How To Criticize Trump Without Being An Establishment Hack

Caitlin Johnstone
8 min readOct 13, 2017


The delightful Tim Black brought up a very legitimate point in our conversation yesterday that I think deserves its own article.

“Sometimes what I see lefties doing,” Black said after rightfully voicing some grievances against the current administration, “I feel like some people don’t want to hit Trump because they don’t even want to have the semblance of being on the side of Rachel Maddow, of AM Joy, of Keith Olbermann. Like they don’t want to sound like them at all.”

This is a very real dynamic that’s familiar to anyone who’s spent time engaged in dialogue arguing on the side of the anti-establishment left: it can be tricky to criticize the current administration without in that instance making yourself a reluctant accomplice of the very power establishment you’re trying to topple. Eminem was showered with accolades for “speaking truth to power” in his recent anti-Trump freestyle, but he didn’t say a single thing that extremely powerful plutocratic vampires like Jeff Bezos, George Soros or Evelyn de Rothschild would disapprove of. His cipher of tame MSNBC talking points could not have been more harmless to America’s actual power structure.

So how do you voice criticisms of an administration that absolutely must be criticized without becoming another innocuous, neoliberalism-friendly establishment hack like Eminem? How do you voice grievances about what’s happening in the executive branch of the federal government without inadvertently bolstering the rest of the power structure you’re trying to topple? How do you speak real truth to real power? Here are five approaches I’ve found useful for resolving these questions:

1. When you see an anti-Trump narrative go viral, figure out if it’s advancing an establishment agenda.

The majority of the time the answer to this question will be yes, the current trending anti-Trump hashtag or Washington Post headline is indeed advancing an establishment agenda. Such things rarely trend when the establishment propagandists aren’t leading the charge. The Russia stuff exists to pressure Trump into complying with the neoconservative agenda of using US military and economic might to keep nations which don’t recognize America’s planetary authority from getting a leg up, the fretting over his attacks on the corporate media exist to get you defending the establishment propaganda machine as your beloved Big Brother, and the obsession over his general obnoxiousness exists for no other reason than to herd everyone who isn’t a loyal Republican into impotent alignment with the Democratic party.

There are many, many legitimate grievances one can level at the way the current administration conducts itself, but because most of them involve pro-establishment evils that both parties participate in constantly, and which Trump’s predecessor directly facilitated, it doesn’t make good partisan clickbait and it doesn’t advance establishment agendas.

Not all of the time, though. Trump’s responses to Puerto Rico and North Korea have been despicable by any measure, for example, and the fact that the partisan hacks happen to be criticizing him about those things shouldn’t deter you from doing it as well. I personally don’t expend much energy on criticisms that I see millions of other people already voicing throughout mainstream America, but that’s only because I have a finite amount of time in my day and I choose to focus on topics that I feel aren’t getting enough attention. If Trump is doing something disgusting and you’re not helping the plutocrats start another bullshit war or whatever, by all means do call him out if that’s where your true north is pointing.

2. Whenever possible, point out that the thing you’re criticizing is a continuation of previous administrations.

Establishment loyalists hate this one. Republican loyalists hate it because you’re criticizing Trump and denying that he’s much different from his predecessor, whom they despise, and Democratic loyalists hate it because it tarnishes Saint Obama while rejecting their popular narrative that Trump is somehow a uniquely awful president. You even get at the hardline Trumpsters who aren’t necessarily loyal to the Republican party because you’re rejecting their delusion that their president is some kind of populist rebel, so you’re pissing off all the right people.

More importantly, when you attack the system which ensures that US presidents continue to act more or less the same as their predecessor regardless of political affiliation, you’re addressing the actual problem and not just the mask it happens to be wearing for this four-year term.

3. Anti-war!

This one’s always a safe bet, because America’s war agenda is always, always, always working in favor of the plutocrats and their cronies. There has never been an exception to this rule in my lifetime. Whenever you criticize the Commander-in-Chief’s military aggression, you are speaking truth to power. That is 100 percent guaranteed. War is one area you can always count on the entire establishment propaganda machine to cheer for; you will always be in opposition to them if you criticize military aggression, budget increases or expansionism.

