Since January, the US has bombed Yemen, Iraq and Syria. It has also dropped the world's largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan and directed threats at North Korea. Amongst those identified as progressives, some groups have partaken in outright condemnation of the events, while others have shown support which has been aptly criticised. I write in response to a different narrative seen in similar circles: the overemphasis on the man giving the orders, Donald Trump, instead of placing him and his policy in the historical context in which they are located. While criticism of and resistance to Trump is necessary, focusing criticism of these events solely on him and his administration's foreign policy actively whitewashes the US's long history of interventionism, militarily and beyond. It also risks presenting the character that is Trump as an anomaly instead of addressing what has become 'business as usual' for many lives across the globe, regardless of who resides in the White House.
With the rise in Trump's popularity and his eventual election, a nostalgia for Barack Obama and a 'deification' of Hillary Clinton appeared amongst many shocked progressives (including some who had historically opposed Obama's foreign policy). Nostalgia for Obama glosses over his record-breaking warmongering: being at war longer than any other US president, having the highest spending on nuclear warheads, and developing advanced war machinery such as drones. Clinton's record is equally problematic: from her support for building Israel's apartheid wall in the West Bank and for dictatorships in the Middle East, to advocating military intervention, including targeting Syrian airfields - the very action Trump has taken and which triggered a lot of the recent opposition. It is hard to see how any of these examples merit nostalgia or deification.
This narrative is, therefore, highly polarised, presenting us with a scenario in which we have to either side with an unpredictable (to say the least) far-right president, or with more eloquently-spoken politicians with an appalling track record of warmongering. This is not to suggest that these are necessarily comparable or to allude to a stance that should have been taken in the presidential elections, but it is to highlight that criticism of Trump cannot be done through glossing over the history that serves as the backdrop against which he appears. It is this history that is synonymous with US foreign policy for those on the ground directly suffering the devastations of decades of occupation, stifled progressive movements, and enforced adoption of violent neoliberal policies. Acute awareness of this continuously shapes individual lives, local politics and activism, and the term imperialism should not be shied away from in describing this context.
Trump essentially inherited the wars through which he is supposedly seeking to 'make America great again' from the administrations that preceded him. He also inherited the vast military bases scattered across the globe, the elaborate arsenal, the world's largest number of deployed nuclear warheads (remember that this is the only nation to have ever engaged in nuclear warfare), the narrative of 'saving' through bombing, the interventionist policies. The myth that 'we were fine until Trump arrived' is offensive to say the least to those for whom contending with US imperialism has been a constant, regardless of which president issues the orders. This myth urgently needs dismantling as a comprehensive anti-imperialist/anti-war movement is reignited in this context. A movement that is not conditional upon Trump's presence in the White House, but that is centred on an opposition to US foreign policy as it has been historically approached and on the voices of the lives that have been directly shaped by this. A movement that exists not because it is Trump ordering the bombing, but because the bombing is being ordered at all.
Resistance to Trump is crucial and is needed more than ever, and the human impact of the recent events needs to be continuously highlighted. However, this cannot be done through erasing and rewriting history. Emphasis on Trump the character, instead of a clear tackling of the context in which he is located, risks suggesting that the problem is an anomaly that is ahistorical. This emphasis on personality implies that the focus is not the problem itself, but who the 'right' character is to reign over it and the oppression it brings. It also ignores the structures that led Trump into power and which have given him ready-made tools to exploit as he sees fit. It is not through a revival of a 'golden past' with Obama at the helm or the discovery of a loophole that would send Clinton to the White House that the problem will be solved. It is through focusing the fight on the imperialism that makes it possible for Trump (and all that he embodies) to continue the warmongering legacy of his predecessors.