis implored the Senate to reject the bill because ending US arms sales "could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis – all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis."
It’s hard to see how ending support for a regime that has killed over 10,000 people since 2015 could "increase civilian casualties." And what good is our cooperation doing to combat terrorism if Saudi Arabia blockades have left three out of four Yemenis (more than 20 million people) in need of humanitarian assistance? The UN Human Rights Council says Yemeni civilians have been victim to “unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law."
Over 60 percent of Yemenis don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Malnutrition threatens the lives of over 400,000 small children. The world’s largest cholera outbreak has killed over 2,000 Yemenis in the past year. Three million Yemenis have fled their homes since 2015, with two million still displaced.
If Mattis and the 55 Senators who support aiding Saudi truly wish to address this humanitarian crisis, they must recognize the contradiction in their strategy and resist further arms sales.
Unfortunately the Yemeni tragedy continues on while Trump (with France and Britain) bombed Syria on Friday. Even though these are reckless, retributive airstrikes, sure to escalate the Syrian Civil War, they faced little resistance. Where we could just ignore Trump’s tough-guy persona a couple years ago, today it costs the lives of innocent Syrians and Yemenis.
So the question is: how is Trump getting away with this? Aside from some Senators challenging his support for Saudi Arabia, Trump’s militarism is largely invisible in the public eye. How much have you heard about the crisis in Yemen in the news or on social media compared to Russian election meddling? Where is the "Resistance" in all this?
Meanwhile, the mainstream media – and many of society’s elites – are firmly anti-Trump. Jake Tapper regularly burns Trump on Twitter. Commencement speeches by members of Trump’s cabinet prompt walk outs. Celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Whoopi Goldberg put on a "People’s State of the Union" to counter Trump’s. All of these folks are absolutely correct to worry about the existential threat to democracy Trump represents. It’s not that the Resistance figures aren’t anti-Trump, but that merely being anti-Trump is the wrong way to react to our situation.
Defining a resistance in opposition to an individual will never be an effective means of resisting much of anything. That’s why the Resistance has occasionally dipped into blaming Trump’s racism and sexism on mental illness, further stigmatizing the neurodivergent. That’s why Democrats have welcomed George W. Bush into the anti-Trump club, contributing to a culture of militarism that whitewashes the deaths of half a million Iraqis.
There are some exceptions to the hollow criticisms – support for ICE raid targets and the walkouts in solidarity with DACA recipients among the best Resistance efforts. And despite the Sanders camp aligning closer to Trump on immigration, some 2018 candidates are now calling to abolish ICE. That’s a systemic response to a systemic problem. Insofar as the Resistance is solely concerned with Trump and Trumpism, and not the apparatus of state violence that terrorizes immigrant communities (regardless of who is in office), the response will fail those communities.
The same cosmopolitan logic that undergirds resistance to Trump’s tyrannical immigration controls also commits us to supporting foreigners suffering under imperialism abroad. But just as Trump isn’t the first President to be cruel towards immigrants, he isn’t the first President to be cruel towards foreigners in other countries. The system that empowers Trump is more of a danger than Trump the man.
It would be a grave mistake to ignore Trump’s overt illiberalism and the threat that poses to democracy. But are our democratic institutions so weak that we must ally with anyone who opposes Trump the man, but not the illiberal machine behind him? What if this widespread tolerance to militarism is itself a kind of democratic degradation? While many worry the age of Trump is making us forget what democratic accountability looks like, another worry is that it’s making us forget what it’s for – safeguarding human flourishing, Yemenis and Americans alike.
This is not a call for paralyzing ideological purity – quite the opposite. The Resistance must stand for something of its own and not collapse into substanceless opposition to one person. Trump presented no threat to the world until he occupied the Oval Office. "Trump’s militarism" can’t exist without the broader culture of militarism and the military industrial complex he has access to as president. Forgetting that systems of oppression are what we’re opposed to – and not just individual people – leads to allying with the architects of the Iraq War, which will only perpetuate American militarism and fail those terrorized communities abroad. Unless "anti-Trump" is replaced by "anti-war" as the minimum standard for Resistance politics, it’s possible Bush’s body count will be eclipsed before we know it.
Cory Massimino is the Senior Academic Programs Chair at Students For Liberty, the Mutual Exchange Coordinator at the Center for a Stateless Society, and a Young Voices Advocate.