Just remember to emphasize the fact that none of the Trump administration’s insane military policies originated with Trump. He didn’t invent idiotic escalations with the DPRK; just last year Obama made comments about how the US could “destroy North Korea” with its arsenals, and America has been doing horrific things to the people of that region since before it was a nation. The anti-war Democrat has been slothfully emerging from an eight-year hibernation in response to Trump’s hawkish dick-wagging with Kim Jong Un, which is okay — we’ll take all the help we can get — but they don’t get to just waltz in and pretend Obama wasn’t a warmongering psychopath who continued and expanded all of George W Bush’s most evil policies. War opposition is worthless if it’s just going to ratchet up the second there’s someone with a ‘D’ next to their name in the Oval Office.

Trump has already technically committed impeachable war crimes, but you’ll never hear the Democratic establishment pointing to this fact because their people do it too. If you’d like to see Trump impeached but don’t feel like selling your soul and becoming a Russophobic neocon, point at that.

4. Avoid partisan hackery.

“I once said to my father, when I was a boy, ‘Dad we need a third political party.’ He said to me, ‘I’ll settle for a second.’”
~ Ralph Nader

It would be bad enough if America only had a two-party system, but it doesn’t; it has a one-party system doing a two-handed sock puppet show. Just as a boxer uses jabs from the lead hand to set up a crushing knockout blow with the other, the establishment uses its Republican arm to advance its agendas overtly and then uses its Democratic arm to hijack any movements which arise in response to the Republican arm and manipulate them into advancing establishment agendas unwittingly. Cheering for one fist over the other is stupid when they both belong to the same boxer, and they’re both being used to punch you.

So avoid playing the partisan game at all by attacking Trump on issues that disrupt the entire boxer. Opposing his administration’s war on WikiLeaks, his continuation and expansion of Orwellian surveillance networks, the continued militarization of the police force, income and wealth inequality, America’s abysmal electoral system, money in politics, rampant corporatism, unchecked capitalism, corporate censorship, trade agreements, globalization, media consolidation, the immoral war on drugs, prison for profit, mass incarceration, government opacity, and the dissolution of net neutrality are all things which benefit the oligarchs who own both parties, and so neither party takes a very strong position on any of them.

You can attack Trump on any of these issues without feeding into the fake partisan bullshit like you would if you played along with their tired old identity politics and culture war games. On the few occasions where Democrats happen to be standing on the correct side of an issue, like institutional racism for example, often their loyalty to the oligarchy will prevent them from addressing that issue in a really meaningful way, like seriously considering the possibility of slavery reparations. When you’re not loyal to a corporate party, you can oppose Trump by going much further and advancing policies that are opposed to the agendas of both corporate parties.

Just don’t let them absorb you. It’s okay if you sometimes find yourself saying the same things as the Democratic partisans, just be crystal clear that you’re not one of them, and they’ll never get you.

5. Be aware that Trump is a symptom of a much larger disease, not the disease itself.

None of your problems will go away when Trump is out of office. None of your country’s problems will go away when Trump is out of office. None of your world’s problems will go away when Trump is out of office.

The fact that an obnoxious billionaire reality TV star can get into the White House with his buddies from Exxon and Goldman Sachs is a symptom of a much greater disease, and until that disease is cured you’re only going to get more Donald Trumps, at best. As long as America is a corporatist oligarchy run by depraved plutocrats and their cronies in the intelligence community and military-security complex, it barely matters if it’s Trump or Hulk Hogan or the fucking Hamburglar sitting in that office. So yes, criticize Trump where he needs criticizing, but if you don’t address the disease it won’t matter.

The so-called “Resistance” is a think tank-generated campaign specifically designed to herd the progressives who were awakened and vitalized by the Sanders campaign back into the establishment fold under the guise of a fake new revolution. Duping people into forming an alliance with America’s unelected power establishment under the banner of anti-Trumpism allows the oligarchs to keep people neatly stabled in a reliable pro-oligarchy, neoliberal, neoconservative political party where they can’t pose any real threat to the status quo.

By avoiding the manipulations and attacking Trump in his proper context as one part of a much larger nonpartisan oligarchic power structure, we have the chance to form a real resistance to our real enemy. There are a great many powerful people standing in between us and the world we’re trying to create, and Trump is only one of them. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize and bring them all down, shall we?

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